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Student, instructor, and observer agreement regarding frequencies of scientific teaching practices using the Measurement Instrument for Scientific Teaching-Observable (MISTO)

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  • 1Email author
International Journal of STEM Education20185:31

https://doi.org/10.1186/s40594-018-0128-1

  • Received: 24 April 2018
  • Accepted: 8 August 2018
  • Published:

Abstract

Background

The Scientific Teaching (ST) pedagogical framework encompasses many of the best practices recommended in the literature and highlighted in national reports. Understanding the growth and impact of ST requires instruments to accurately measure the extent to which practitioners implement ST in their courses. Researchers have typically relied on students, instructors, or observers to document course teaching practices, but it remains unclear whether and how these perspectives differ from each other. To address this issue, we modified our previously published instrument to generate the Measurement Instrument for Scientific Teaching-Observable (MISTO), which can be completed by students, instructors, and observers, and we investigated the degree of similarity between these three perspectives across 70 undergraduate science courses at seven different institutions in the USA.

Results

We found that the full MISTO and Active Learning subcategory scores showed the highest correlations among the three perspectives, but the degree of correlation between perspectives varied for the other subcategories. Match scores between students and instructors were significantly higher than observer matches for the full MISTO and for the Active Learning, Inclusivity, and Responsiveness subcategories.

Conclusions

We find that the level and type of agreement between perspectives varies across MISTO subcategories and that this variation likely stems from intrinsic differences in the course access and scoring decisions of the three perspectives. Building on this data, we recommend MISTO users consider their research goals, available resources, and potential artifacts that may arise when deciding which perspective best fits their needs in measuring classroom teaching practices.

Keywords

  • Active Learning
  • Assessment
  • Inclusivity
  • Metacognition
  • Science process skills
  • Science practices
  • Scientific Teaching
  • Teaching practices
  • Undergraduate

Background

Undergraduate science education is in the midst of broad-scale efforts to shift teaching and learning approaches from traditional lecture-style instruction to more active, evidence-based strategies that foster student success (American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) 2015; Freeman et al. 2014; National Research Council (NRC) 2003, 2012; President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) 2012). Professional development programs play a major role in facilitating this change by training instructors in effective pedagogies and best practices. National-level programs have been established in several disciplines including the Geosciences (Manduca et al. 2010), Chemistry (Baker et al. 2014), Physics and Astronomy (Henderson 2008), and Biology (Ebert-May et al. 2015; Pfund et al. 2009; Wood and Handelsman 2004). The Scientific Teaching (ST) pedagogy encapsulates many of the best practices highlighted in these workshops. ST aims to engage students in the process of science and encourage instructors to use data to inform their instructional decisions. ST includes a wide range of research-based instructional strategies organized into three main pillars: Active Learning, Assessment, and Inclusivity (Handelsman et al. 2007).

In previous work, we developed a taxonomy of observable ST practices to identify and delineate the various pedagogical goals and instructional techniques of ST (Couch et al. 2015). Briefly, ST practices reflect a backward design approach to align learning objectives with group activities and formative assessments that foster student engagement (Frederick 1987; Prince 2004; Wiggins and McTighe 2005). ST enables the success of all students through the use of inclusive teaching practices, such as reducing unconscious biases and stereotype threats (Dasgupta and Greenwald 2001; Seymour 2000; Steele 1997; Tanner and Allen 2007; Uhlmann and Cohen 2005). ST also focuses on the development of science process skills in which students practice and communicate science (Bao et al. 2009; Coil et al. 2010; Goldey et al. 2012; Hanauer et al. 2006; Wei and Woodin 2011) and make connections between science and society (Chamany et al. 2008; Labov and Huddleston 2008; Pierret and Friedrichsen 2009; Sadler et al. 2004; Zeidler et al. 2005). Finally, ST prioritizes certain cognitive skills, such as higher-order thinking (Bloom et al. 1956), interdisciplinary reasoning (Bialek and Botstein 2004; Labov et al. 2010; Tra and Evans 2010), and metacognitive reflection (Ertmer and Newby 1996; Pintrich 2002; Schraw et al. 2006; Tanner 2012).

To better gauge the impacts of professional development and other transformation efforts on undergraduate science education, valid and reliable measurement instruments are needed to document the current state of undergraduate science classrooms, monitor how teaching changes over time, and determine what student outcomes result from any changes (Gess-Newsome et al. 2003; Smith et al. 2013; Wieman and Gilbert 2014). We recently published a survey called the Measurement Instrument for Scientific Teaching (MIST), designed to gauge the frequencies of ST practices in undergraduate science courses (Durham et al. 2017). This instrument provides estimates of the degree of implementation for the ST pedagogy overall and within each of eight ST subcategories: Active Learning Strategies, Learning Goal Use and Feedback, Inclusivity, Responsiveness to Students, Experimental Design and Communication, Data Analysis and Interpretation, Cognitive Skills, and Course and Self Reflection. MIST questions were designed with minimal jargon and worded in the third-person so that students, instructors, or observers can all potentially respond to each question given comparable exposure to the course.

