Evaluating the Educational Experience in Post-secondary Mathematics: A New Survey Suite

By Naneh Apkarian, guest blogger for Launchings

This is the first in what I anticipate will be an occasional series of guest blog posts on Launchings. Others who wish to submit a guest blog post for consideration should contact me at bressoud@macalester.edu.

As the nation moves to improve student experiences and outcomes in postsecondary mathematics, the question of measurement arises regularly. Certainly some input variables (class size, institution type, textbook), contextual factors (gender, socio-economic status), and some outcome measures (grade, time-to-degree, major) are straightforward to collect and put into a model. But these do not touch on the messy interactions among students, instructors, content, and the learning environment.

As part of two large NSF-funded studies of introductory mathematics courses, specifically the Precalculus to Calculus 2 sequence, a suite of survey instruments was developed to measure some of these aspects in order to better understand student and instructor perspectives on course activities. These instruments, along with a history of their development and usage, are now available as a white paper for everyone who wishes to see and/or use them.

The first of these projects is Progress through Calculus (PtC; NSF DUE-1430540), which is run in conjunction with the Mathematical Association of America (MAA). The second is Student Engagement in Mathematics through an Institutional Network for Active Learning (SEMINAL; NSF DUE-1624643, 1624610, 1624639 ) and is run in conjunction with the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU).

Both projects draw on the previous NSF-funded Characteristics of Successful Programs in College Calculus (CSPCC) to guide case studies of introductory university mathematics programs, with the long-term goal of supporting student success in these courses and contributing to students’ successful completion (and enjoyment) of STEM majors. These surveys were developed collaboratively across both projects, and the authorship team of the white paper includes representatives of both projects: Naneh Apkarian, Wendy Smith, Kristen Vroom, Matthew Voigt, and Jessica Gehrtz.

Cover of X-PIPS-M Survey Suite

Cover of X-PIPS-M Survey Suite

The surveys are referred to as the X-PIPS-M survey suite, with “M” being for mathematics and “X” the placeholder for versions aimed at students, instructors, and student instructors/TAs (there is also an observation protocol, but the acronym breaks down a little). The PIPS stands for Postsecondary Instructional Practices Survey, and is an acknowledgement of these instruments’ heritage. The original PIPS was designed for STEM more broadly (Walter, Henderson, Beach, & Williams, 2016). The X-PIPS-M suite also builds on the intellectual heritage of previous studies of Calculus 1 (Bressoud, Mesa, & Rasmussen, 2016). The instruments are designed to collect data about instructional practice from multiple perspectives in compatible ways so that triangulation is possible – both to reveal consistency and to identify dissonant perceptions that may exist. The white paper we have just completed, which includes the instruments themselves, also details the research supporting each item – whether from an already-developed survey or to address known gaps in prior work.

We are offering these surveys for public consumption and usage in the hopes of supporting practitioners as well as researchers of undergraduate mathematics education. We look forward to seeing how others make use of them!


Bressoud, D., Mesa, V., & Rasmussen, C. (Eds.). (2015). Insights and recommendations from the MAA national study of college calculus. Washington, DC: MAA Press. 

Walter, E. M., Henderson, C. R., Beach, A. L., & Williams, C. T. (2016). Introducing the Postsecondary Instructional Practices Survey (PIPS): A concise, interdisciplinary, and easy-to-score survey. CBE—Life Sciences Education, 15(4), ar53. https://doi.org/10.1187/cbe.15-09-0193

This work is supported in part with grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF DUE-1430540, 1624643, 1624610, 1624639) in conjunction with the MAA. All findings and opinions are those of the author and not necessarily of the funding agency.

Naneh Apkarian

Naneh Apkarian

Naneh Apkarian is a post-doctoral research associate of Western Michigan University, at the Center for Research on Instructional Change in Postsecondary Education. She is part of the team of the MAA project Progress through Calculus.