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Background. Collaborative learning is an evidence-based instructional strategy that deepens student learning by facilitating engaging classroom discussions among students. These cooperative activities are at the core of active learning, a pedagogical method whereby students perform activities for the purpose of discovering, processing and applying information. 


While active learning increases performance for most students in STEM fields, underrepresented students show the largest positive effect. In addition, these teaching interventions completely close the performance gap between first-generation college students and continuing-generation students.

Why, then, is active learning more effective for STEM students from underrepresented backgrounds? Some studies have shown that the interactive and interdependent nature of active learning helps increase the sense of community in the classroom, an effect that may be especially important to the success of at-risk student populations.


To better serve Duke’s diverse undergraduate student population, this Bass Connections project will test the impacts of collaborative learning on student motivation, retention in STEM and self-efficacy.

Project Description.  The goal of this project is to determine the impacts of collaborative learning on course-related behaviors and enthusiasm for course content in undergraduate STEM classrooms at Duke. The project team aims to identify teaching practices in STEM classrooms that improve retention rates for all students, close achievement gaps, generate enthusiasm for course content and promote equity in the classroom.

Team members will measure how different collaborative learning practices across campus impact self-reported course behaviors. The measured behaviors will include classroom participation, involvement with independent research projects, time spent studying and engagement with peers about course content outside of the classroom. The team will also assess self-reported student enthusiasm for the material, self-efficacy and intention to stay within STEM.

The team will design surveys and release them to students in STEM major courses, then analyze responses and make comparisons between STEM courses with and without active/collaborative teaching methods.


Anticipated Outputs.  Study findings with broad application and transferability to young adults in other undergraduate institutions; data for Trinity College of Arts & Sciences departments in the natural sciences that can be used toward course enhancement and curriculum design; presentations at local and national conferences; manuscript for publication; preliminary data for future grant proposals


Summer 2019 – Spring 2020

  • Summer 2019 (Optional): Learn about active learning pedagogies; carry out a literature review; design surveys; submit and obtain IRB approval

  • Fall 2019: Collect surveys; analyze data

  • Spring 2020: Present findings at national meetings; write a manuscript for publication

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