Design for Equity Lab: Advancing an Adaptive Equity-Oriented Pedagogy for STEM in Higher Education

What is the injustice we are solving?
The United States faces challenges competing in the global economy due to a lack of diverse STEM graduates (U.S. Department of Education, 2017). Simultaneously, universities experience difficulties recruiting and retaining STEM students, especially underrepresented minorities (URM). According to Seymour and Hewitt (1997), 90% of students leaving STEM cited poor teaching as one of their primary concerns. The Higher Education Research Institute found that URM students who aspire to major in STEM as a freshmen have a substantially lower likelihood of completing such a degree within five years than their white and Asian American peers (Hurtado, Eagan, & Chang, 2010). First-year STEM majors are also more likely to withdraw from college than their non-STEM counterparts and are more likely to change fields of study before graduating.

Recognizing that faculty teaching can have a direct impact on student engagement and learning in STEM courses (Seymour & Hewitt, 1997), I examine how an adaptive equity-oriented pedagogy (AEP) impacts student achievement, psychosocial outcomes, and retention for all students, especially underrepresented minority (URM) students (Phuong et al., 2017).

AEP instructors use ungraded, weekly formative assessments to adjust their teaching to address diverse students’ learning needs (i.e., their strengths, interests, and areas for growth). Preliminary results suggest that, compared to control conditions, UCB students learning through AEP scored, on average, 12% higher on the final and outperformed control groups by a full letter grade in the course (Phuong et al., 2017). Students experiencing AEP demonstrated greater improvements in positive psychosocial outcomes (e.g., motivation, reduced stereotype threat, growth mindset, self-efficacy, inclusion). These effects endured when controlling for GPA and intersectional identities (e.g., race, gender, sexual orientation, income, disability, immigration status).

Based on the successes of these studies, further graduate research will allow me to expand randomized control trials (RCTs) with larger samples that examine student outcomes in different sections of STEM courses.

This research will contribute a methodology for instructors to evaluate and refine equity-oriented curricula to improve URM students’ success, which directly addresses the U.S Department of Education’s priority of improving STEM teaching and completion rates for URM in universities. With stakeholders, I aim to develop a national model for equity-oriented STEM pedagogy based on the case of UC Berkeley as a large, diverse public university. We will use evidence from rigorous RCTs to assist with faculty member buy-in, a long-standing barrier to education reform. We seek to advance a pedagogy that attracts, supports, and enables URM students to thrive and grow as STEM scholars and professionals.


Hurtado, S., Eagan, K., & Chang, M. (2010). Degrees of success: Bachelor’s degree completion rates among initial STEM majors. Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA, January.
Phuong, A. E., Nguyen, J. & Marie, D. (2017b). Evaluating an adaptive equity-oriented pedagogy: A study of its impacts in higher education. The Journal of Effective Teaching. 17(2), 5-44.
Seymour, E., & Hewitt, N. (1997). Talking About Leaving: Why Undergraduates Leave the Sciences. Westview Press.
United States Department of Education. (2017). Science, Technology, Engineering and Math: Education for Global Leadership. U.S Department of Education. Retrieved from
Our Compassionate Solution
To solve this injustice of
low STEM retention rates among underrepresented students in higher education
we will address
the lack of support that faculty have with implementing high-impact inclusive teaching practices
equipping and supporting instructors with applying adaptive equity-oriented pedagogies that have been shown to improve academic achievement for all students, especially URM students
Our Plan
Our Project Goals
gain empathy by collaborating and listening to instructor and student needs
equip instructors with adaptive equity-oriented pedagogies
support instructors with applying adaptive equity-oriented pedagogies
We will increase my / our compassion by...
working collaboratively with instructors in higher education who are often seen as the problem. We will listen emphatically to instructors' and students' needs to identify optimal ways to help them succeed with improving teaching and learning in STEM classrooms.
How will you show courage?
Common conceptions suggest that higher education instructors are resistant to change, especially since they feel like they are the expert in terms of content knowledge and communicating that content knowledge. I am working against and within a research 1 university that prioritizes research over teaching when promoting and retaining faculty. Therefore, I demonstrate courage by seeking to overcome the organizational constraints of UC Berkeley. I will achieve this goal by researching and advancing a practical solution (i.e., the adaptive equity-oriented pedagogy) that many instructors can implement at a R1 university.
How will you collaborate with others?
I will collaborate with instructors each week by collecting student assessment, course feedback form, and observation data.
How will you know you are moving in the right direction?
We will know if we are moving in the right direction if we achieve our goals. To check on the progress towards our goals, we will analyze our data each week to identify if students are improving their academic achievement. We will follow-up the quantitative analyses with qualitative interviews of students.
Create a list of key steps you will take
collect 1) pre-semester and post-semester interviews; 2) weekly student surveys, formative assessments, and observation notes; and 3) midterm and final exams
weekly research meetings to analyze data and provide reports to inform instructors’ use of adaptive equity-oriented pedagogy
Use Stata to run statistical analyses (e.g., correlations, t-tests, F-tests, Fisher’s exact test, regressions, effect sizes, chi-square tests, cluster analysis, etc.)
meet and will continue meeting each week for 6 hours to score, input, and analyze data
assessing bi-monthly research reports on effective teaching
collaborate with UC Berkeley to survey students and track their GPA, retention, and pathways in subsequent courses
use findings to improve campus policies, resourceful services, faculty development, and learning outcomes for over 18,000 UCB STEM students, instructors, and staff.
This project doesn't have any updates to show.
Tom B.

March 08, 2018

Hi Judy,

Thank you for sharing your project. I am a member of the Peace First team and I’m here to give you feedback on your compassionate insight.

I am very impressed with your level of analysis for this. You have clearly put a lot of effort in to compiling a clear understanding of (and evidence for) your injustice. It is through analysis or experience that we get an understanding of issues and therefore what needs to be done to address them.

You have specified a particular group that are affected by an injustice, you have also identified a root cause of the injustice and you have proposed an approach to tackle it.

It is all very clear and logical - well done!

I’m really looking forward to seeing the outcome.
RaulPF C.

March 07, 2018

Hi Judy,
Thanks so much for sharing your project. We'll be giving you feedback on your project insight soon, and then you can submit a mini-grant application!

In the meantime, check out some other projects that are working on similar issues:

We encourage folks to connect with people working on similar topics, as networks only strengthen our work--drop by some of these links if you have time and comment on what others are doing, ask questions, and generally get to know people!

Thanks so much for doing this important work. Let us know if you have any questions, and if there are other ways we can support you!


Andrew P.

February 28, 2018

I am so excited about this!
Judy N.

February 28, 2018

Me too! Thanks so much for your enthusiasm and support!