The National Academies Scientific Teaching Alliance (NASTA)

Return to search results | New search

Title of Abstract: The National Academies Scientific Teaching Alliance (NASTA)

Name of Author: Jo Handelsman
Author Company or Institution: Yale University
PULSE Fellow: No
Applicable Courses: All Biological Sciences Courses
Course Levels: Across the Curriculum, Faculty Development, Introductory Course(s), Upper Division Course(s)
Approaches: Assessment, Changes in Classroom Approach (flipped classroom, clickers, POGIL, etc.), Material Development
Keywords: Faculty development STEM education Institutional change Diversity

Name, Title, and Institution of Author(s): Jennifer Frederick, Yale University

Goals and intended outcomes of the project or effort, in the context of the Vision and Change report and recommendations: The goals of the annual National Academies Summer Institutes for Undergraduate Education in Biology (SI; are closely intertwined with central aims of the AAAS Vision & Change initiative. Launched in 2004 in response to recommendations in the 2003 NRC report Bio2010, the SI was designed as an intensive professional development workshop to transform undergraduate biology instruction, particularly in large introductory courses, by training university faculty in the principles and practice of research-based teaching. Departments apply to send teams to the SI, including administrators, senior and junior faculty. Interactive sessions on current learning research, active learning, assessment, and capitalizing on diversity guide participants in developing innovative instructional materials. Support has been primarily through grants from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), first to the University of Wisconsin's Program for Scientific Teaching and then to the Center for Scientific Teaching at Yale (CST) where the program is now based. At a 2012 leadership summit meeting designed to inform ongoing development of regional SIs as well as increase their impact, forty SI alums and leaders convened in Madison to work on 5 topics: alumni communication and sharing instructional materials; classroom assessment and biology education research; capitalizing on diversity; institutional change; and national presence. The corresponding workgroups are continuing their efforts on these topics, which align with HHMI’s evaluation interest in identifying key SI elements associated with faculty and institutional change. A major outcome of the summit meeting was a decision to expand the scope and activities of the SI. The National Academies Governing Board recently approved the SI’s request to rename the initiative as the 'National Academies Scientific Teaching Alliance' (NASTA) to reflect expanded emphases.

Describe the methods and strategies that you are using: NASTA will coordinate and integrate a variety of programs, designed to: 1) inform the scientific and science education communities about effective, evidence-based teaching practices, 2) continue providing professional development to current and future faculty in the application of effective pedagogies through regional National Academies Summer Institutes (SIs), and 3) study and report on the reach and impacts of the SIs and related activities through assessment coordinated by Yale’s CST. While the SIs will remain the centerpiece of its activities, NASTA also plans to offer scientific teaching workshops at professional meetings, organize on-campus workshops on effective pedagogical practices for present and future faculty and administrators, and provide a platform for collaborative research across institutions to evaluate the impact of SI-promoted instructional practices. Looking forward, the influence of NASTA will be amplified by maintaining strong ties with other vigorous transformation initiatives such as Vision & Change.

Describe the evaluation methods that you used (or intended to use) to determine whether the project or effort achieved the desired goals and outcomes: From 2004-2010, approximately 35 faculty per year were trained at annual SIs at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Well-documented success (e.g. Pfund et al., Science 324:470-471, 2009) and increasing demand prompted expansion to seven regional SIs between 2011 and 2012, along with increased evaluation efforts to maintain program fidelity and measure impact. To date, 685 participants representing almost all major U.S. research universities have trained at an SI. Evaluation has shown (ibid.) that SI graduates change their approach to teaching. In addition, many become agents of change at their home institutions, regionally, and nationally. Current evaluation efforts include a shift toward quantitative mixed methods and using a database for more sophisticated analysis of survey responses. In the current life cycle, we are beginning to examine practices adopted by faculty after they return to their home institutions. In the future, we intend to study the effect on student learning.

Impacts of project or effort on students, fellow faculty, department or institution. If no time to have an impact, anticipated impacts: Examples of far-reaching impacts of the SI initiative include: * Regional SIs have led to development of regional networks, which have spawned a four-institution scientific teaching TA training collaboration in the Northeast, and emerging research and evaluation partnerships. * In 2009, some 10% of the participants at the national symposium on Vision and Change in Undergraduate Biology Education were SI alumns. * Five of the 40 recently chosen PULSE fellows are SI alumns. * SI alumns created (in 2010) and continue to lead the Society for the Advancement of Biology Education Research (SABER). * SI alumns have presented at national meetings of professional societies (for example, scientific teaching workshops held at ACSB in 2011, AAAS in 2012). * Numerous publications by SI alumns in peer-reviewed education journals have documented increased student learning resulting from application of scientific teaching principles. * Development of instructional materials from the SI’s is being integrated with the Scientific Teaching Toolbox project and the CourseSource initiative. * SI leaders have described the SIs as a model for professional development of science faculty to numerous groups, including the National Academies (2010) and the Council of Scientific Society Presidents (2012) * The SI model is spreading internationally; SI staff have conducted workshops in India and Jordan, and several foreign institutions have sent teams to an SI.

Describe any unexpected challenges you encountered and your methods for dealing with them: As the impact of the SIs broadens, emphasis on transformation initiatives that go beyond classroom instruction has grown. Many of our participants arrive at the SI with prior knowledge of the foundational curriculum (e.g., Bloom’s Taxonomy, backward design, engaging teaching methods) and are eager to become agents of change. The 2012 leadership summit was a first step to address broad challenges such as diversity, curating and sharing instructional materials, and institutional transformation. NASTA evolved from the SI curriculum and the larger population impacted by its success; the new alliance will provide an infrastructure for advancing this work and collaborating with and learning from other transformation-minded groups across the STEM education landscape.

Describe your completed dissemination activities and your plans for continuing dissemination: Dissemination to date includes a book (Handelsman et al., 2007, 'Scientific Teaching,' W.H. Freeman), articles (e.g. e.g. Pfund et al., Science 324:470-471, 2009), instructional materials shared online (; the official launch of NASTA will be celebrated at a gathering at the National Academy of Sciences headquarters planned for August 2014.

Acknowledgements: Michelle Withers, Director of NASTA and Associate Professor of Biology, West Virginia University William B. Wood, Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology, University of Colorado Boulder Jenny Frederick, Co-director of the Center for Scientific Teaching, Yale University Mark Graham, Evaluation Director of the Center for Scientific Teaching, Yale University James Young, Executive Director of the Center for Scientific Teaching, Yale University