Understanding differences between student, instructor, and observer perspectives is important because each of these three perspectives has potential benefits and limitations for measuring instructional practices. Students have the ability to report on how they experience a course, but they are commonly criticized for infusing personal biases in surveys. For example, instructor characteristics, including gender, age, and sense of humor, as well as external factors, such as the weather on the day of the survey, have been found to influence student responses on course evaluations (Becker and Watts 1999; Braga et al. 2014; Spooren et al. 2013). Instructors have more pedagogical expertise than students, but they may over-report their use of research-based instructional strategies, especially after participation in professional development programs or when their results are related to promotion and tenure decisions (Ebert-May et al. 2011; Wieman and Gilbert 2014). Finally, while observers may have less cause for subjective biases, observations require substantial logistical coordination efforts as well as significant time, training, and personnel resources. Furthermore, observers naturally focus on what they see in class and only score a small sample of class sessions for a given course, which may or may not be representative of the entire course (Lund et al. 2015; Stains et al. 2018). Previous studies comparing these different perspectives have typically used different instruments to capture each perspective, preventing a direct comparison of the same items and scales.

In light of these issues, we sought to investigate the degree of alignment between student, instructor, and observer perspectives when documenting course practices using MIST. Since observers are necessarily limited to a small sample of classes, we created a modified version of MIST, called MIST-Observable (MISTO), which includes only the ST practices and frequencies that can be detected in video samples from 1 week of class sessions. We measured (1) to what degree student mean, instructor, and observer MISTO scores correlate with each other across subcategories, (2) how closely these three perspectives estimate the amount of class time devoted to active learning, and (3) how closely the three perspectives match on individual items and whether agreement varies across subcategories. Understanding the relationships between these perspectives will help researchers, instructors, and administrators better interpret course measurement data and identify the perspective that aligns most closely with their goals.

Methods

Data collection

We collected survey data and video recordings from 70 courses at seven U.S. institutions (Table 1). We first used our professional networks and conference presentations to recruit site coordinators at seven institutions, and these coordinators then identified individual instructors at their own institutions who were interested in participating. We attempted to recruit instructors with a wide range of teaching styles from low to high ST implementation. Students and instructors completed MIST online outside of class near the end of the semester via Qualtrics survey software. Instructors were asked to offer their students a small amount of course credit to incentivize survey completion. Instructors were video recorded for 1 week of class sessions, which consisted of 2–3 separate class sessions and typically 150 min of class time. We included student data from 68 of these courses in our previous work (Durham et al. 2017).
Table 1

MISTO administration demographics

 

Number

% of sample

Institutions

7

 

 Carnegie classification

  Highest research activity (R1)

5

56%

  Higher research activity (R2)

2

33%

 Undergraduate enrollment

  Medium (10,000–20,000)

1

14%

  Large (20,000–30,000)

3

43%

  Very large (> 30,000)

3

43%

Courses

70

 

 Discipline

  Biology

68

97%

  Other STEM

2

3%

 Enrollment

  Small (< 25 students)

13

19%

  Medium (26–100 students)

16

23%

  Large (> 100 students)

41

58%

 Course level

  Lower division (100–200 level)

34

49%

  Upper division (300–400 level)

36

51%

Instructors

58

 

 Academic position

  Adjunct/lecturer

2

3%

  Contract-based lecturer

14

24%

  Tenure-track lecturer

1

2%

  Assistant professor

13

22%

  Associate professor

9

16%

  Professor

19

33%

 Age

  30–39

16

28%

  40–49

10

17%

  50–59

18

31%

  60–69

11

19%

  70 or over

2

3%

 Gender

  Female

24

41%

  Male

34

59%

 Ethnicity

  Underrepresented minority (URM)

3

5%

  Non-URM

55

95%

 Native language

  Non-English

5

9%

  English

52

91%

 Teaching experience

  First semester

3

5%

  1–2 years

5

9%

  3–5 years

11

19%

  6–10 years

9

16%

  11–15 years

8

14%

  16–20 years

5

9%

  Over 20 years

16

28%

 Number of teaching training events (past 5 years)

