Introductory college physics courses can be a hurdle for students working toward a degree in a STEM discipline. A team of researchers aims to improve student outcomes by providing real-time, actionable data to instructors.

Ben Van Dusen, assistant professor in Iowa State University’s School of Education, is part of a team that received a three-year, $441,494 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to develop tools that will help instructors help their students succeed. Because introductory courses typically have high enrollment, it can be difficult for instructors to give their students individualized instruction and resources.

“There is nothing like this in the science education space,” said Van Dusen. “We’re looking at what skills students need to complete the course, what skills they need help with and giving instructors the tools to provide customized instruction and resources throughout the course.”

The grant, Collaborative Research: Individualizing Instruction and Improving Research Using Adaptive Testing, will create a free, online, cognitive diagnostic computer adaptive test.

Van Dusen shared the new tool will offer several supports for instructors improving student outcomes while creating more equitable learning environments. Instructors will be able to regularly identify each student’s progress in learning the core skills and knowledge required to succeed in the course. Not only does this approach provide immediately actionable information to support students, but it does so at the individual student level.

“This will help physics instructors go beyond teaching to the ‘average student,’ who is most often White men, to create differentiated lesson plans that support all learners,” said Van Dusen. “Instructors will also be able to access custom reports designed to help them monitor and improve the equity in their student outcomes.”

The work builds on Van Dusen’s research as part of the Learning About STEM Student Outcomes (LASSO) platform. LASSO is a free online assessment platform that gives instructors feedback about their students’ learning. LASSO is a collaborative effort between the Learning Assistant Alliance and the STEM Equity project. The STEM Equity project is dedicated to empowering researchers and instructors in the STEM fields to support diversity, equity, and inclusion in their classrooms while contributing to, enriching and diversifying the Discipline Based Education Research literature.

Research Team

Ben Van Dusen (Iowa State University), Jayson Nissen (Nissen Education Research and Design) Morphew (Purdue University), Hua-Hua Chang (Purdue University) are the team leading the creation of this new assessment tool. The grant is collaborative with Iowa State receiving $441,494 and Purdue receiving $158,416.