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Case Study: Departmental Action Teams

To embed pedagogical expertise within departments, the University of Colorado Boulder developed a new type of faculty, staff, and student working group called a Departmental Action Team (DAT). DATs support members of a department in identifying an educational issue of broad-scale importance that they want to address and in making sustainable changes by designing and implementing new structures and by shifting departmental culture to address the issue.

A DAT consists of a self-selected group of about 4-8 participants and an external facilitator; the departmental participants are primarily faculty, but may also include postdoctoral researchers, undergraduate and graduate students, and staff. DAT members select an educational issue of shared interest within their department and work collaboratively to address it. A DAT’s focus goes beyond individual course redesign to broader issues. Moreover, the team works collectively, which distinguishes a DAT from a similar structure, the Faculty Learning Community.
DAT facilitators bring expertise in educational research and institutional change, help coordinate logistics, and help the group to work together in a collaborative fashion. Additional incentives (such as service allocation, teaching credit, and other recognition) ensure that participation in the DAT is not a wholly volunteer act, but rather is itself built into the departmental structure and reward system. Thus far, six DATs have been facilitated, pursuing a range of different goals. For example:

  • The Mathematics Department’s DAT focused on integrating core courses for majors by collecting and analyzing data related to these courses. As the result of this work, the department has developed a new course for majors that it will begin piloting over the coming year. By revisiting student outcome data, the DAT will assess the impact of the course.
  • In the Physics Department, the DAT successfully created an ad hoc committee to address issues of diversity. Among other activities, this committee is working to redesign the department website to better serve and recruit underrepresented students, taking steps to encourage faculty mentoring, and creating regular opportunities for members of the department to engage in conversations and self-education around issues of equity and inclusion. The DAT is now a standing committee in the department, using data to guide decision-making, and will continue to collect data about student success (broken out by different demographic groups) to understand the impact of its work.
  • The Information Sciences Department was newly formed in fall of 2015. Its DAT worked to develop its undergraduate curriculum and set up basic procedures for operation. Backwards design techniques were used to create the curriculum for this new major, starting with big picture goals and mapping them backwards into specific sequences and courses.