Background about Discipline-Based Education Research (DBER)

Given the relative newness of discipline-based education research (DBER) in STEM, this page provides the reader with some information about discipline-based education research in STEM.  The information is intended as an overall introduction and is by no means comprehensive.  The reader is, thus, encouraged to further explore the existing body of literature on STEM education research in areas where questions of personal and professional interest emerge.  In addition, readers are invited to learn about the UNL Discipline-Based Education Research Group.

Discipline-Based Education Research in STEM

During the past few decades, STEM disciplines began formally recognizing and integrating discipline-based education research (DBER) into their research programs in order to improve STEM education, particularly at the post-secondary or tertiary level.  "New demands on tertiary education for increased [STEM] education will be difficult to achieve without significant changes in the academic culture, [and] educational researchers from within the scientific disciplines themselves play an important role in helping these changes happen
(Redish, 1996)." 

In 2012, highlighting the importance of DBER, the National Research Council published a report titled "Discipline-Based Education Research: Understanding and Improving Learning in Undergraduate Science and Engineering."  The executive summary of this report states the value of DBER and describes this new field of research as follows:

"The United States faces a great imperative to improve undergraduate science and engineering education.  Preparing a diverse technical workforce and science-literate citizenry will require significant changes to undergraduate science and engineering education.  These changes include supporting an emerging, interdisciplinary research enterprise that combines the expertise of scientists and engineers with methods and theories that explain learning.  This enterprise, discipline-based education research (DBER), investigates learning and teaching in a discipline from a perspective that reflects the discipline's priorities, worldview, knowledge, and practices.  Informed by and complementary to research on learning and cognition, DBER already has generated insights that can be used to better prepare students to understand and address current and future challenges."

This emergining, interdisciplinary research enterprise had its origins in the discipline of Physics.  Physics has been a leader in pioneering discipline-based education research.  Today, Physics now has an extremely well established subdiscipline of Physics Education Research (PER), and Physics Departments at many institutions offer Master's and Ph.D. degrees in PER. 

Well established DBER subdisciplines exist in Chemistry, Biology, Engineering, and Mathematics. 
Chemistry has 'Chemistry Education Research' and 'Chemical Education Research' (CER); Biology has 'Biology Education Research' (BER); Engineering has 'Engineering Education Research' (EER); and Mathematics has 'Research in Mathematics', 'Mathematics Education Research', and 'Math Education Research' (MER). 

Among the more recent to establish DBER subdisciplines are Astronomy (with AER) and Geoscience (which includes Geology, Earth Science, Meteorology, Atmospheric Science, Climate Science, Ocean Science, Marine Science, and Environmental Science). Geoscience has 'Geocognition' and 'Geoscience Education Research' (
GER), where geocognition research falls under the umbrella of GER.

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