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Faculty Implement NSF Research Grant to Grow STEM Majors

June 19, 2018

KUTZTOWN, Pa. - Two members of Kutztown University's faculty are leading the implementation of a collaborative National Science Foundation (NSF) research grant received by the university last summer.

KU was awarded a $171,790 grant by the NSF last June to increase the number and diversity of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) majors through Student Produced Audio Narratives (SPAN).  Dr. Erin Kraal, associate professor of physical sciences, is the principal investigator for the project and Dr. Georgeos Sirrakos, assistant professor and department chair of secondary education, is the co-principal investigator.  The duo will work with co-principal investigators from MIT and Penn State Brandywine.  The project is a collective of nine local institutions including partner faculty from Albright College, Delaware County Community College, CUNY Queensboro Community College, Harrisburg Area Community College, Penn State Abington, and Rutgers University.  

KU launched the project last fall.  On June 18-19 the collaborative team will gather in the Grim Science Building on the KU Campus to discuss the results of the first year.  

"On behalf of Kutztown University, we are very proud to lead this effort," said Kraal.   "We believe this project will help grow and diversify STEM majors, and look forward to working with our colleagues from around the region to make a difference."  

The project focuses on meeting the U.S. needs for a larger and more diverse geoscience workforce, responding to predicted shortfalls in the coming decades.  The SPAN project will test the impact of a simple but potentially effective curricular change in large, introductory courses with a goal of improving non-science major student engagement in STEM by introducing student-produced audio narrative assignments to the curriculum. SPANs are assignments in which students engage with geoscience content by telling a scientific story using simple audio recording and production techniques. The overall goal of using of SPAN in STEM courses is to develop methods that will change the learning environment so that students feel an increased personal connection to STEM, particularly in the geosciences. 

Partner Faculty received training on technical and storytelling aspects of audio production and developing audio assignments tailored to their own classes. This project explores and implements the tool of student audio production, develops an implementation model though a partner faculty network, and measures the learning outcomes using mixed methods to research students' perception of and engagement in science.  

The collaborative regional network of partner faculty will design and implement student-produced audio narratives in their introductory-level classes, creating and testing flexible, adaptable assignments incorporating student-produced audio narratives.   These assignments can be implemented at virtually no cost and in a wide variety of classroom applications.  The project researches the impact of SPANs on students' perceptions of their learning environment and attitudes toward science using novel educational research methods.

KU faculty host NSF workshop