Using the ICAP framework to improve STEMM teaching

Project funding

Supported by the Yidan Prize project funds

Education theme

Learning/teaching methods and environments




About the idea

More to explore

Supporting educators in STEMM (science, technology, engineering, math, and medicine) classrooms to improve learning outcomes.

University students of STEMM subjects need deep conceptual understanding—best gained through active learning. The project aims to help educators use the ICAP framework to improve how students learn by tweaking their lectures or designing activities for deeper learning.

Professor Michelene Chi

Regents Professor & Dorothy Bray Endowed Professor of Science and Teaching, Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, Arizona State University


STEMM education still focuses heavily on passive learning—which is less effective than active learning

When we think of a traditional university education, the lecture theater instantly springs to mind. While it’s by no means the only teaching tool in higher education, it’s a symbol of a nagging problem: there’s still a great deal of passive learning going on.


We already have plenty of evidence to suggest passive learning is the least effective way to engage students. In the world of STEMM (science, technology, engineering, math, and medicine), it’s already holding back learning outcomes—especially given that many of these topics require deep, conceptual understanding. Beyond that, it’s likely a factor in very high drop-out rates for these challenging subjects.


Educators are broadly behind the benefits of active learning—but need structure and support to create the conditions for active learning in classrooms and, increasingly, online. Practical professional development would help STEMM instructors make effective changes that keep students on courses, engaged, and learning well.

About the idea

Creating a toolbox for educators to create active learning opportunities

It’s no wonder educators can be confused about how to make learning active. Professor Michelene ‘Micki’ Chi derived her theory of cognitive engagement in part to answer the question: What is active learning and how should it be implemented? The ICAP framework is groundbreaking not only because it distills literature around the differentiated benefits of active learning, but because it offers a practical path for teachers to follow.


This project focuses on developing and rolling out a professional development program for university instructors in STEMM. It’ll unpack the evidence behind the learning modes of ICAP (interactive, constructive, active, and passive) and, crucially, offer plenty of practical advice and support for bringing them to life in classrooms.


A staged, accessible approach for instructors—with support for students too

Micki and her team are creating a short professional development program in both in-person and online formats. All will focus on how to translate the ICAP framework into teaching practice. Making the best use of technology to reach STEMM instructors in different parts of the world is an important part of making the project as inclusive and wide-reaching as possible.


They’ll pilot the professional development program first at Arizona State University. Feedback from the pilot program will be used to refine the program iteratively before launching it at other higher education settings in the United States and internationally. And they’ll continue to iterate the program as more feedback comes in.


Instructors will also get an ICAP handbook, including a detailed guide to the framework, the evidence behind it, and more practical advice on designing and implementing active learning strategies.


Collaborating (the ‘interactive” part of ICAP) is, of course, central to the active learning process. So Micki’s team will also develop a mini training module specifically for students, focusing on effective collaboration techniques such as co-generating ideas.

Our 2023 laureate Professor Michelene Chi will devote her project funds to support this project from January 2024 to December 2026.