Three-dimensional learning (3DL) in STEM education is a model described in the National Research Council’s Framework for K-12 Science Education, a recent document outlining a research-based approach toward facilitating a coherent, in-depth understanding of the sciences for K-12 students. 3DL posits that teaching and learning of a scientific discipline should involve three features:
- disciplinary core ideas (the fundamental themes at the center of a scientific discipline),
- crosscutting concepts (ideas that span across disciplines), and
- scientific practices (the skills that scientists use to study and make sense of the world).
The 3DL for Undergraduate Science (3DL4US) project has adapted this framework for teaching and learning at the university level, with a particular emphasis on transforming introductory (“gateway”) courses in biology, chemistry, and physics. This focus on gateway courses is motivated by the 2012 report from the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, which predicts that the United States will be short a million people with STEM degrees at the end of the next decade. The same report also notes, “The first two years of college are the most critical to the retention of recruitment of STEM majors.”
3DL4US: Product of an AAU Initiative
3DL4US is a continuation of the “Creating a Coherent Gateway for STEM Teaching and Learning at MSU” project, funded by the Association of American Universities (AAU). This project, now supported by an NSF-IUSE grant (“Extending a Coherent Gateway to STEM Teaching and Learning”), endeavors to change the culture at Michigan State University so that teaching and learning are valued and rewarded. The primary mechanisms to enact this change are (1) helping individual departments develop a shared vision for their gateway courses and (2) developing policies and structures to support and reward curricular improvements.
To help departments develop a gateway curriculum, groups of faculty have engaged in conversations to build consensus on key issues:
- What are the core ideas in the discipline?
- What scientific practices are important? (i.e., What should students be able to do with those core ideas?)
- How can we determine if students are learning these core ideas and practices?
- What teaching methods will most effectively help students master these core ideas and practices?
To support and reward curricular developments, this project has created the STEM Gateway Fellowship to promote and support faculty who want to improve their gateway courses. Additionally, this project is supporting wide reaching efforts such as the STEM Alliance to support faculty in improving their courses.