Research Interests

Understanding the process of learning is essential for creating effective college learning environments that support students’ persistence in STEM and contribute to a well-trained workforce. Despite significant recent advances in DBER, researchers increasingly recognize that our understanding of what works to promote learning is fragmented across disciplines, from DBER, cognitive science, psychology, the learning sciences, and STEM education. As such, our DBER collaborations focus on interdisciplinary studies that meld various theories and methods to progress our understanding further.


Our research centers around two distinct but closely related strands. Strand 1 is rooted in disciplinary priorities, while Strand 2 centers on teaching and learning beyond content understanding. Below, we describe some illustrative examples, noting that our research interests extend beyond these examples.  


Strand 1

Strand 1 focuses on the teaching and student learning of disciplinary content and on transferring knowledge, skills, reasoning approaches, and problem-solving strategies between topics, contexts, and disciplines.

Illustrative example: Cross-disciplinary learning. Nearly all STEM programs and majors design curricula based on the expectation that students will integrate knowledge and skills across multiple disciplinary contexts. However, many STEM instructors agree that bringing this vision to fruition is challenging. Students often demonstrate content mastery in one course but struggle to apply that same content in different courses across or within the same discipline. Moreover, research into student understanding of cross-cutting concepts is mainly lacking due to the siloing of STEM disciplines and DBER investigations. Thus, there is a need to investigate appropriate teaching and assessment strategies that support the development of student knowledge and reasoning in the context of cross-cutting science concepts.

The cross-disciplinary DBER group at NDSU investigates knowledge integration and cross-disciplinary learning through the theoretical lenses of framing, resources, epistemological expectations, blending, mapping, and analogical problem-solving. For instance, biology and physics members used framing and resources to study how disciplinary experts apply the cross-cutting concepts of fluid dynamics to the same set of tasks. We found that experts often reframe a task to fit the context of their discipline. By doing so, they employ an entirely different set of discipline-specific assumptions, which lead to different reasoning and conclusions. This result emphasizes that disciplinary knowledge is only one of many facets to consider in research on teaching and learning in STEM.

Mentoring Team: Buncher, Momsen, Christensen.


Illustrative example: Inconsistencies in student reasoning. The development of reasoning skills is arguably one of the most important outcomes of college instruction. However, students often struggle to reason consistently. Many students demonstrate correct conceptual understanding and reasoning on one task but fail to use that same knowledge and skills on related tasks minutes or seconds apart. Drawing upon dual-process theories of reasoning developed in cognitive psychology, researchers have found that these reasoning inconsistencies often stem from the interplay between the nature of human reasoning (e.g., analytical biases, cognitive reflection skills) and relevant discipline-specific knowledge.

At NDSU, we investigate the complex relationships among student domain-general reasoning approaches, disciplinary content understanding, intuition, and nuanced aspects of instruction. A group of physics and chemistry researchers work to develop suites of online reasoning chain construction tools to generate cross-disciplinary knowledge about student reasoning. The project employs a mixed-methods sequential exploratory design for tool/task development, leveraging qualitative and quantitative analyses, and draws upon various experimental techniques and frameworks from cognitive science.

Mentoring Team: Kryjevskaia, Leontyev, Wissman.

Strand 2


Strand 2 focuses on general cognition and learning by examining pedagogical practices that impact students' learning beyond disciplinary understanding, emphasizing prioritizing societal needs, such as improving diversity, equity, and inclusion, promoting institutional transformations, and increasing scientific literacy.


Illustrative example: Evidence-based learning strategies. Research in cognitive psychology has focused on examining underlying mechanisms that affect learning and retention, with a wealth of research establishing the effectiveness of several evidence-based learning strategies (e.g., concrete examples, dual coding, metacognitive reflection, retrieval practice, and spaced practice). The ultimate efficacy of such strategies, however, depends on the extent to which they are used in classrooms by students and practitioners and on whether the behaviors produce tangible learning benefits.

A cross-disciplinary team of DBER researchers at NDSU explores the adoption, implementation, and effectiveness of domain-general strategies across domain-specific STEM disciplines. For instance, we collaborated to conduct a nationwide survey on awareness and use of evidence-based learning strategies among STEM faculty. Research on the implementation of these strategies in STEM classrooms contributes to the repertoire of evidence-based instructional approaches that support diverse aspects of learning in STEM, including improved performance, increased retention, and reduced achievement gaps, particularly for students from underrepresented minority groups.

Mentoring team: Wissman, Kryjevskaia, Leontyev, Momsen, Nyachwaya.


Illustrative example: Inclusive Grading Practices. Fostering the development of trained, diverse professionals for the STEM workforce is an important goal of higher education in the U.S. Unfortunately, inequities in higher education represent a systemic issue reaching well beyond the boundaries of any individual classroom, with gateway STEM courses more likely to exacerbate inequities and have disproportionate negative impacts on student persistence, retention, and academic achievement. Research revealed that traditional grading structures can create barriers to student success, undermine both learning and motivation, and propagate inequities. There is a growing movement advocating for alternative and inclusive grading approaches in the classroom. These alternative grading practices can take many forms, including collaborative grading, contract grading, and standards-based grading.

Inclusive grading practices is an emerging research priority nationally and for our DBER group at NDSU. We are collaborating to conduct a scoping review of alternative grading practices in STEM to identify current research needs. Based on these findings, research in this strand can investigate the impacts of alternative grading on student outcomes (e.g., content learning, motivation, and metacognitive behaviors). Researchers can also explore best practices in implementing alternative grading practices across disciplines and might develop and disseminate a suite of instructional resources to promote the implementation of inclusive grading practices in STEM classrooms.

Mentoring team: Buncher, Christensen, Condry, Momsen, Montplaisir.


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