  None

9

16%

  1–2

18

31%

  3–4

10

17%

  5 or more

21

36%

Development of MIST-Observable

To produce a version of MIST amenable to class observation, we first identified and removed 12 items referring to practices that occur outside of class time, such as out-of-class homework (Additional file 1). This led to the elimination of the Learning Goal subcategory because the associated practices generally took place outside of class time or through course documents. Observational studies generally use a small sample of class sessions to gauge teaching practices for a course; so to accommodate a typical sample size, we designed MISTO for use with 1 week of video recorded class sessions (Lund et al. 2015; Lund and Stains 2015). The original MIST contains items with response frequencies that could not be used by an observer based on a 1-week observation period (e.g., an observer could not say that something happened once per month). Thus, any implementation frequencies of less than once per week were removed from the response scales. This change applied to 27 out of the 36 MISTO items. We refer to the resulting survey containing a reduced item set and modified response scales as MIST-Observable (MISTO; Table 2). We note that the question prompts do not change between instruments but only the response scales are reduced to reflect a 1-week observation timeframe (Table 3).
Table 2

MISTO questions

Item

Cat.1

MISTO questions

Q1

ALS

Indicate the average percent of class time during which students were asked to answer questions, solve problems, or complete activities other than listening to a lecture

Q2

None

Learning goals were provided for

Q3

ALS

Students were asked to use a polling method to answer questions in the classroom approximately

Q4

ALS

Indicate the approximate percent of polling questions for which students were asked to discuss the question in pairs or small groups

Q5

ALS

Students were asked to complete in-class activities approximately

Q6

None

Indicate the approximate percent of in-class activities for which students were given some form of general or individualized feedback during class beyond simply providing correct or incorrect answers

Q7

None

Students were asked to work in groups of two or more for any portion of this course

Q8

ALS

Indicate the average percent of class time during which students were asked to work in groups of two or more

Q9

ALS

Students were asked to work in groups of two or more on in-class activities, discussions, assignments, or projects other than polling questions approximately

Q10

ALS

The instructor used a strategy, such as assigning roles, to promote the participation of each group member during in-class group activities

Q11

ALS

At least some students were asked to verbally share the results of any group work or group discussions with the whole class approximately

Q12

ALS

Students were asked to comment or make suggestions on each other’s work on class assignments, activities, or projects approximately

Q13

ALS

Students were encouraged to respond to classmates’ ideas during whole-class discussions

Q14

Inc

Examples or analogies used in this course included a diversity of people and cultures

Q15

Inc

Students were encouraged to consider the ideas and contributions of a diversity of researchers and other people involved in science

Q16

RtS

Students stated interests or asked questions related to the topic at hand during class

Q17

RtS

The instructor was generally aware of instances when a concept was not understood by the majority of students in the class prior to an exam

Q18

RtS

When it became clear that the class did not understand a concept, students were provided with follow-up discussion, activities, or resources

Q19

EDC

Students were asked to identify or formulate hypotheses or make predictions about the results of demonstrations, experiments, or examples approximately

Q20

EDC

Students were asked to critique scientific hypotheses or experimental strategies approximately

Q21

EDC

Students were asked to design experiments to answer scientific questions approximately

Q22

DAI

Students were asked to summarize, interpret, or analyze data using mathematical or computational procedures approximately

Q23

DAI

Students were asked to make graphs or tables approximately

Q24

DAI

Students were asked to analyze or interpret scientific data shown in graphs or tables approximately

Q25

DAI

Students were asked to use data to make decisions or defend scientific conclusions approximately

Q26

DAI

Students were asked to make or interpret models to summarize scientific processes approximately

Q27

EDC

Students were asked to interpret or critique scientific literature or media articles related to science approximately

Q28

EDC

Students were asked to communicate scientific ideas in formal written papers or oral presentations approximately

Q29

RtS

Students were provided with examples or explanations showing that course concepts are applicable to everyday human experiences or real-life applications approximately

Q30

None

Historical context was used to recognize why certain discoveries or advancements changed the way people viewed related scientific principles approximately

Q31

CS

Students were asked to interpret or represent concepts in non-written formats, such as pictures, diagrams, videos, simulations, role plays, graphs, mathematical models, etc.

Q32

CS

Students were asked to practice knowledge or skills from other Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) subjects when answering questions or completing class activities

Q33

CS

Students engaged in higher level thought processes that required them to apply, analyze, incorporate, or evaluate their knowledge or skills rather than just memorizing facts or processes approximately

Q34

CS

Students were asked to participate in open-ended exercises, such as case-studies or questions in which multiple correct answers are possible

Q35

CSR

Students were provided with opportunities or suggestions to reflect on whether their study habits were effective for learning approximately

Q36

CSR

Students were provided with opportunities or suggestions to reflect on their problem-solving strategies approximately

1 MISTO subcategory abbreviations: ALS Active Learning Strategies, Inc. Inclusivity, RtS Responsiveness to Students, EDC Experimental Design and Communication, DAI Data Analysis and Interpretation, CS Cognitive Skills, CSR Course and Self Reflection

