Center for Teaching and Learning

April 2, 2020

46 – Which Components of Evidence-Based Teaching Impact Student Learning?


  • Sungmin Moon, Department of Biology, College of Arts and Sciences, UW Seattle
  • Mallory Jackson, Department of Biology, College of Arts and Sciences, UW Seattle
  • Jennifer Doherty, Department of Biology, College of Arts and Sciences, UW Seattle
  • Mary Pat Wenderoth, Department of Biology, College of Arts and Sciences, UW Seattle


Meta-analyses consistently show that active learning techniques are associated with better student academic performance than traditional lecture. However, there is still not sufficient evidence to determine what type, frequency, or amount of time of active learning is most effective for enhancing student learning. We do not know if there are differential impacts of active learning on different student groups. We posed the following three research questions: (a) Were there specific teaching profiles based on evidence-based teaching practice intensities and durations, (b) Which evidence-based teaching practices were most effective in improving student academic performance on exams at different levels of academic challenge, and (c) Were there any specific practices which had a differential impact on student academic performance by gender?

We had a total of 48 units of courses and exams to analyze, which were taught by 34 faculty, as some faculty taught two units. We used a classroom observation tool, PORTAAL, to document the frequency and presence of practices. We analyzed PORTAAL scores using latent profile analysis to find specific teaching profiles and used structural equation modeling to investigate which practices had the greatest impact on student learning. We found three different teaching profiles based on the type and amount of practices implemented in biology classes at a Research 1 university. We found that small group activities, positive feedback from the instructor, and alternative answers explained were the most effective practices for improving student academic performance. On cognitively challenging exams, only instructors classified as high evidence-based teaching profile maximized student performance by using small group work, having students explain the logic and by explain alternative answers. Finally, small group work offered an additional benefit to women. This is the first study to determine the impact of specific teaching practices on student performance on exams at different levels of academic challenge.