Value of Cogenerative Dialogues in STEM Learning

Published in:

A National Symposium

November 18–19, 2011

University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras and University of the Sacred Heart
San Juan, Puerto Rico


Cogenerative dialogues (cogens) are discussions over shared experiences of teaching and learning and can involve students, instructors, researchers, and sometimes administrators (Tobin & Robin, 2006). They can address, for example, the extent to which teaching benefits learners, the roles of the instructor(s) and students, what appears to work and what does not in classroom practices, the associated divisions of labor, and the dynamics of power relationships. In addition, cogens provide instructor participants and educational researchers with an invaluable tool for examining classroom culture, formulating questions to answer, and evaluating changes made in response to shared experiences. As such, cogens offer researchers a methodological framework for engaging in meaningful interpretive and empirical research, and provide instructors with a powerful tool for transforming the ways in which they teach and learn how to teach. Through this structured form of discourse, participants are afforded opportunities for renegotiating and expanding their individual and collective roles, as well as their responsibilities in the classroom. Cogens provide participants with not only the social space to communicate their beliefs about the purpose of education, but also a methodology for setting and reaching individual and collective goals in education.

Cogens have been successfully used in secondary education to facilitate science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) learning and seem particularly suited to urban environments where differences in culture and socioeconomic classes are amplified (Bayne, 2009). Their use is gaining momentum in post-secondary education in science education courses (Martin & Scantlebury, 2009). However, there is no reported use of cogens in STEM college classes. This study extended this effort and investigated the effectiveness of using cogens to facilitate STEM learning in a range of STEM gateway courses primarily at community colleges in the City University of New York.

Project Rationale

Community colleges play a very important role, not only in educating, but also in diversifying the STEM workforce. A recent study indicated that of 44% of recent recipients of the B.S. and M.S. degrees have taken one or more courses at a community college and for minorities and underprivileged students; the percentage is much higher (Moore, 2004). However, retention rates at community colleges are disappointing. The three-year graduation rate for urban community colleges nationwide is only 16% (City University of New York, 2006). Helping under-prepared students to realize their true academic potential often requires a special effort on the part of instructors. Although instructors at community colleges are highly motivated to facilitate the success of their students, and do make special efforts to do so, the differences in their own background and experiences and those of their students can limit effective execution of many well-intentioned pedagogical interventions. It has been recognized that: “Learners come from different academic and cultural backgrounds. This diversity requires community college faculty to understand the various ways students learn and interact and to respond with appropriate teaching” (Patton, 2006). The use of cogens has the potential of helping bridge the disconnect between instructors’ expectations and actions and students’ expectations of themselves and subsequent action. In this way, students and teachers can help to construct agreed to changes to improve teaching and learning in the classroom. The focus of this project was to recruit primarily CUNY community college STEM faculty members to this study and train them in using and evaluating cogens in their gateway science classrooms.

Project Design and Methodology

A diverse range of faculty members (including part-time instructors) from a range of campuses were recruited and trained to conduct classroom studies using cogens in courses taught in spring 2011. In addition, each faculty participant focused on a specific aspect of teaching and learning in the cogens as summarized below:

  • Moni Chauhan: Cogen discussions focused on students’ understanding of the concepts taught in the class and the development of their scientific writing skills in a General Chemistry II honors course at Queensborough Community College.
  • Ling Chen: Cogen discussions focused on how the online portion for General, Organic, and Biological Chemistry I can be improved at Borough of Manhattan Community College. The students edited chapter summary files, reflected on concepts learned, and provided online feedback on how the course can be improved. The term “ecogens” was coined to describe such online cogens. <.li>
  • Margaret Gaughan: Cogen discussions focused on students’ reading and comprehension in a General Biology course at Lehman College. Specifically, cogens were used as a tool to encourage students’ reading of their textbooks, and additional related literature.
  • Maria Mercedes Franco: Cogen discussions focused on understanding and mastery of concepts and how this depends upon prerequisite knowledge and skills, study strategies, and resources. This was done in a Differential Equations course at Queensborough Community College.
  • Sharon Miller: Cogen discussions focused on the development of critical thinking skills in a General Biology course at Borough of Manhattan Community College.
  • Nelson Nunez-Rodriquez: Cogen discussions focused on misconceptions of course concepts and the challenges students face in General Chemistry I at Hostos Community College.
  • Manita Pavel: Cogen discussions focused on fostering student participation in class discussions in a General Biology course at Borough of Manhattan Community College.

STEM faculty participants set up cogens with their target course after learning about cogens in the professional training sessions. Student participants were recruited from volunteers. The size of the cogens group ranged from eight to a whole class of nineteen students, and the number of cogens sessions for the semester ranged from four to nine for individual sites. In addition, faculty participants were provided with video-recording equipment, relevant literature and assessment tools and a research assistant. Also, observations were made on cogens sessions by external evaluators and appropriate feedback was provided to them.

Assessment and Conclusions

This study indicated that cogens can be adapted and used in college STEM classes using a rage of pedagogical styles. At each of the site studies, different pedagogical approaches were used and positive changes in teaching and learning were experienced. Each of the faculty members made significant changes to their teaching in response to students’ feedback. These included: providing additional help sessions; the creation of problem and review sheets; writing more legibly and more slowly; providing a clearer presentation of lectures; incorporating the use of mobile devices into pedagogy, introducing case studies; and peer-led learning. A new form of cogens involving discussions on teaching and learning were carried out online was developed and was termed “ecogens.”

A few faculty participants were able to have students commit to taking more responsibilities for their learning. Improvement in students’ performance and attendance was noted in almost all of the studies. Additionally, each of the faculty participants evolved professionally as they were trained and guided in conducting classroom studies and in developing manuscripts based on their studies.

There were also challenges to using cogens. One challenge experienced by all the faculty participants was finding additional time to undertake cogens due to the intensive nature of STEM courses. Another was the fact that many students work and have competing demands on their time. Finally, STEM faculty members were faced with the challenge of students wanting to use cogens to negotiate for less course content and opportunities to re-take exams. Collectively, these challenges were used as an opportunity to have frank discussions with students about the need for them to appropriately manage the hard work that is often required to master core concepts in STEM classes. There is need to conduct a longer term study to determine if the practice and gains of using cogens in STEM college classes can be sustained.


We acknowledge and are grateful for the support provided by CUNY in the form of CUNY CCRI grant to undertake this study. In addition, gratitude is expressed to the students and faculty participating in this study.


Bayne, G. (2009) Cogenerative Dialogues: The Creation of Interstitial Culture in the New York Metropolis. In W.-M. Roth & K. Tobin (Eds.), World of Science Education: North America (pp. 513–528). The Netherlands: Sense Publishers.

City University of New York. (2006). ASAP: A National Model for Community Colleges, Retrieved from

Martin, S.N. & Scantlebury, K. (2009). More than a Conversation: Using Cogenerative Dialogues in the Professional Development of High School Chemistry Teachers. Educational Assessment, Evaluation and Accountability, 21, 119-136.

Moore. J.W. (2004). Scientists, Engineers and Community Colleges. Journal of Chemical Education, 81(9), 1239.

Patton, M. (2006). Teaching by Choice: Cultivating Exemplary Community College STEM Faculty. Washington, DC: American Association of Community Colleges.

Tobin, K. & Roth, W.-M. (2006). Teaching to Learn: A View from the Field. Rotterdam: Sense-Publishers.

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