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Ebert-May Laboratory

photo of Diane Ebert-May

We address questions about course and curriculum development, assessment, pedagogy in introductory biology courses and the professional development of instructors who teach those courses.

Our current research aims to contextualize faculty teaching practice and student outcomes and build a model of the factors that support sustained change in undergraduate education. The project is a longitudinal study of early career faculty who participated in Faculty Institutes for Reforming Science Teaching during 2009-2012, a professional development program that focused on developing and teaching biology courses that involve active learning, and inquiry-based and learner-centered instruction. We are investigating the following six research questions:

1. Is professional development in teaching maintained in pre-tenure faculty teaching practices?

2.  How do faculty perceptions about and approaches to teaching impact their teaching practice? 

3. How is the maintenance of behavior (teaching practice) shaped by institutional reward systems and alignment with faculty values? 

4. What is the role of department climate and leadership in shaping early-career faculty teaching practice?

5. How does faculty self-efficacy affect implementation of learner-centered teaching?

6. How do faculty teaching practices impact students’ conceptual understanding of biology?


Investigating Contextual Factors that Impact Early-Career Faculty Teaching Practice

NSF DUE 1623834

This research investigates the longitudinal consequences of professional development on teaching practices of early-career faculty during the critical pre-tenure years, using the Faculty Institutes for Reforming Science Teaching (FIRST IV) network as a study system. The study focuses on a sample of 76 early-career faculty at four major institution types and evaluates the role of organizational factors in supporting and sustaining instructional change. Forty of the faculty participated in FIRST IV and will be compared to peers in their department who did not participate in FIRST IV, using both groups to explore factors that support educational innovation. This integrated model focuses on individual values and self-efficacy, external reward systems, and organizational structures that provide the foundation for supporting or not supporting innovative teaching approaches. The research design allows us to examine possible decay as well as enhancement of learner-centered teaching strategies among early-career faculty. These empirical research findings will identify effective strategies for professional development and organizational systems (departments and institutions) that sustain change in how faculty teach, to ultimately improve student learning.

At the same time that public and private funding agencies are actively investing in large-scale professional development programs, little is known about how those investments pay out over the long term, particularly in early-career faculty. This study will fill this critical gap, informing professional development activities in programs across institution types about how to support sustained, effective teaching practice. Results from student metrics will further quantify the connections among faculty professional development, transformed teaching practice, and student learning outcomes.