Table 3

Response scale conversion from MIST to MISTO1

Finite frequency style responses

Example question

Students were asked to make graphs or tables approximately

MIST response choices

Zero times

1–2 times during the semester

About 1 time per month

2–3 times per month

1–2 times per week

3–4 times per week

More than 4 times per week

MISTO response choices

Zero times

(Eliminated)

(Eliminated)

(Eliminated)

1–2 times per week

3–4 times per week

More than 4 times per week

General frequency style responses

Example question

The instructor was generally aware of instances when a concept was not understood by the majority of students in the class prior to an exam

MIST response choices

Not at all

Rarely

Less than half of the time

Half of the time

More than half of the time

Most of the time

Always

MISTO response choices

Not at all

(Eliminated)

Less than half of the time

Half of the time

More than half of the time

(Eliminated)

Always

1Yes/no, 0–100% slider bars, and Likert style agree-disagree scales did not change between MIST and MISTO

To standardize observations, we created a MISTO video scoring workbook to record teaching practices and convert these counts to observer survey responses (Fig. 1). Observers use a scoring sheet to indicate the specific ST practices that occur in 5-minute intervals throughout class sessions. Observers record the number and duration of activities but do not record the quality or nature of the teaching practices. Because MISTO scores the number rather than the overall presence/absence of practices, fine granularity over time was not required. We found that the 5-minute timeframe partitioned the course video into manageable increments without overburdening the observer. An Excel file containing the observer video scoring workbook can be found in Additional file 2. The video scoring workbook file contains a separate scoring sheet for each class session along with descriptions of how to score each practice. Embedded formulas calculate the frequencies, durations, and proportions of teaching practices in the video sample, and these values are used to generate observer MISTO responses.
Fig. 1
Fig. 1

MISTO video observation process. a Diagrammatic representation of the observer scoring process. Observers score videos from class sessions using MISTO video scoring sheets. Embedded formulas in the workbook calculate observer survey responses and scores. b Hypothetical example of how teaching practices in a video sample are converted to observer survey responses. Here, polling questions are totaled and used to answer the corresponding survey question resulting in a survey response of “10 or more questions per week.” The number of polling questions discussed in groups is totaled and then used to calculate the percent of polling questions discussed in groups, which results in an observer survey response of 45%

MISTO scoring and match scores

Prior to analysis, we transformed the original student and instructor MIST survey responses to the new MISTO instrument by eliminating the non-observable items and converting any reported frequencies of less than once per week to zero. MISTO subcategory scores could then be calculated similarly for student, instructor, and observer data using the approaches previously described for MIST (Durham et al. 2017). Briefly, response categories were converted to ordinal values (e.g., “zero times” = 0, “1–2 times per week” = 1, “3–4 times per week” = 2, “more than 4 times per week” = 3), and each survey response (ordinal or continuous) was normalized to the maximum possible score for that survey item (e.g., a question with response values of 0, 1, 2, and 3 would be divided by 3). Scores from all questions included in each subcategory were averaged and normalized to a scale of 100 for each course. Thus, MISTO scores and subcategory scores could potentially range from 0 to 100. Low MISTO scores reflect less than weekly implementation of most practices, mid-range MISTO scores reflect weekly implementation of all practices or daily implementation of some practices, and high MISTO scores reflect daily implementation of all ST practices. We note that even very high ST users will not reach the top of the scale since it is not realistic to implement all the practices multiple times in every class.

We aimed to compare all three perspectives (students, instructors, and observers) with no a priori assumption of which perspective would serve as the reference point. Thus, we derived “match scores” to estimate how closely aligned responses were between two perspectives. Match scores for an item were calculated using the following equation:

$$ 1-\left(\left(|{\mathrm{score}}_1-{\mathrm{score}}_2|\right)/\mathrm{maximum}\ \mathrm{score}\right), $$

where score1 and score2 represent the scores assigned by each perspective. For students, each item score was the mean student response for a course. Match scores were then averaged for the full MISTO and each subcategory for each course. Match scores occur on a scale of 0–1 with a higher match indicating closer agreement between perspectives.

MISTO observer training and agreement

Once the video scoring rubric was formalized, we developed a training procedure to achieve acceptable agreement between observers. Initially, two observers co-coded 1 week of videos from a “training set” of eight courses. These two observers monitored their agreement and discussed any disagreements to consensus. Two additional observers separately scored the eight courses from the training set, progressing from more guided scoring to more independent scoring across the eight courses. The observers monitored agreement with the consensus scores for these videos and discussed any disagreements to consensus.

Following training, all observers were tested for acceptable agreement. One observer first coded 1 week of videos from five new courses. Next, each of the other three raters coded three of these courses, and all three of the observers achieved an average match score above 0.75, which we considered sufficient for independent scoring. Again, any disagreements were discussed to consensus.

