CU Denver Dept. of Integrative Biology Graduate Thesis Defense - Andrew McDevitt

Published: July 13, 2022

Congratulations Dr. Andrew McDevitt on successfully defending your thesis!

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CU Denver Department of Integrative Biology PhD Thesis Defense

Andrew McDevitt
PhD Degree Candidate, Dr, Laurel Hartley's Lab

WHEN:  July 21, 2022 

WHERE:  Room SI 1111 at 1:00p

"Advancing Understanding of Student-Centered Instruction in Undergraduate STEM by Promoting the Connection of Theory with Analytical Techniques"

The use of student-centered instruction or active learning has been linked to higher rates of student success compared to traditional lecture. However, a mechanistic understanding of why active learning “works” has proven elusive. This dissertation explores active learning in Learning Assistant supported courses and makes the case for using learning theory and improved classroom observation methodologies to guide research on active learning. We observed 51 courses using a modified version of the Classroom Observation Protocol for Undergraduate STEM (COPUS). Compared to traditional undergraduate STEM courses, we found that Learning Assistant (LA) supported courses exhibited more student-centered instruction as opposed to didactic instruction or interactive lecture. During both interactive lectures and student-centered style class periods, LAs are part of group discussion or one-on-one conversations with students. When students are receiving information and talking to the class, the instructor was the primarily facilitator and LAs rarely participated in this instruction. Although these classroom observations provide evidence about when and where LAs were supporting student learning, the integration of learning theories is needed to help understand how LAs are supporting learning. We recommend the use of mediated action, a sociocultural learning theory, to examine active learning since it helps us more clearly understand who is learning, what is being learned, and how learning is supported. However, the lens of mediated action focuses mainly on the classroom activity level, but can be broadened from there to look at the larger scales of the course, department, and program. Classroom observations and interpretation using mediated action can link these scales of analysis. However, we posit that classroom observations, though widely used, could lead to better inferences if common methodological pitfalls are avoided. We provide recommendations about how to adequately sample classrooms by considering the goals for observation, the duration of an observation window, the rate of misclassification, the frequency of a behavior, and the implications of different sampling approaches. Taking these factors into consideration will help increase the precision of course level parameter estimates. This increased precision, combined with an understanding of how learning is supported (i.e., mediated action), can help us further describe how student-center courses and programs are benefiting students and contribute to a more robust understanding of why active learning works, in what contexts, and for whom.