The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has embedded pedagogical expertise within departments by capitalizing on their faculty track of lecturers. Departments have used these positions to hire individuals who bring educational expertise and leadership into departments. Such lecturers, who are eligible for tenure, have experience in evidence-based teaching methods in the sciences and are evaluated on their ability to contribute to the ongoing evolution of the departmental and institutional teaching culture.
The presence of teaching-oriented faculty who are treated with status equivalent to more research-oriented faculty has lowered the barrier for entry for all faculty in departments to think about how to infuse evidence-based pedagogy into their classes. One way in which this knowledge has been disseminated is through mentor-apprentice relationships between teaching-oriented and other faculty, including senior tenured faculty. Departments have incentivized these relationships by giving both faculty members credit for teaching the course they are working on together that term. So far in the project, 27 such “course releases” have been provided. Going forward, the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences has committed to supporting four-course releases per year for course redesign and apprenticeships for three years.
Michael Crimmins, a senior professor of chemistry, participated first as an apprentice and later as a mentor. Crimmins undertook a complete reform of the Introductory Organic Chemistry 1 course into a high structure, active learning format.
Inside Higher Ed quoted Crimmins: “We’re trying to get students to engage with content multiple times, to get some information before they come to the classroom. Then I’m a lot less of a lecturer than I used to be. … The huge change is that I don’t walk into class with notes or a PowerPoint -- I have some notes -- but it’s not me talking, talking, talking. I talk a little bit but I’m posing students questions, and they’re talking among themselves or in groups.”
After redesigning the course, Crimmins observed that failure rates had been reduced for all students (from 17% to 6% when comparing the 2002-03 to 2013-14 classes), but notably for African American students (from 33% in 2002-03 to 14% in 2013-14) and all underrepresented minority students (from 21% in 2002-03 to 11% in 2013-14).
Other courses at UNC-Chapel Hill, including in the biology department, witnessed a similar closing of the achievement gap for both first-generation and African American students. Additionally, evidence shows more women are now enrolling in gateway science courses at UNC-Chapel Hill.