The videos from the remaining courses in this study were each scored by one of the four observers. After all initial course observations were completed, two of the observers co-coded a set of ten courses to check whether acceptable agreement had been maintained, achieving an average match score of 0.94 across the ten courses.

Statistical analyses

All statistical analyses were carried out using R (Core Team 2016). We used the cor.test function to investigate Pearson’s product moment correlations between variables. We tested for differences in match scores between perspectives using ANOVA with pair-wise post hoc Tukey’s tests using the TukeyHSD function. Effect sizes, reflected by Hedge’s g, were estimated using the cohen.d and hedges.correction functions in the effsize package (Torchiano 2015). We tested for relationships between instructor and course characteristics with match scores using t tests and ANOVAs.

Human subjects research approval

This project was classified as exempt from Institutional Review Board review at UNL (project ID 15016), CU (project ID 15-0297), and all other participating institutions.

Results

Correlation of MISTO scores between perspectives

MISTO scores showed varying degrees of correlation between perspectives and those correlation levels varied among the full and subcategory scales (Figs. 2 and 3). Based on established guidelines for defining correlation levels (Jackson 2013), full MISTO scores showed moderate to strong correlations (r = 0.59–0.74, p < 0.001; Fig. 2). The Active Learning subcategory scores showed strong correlations between all perspectives (r > 0.7, p < 0.001), with the highest correlations occurring between students and instructors (Fig. 3a). The remaining subcategories showed moderate (r = 0.3–0.7) to low (r < 0.3) correlations between perspectives, and these levels varied by pairings (Fig. 3). The Responsiveness and Reflection categories showed no significant correlations between perspectives.
Fig. 2
Fig. 2

Full MISTO score correlations between perspectives. Correlations between a instructor and observer scores, b student mean and observer scores, and c. student mean and instructor scores. Dots correspond to MISTO scores for each course; n = 70 total courses. MISTO scores can range from 0 to 100

Fig. 3
Fig. 3

MISTO subcategory score correlations between perspectives. Rows represent each of seven MISTO subcategories: a Active Learning Strategies, b Inclusivity, c Responsiveness to Students, d Experimental Design and Communication, e Data Analysis and Interpretation, f Cognitive Skills, g Course and Self Reflection. Columns represent correlations between (i) instructor and observer scores, (ii) student mean and observer scores, and (iii) student mean and instructor scores. Dots correspond to MISTO subcategory scores for each course; n = 70 total courses. MISTO subcategory scores can range from 0 to 100

Correlation of active learning estimations between perspectives

Researchers have also used more targeted measures of the percent of class time in which active learning takes place as a proxy for the degree of transformed teaching (Owens et al. 2017, 2018; Smith et al. 2013). Thus, we also calculated correlations for a single item asking respondents to “indicate the average percent of class time during which students were asked to answer questions, solve problems, or complete activities other than listening to a lecture” and found strong correlations (r > 0.7) between all perspectives (Fig. 4).
Fig. 4
Fig. 4

Correlations in estimates of percent active learning between perspectives. Correlations between a instructor and observer responses, b student mean and observer responses, and c student mean and instructor response for proportion active learning item. Dots correspond to item response for each course; n = 70 total courses

Match between perspectives is often high but varies among MISTO subcategories

To better understand agreement between perspectives, we also used the “match scores” described in the methods to determine how closely the perspectives scored each item relative to its own scale. All three perspectives showed relatively high matches, with most pair-wise comparisons matching above 0.75. The relative match level varied between perspective pairs for several MISTO subcategories (Fig. 5 and Additional file 3). Student–instructor match scores were significantly higher than the student–observer and instructor–observer matches for the full MISTO, Active Learning, Inclusivity, and Responsiveness subcategories (all p < 0.01). The instructor–observer match was significantly higher than either student match for Reflection (p < 0.001), and no significant differences were observed between perspectives for the Experimental Design, Data Analysis, and Cognitive Skills subcategories.
Fig. 5
Fig. 5

Full MISTO and MISTO subcategory match scores comparing perspectives. Average item match scores among MISTO items on the full MISTO and on each MISTO subcategory. Box plots show the distributions of average MISTO and subcategory match scores for each course between two perspectives: instructor–observer comparisons (white boxes), student–observer comparisons (light gray boxes), and student–instructor comparisons (dark gray boxes); n = 70 courses. Central bars represent median match scores, boxes reflect interquartile range, whiskers reflect the 5th and 95th percentile range, and dots represent data points outside this range. Different symbols represent significant differences between perspectives within the full MISTO or within each MISTO subcategory, as determined by ANOVA with pair-wise post hoc Tukey tests

We also investigated the effect of several course and instructor characteristics on match scores (Additional file 4) and identified no significant differences in match scores based on the instructor’s gender, age, number of years teaching, or number of pedagogical training events recently attended (p = 0.07–0.89). We also found no significant influence of class size or course level on agreement (p = 0.21–0.87).

