From Notre Dame: “STEM research leaders call for change in undergrad education”

Notre Dame bloc

Notre Dame University

July 20, 2015
William G. Gilroy

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Immediate change is needed at all levels to improve the quality of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education in research universities, according to a paper on undergraduate STEM learning and teaching co-authored by Zachary Schultz, associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of Notre Dame, that appears in a special July issue of the journal Nature.

The authors — representatives of the Association of American Universities and the Research Corporation for Science Advancement (RCSA) Cottrell Scholars — call for the implementation of rigorous pedagogical practices, programs and policies that support, evaluate and reward great teaching. If valuing teaching is to move from rhetoric to reality, “it will require a reallocation of funds — not just priorities,” they conclude.

Schultz believes that STEM teaching requires a different approach than traditional undergraduate teaching methods.

“My experience with STEM teaching is you have find ways to encourage students to engage the material,” he said. “Unlike other disciplines, just reading the text will not help you. Modern pedagogical approaches all promote active learning. As an instructor, it is much more rewarding to engage with the students interactively than to lecture to them. The goal is to promote student participation and ownership of their learning. As an instructor, I am willing to try different approaches, but ultimately we want to evaluate if it helps students attain the desired learning goals.”

Notre Dame has a number of unique programs devoted to engaged undergraduate STEM teaching. An ePortfolio initiative in the College of Engineering provides digitized collections of material including demonstrations, resources and accomplishments that represent an individual, group or institution. Notre Dame researchers have described how ePortfolios can be analyzed to measure student engagement levels providing a new digital learning environment opposed to traditional learning management systems. The College of Science uses a new teaching tool called the Lightboard, which enables faculty to produce videos using the Lightboard to “flip” their classroom and complement their teaching initiatives.

Zachary Schultz

“At Notre Dame, we have tremendous resources and provide quality teaching,” Schultz said. “As we discuss in the article, there are a number of approaches that might improve on the strong foundation that currently exists at Notre Dame. Ultimately it is about student learning, and our students deserve the best experience and service we can provide them.”

The paper is part of a package of articles exploring challenges in STEM education. Schultz became involved in writing the article through his Cottrell Scholar Award from RCSA.

“RCSA is using the network of scholars it has built to promote initiatives in STEM education,” he said. “I joined a group focused on effective evaluation of teaching and learning about two years ago. We ran a workshop where we brought together leaders in STEM educational research as well as professional society representatives, funding agencies and regular faculty. The workshop went over what is out there and explored new methods for improving and assessing student learning. The workshop organizers then co-wrote the piece in Nature and a longer report on the workshop that was also published this month.”

Contact: Zachary Schultz, 574-631-1853,

See the full article here.

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The University of Notre Dame du Lac (or simply Notre Dame /ˌnoʊtərˈdeɪm/ NOH-tər-DAYM) is a Catholic research university located near South Bend, Indiana, in the United States. In French, Notre Dame du Lac means “Our Lady of the Lake” and refers to the university’s patron saint, the Virgin Mary.

The school was founded by Father Edward Sorin, CSC, who was also its first president. Today, many Holy Cross priests continue to work for the university, including as its president. It was established as an all-male institution on November 26, 1842, on land donated by the Bishop of Vincennes. The university first enrolled women undergraduates in 1972. As of 2013 about 48 percent of the student body was female.[6] Notre Dame’s Catholic character is reflected in its explicit commitment to the Catholic faith, numerous ministries funded by the school, and the architecture around campus. The university is consistently ranked one of the top universities in the United States and as a major global university.

The university today is organized into five colleges and one professional school, and its graduate program has 15 master’s and 26 doctoral degree programs.[7][8] Over 80% of the university’s 8,000 undergraduates live on campus in one of 29 single-sex residence halls, each of which fields teams for more than a dozen intramural sports, and the university counts approximately 120,000 alumni.[9]

The university is globally recognized for its Notre Dame School of Architecture, a faculty that teaches (pre-modernist) traditional and classical architecture and urban planning (e.g. following the principles of New Urbanism and New Classical Architecture).[10] It also awards the renowned annual Driehaus Architecture Prize.