Current Projects

A Social Network Approach to Exploring

Identity Development among First Year Experience Students in STEM

Fresno State student researchers: Allyssa Gomez & Edgar Muñoz


Undergraduate STEM majors are less likely stay in STEM as they progress through college.  Some change their major completely and others leave college completely. Many colleges and universities have adopted First Year Experience (FYE) programs for their incoming freshman to help students overcome first year barriers. We know how FYE programs influence student success broadly, but not how these programs influence STEM student identity, an important personal trait influential in future success as a STEM professional. STEM identity has been studied in many cases already, such as in minorities but not on how programs such as FYE influence STEM identity.

This project is using Social Network Analysis (SNA) to explore what school-related advice students in the First Year Experience exchange, and how this relates to their self-efficacy, competence in STEM, and recognition within the FYE community. 



Project Evol-V: Exploring Evolution Knowledge, Acceptance, and

the Influence of Effective Teaching Practice

(in collaboration with W.L. Romine and A. Todd, Wright State University)

Fresno State student researcher: Ephiram Bosse


This project involves exploring undergraduate students' evolution knowledge (including knowledge of natural selection and knowledge of macroevolution) and evolution acceptance. We are exploring how these variables relate to one another and how culturally competent, evidence-driven instruction can affect students' learning outcomes (e.g. Barnes and Brownell, 2017).

We currently have pre/post instruction data from more than 1200 students (including biology majors and non-science majors).  We are exploring patterns in the quantitative data, and plan to move toward interviews in future work.


This project dovetails on a 2017 manuscript and 2016 NARST paper that documents the two-dimensional nature of evolution acceptance as measured by the MATE (Rutledge & Warden, 1999). We documented that the MATE could measure two forms of acceptance: (1) a cognitive, logic-driven form of acceptance and an affective, intuitive form of acceptance (Romine, Walter, Todd, & Bosse, 2017).

This project continues with interviews with students of interest from each of 5 evolution acceptance 'profiles' generated by our k-means cluster analysis of the two forms of evolution acceptance described above. Through semi-structured interviews, we seek to understand how students from each profile qualitatively differ from students in other profiles.


Why do Faculty Lecture?:

An Exploration of Teaching Norms, Values, and Organizational Climate

(in collaboration with Beach, Henderson, Grunert, and Williams from Western Michigan University)


Student researchers: Lillian Senn, Evelin Muñoz, Alejandro Mendez, Glen Martin, Arashnoor Gill, Makayla Bailey &


Ivan Ceballos-Madrigal


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., 2017) 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 included classroom observations (using the Teaching Dimensions Observation Protocol, TDOP) and interviews with 15 instructors in 3 case study departments. 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.


Since 2016, and with the help a team of students from California State University-Fresno, we are working to continue analysis of SCII data to understand the relationship of departmental climate on individual instructional practices. In 2017, we began exploration using k-means cluster analysis to generate common teaching/climate profiles.  This cluster analysis will be driving by combining two PIPS factor scores and five SCII climate factor scores, including institutional and individual demographic patterns within these profiles.

Exploring STEM Faculty Teaching Practices


Student researchers: Lillian Senn, Evelin Muñoz, Alejandro Mendez, Glen Martin, Arashnoor Gill, Makayla Bailey &


Ivan Ceballos-Madrigal


Since January 2015, the Fresno State Faculty Learning for OutComes and Knowledge (FLOCK) has gathered teaching practice (STEP survey; Marbach-Ad et al., 2012) and observational data (COPUS; Smith et al., 2013) to document the pedagogical practices of faculty in the College of Science and Mathematics at Fresno State.

This study is examining patterns in the survey and observational data, including exploring the data using k-means cluster analysis and examining correlations between observed faculty behaviors and self-reported survey data.


Building Biology Experts (BBE Project): An exploration of learners' attitudes and knowledge in introductory majors' biology courses 


Fresno State student researchers: Glen Martin, Ivan Ceballos-Madrigal, and Allyssa Gomez


Since Fall 2015, this project explores undergraduate students enrolled in introductory majors' biology courses at Fresno State. We gathered survey data using the Colorado Learning Attitudes about Science Survey (CLASS; Semsar, Knight, Birol, & Smith, 2011); the Conceptual Inventory of Natural Selection (CINS; Anderson, Fisher, & Norman, 2002), and the energy and matter in dynamic systems survey (Wilson et al., 2006). 

As of summer 2018, our data (N=1147) support that a pedagogical focus on real world connections, fostering enjoyment in the topic, as well as reasoning and effort related to problem solving may have an influence on learning outcomes (knowledge of natural selection and knowledge of energy/matter). Furthermore, we've identified that biology majors have more positive views of learning biology than other groups. This is problematic since there is a significant population of other majors taking majors' introductory biology courses (e.g. agriculture students, chemistry majors). 

We plan to continue gathering data over subsequent semesters, including qualitative data to explore how and why correlations and significant changes have occurred in students' knowledge and attitudes.

California Invasive Plants Game and Curriculum Design (Retired project)

Fresno State student contributers: Katherine Ross and Lee Nelson

Game Mechanics: Conrad Ross

This retired project combines real ecological data about native and invasive California plants with effective game design principles to create a Next Generation Science Standards aligned game for elementary school students.

Students playing the game assume the role as one of 30 California plants, each of which has comparative "stats" on a trading card.  Kids then play in an active game against each other as they encounter events: human disturbance, fire, drought, growth, distribution, and more. By the end of the game, only some of the plants (often the invasives) end up in the final ecological community.

This project was inspired by a game about invasive plants in the upper Midwest, and the Walter research lab is working to make the game unique to California plants, ecologically accurate (based on real ecological data), and well balanced in its game mechanics.


We presented our game at the 2017 National Science Teachers Association conference in Los Angeles.

© 2020 by Emily M. Walter, PhD

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