COPUS: A non-evaluative classroom observation instrument for assessment of instructional practices
AffiliationUniversity of Southern Indiana
TitleCOPUS: A non-evaluative classroom observation instrument for assessment of instructional practices
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Research in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education has gathered a significant amount of evidence that active learning pedagogical methods are much more effective in helping students learn than traditional, passive, approaches.  Higher education institutions interested in transforming their instructional practices saw the need for information gathering on their current extent of active learning. The Classroom Observation Protocol for Undergraduate STEM (COPUS) was created as a response to that need. [2,3] COPUS allows a reliable characterization of how faculty and students spend time in the classroom, with a focus on measuring how student-centered the class is. The University of Southern Indiana’s Center for Teaching and Learning adopted the COPUS instrument in Spring 2017 as one tool to support reflective teaching and inform improvements in teaching.
An non-evaluative class observation using the COPUS instrument is available for any USI class in any discipline and level. Instructors who are interested in incorporating active learning in their classes would find the information gathered from the COPUS useful. After a request is submitted by the interested instructor, a trained COPUS observer attends an instructor-selected class session and notes what students and the instructor are doing based on predetermined codes during two-minute intervals. The observer focuses on identifying how students are engaged in their learning (such as working with class members to solve problems or listening to the instructor) and what instructional practices the instructor is using (such as interacting with students or lecturing), rather providing feedback on the instruction or course.
From the observation data, two pie charts are generated, one for students and one for the instructor, that indicate the proportion of the time each spent on different behaviors (e.g. listening, writing on blackboard, asking questions etc). Instructors can use the COPUS results for improving their classes and increasing student learning, as documentation in peer-reviewed educational publications and professional portfolios, as well as funding proposals.
Implementing the COPUS instrument at USI has been a particularly rewarding experience as it allowed a group of faculty with active learning pedagogical methods common interest to work closely together. As a COPUS observer, we found that attending other faculty member’s classes not only provides a service to enhance teaching but it also exposes us to different teaching approaches and active learning ideas.
- Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics, Scott Freeman, Sarah L. Eddy, Miles McDonough, Michelle K. Smith, Nnadozie Okoroafor, Hannah Jordt, and Mary Pat Wenderoth, PNAS June 10, 2014 111 (23) 8410-8415
- The Classroom Observation Protocol for Undergraduate STEM (COPUS): A New Instrument to Characterize University STEM Classroom Practices, Michelle K. Smith, Francis H. M. Jones, Sarah L. Gilbert, Carl E. Wieman, and Erin L. Dolan, CBE—Life Sciences Education 2013 12:4, 618-627
- Anatomy of STEM teaching in North American universities, M. Stains, J. Harshman, M. K. Barker, S. V. Chasteen, R. Cole, S. E. Dechenne-Peters, M. K. Eagan Jr., J. M. Esson, J. K. Knight, F. A. Laski, M. Levis-Fitzgerald, C. J. Lee, S. M. Lo, L. M. McDonnell, T. A. McKay, N. Michelotti, A. Musgrove, M. S. Palmer, K. M. Plank, T. M. Rodela, E. R. Sanders, N. G. SCHIMPF, P. M. Schulte, M. K. Smith, M. Stetzer, B. Van Valkenburgh, E. Vinson, L. K. Weir, P. J. Wendel, L. B. Wheeler, A. M. Young, Science 30 Mar 2018 : 1468-1470.