Focus Areas

Western Michigan University's Center for Research on Instructional Change in Postsecondary Education is engaged in multiple research projects that fall under three target areas. They are:

  1. Facilitating change in undergraduate STEM
  2. Broadening student pathways
  3. Teaching with technology

As our research evolves, these areas are subject to evolve as well.

Focus area 1: Facilitating change in undergraduate STEM


There is currently more national emphasis on improving undergraduate STEM education than there has been in the last 60 years (since Sputnik). The following are significant topics in this research area:

SCALE-UP team discussion

  • Educational researchers have developed many research-based instructional strategies that have been shown to improve student learning in undergraduate STEM subjects. But these proven instructional strategies are not well used by typical college instructors. Research is needed on change strategies targeted at the individual faculty level (e.g., by changing faculty beliefs about the role of the instructor as a guide rather than a source of knowledge) and at the educational system level (e.g., changing the reward system so that good teaching is rewarded).
  • Scholars who conduct research on change in STEM higher education come from a variety of disciplinary traditions, belong to different professional communities, go to different conferences, and publish in different journals. This isolation severely limits our ability to improve the knowledge base by building on prior work. Work is needed to develop a more cohesive research community in this area.  

Current projects


Charles Henderson

Focus area 2: Broadening student pathways


Grad student Katie Foote (NCSU) working on researchSocietal and institutional changes are critical to support the participation and success of low-income students, students from underrepresented racial/ethnic minorities, and, for STEM fields, female students. This focus area includes research on how students negotiate multiple personal identities (e.g., race and gender) as they construct a student identity. The following are significant topics in this research area:

  • Developing institutional and instructional innovations are needed to support the retention and advancement of underrepresented students as they navigate through undergraduate and graduate programs.
  • Informing postsecondary science educators’ understanding of the psychological and social factors that determine STEM graduate student retention and advancement in STEM disciplines.

Current projects

  • Fulfilling the Promise


Andrea Beach

Focus area 3: Teaching with technology


Technology is a key driver of change in higher education. The following are significant problems in this research area:

Cody Williams giving a presentation at a CRICPE symposium

  • There is a growing expectation that professors and instructors will “flip” their classrooms, making videos of their lectures available outside of classroom time so that classroom time can be used for more student-centered activities. To do this well on a wide scale will require several layers of support including:
    • Instructional design.
    • Faculty development.
    • Information technology support.
    • Student device infrastructure.
    There is little research-based knowledge about any of these areas.
  • The U.S. Department of Labor has identified computing jobs as among the fastest growing and highest paying jobs, but relatively few women are benefiting from these opportunities. Major barriers to women’s participation in computing-related coursework include the following:
    • Curriculum that is irrelevant.
    • Pedagogies that discourage collaboration.
    • Lack of opportunities to take risks and make mistakes.
    • Heavy reliance on lecturing instead of active, hands-on, project-based learning.


Brian Horvitz