390524 Leading Institutional Change through Faculty Support and Engagement with Administrators: Use of Evidence Based Teaching Practices

Thursday, November 20, 2014: 12:46 PM
M102 (Marriott Marquis Atlanta)
Paul Blowers, Chemical and Environmental Engineering, The University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ

Institutional change for improving education is regarded as being impossible for large universities due to the number of people involved, the entrenched ideas of what is valued for promotion and tenure, and lack of encouragement for improving instruction.  However, there are elements at an institution that can coalesce transformation.  We discuss the initial conditions that primed a large Research I state university for institutional change that positively impacted undergraduate education.  These initial conditions include a coalition of the willing who were using evidence based instructional practices like active learning methods, frequent feedback mechanisms inside and outside  classrooms, and peer-to-peer methods.  Other initial conditions include having several upper administration members who rose from STEM areas who support STEM faculty.  These boundary conditions that fostered change were countered by the continually diminished state support for higher education in the state and the low academic preparation of a large segment of the student population.

With a small grant, the initial conditions above allowed  growth of the coalition of the willing.  Faculty learning communities (FLCs) were formed, with approximately 30 members gathering biweekly in small group discussions for one year to discuss instructional methods and implementing them in their own mostly lower level STEM course(s) so that more engaging methods could be leveraged to build student competence.  Incentives for participation in the FLCs were minimal in nature financially, but rich in mentoring from knowledgeable faculty members engaged in the practices.  An additional incentive was the continuing dialogue and interplay among the FLCs as memberships moved and discussions ranged across disciplines with best practices shared.  In addition, with the initial funding, two engineering and three core science disciplines were directly impacted directly in transforming the undergraduate experience through course re-design.  Pre- and post-exam data, cross sectional data comparing the new classroom implementations to traditional lectures, and anecdotal evidence showed that implementation of these methods strengthened student learning gains and retention.  Additionally, the implementation projects originating from the FLC communities showed that faculty were willing and able to implement strategies when given scaffolded approaches for developing comfort in applying the non-lecture based techniques.

Data gathered throughout the project include initial faculty reservations, faculty discussions of barriers to success in causing institutional change, and information gathered from faculty as they reflected upon their projects at implementation and completion.  Data also showed that reformed teaching in lower level supporting courses had a positive impact on student performance in freshmen and sophomore level courses.  The level of interest in the project, starting with the coalition of the willing, and then building with the FLCs, with support from upper administration, indicate that a wider scale effort is poised to be launched to grow these efforts to support all STEM instruction at the institution.  This support includes the new elevation of teaching in consideration of promotion and tenure with instructional portfolios which will encourage more faculty to consider teaching to be important.

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