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Scott Freeman and Elli Theobald on active learning in STEM courses in UW News

Thursday, March 12, 2020 - 15:15 to Thursday, June 11, 2020 - 15:15

Underrepresented college students benefit more from ‘active learning’ techniques in STEM courses

A new study by researchers, Ellie Theobald and Scott Freeman, at the University of Washington shows that teaching techniques in undergraduate STEM courses can significantly narrow gaps in course performance between students who are overrepresented and underrepresented in STEM. In a paper published March 9 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the team reports that switching from passive techniques, such as traditional lectures, to inquiry-based “active learning” methods has a disproportionate benefit for underrepresented students, a term that encompasses low-income students and Latinx, African American, Native American, and Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander students.

The researchers used a meta-analysis approach, which combined student-level data from dozens of individual studies, to investigate how student performance changed when instructors incorporated more active learning methods into undergraduate STEM courses. They found that the achievement gap between overrepresented and underrepresented students narrowed on exam scores by 33% and course passing rates by 45%. For “high-intensity” active learning courses, in which students spent at least two-thirds of total class time engaged in active learning, the gap for exam scores shrank by 42% and 76%, respectively, for passing rates.

Read the entire story on UW News.

UW co-authors on the study are Mariah Hill, Elisa Tran, Sweta Agrawal, Nicole Arroyo, Shawn Behling, Dianne Laboy Cintrón, Jacob Cooper, Gideon Dunster, Jared Grummer, Kelly Hennessey, Jennifer Hsiao, Nicole Iranon, Leonard Jones II, Hannah Jordt, Marlowe Keller, Melissa Lacey, Caitlin Littlefield, Alexander Lowe, Shannon Newman, Vera Okolo, Savannah Olroyd, Brandon Peecook, Sarah Pickett, David Slager, Itzue Caviedes-Solis, Kathryn Stanchak, Camila Valdebenito, Claire Williams and Kaitlin Zinsli. Additional co-authors are Nyasha Chambwe from the Institute for Systems Biology and Vasudha Sundaravaradan from Shoreline Community College. The research was funded by the University of Washington.

For more information, contact Freeman at 206-543-1620 or


and Theobald at 206-543-7321 or


. Theobald is currently traveling, but still available for media requests.


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