Similarity among perspectives for an example course

We have included the MISTO score output from an example course to illustrate the range of variation seen in student responses and how instructors and observers compare to the distribution of student scores (Fig. 6). In this example course, the instructor and observer scores fell within the inner quartile range of student scores for the full MISTO and five of the MISTO subcategories. The instructor indicated a lower score than the lower quartile of student responses in the Inclusivity and Responsiveness subcategories. The observer also indicated an Inclusivity score lower than the lower student quartile; however, the observer score was higher than the student upper quartile for Active Learning (Fig. 6).
Fig. 6
Fig. 6

Sample MISTO course output. Example output of student, instructor, and observer MISTO scores for an example course. Light gray triangles represent the instructor scores, and the dark gray diamonds represent the observer score. Box plots represent student responses; n = 310 students. Central bars represent median scores, boxes reflect interquartile range, whiskers reflect the 5th and 95th percentile range, and dots represent data points outside this range

Discussion

Building on our previously developed MIST survey, we created an observer-compatible version called MISTO to capture frequencies of ST practices in undergraduate science courses, along with a video scoring workbook to facilitate observation. We used MISTO to measure ST in videos of class sessions from 70 courses, and we compared results among students, instructors, and observers to investigate the degree of similarity in MISTO and subcategory scores between these perspectives. To our knowledge, this study represents the first instance in which these three perspectives were compared using an equivalent instrument.

Agreement between perspectives varies among subcategories

We found the full MISTO and subcategory scores fell into three general types of agreement between perspectives: (1) high correlation–high match, (2) moderate correlation–high match, and (3) low correlation–low match.

The full MISTO and Active Learning subcategory scores showed high correlations and high match scores between perspectives (Figs. 2, 3, and 5). This was particularly striking for student–instructor agreement in the Active Learning subcategory, where there was a nearly one-to-one correlation (r = 0.91). Previous studies have raised potential concerns regarding the shortcomings and limitations of sampling teaching practices from each of the perspectives measured in this study (Braga et al. 2014; Ebert-May et al. 2011; Lund et al. 2015; Spooren et al. 2013). Despite these criticisms, the high correlations and high match scores across perspectives for the full MISTO and Active Learning suggest that students, instructors, and observers can produce comparable scores.

The Experimental Design, Data Analysis, and Cognitive Skills subcategories all showed moderate correlations and high matches (Figs. 3 and 5). The moderate correlations indicate that each perspective produces somewhat different scores, but the high matches suggest consistency in responses to individual items relative to the response scales. This apparent discrepancy can be partly explained by the low overall implementation levels in the courses sampled for these subcategories. In other words, the perspectives generally agreed that a set of practices occurred infrequently, but there was variation in quantifying the precise level of implementation. Taken together, the correlations and matches of these three subcategories indicate that each perspective may have the capacity to score the occurrence of these practices similarly, but the practices did not occur frequently enough to fully support this claim. This same rationale may also apply to the Reflection subcategory, which represents a more extreme case since it only occurred in a few of the 70 courses.

Finally, the Inclusivity and Responsiveness subcategories showed low correlations and low matches (Figs. 3 and 5). The low agreement between perspectives for these categories can be attributed, at least in part, to the agree-disagree response scales used for these questions. However, we note that despite the inherent subjectivity of these types of scales, the student–instructor match scores were above 0.75 and significantly higher than either of the observer match scores. This suggests that the observers might be missing nuanced features of these practices or misinterpreting classroom culture.

Student–instructor comparisons showed the highest agreement

The student–instructor comparisons showed the highest match scores and strongest correlations for three subcategories (Active Learning, Inclusivity, and Responsiveness) as well as the highest match scores for the full MISTO (Figs. 3 and 5). While individual students may have misestimated ST practice frequencies, the central tendencies in their responses fell into closer agreement with the instructor scores. This provides evidence that, as a whole, students were generally aware of and attuned to what was happening in the course and that their perceptions aligned with instructors. Furthermore, the lower matches in the observer comparisons suggest that students and instructors may be using slightly different criteria to answer these items or that certain practices occurred outside the purview of the observer. For example, students and instructors may incorporate student–instructor rapport when answering Responsiveness items, whereas observers followed strict criteria for scoring instances of instructor feedback. Additionally, students and instructors may have been including practices that occurred outside of class time (e.g., online feedback or discussion boards), while observers were limited to the in-class portion of a course.

Benefits and challenges of each perspective

Overall, our results highlight the nuanced nature of alignment between student, instructor, and observer responses for the full MISTO and subcategory scores. Given these results, we recommend that MISTO users consider their research goals and the resources available when deciding which perspective (s) to use as a measure of ST implementation.

