Nav: Home

Study shows a decade's increase in education specialists in university science departments

June 05, 2019

Science professors go through years of training to learn about their field, yet they often don't receive any formal education in how to teach students about it. A new study takes a decade-long look at one way that science departments in the California State University (CSU) system are trying to amend that by bringing faculty with educational expertise into the fold.

The story starts in 2005, when San Francisco State University Professor of Biology Kimberly Tanner and five of her colleagues across the CSU noticed a little-reported phenomenon: education specialists in science departments. "The practice of embedding people who have scientific backgrounds but who also bring expertise in education was an emerging idea," she said. There's a long history of science departments working with education departments, but this was something different. To learn more about the shift, the team surveyed faculty members across the 23 CSU campuses and published their results in 2008.

After a decade of national studies on the topic, they saw an opportunity to check back in at home to see how things had changed. Tanner, along with Cal Poly Pomona Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry Seth Bush, Utah Valley University Professor of Biology Michael Stevens and San Diego State University Professor of Biology Kathy Williams, found and surveyed 89 education specialists in science departments across the CSU system. The team published the results today in the journal Science Advances.

The researchers found that the number of education specialists in CSU science departments had increased by more than 50% since 2008, and the percentage who were formally trained in science education more than doubled. They were better-funded, too: The fraction of surveyed faculty who won more than a million dollars in grant funding also doubled over the decade to more than half. Some specialized in education research in their scientific discipline while others focused on improving science courses at their university or supporting K-12 science education.

The findings are contrary to the assumptions of many researchers who, at the time of the original study, expected that the phenomenon of education specialists in science departments would be short-lived. "That's why this research is so key," Tanner said. "Not only are they still around, but it looks like there's an increase in the number of people in these positions."

A number of factors could be responsible for the shift. Tanner points to an increase in national grant funding for science education and a broader recognition that lackluster teaching discourages some students from pursuing science degrees. Many university science departments "disproportionately lose students of color, transfer students and LGBTQ students," she explained. "There is increasing focus within science departments to be better educators and to retain more students -- and more diverse populations of students."

While the study was focused on the CSU system, the researchers write that the results are useful for understanding national trends, since the system is the largest four-year public university system in the U.S. and includes a variety of university types. They next hope to survey administrators and other researchers among science faculty to see how the phenomenon is affecting teaching in science departments more broadly.

"It could have turned out very differently than it has," Tanner said. "But these hybrid professionals have really flourished."
-end-
Funding for this research was provided by a grant from the CSU Chancellor's Office.

San Francisco State University

Related Education Articles:

Technology in higher education: learning with it instead of from it
Technology has shifted the way that professors teach students in higher education.
The new racial disparity in special education
Racial disparity in special education is growing, and it's more complex than previously thought.
Education may be key to a healthier, wealthier US
A first-of-its-kind study estimate the economic value of education for better health and longevity.
How education may stave off cognitive decline
Prefrontal brain regions linked to higher educational attainment are characterized by increased expression of genes involved in neurotransmission and immunity, finds a study of healthy older adults published in JNeurosci.
Does more education stem political violence?
In a study released online today in Review of Educational Research, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Educational Research Association, three Norwegian researchers attempt to bring clarity to this question by undertaking the first systematic examination of quantitative research on this topic.
Education interventions improve economic rationality
This study proves that education can be leveraged as a tool to help enhance an individual's economic decision-making quality, or economic rationality.
Protestantism still matters when it comes to education, study shows
A new academic study, the first of its kind, reveals a significant and positive historical legacy of Protestant religion in education around the world.
Individual education programs not being used as intended in special education
Gone are the days when students with disabilities were placed in a separate classroom, or even in a completely different part of the school.
How does limited education limit young people?
A recent nationally-representative US Department of Education study found that 28 percent of fall 2009 ninth-graders had not yet enrolled in a trade school or college by February 2016 -- roughly six-and-a-half years later.
'Depression education' effective for some teens
In an assessment of their 'depression literacy' program, which has already been taught to tens of thousands, Johns Hopkins researchers say the Adolescent Depression Awareness Program (ADAP) achieved its intended effect of encouraging many teenagers to speak up and seek adult help for themselves or a peer.
More Education News and Education Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Uncharted
There's so much we've yet to explore–from outer space to the deep ocean to our own brains. This hour, Manoush goes on a journey through those uncharted places, led by TED Science Curator David Biello.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#555 Coronavirus
It's everywhere, and it felt disingenuous for us here at Science for the People to avoid it, so here is our episode on Coronavirus. It's ok to give this one a skip if this isn't what you want to listen to right now. Check out the links below for other great podcasts mentioned in the intro. Host Rachelle Saunders gets us up to date on what the Coronavirus is, how it spreads, and what we know and don't know with Dr Jason Kindrachuk, Assistant Professor in the Department of Medical Microbiology and infectious diseases at the University of Manitoba. And...
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dispatch 1: Numbers
In a recent Radiolab group huddle, with coronavirus unraveling around us, the team found themselves grappling with all the numbers connected to COVID-19. Our new found 6 foot bubbles of personal space. Three percent mortality rate (or 1, or 2, or 4). 7,000 cases (now, much much more). So in the wake of that meeting, we reflect on the onslaught of numbers - what they reveal, and what they hide.  Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.