Scale Up Project

Scale Up Project

About the SCALE-UP Project…

This research was supported, in part, by the U.S. Department of Education’s Fund for the Improvement of Post-Secondary Education (FIPSE), the National Science Foundation, Hewlett-Packard, Apple Computer, and Pasco Scientific. Opinions expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily those of our sponsors.

The primary goal of the Student-Centered Active Learning Environment for Undergraduate Programs (SCALE-UP) Project is to establish a highly collaborative, hands-on, computer-rich, interactive learning environment for large-enrollment courses.

Educational research indicates that students should collaborate on interesting tasks and be deeply involved with the material they are studying. We promote active learning in a redesigned classroom of 100 students or more. (Of course, smaller classes can also benefit.) We believe the SCALE-UP Project has the potential to radically change the way large classes are taught at colleges and universities. The social interactions between students and with their teachers appears to be the “active ingredient” that make the approach work. As more and more instruction is handled virtually via technology, the relationship-building capability of brick and mortar institutions becomes even more important. The pedagogical methods and classroom management techniques we design and disseminate are general enough to be used in a wide variety of classes at many different types of colleges.

Classtime is spent primarily on “tangibles” and “ponderables “. Essentially these are hands-on activities, simulations, or interesting questions and problems. There are also some hypothesis-driven labs where students have to write detailed reports. (This example is more sophisticated than most, but shows what the best students are capable of doing.) Students sit in three groups of three students at 6 or 7 foot diameter round tables. Instructors circulate and work with teams and individuals, engaging them in Socratic-like dialogues. Each table has at least three networked laptops. The setting is very much like a banquet hall, with lively interactions nearly all the time. Many other colleges and universities are adopting/adapting the SCALE-UP room design and pedagogy. Engineering schools are especially pleased with the course objectives, which fit in well with the requirements for ABET accreditation.

Materials developed for the course were incorporated into what became the leading introductory physics textbook, used by more than 1/3 of all science, math, and engineering students in the country.


Rigorous evaluations of learning have been conducted in parallel with the curriculum development effort. Besides hundreds of hours of classroom video and audio recordings, we also have conducted numerous interviews and focus groups, conducted many conceptual learning assessments (using nationally-recognized instruments in a pretest/posttest protocol), and collected portfolios of student work. We have data comparing nearly 16,000 traditional and SCALE-UP students. Our findings can be summarized as the following:

  • Ability to solve problems is improved
  • Conceptual understanding is increased
  • Attitudes are improved
  • Failure rates are drastically reduced, especially for women and minorities
  • “At risk” students do better in later engineering statics classes

A chapter describing the approach and its underpinnings is available. A shorter description is posted on the PKAL website, or you can view an article describing the project from the proceedings of the Sigma Xi Forum on Reforming Undergraduate Education. The Raleigh News & Observer newspaper also has a description of the project. The very successful pilot project was described in the first issue of the Physics Education Research supplement to Am. J. of Physics. See our publication page for more informatiion.

More than 50 colleges and universities across the US have adapted the SCALE-UP approach to their own institutions. In all cases, the basic idea remains the same: get the students working together to examine something interesting. That frees the instructor to roam about the room, asking questions and stirring up debates. Classes in physics, chemistry, math, engineering, and even literature have been taught this way. If you want more information, please contact Dr. Robert Beichner.

Check out the SCALE-UP website. Teacher guides are being developed and will be made available on the site as they are completed.

You are welcome to visit us or one of the adopting schools. We also regularly travel to campuses that are thinking of reforming their instruction to give “pep talks” to faculty and administrators, consult with architects, and offer workshops.


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