University of Rochester

University Joins National Effort to Improve Undergraduate STEM Education

April 3, 2012

The University of Rochester is joining a national effort to develop a new generation of college-level science and engineering faculty.

The Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching, & Learning (CIRTL), which began in 2003 with a handful of universities, was recently expanded to include 25 of the nation's top educational institutions.

Supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF), and headquartered at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, CIRTL's mission is to improve the teaching of science, technology, engineering and mathematics at colleges across the country.

While college-level science instructors traditionally come from the ranks of graduate students, their preparation for the classroom typically consists of a few semesters working as teaching assistants, often with little mentoring.

"CIRTL approaches teaching in the same way educators approach research," said Wendi Heinzelman, Dean of Graduate Studies at the University of Rochester. "It comes down to solving problems."

A foundational CIRTL concept is that improving one's teaching boils down to the key question, "What have my students learned?" That question, said Robert Mathieu, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor of astronomy and co-founder of the center, can be addressed in each classroom by the experimental method familiar to scientists: hypothesis generation, experiment, observation, analysis and improvement. Mathieu calls it "teaching-as-research."

As a CIRTL member, Rochester will have access to the teaching and learning innovations of other network members, as well as a platform for sharing its own successes, including: 1) the peer-led workshop model, which actively engages students through small-group problem-solving; 2) the WeBWorK online homework tool for math and science; and 3) diversity-oriented approaches for creating an inclusive environment on campus.

Diversity is considered both a challenge and opportunity for college-level science teachers. As graduate students become faculty, they will increasingly encounter students from diverse racial, ethnic, national and educational backgrounds, whose learning experiences may vary widely. One goal of CIRTL is to create college faculty who are able to use student diversity to enhance the education of all students.

The Rochester CIRTL program will be housed at the University's Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL), which promotes educational excellence through a range of programs for faculty, graduate students, and undergraduate students.

The growth of the CIRTL network, Mathieu said, will give the program a much larger national footprint and the ability to influence many more of the nation's future science faculty.

Click here for to learn more about CIRTL at the University of Rochester, including how to participate.

The CIRTL Network consists of the following universities:

Boston University
Cornell University
Howard University
Iowa State University
Johns Hopkins University
Michigan State University
Northwestern University
Purdue University
Texas A&M University
The University of Georgia
The University of Texas at Arlington
University of Alabama at Birmingham
University of California, San Diego
University of Colorado at Boulder
University of Houston
University of Maryland, College Park
University of Massachusetts Amherst
University of Michigan
University of Missouri-Columbia
University of Pittsburgh
University of Rochester
University of South Florida
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Vanderbilt University
Washington University in St. Louis