Students provide the benefit of larger sample sizes from which to elicit a measure of central tendency to estimate ST levels. Students represent a universally available resource for all courses, and collecting student responses can help mitigate potential conflicts with instructor motivations. For example, if an instructor wished to collect documentation of their teaching practices for promotion and tenure purposes, data from their students would likely be seen as more credible than self-reported data. As the ultimate target of educational programs, student perspectives also carry a certain primacy of importance. If students report a particular set of practices (e.g., inclusivity) at a lower frequency than instructors or observers, one would want to further investigate the reasons behind this phenomenon. On the negative side, student data tends to be noisy on the individual student level, and collecting data from students requires some additional coordination and potentially institutional review board (IRB) considerations.

Instructors represent the most practical and accessible option for gathering data, especially under conditions of limited resources or when data collection spans multiple institutions. Since instructor surveys can be collected without any student involvement, the study coordination and IRB approval processes are substantially more streamlined. This may be a major motivation driving the use of instructor self-reports to measure teaching practices in many studies (Borrego et al. 2013; Dancy and Henderson 2010; Eagan et al. 2014). Instructors also potentially have deeper insights into design features and course content than either of the other two perspectives. Professional development program facilitators may wish to use the survey as a formative experience to help instructors reflect on their teaching (Gormally et al. 2014). Conversely, researchers aiming to evaluate professional development programs may want to avoid using instructor responses as their only data source because instructors could inflate their scores if they feel pressure to convey the success of the program (Ebert-May et al. 2011).

From the research perspective, observers represent the most standardized data collection approach. In particular, observers can be trained to score courses according to explicit criteria, and their reliability can be gauged through co-coding with other observers. In this regard, they minimize many of the potential biases and item interpretation issues intrinsic to the other perspectives. Conversely, it must be acknowledged that course observations require significant resources that may exceed the means of many investigators and departments. Obtaining approval, collecting class videos, training observers, and scoring videos all become increasingly cost and time prohibitive as the number of courses and institutions in a study grows. Furthermore, observers are also affected by their potential inability to observe out-of-class practices, interpret course norms, or understand course content.

While the prospect of collecting data on teaching practices from any perspective may seem daunting, we intend for the data presented here to enable investigators to make more informed decisions based on the intrinsic benefits and empirical differences between perspectives. We hope that this type of reflection will help researchers and departments more effectively leverage their available resources to achieve their desired goals. For example, a department wishing to document ST practices for institutional reporting may choose to administer MIST to students because it approximates data from the other perspectives, requires fewer resources than observations, and avoids potential suspicions regarding instructor self-reports. Furthermore, we hope that the supporting materials we have provided here and in our previous publications will help alleviate the logistical barriers to using MIST and MISTO (Couch et al. 2015; Durham et al. 2017).

Other considerations

Research documenting course practices faces practical and intrinsic challenges that warrant consideration. This study used a sample of 70, primarily biology, courses at seven US institutions, so the broader generalizability of the conclusions remains to be determined. In comparing across perspectives, we had to make several necessary concessions based on observers only being able to view 1 week of class and only viewing in-class events. In particular, the conversion of MIST responses for students and instructors to MISTO response scales caused a general lowering of scores because low implementation frequencies were reduced to zero. Furthermore, eliminating questions that principally occur outside of class resulted in MISTO collecting less information than MIST. Thus, although adjustments were made to enable observation-based comparisons, we propose that the original MIST version provides a more thorough representation if users only wish to collect data from students or instructors.

We also note an unavoidable difference between MIST and MISTO: in MIST, students and instructors were asked to reflect cumulatively on the whole semester, whereas in MISTO, observers focused only on a particular week of class sessions. Several other studies have used a 1-week sample (Lund et al. 2015; Lund and Stains 2015), and the high correlations for the Active Learning Strategies between students/instructors (who answered based on experiencing nearly a whole semester) and observers (who answered based on 1 week of class) suggests that the degree of activity during a 1-week timeframe was fairly representative of the broader semester. However, the inherent differences in the level of detail and accuracy of these reflections represent a limitation that should be considered when interpreting the results. Although MISTO was designed and used here for 1-week samples, adjustments can be made to the survey response scales and scoring sheets to support shorter or longer observation periods.

In developing MIST, we recognized that some items and subcategories were inherently more susceptible to variation in interpretation. For example, the Inclusivity questions are measured on an agree-disagree scale, which incorporates some personal interpretation, whereas the Active Learning subcategory relies on numerical counts of discrete events. In general, the different levels of agreement across subcategories could be explained by the relative objectivity of the items. Thus, when considering the range of current and future instruments available, one would predict that instruments focusing on objective and recognizable practices (e.g., clicker questions) will have greater potential for agreement between perspectives than those with more subjective and nuanced practices (e.g., scoring whether instructors incorporated scenarios reflecting diverse perspectives). We also note that practices associated with the Experimental Design, Data Analysis, and Reflection subcategories were implemented quite infrequently in our sample. These practices are likely to be important features of science curriculum, so their low levels of implementation warrant further research for the broader field.

