Sirena Hargrove-Leak directs NSF-funded grant

In collaboration with colleagues from two other institutions, Assistant Professor Sirena Hargrove-Leak has received a grant of more than $161,000 from the National Science Foundation to research and reform the way science and engineering students learn in laboratory settings.

Assistant Professor Sirena Hargrove-Leak
The project, titled “Reforming Laboratory Instruction and Hands-on Experiences for the Millennial Learners in STEM,” is under Hargrove-Leak’s direction in collaboration with two colleagues from N.C. A&T State University and Bennett College in Greensboro, North Carolina. 

Many educators acknowledge that the millennial generation of students learns like no other, yet little has been done to alter laboratory instruction in response to this generational shift. The NSF project will conduct educational research that evaluates the use of the Case Study Teaching in the Sciences method to improve laboratory instruction.

This educational pedagogy promotes the use of cases, or interactive “stories,” to engage students in STEM courses and to help reform STEM instruction. The cases will be used to introduce the lab concepts as a way to bring relevance to the analytical skills being learned in the lab. The overarching goal for this project is to reform laboratory “step-by-step” instruction to a method that will be more active, engaging and relevant to millennial learners.

More specifically, the project will evaluate student learning preferences, student engagement, retention of material, and learning of course concepts using the case studies method.

Qualitative and quantitative assessment will be conducted to evaluate student impression for use of the methods, student learning gains, and critical thinking of students in biology, environmental engineering, and introductory engineering courses. This educational study will evaluate and compare data based on gender, ethnicity, and institutional type across three very different university environments.

The work has the potential for broad impact because there is widespread interest in improving educational practices across STEM fields. The goal for this work will be to determine if the case studies for laboratory instruction can potentially provide a crosscutting new paradigm for lab instruction.

The grant continues a longstanding track record of Elon engineering and physics faculty obtaining external funding and recognition for their scholarly work.