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Current Projects

Students work on one of the following projects or design one with similar goals of improving undergraduate STEM.

Science Denial and the COVID-19 Vaccine: A Study of Scientific Argumentation Skills and Vaccine Literacy after an Evidence-Laden Narrative Lesson

Fresno State Graduate Researcher: Emma Guerrero


Solving the world’s grand challenges, such as climate change and public health, requires both well-trained STEM professionals and a public willing to listen to scientific consensus. These problems cannot be overcome when the public denies scientific evidence and spreads misinformation.

There are many settings in which we can influence public opinion and knowledge of scientific issues. However, one of the final places to improve public understanding for college-educated individuals is the general education science classroom.

In this study, we are using focus group interviews and individual surveys with undergraduate general education biology students to understand how a lesson focused on an evidence-laden narrative (a story of someone overcoming their science denial) can improve (1) students' scientific argumentation skills and (2) personal beliefs and decisions about the COVID-19 vaccine.

Questing for Relevance: Exploring Student Outcomes from Creative Assessment "Quests" in a General Education Biology Course

Fresno State Graduate Researcher: Arron Ridenour; Fresno State Undergrad Researchers: Jazmin Soto Olivera and Lizette Castillo


Creativity, critical thinking, research, questioning, problem solving and collaboration skills are critical 21st century skills (Morrison, 2006; Wai, Lubinski and Benbow, 2010). Contrary to many of these goals, students often perceive STEM as the opposite of creative; seeing STEM as boring, lacking relevance, and full of memorizing facts. This in turn influences students to leave STEM degrees or never select them to begin with (Bok, 2006; Seymour & Hewitt, 1997). It is on these premises that we assert that assessments in STEM courses need to reflect actual real-world tasks and engage students’ interests and skills (e.g. Montgomery, 2002). 

We did this research in a unique context: a live, synchronous virtual biology course in Spring 2021. Students were assigned to do three quest-style assignments in which they chose their own adventure from over 20 creative assignments.

We are using a mixed methods approach to explore what the experience of doing the quest assignments like for the students. This includes surveys (N=85) and interviews (n=11) with undergraduate students in the unique general education biology course to uncover how and in what ways the quest assignment elicited their creativity and emotions they experienced as a result of completing the quests.

Exploring Faculty Teaching Practices, Technology Knowledge, Attitudes, and Mental Well-Being During the COVID 19 Pandemic

Fresno State Undergrad Researchers: Makayla Bailey, Arashnoor Gill, and Patricia Fernandez


In early 2020, the road to improving student success through active learning became additionally complex. The world was thrown into crisis with the outbreak of the novel coronavirus. Most higher education classrooms shifted to online learning, disrupting intended teaching practices.


This unique context, in tandem with the importance of using active learning to ensure student success, led our research team to explore how postsecondary teaching practices for 224 instructors changed during the coronavirus pandemic, including how teaching practices were impacted by attitudes about teaching, knowledge of using internet-based technologies for teaching, and faculty mental well-being.


Our findings support that active learning significantly decreased with the sudden move to online learning. This was most pronounced for faculty with limited teaching-with-technology knowledge and for faculty with beliefs that learning happens through transmission. 

Investigating the Impact of Values Affirmations on the Achievement Gap of Underrepresented Minority Students in STEM

Fresno State Undergrad Researchers: Noel Fernandez, Orlando Lopez, & Glen Martin

Graduate Student Researcher: Micah Johnson

In this intervention-based study, we posit that student success comes from supporting students’ social and emotional well-being (at least in part). Participating students do an easy-to-implement writing task called “values affirmation” (Cohen et al., 2006, 2009; Sherman et al., 2013; Walton et al., 2014). Values affirmation tasks support all students, but especially those who are most likely to experience a negative classroom climate, that is, individuals who are negatively stereotyped in academic settings. 

By exploring grade distribution outcomes in 8 different undergraduate STEM courses, we hope to add to the evidence that the achievement gap between white and URM students can be reduced by mitigating psychological and emotional stress.


Values affirmation interventions have demonstrated effects in reducing the achievement gap for URM undergraduate students in STEM (Jordt et al., 2017; Harackiewicz et al., 2014; Tibbett et al., 2016), and can also improve course outcomes for more privileged students (Jordt et al., 2017).

Why do Faculty Lecture?: An Exploration of Teaching Norms, Values, and Organizational Climate

Graduate Student Researchers (both now graduated): Lillian Senn & Evelin Muñoz

Undergraduate Student Researchers: Manaal Mian and Miriam Kiran

Why would a group of people trained to follow the evidence ignore years of educational psychology?

This research project examines the instructional practices of faculty through (a) development and validation of survey instruments and (b) collecting observation and interview data to understand how organizational climate (e.g. department leadership, resources, professional development, and the respect of colleagues) influences faculty teaching practices.


I have led our grant team to develop, pilot, and validate two new instruments for the project: a survey of organizational climate (SCII, Walter et al., 2020) and a survey of instructional practices (PIPS; Walter et al., 2016). This process included careful review of the literature, critical examination of available instruments, pilot testing with more than 1000 instructors from 7 institutions of higher education, and exploratory and confirmatory factor analyses of survey constructs. 


The second phase of the project includes classroom observations (using the Classroom Observation Protocol for Undergraduate STEM, COPUS) and interviews with instructors. The goal is to triangulate survey responses, interviews, and observations of faculty to better understand how organizational climate influences the instructional practices of STEM faculty. 

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