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University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota


In the new 5-year, $3,000,000 collaborative NSF grant:  SEMINAL:  Student Engagement in Mathematics through an Institutional Network for Active Learning, faculty will collaborate with APLU to better understand both how to sustain success in implementing active learning in undergraduate mathematics classes and how to influence similar success at other institutions. The work was initiated through our Mathematics Teacher Education Partnership (MTEP) and builds on earlier funding from the Helmsley Charitable Trust.  It involves the University of Colorado at Boulder, San Diego State University, and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln as core partners.

In January 2018, APLU announced the expansion of SEMINAL to include nine new universities – bringing the total number institutions involved in the effort to 12. The nine new universities joined three core institutions – San Diego State University, University of Colorado Boulder, and University of Nebraska-Lincoln – 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 universities joining the effort were selected from a pool of 47 institutions that submitted proposals and will serve as models for a national push to reform introductory math instruction. Given significant university interest in joining the active learning project, SEMINAL will seek ways to engage a broader network of universities in the future.

The nine institutions are:

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. SEMINAL was initiated through, and continues to align with, the APLU Mathematics Teacher Education Partnership (MTEP) – building on earlier funding from the Helmsley Charitable Trust. APLU is also working to increase underrepresented minority participation in the STEM fields through its APLU INCLUDES effort, which aims to diversify STEM faculty.

Student success rates in undergraduate introductory mathematics (Precalculus through Calculus 2) are unacceptably low on most campuses.  Students who do poorly in introductory mathematics significantly reduce their options for majoring in STEM or pursuing STEM related careers – where job growth is some of the most dynamic.  As the President’s Council of Advisors in Science and Technology (PCAST) chided in its 2012 report:  “low-performing students with a high interest and aptitude in STEM careers often have difficulty with the math required in introductory STEM courses with little help provided by their universities.”

Overwhelming evidence has shown that active learning techniques generate significantly greater learning, as stated in the attached NSF project abstract.  The largest study of undergraduate STEM education literature to date -- a meta-analysis of 225 studies published by the National Academies in 2014 -- stated that undergraduate students in classes using active learning methods had higher course grades by half a letter grade, and students in classes with traditional lectures were 1.5 times more likely to fail.  Progress through Calculus, an ongoing NSF funded study led by the Mathematical Association of America (MAA) is probably the most in-depth study of calculus education, with an impressive response rate of 68% to its survey of all mathematical departments that offer a graduate degree in mathematics. It found that 44% of all mathematics departments think that active learning strategies are very important for successful P2C2 courses. However, of those that indicate active learning is very important, 75% report that they are not very successful at doing so.