Supporting Active Learning in Introductory STEM Courses with Extended Reality

  • Fadi Castronovo (Consultant)

Activity: Consultancy


External Educational Evaluation Consultant

Program Information:
United State of America National Science Foundation (NSF) Division Of Undergraduate Education - Award Number: 2126723

Program Description:
California has the largest STEM workforce in the country and anticipates rapid growth in STEM careers. Despite its size and growth capacity, minority groups, especially Latinx workers, represent less than 15% of the California STEM workforce while making up nearly 40% of the working-age population. This imbalance presents a key opportunity which this project seeks to address. Supported by the Improving Undergraduate STEM Education: Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSI Program), California State University-Fresno, San Jose State University, Sonoma State University, and Fresno City College are collaborating to provide training for 30 STEM educators to integrate active learning into introductory STEM courses in chemistry, physics, civil engineering, and construction management. In particular, the project team will explore the use of extended reality (XR), which represents three technologies (virtual reality, augmented reality, and mixed reality) that will enable students to engage with course materials in ways that cannot be accomplished in a traditional classroom setting. Building from prior NSF-funded work that resulted in positive outcomes for students using XR in early STEM courses, the project will impact more than 15,000 undergraduates and will establish a community of practice centered on XR-enhanced active learning. The project research plan will generate new knowledge about faculty implementation of XR technology, techniques for implementing XR effectively, and the impact of these approaches on student learning outcomes. The involvement of the California State University (CSU) Chancellor’s office will support institutional and community transformation, and the collaboration with Fresno City College. This is part of a more extensive relationship which introduces a new connection between the CSU system and the California Community College (CCC) system, which serves more than 2 million students annually throughout its 116 colleges.

The goal of this project is to design, implement, and evaluate XR-supported active learning strategies to narrow achievement gaps and promote systemic transformation at the collaborating institutions to achieve equitable STEM education. Using a mixed-method research design, the project team will investigate three research questions. 1) What are the barriers and pathways for STEM instructors across disciplines when adopting XR in active learning for introductory courses? 2) What factors and strategies influence XR's effectiveness for achieving learning outcomes in introductory STEM courses? and 3) What are the pedagogical impacts of XR on learning and achievement gaps for minority students whose participation in STEM fields of study lags behind their representation in the general population? The project team will collaborate closely with key partners and external advisory board members to pursue four goals. First is to develop a community of practice to support STEM faculty efforts to adopt and sustain XR-enhanced, student-centered active learning. Second is to create an online repository of XR open educational resources. Third is to conduct in-class trials and pilots to compare the effectiveness and pedagogical impacts of different types of XR technologies and active learning experiences. Fourth is to lead faculty professional development to engage a broader education community in developing and disseminating pedagogical uses of XR in STEM. The findings of this project will ultimately advance the understanding of a systemic, inclusive approach that leverages XR technologies for active learning in STEM to meet the diverse needs of a diverse population of students. The HSI Program aims to enhance undergraduate STEM education, broaden participation in STEM, and build capacity at HSIs. Achieving these aims, given the diverse nature and context of the HSIs, requires innovative approaches that incentivize institutional and community transformation and promote fundamental research (i) on engaged student learning, (ii) about what it takes to diversify and increase participation in STEM effectively, and (iii) that improves our understanding of how to build institutional capacity at HSIs. Projects supported by the HSI Program will also draw from these approaches to generate new knowledge on how to achieve these aims.
PeriodOct 2020 → …
Work forCalifornia State University Fresno, United States


  • Extended Reality
  • STEM education
  • Virtual Reality
  • Augmented Reality