Supporting Feedback Loop Learning in Natural and Social Science Courses

Lead PI: Kim Anne Kastens

Unit Affiliation: Marine and Polar Geophysics, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO)

October 2022 - September 2024
Active
North America ; United States
Project Type: Research

DESCRIPTION: This project aims to serve the national interest by improving undergraduates' ability to understand complex systems and how such systems may be "influenced" towards desirable outcomes. The project focuses on feedback loops, which are systems in which an initial action triggers a chain of influences that either amplifies or counteracts the initial action. Feedback loops drive many important natural and engineered systems. They may foster growth/decay/instability (as in pandemic disease spread, nuclear chain reactions, or environmental change) or stability (as in a car's cruise control system or a predator/prey system). As feedback loop thinking becomes more common, society will benefit in different settings. For example, each time an individual is able to discern that they may be trapped in a damaging feedback loop and strategize a way out; or each time a leader uses feedback loop thinking to bring stability to a fraught situation; or each time a professional uses feedback loop thinking to catalyze growth towards a desirable outcome. This is a Level 1 project, in the IUSE Engaged Student Learning Track, tackling the challenge of making feedback loop thinking accessible to all undergraduates.

The project's learning goals are that students will be able to recognize feedback loops when they encounter them in an unfamiliar context, and use feedback loop thinking to explain, predict and improve the behavior of systems they care about. An interdisciplinary team will design, develop, and field test a suite of six mini-lessons that can be adapted for any undergraduate course in which at least one feedback loop is currently being taught. These lessons aim to elevate students from understanding one feedback loop as an explanatory mechanism for one phenomenon in one course, to grasping feedback loops as a generalizable explanatory strategy applicable across multiple disciplines. Test beds for the initial instructional materials are in psychology, race and gender studies, environmental science, and neuroanatomy courses. To assess the first learning goal (recognize feedback loops in unfamiliar context), the project team is developing and validating a new instrument, in which participants read short narratives and state whether each is or is not a positive or negative feedback loop. The second learning goal will be assessed via student products from each lesson and instructors' reflective journaling after teaching each lesson. An external Advisory Board will provide evaluative guidance on both the intellectual merit and the broader impacts of the project through twice-yearly meetings. Insights and materials emerging from the project will be disseminated by workshops and webinars for educators, and through a widely-used web-based portal that serves and reviews undergraduate instructional resources. The NSF IUSE: EHR Program supports research and development projects to improve the effectiveness of STEM education for all students. Through the Engaged Student Learning track, the program supports the creation, exploration, and implementation of promising practices and tools.

BROADER IMPACTS: Our instructional materials are designed as templates that can be fitted for use in any discipline that contains a feedback loop, and we are testing the validity of this premise by working in four different disciplines. We will disseminate our work through practitioners’ articles targeting all four disciplines and make our materials available to all via a widely used and trusted portal for the sharing of undergraduate instructional materials. As feedback loop thinking becomes more common, society will benefit each time an individual is able to discern that they are trapped in a damaging feedback loop and strategize a way out, each time a leader uses feedback loop thinking to bring stability to a fraught situation, and each time a professional uses feedback loop thinking to catalyze growth towards a desirable outcome

SPONSOR:

National Science Foundation

FUNDED AMOUNT:

$32,586

RESEARCH TEAM:

Logan Brenner, Thomas Shipley, Alexandra Davatzes

EXTERNAL COLLABORATORS:

Temple University, Barnard College

WEBSITE:

https://www.nsf.gov/awardsearch/showAward?AWD_ID=2141939