Evidence-Based Teaching



“Learning results from what the student does and thinks and only from what the student does and thinks. The teacher can advance learning only by influencing what the student does to learn.” (Simon)

An extensive body of research has shown that student-centered active learning approaches lead to improved student performance (Freeman, 2014).  Strategies based on this research (Evidence-Based Teaching (EBT) strategies) improve Student learning as measured by performance on standardized tests, course retention, retention after each semester (especially after the first year), performance in successive courses, and graduation rates. All EBT strategies have the goal of achieving deeper learning by actively engaging students with course materials, that is, students becoming more engaged in the learning process.  There are different strategies (USF’s Academy for Teaching and Learning Excellence, ATLE, lists 242 methods) to achieve the overall goal of enhancing student engagement to improve learning.  They all share components that involve students directly in thinking, reflecting on and solving problems, and do not rely significantly on the traditional model of the lecture. Recent advancements in the science of memory (Brown, 2014) point explicitly to the need for retrieval practice that is both spaced across time and interleaved with unrelated tasks. Learning science suggests a testing/quizzing structure of cumulative assessments that occur more frequently than most current practices.

Active Learning

This is the overall objective of all EBT strategies. Active learning is a form of learning in which teaching strives to involve students in the learning process more directly than in other methods. (Bonwell, 1991) In active learning, students participate in the learning process but they will do that only when they are doing something besides listening passively. It has been shown that active learning leads to improved critical thinking skills, increased retention and transfer of new information, increased motivation, improved interpersonal skills, and decreased course failure (Prince, 2004). 

The following are examples of EBT Practices especially appropriate for the STEM disciplines:

Think-Pair-Share. The instructor poses a question and asks students to think about the answer, discuss it (share their views) with one or more students next to them, and then report out to the whole class what his/her group’s views were.

Group Learning. A more formal process of fostering student discussion, team-oriented analysis and decision-making.  This typically involves a structured/guided process where groups of students work together to solve problems that require some level of analysis and evaluation of outcomes. Student groups may remain the same throughout the semester or can be modified to be able to work with more students

Flipped Classroom. Students are asked to read and study assigned material in a textbook, video, or other source. When the class meets, typically groups of students are guided through a set of activities and posed with problems that challenge them to apply key principles and knowledge they have extracted from their assigned sources.  Faculty, sometimes with the assistance of graduate TAs or undergraduate learning assistants, facilitate students’ problem solving and decision-making.  As needed, faculty may use mini-lectures to amplify key points and clear up confusion. 

Clickers. Students use hand-held clickers to send signals to a display that reflects the number of students who have chosen one specific response to a question asked by the instructor. The choice of responses has to be considered carefully by the instructor to assure it goes beyond memory.

Peer-led learning and Learning Assistants. Students who have successfully taken the course in the past are retained to assist and support students in a large class. There are several nuances to organizing and providing such support. In principle, it breaks down the student body in a large class into smaller groups who can have a more personal relationship with someone experienced in the subject. The faculty member responds to student questions that peers or learning assistants are not capable of addressing.

This ATLE document summarizes 242 interactive teaching techniques: http://bit.ly/interactivetechniques


Bonwell, Charles; Eison, James (1991). Active Learning: Creating Excitement in the Classroom (PDF). Information Analyses - ERIC Clearinghouse Products (071). p. 3. ISBN 978-1-878380-08-1. ISSN 0884-0040

Brown, P. C., Roediger, H. L. III, & McDaniel, M. A. (2014). Make it stick: The science of successful learning. Cambridge, MA

Freeman, S. et al. (2014). Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111(23), 8410–8415. https://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1319030111

Prince, M. (2004). Does active learning work? A review of the research. Journal of engineering education, 93(3), 223-231.

Simon, Herb (2010), Quoted in Ambrose, S. A., Bridges, M. W., DiPietro, M., Lovett, M. C., & Norman, M. K.  How learning works: Seven research-based principles for smart teaching. San Francisco, CA, US: Jossey-Bass.

Systemic Transformation of Education Through Evidence-Based Reforms (STEER)
This material is based on work supported in part by the National Science Foundation under Grant #DUE 1525574. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.