Conclusions

As transformation efforts in undergraduate science education continue, measurements of teaching practices are needed to gauge the status of the field, track how teaching changes over time, and determine the impact of specific strategies (Freeman et al. 2014; Gess-Newsome et al. 2003; Smith et al. 2013; Wieman and Gilbert 2014). To support this effort, the MIST and MISTO instruments were designed to measure frequencies of teaching practices associated with the ST pedagogy, which encompasses many of the best practices recommended by science education research (Couch et al. 2015; Durham et al. 2017; Handelsman et al. 2007). By developing MISTO, we laid a foundation for a comparison of classroom practices from three different perspectives (i.e., students, instructors, and observers) using a single set of items. Our results indicate that all three perspectives produce relatively similar estimations of the full MISTO and Active Learning subcategory but exhibit different levels of agreement for the other subcategories. We found that student–instructor data were often more closely aligned than either perspective was to observers. More broadly, our work supports claims that survey and observation instruments designed using objective and easily interpreted questions can elicit relatively accurate estimations of teaching practices and agreement between perspectives, especially when conducted in low-stakes environments (Wieman and Gilbert 2014), whereas agreement between perspectives may be more difficult to achieve for more complex practices.

How to use MISTO

We have included the MISTO video scoring workbook (Additional file 2). While the workbook contains specific criteria for scoring each practice, we have found that many practices occur simultaneously and learning to keep track of these many aspects requires practice. Depending on incoming expertise in observations or ST, we estimate about 8–12 h of watching and scoring class sessions could adequately prepare observers for independent scoring. Once observers have completed the scoring workbook for a course, they can use the scoring template to calculate MISTO and MISTO subcategory scores for each perspective measured (Additional file 5). While we recommend the full MIST survey for students and instructors, we have included a Qualtrics file for cases where users wish to administer MISTO online to students or instructors (Additional file 6).

Use and availability of MIST instruments

The suite of MIST instruments includes the full MIST, which is ideal for collecting student and instructor data, the MIST-Short, which is a shortened version of the survey that can be used in conjunction with other measures such as student learning or self-efficacy surveys, and MISTO, which is designed for observations and comparisons among perspectives. MIST and MIST-Short can be found in our previous publication (Durham et al. 2017); MISTO and the video scoring workbook can be found in the Additional files.

Human subjects research approval

This project was classified as exempt from Institutional Review Board review at UNL (project ID 15016), CU (project ID 15-0297), and all other participating institutions.

Abbreviations

DBER: 

Discipline-based education research

MIST: 

Measurement Instrument for Scientific Teaching

MISTO: 

Measurement Instrument for Scientific Teaching-Observable

ST: 

Scientific Teaching

STEM: 

Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics

Declarations

Acknowledgements

We would like to thank the institutional site coordinators, especially those who helped obtain videos, instructor participants, and student participants. We appreciate contributions from Lauren Crisman and Macy Potts who helped with initial development of video scoring guidelines and Lucas Horn for technical assistance. We thank Tanya Brown, Kati Brazeal, Michelle Howell, Joey Hubbard, Rob Erdmann, and the UNL DBER community for critical discussions. This work was supported by an NSF TUES 3 award (DUE-1323019) to J.K.K., B.A.C., and others. We are grateful to this team (Oriana Aragón, Meghan Bathgate, Aiyana Bobrownicki, Jane Buckley, Andrew Cavanagh, Xinnian Chen, Jennifer Frederick, Mark Graham, Monica Hargraves, Claire Hebbard, William Trochim, and Jonathan Waterhouse) for their support.

Funding

This work was supported by an NSF TUES 3 award (DUE-1323019) to J.K.K., B.A.C., and others.

Availability of data and materials

An Excel file containing the observer video scoring workbook and automated MISTO survey response sheet is available as an Additional file associated with this article (Additional file 1).

Authors’ contributions

MFD, JKK, and BAC conceived and designed the study, analyzed and interpreted the data, and drafted and edited the manuscript. MFD managed the participants and the collection of surveys and videos. MFD, EKB, JDD, and ARP watched and scored videos. All authors helped develop the MISTO instrument and read and approved the final manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Publisher’s Note

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Open AccessThis article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.

Authors’ Affiliations

(1)
School of Biological Sciences, University of Nebraska, 204 Manter, Lincoln, NE 68588-0118, USA
(2)
Department of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO 80309, USA
(3)
Biology Department, Doane University, Crete, NE 68333, USA

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Copyright

© The Author(s). 2018

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