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A Multi-Strategy Approach to Increase the Use of Active-Learning: Faculty Professional Development

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As a direct result of the AAU STEM Initiative, we have implemented numerous professional development activities for our faculty. Professional development is being implemented in a multi-pronged fashion, and includes observation and feedback for faculty, and multiple professional development activities including multi-day summer institutes, a mentoring program, a community of practice, and a speaker series.

To provide instructors with a “big picture” view of what is happening in a class, collaborators from The Teaching Center and CIRCLE have developed a new classroom observation tool, the Observation Protocol for Active Learning (OPAL). We have designed OPAL to be applicable in a variety of courses, disciplines, and pedagogical strategies. To help faculty close the gap between what they remember about the class session and the actual, documented integration of active learning in their courses, OPAL tracks coded activities to provide instructors with a picture of what is happening—and when it is happening—during the observed class period. We are integrating the use of OPAL into a Multi-Modal Observation for Scholarly Teaching (MOST)—which combines review and discussion of 1) a video-recorded class 2) feedback and suggestions from a Teaching Center staff member 3) an OPAL timeline displaying the observational data from the class. We believe that instructors take from the MOST consultation not only a clearer vision of their own teaching, but also observational and critical skills that they can then apply to reflect on their own teaching. More information about OPAL and MOST can be found in our recent publications in the National Teaching and Learning Forum and The Journal of College Science Teaching.

The summer STEM Faculty Institute on Teaching (STEM FIT) comprises three days of interactive workshops and working-group sessions in which faculty collaboratively design a plan to implement and assess evidence-based teaching in a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) course. STEM FIT is designed to catalyze adoption of evidence-based teaching that can improve student learning and help diverse students persist in STEM. Workshops (led by Washington University Teaching Center staff and faculty) and working-group sessions enable faculty to learn about and apply evidence-based practices. Workshops include integrating active learning, applying cognitive science, incorporating classroom assessment, reducing stereotype threat, fostering a growth mindset, and facilitating inclusion. STEM FIT creates a collegial environment in which instructors engage in collaborative learning to reflect on ideas, ask questions, and innovate across disciplinary and institutional boundaries. Central to this goal is Carol Dweck’s concept of a “growth mindset”: learning and innovation require taking risks, trying new approaches, and understanding missteps as opportunities for further improvement. STEM FIT is now a regional institute, and we have begun a regional one-day STEM FIT symposium for past faculty attendees to discuss their teaching innovations.

The Inclusion and Diversity to Engage All Faculty Institute on Teaching (IDEA FIT) is a two-day institute that provides full-time faculty with interactive workshops and working-group sessions focused on evidence-based teaching strategies that can foster inclusion. The institute offers Washington University faculty the opportunity to collaborate with colleagues from across the disciplines to learn about research on inclusive teaching and learning, as well as to develop or refine course materials, assignments, and in-class activities that can improve the learning environment for all.

The Mentoring in STEM Teaching program (MiST) for junior faculty brings together tenure-track assistant professors with tenured faculty for a two-year mentoring experience focused on teaching. The program is designed to help junior faculty in science, engineering, and mathematics departments develop their teaching early in their careers and to foster a multi-disciplinary, multi-level community of practice among Washington University faculty who are focused on developing effective teaching approaches in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). The mentoring experience includes regular opportunities for observation and discussion of teaching. In addition, it creates opportunities for junior faculty to receive non-evaluative, formative feedback on teaching from colleagues outside of the departmental review process. During the program, participants attend The Teaching Center’s Junior-Faculty Workshops and have multiple opportunities to observe colleagues teaching STEM courses at a variety of levels.


The Teaching with Clickers community of practice is focused on integrating active learning with student response systems, and brings together faculty from both STEM and non-STEM disciplines to discuss this specific active learning technique. This community, now comprising over 40 instructors from 10 departments, meets twice yearly to share ideas and questions on how to use “clickers” effectively, to discuss with colleagues the specifics regarding how they are integrating active learning in their courses. These discussions are facilitated by staff from The Teaching Center.

Last, we have launched the Innovations in Undergraduate Education Speaker Series. The Teaching Center, CIRCLE, and STEM Departments began collaborating to host a speaker series featuring scholars whose work is advancing knowledge of evidence-based teaching in higher education. While this series began with a focus in STEM, it has since expanded to include topics in undergraduate education across the disciplines.