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University of Minnesota

Student Engagement in Mathematics through an Institutional Network for Active Learning (SEMINAL)

APLU Impact

  • Creating models for a national push to reform math instruction.
  • Studying and scaling the implementation of active learning to dramatically increase student success in introductory math courses, which are foundational to the study of STEM fields.
  • Through a National Science Foundation grant, over 120 math faculty at 26 institutions are studying the implementation of active learning on their campuses to dramatically increase student success in introductory math courses.
  • SEMINAL handbook published in 2021 helps mathematics departments improve student outcomes. 

Student Engagement in Mathematics through an Institutional Network for Active Learning (SEMINAL) is a National Science Foundation-funded effort to better understand how to sustain success in implementing active learning in undergraduate mathematics classes and how to influence similar success at other institutions. With a $3.8 million, five-year grant, APLU is partnering with three lead institutions (University of Colorado Boulder; University of Nebraska-Lincoln; and San Diego State University) and 23 additional universities to study how to drive institutional change. 


Collaborating for Innovation

Entry-level math remains one of the biggest barriers to student success overall for undergraduate degrees, and particularly for STEM majors. Nationally, 25 to 50 percent of students fail their first math class, with another 50 percent of students in STEM majors switching out of those fields after struggling in math. Yet schools that have adopted active learning in entry-level math have achieved remarkable increases in student success. Students in active learning courses earn higher course grades by half a letter grade and students in classes with traditional lectures were 1.5 times more likely to fail.

Through SEMINAL, faculty are collaborating with APLU to better understand how to effectively implement active learning and related changes in undergraduate math and how to drive wider adoption of active learning methods in higher education. The work was initiated through the Mathematics Teacher Education Partnership (MTEP) initiative. SEMINAL's purpose is to help change agents, those looking to (or currently attempting to) enact change within mathematics departments and beyond—trying to reform the instruction of their lower division mathematics courses in order to promote high achievement for all students.

  • Phase I (2016-2017)

    During Phase I, the SEMINAL team conducted retrospective case studies of six institutions that have successfully engaged in program transformation around P2C2 courses. The institutions were selected from those identified by the Progress Through Calculus study of the Mathematical Association of America. Following data collection throughout the spring 2017 semester, the SEMINAL team engaged in analyses of case study data. From each site, after collecting a self-study, a two-day site visit featured many interviews, along with observations of P2C2 courses. Sites also administered surveys of students, P2C2 instructors, and the Math Department as a whole.

    The SEMINAL team published a handbook in Spring 2021 to help launch institutional transformations in mathematics departments.  "Transformational Change Efforts: Student Engagement in Mathematics through an Institutional Network for Active Learning" reports findings from Phase I. 


  • Phase II (2017-2020)
    In January 2018, nine new universities joined the three core institutions to form a diverse cohort of institutions aiming to study how to enact and support institutional change fostering the use of active learning in mathematics. The institutions were selected through a rigorous peer review process examining the merit of proposals as well as institutional characteristics including type, size, location, and attributes of the student body. Together, the universities serve as models for a national push to reform introductory math instruction. 


  • Phase III (2020-2022)
    Eleven additional universities joined SEMINAL, selected from among the 37 applicants for Phase 2 that did not receive funding for that cohort.  The key question under investigation is the extent to which their proposed Phase 2 education change work was carried out without their involvement in a network of other institutions and the conditions that afforded or constrained their ability to do so. 


  • Project Leadership
    Project Leadership Team
    • Naneh Apkarian, Senior Personnel, Arizona State University
    • Sally Ahrens, Graduate Research Assistant (Former), University of Nebraska-Lincoln
    • Ny'lyjah Cain, Project Associate, APLU
    • Allan Donsig, Co-PI, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
    • Tia Freelove Kirk, Project Manager, APLU
    • Rachel Funk, Graduate Research Assistant, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
    • Howard Gobstein, PI, APLU
    • David Grant, Co-PI, University of Colorado Boulder
    • Brittany Johnson, Graduate Research Assistant, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
    • Nancy Kress, Graduate Research Assistant, University of Colorado Boulder
    • George Nasr, Graduate Research Assistant, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
    • Rebecca Machen, Graduate Research Assistant, University of Colorado Boulder
    • W. Gary Martin, Senior Personnel/ Director, MTE-Partnership, Auburn University
    • Antonio Martinez, Graduate Research Assistant, San Diego State University
    • Colin McGrane, Graduate Research Assistant, San Diego State University
    • Emily McMillon, Graduate Research Assistant, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
    • Michael O’Sullivan, Co-PI, San Diego State University
    • Chris Rasmussen, PI, San Diego State University
    • Wendy Smith, PI, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
    • April Ström, Senior Personnel, Chandler-Gilbert Community College
    • Carlie Triplett, Graduate Research Assistant, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
    • Rob Tubbs, PI, University of Colorado Boulder
    • Karina Uhing, Graduate Research Assistant (Former), University of Nebraska at Omaha
    • Matthew Voigt, Senior Personnel, Clemson University
    • Nathan Wakefield, Co-PI, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
    • David Webb, Project Lead, University of Colorado Boulder
    • Molly Williams, Graduate Research Assistant (Former), Murray State University


    • John Sutton, ResultED LLC.


    Advisory Board
    • Martina Bode, Clinical Professor and Director of Calculus, University of Illinois at Chicago
    • Linda Braddy, President at Dallas College Brookhaven
    • David Bressoud, Professor of Mathematics, Macalester College
    • Edward Burger, President, Southwestern University
    • Chris Jett, Associate Professor, University of West Georgia


SEMINAL Handbook Available Now!SEMINAL Phase I Book

"Transformational Change Efforts: Student Engagement in Mathematics through an Institutional Network for Active Learning" is available for purchase now at the American Mathematical Society bookstore. The purpose of this handbook is to help department chairs, deans, and mathematicians launch institutional transformations in mathematics departments to improve student success. We report findings from Phase I of the SEMINAL project and provide insights into the conditions, strategies, interventions and actions at the departmental and classroom levels that contribute to the initiation, implementation, and institutional sustainability of active learning in undergraduate calculus across varied institutions. (Print ISBN: 978-1-4704-6377-9; Electronic ISBN: 978-1-4704-6453-0)

"This is the “how to” book for department leaders who recognize the need to move toward active learning or simply want to know more about what it would involve. The SEMINAL project began by studying these six departments. In Phase II it added nine more departments that wanted to initiate active learning, seeking to take the lessons described in this report and seeing how they could be applied to help those beginning this process. SEMINAL is already moving on to Phase III, now bringing in an additional twelve departments to apply what they have learned." - David Bressoud, Director of the Council Board of the Mathematical Sciences; MAA Blog, "How to Transform a Department of Mathematics"

NSF Support - SEMINAL Logo