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University of Colorado Boulder STEM Education Initiatives

The overall goal of our project is to improve student learning and engagement across campus by professionalizing faculty roles, practices, and culture around education.

By professionalize we mean engage in practices, build community, exercise judgments/habits of mind, externalize work, draw from prior work, and continue to develop/learn as professionals, in manners that are known to improve student learning. To do so, we use a multi-layer approach, focusing on: (1) faculty practices (bottom up), (2) department culture (middle out), and (3) administrative support and infrastructure (top down), We support these three layers with infrastructure provided by the AAU and our collaborations with our Offices of Informational Technology (OIT) and Institutional research (IR) to develop and import technology for better utilizing already existing institutional student data. Our project is housed in CU's Center for STEM Learning. Each strand of the project is elaborated below, along with additional STEM education reform efforts.

Layer 1: Work with Individual Faculty and Grass Roots initiatives

While the project started by working with with individual faculty teaching large-enrollment, gateway courses in three departments, physics, integrative physiology, and mechanical engineering, it has built on this to create faculty working groups or Departmental Action Teams

At the individual level, the individual faculty work helped faculty identify learning goals for their courses and investigate whether and how they are achieving one or more of their goals. The faculty are identified by working with departmental leads and department chairs to determine who might be open to such an effort. During the first year, we met with 12 faculty members and implemented pre/post concept inventories in 5 courses. Individual faculty and course advising continues and occurs in roughly 7 departments in the STEM fields as CU.  However, having identified potential faculty partners and issues of concern, our goal evolved to help create and support communities of faculty members to address these issues. Our ultimate goal is to build communities that extend beyond addressing a single problem. The Departmental Action Team model emerged to address these concerns.

The work at the faculty level currently focuses on creating Departmental Action Teams (DATs). A DAT is a self-selected group that consists primarily of faculty members within a single department, but may also include postdoctoral researchers, students, or staff. DAT members select an educational issue of shared interest within their department and work collaboratively to address it. Recognizing that educational issues rarely “stay solved” on their own, a DAT aims to create new structures within a department for sustaining change. DATs are externally facilitated groups; our facilitators bring expertise in educational research and institutional change and help coordinate logistics.

Over the course of the project we facilitated a total of six DATs. Two of these began during the second year of the project, which have outcomes to report. These DATs focused on making sustainable changes in their departments. One DAT focused on the integration of the curriculum across courses, while the other focused on improving diversity in the major. Both DATs were successful in implementing new structures in their home departments, and continued working through the next academic year. Given the success of the DAT model, we have received continued funding through the NSF to expand the model (NSF 1626565).

As of Spring 2017, DATs are running in four departmental units, and 6 previous Departmental Action teams have operated to seed potentially sustainable, department-wide change.

Layer 2: Whole Department Cultural Change

SITAR engaged in a whole-department cultural change process in one test department on campus, with the goal of moving the department towards the full integration of evidenced-based, learning-centered education and the development of processes that encourage continuous improvement. We surveyed and interviewed faculty at the beginning of this process, and received responses from 26 of 36 faculty in each case (72%). Through these surveys and interviews we were able to elicit mental maps about how faculty members were reasoning around education and change. We used this information to inform 2-hour and daylong retreats. After developing a plan of action at the department level, we used the DAT model to facilitate a smaller faculty working group to move forward with the plan.

The project continues but has not resulted in departmental, systemic, sustained change (yet).  The analysis of the process (what has worked and not) are currently underway; however the lessons form these early attempts have informed the DAT efforts and the model of out-side in transformation.

These first two layers of work target two different change models (incremental and practice-based at the individual scale and systemic and culture-based in the departmental scale). We have built draft strategies for these change processes that identify key actions, metrics, and outcomes.

Layer 3: Administrative Support & Infrastructure

In promoting a culture of excellence around educational practice, we have been coordinating with our senior administration. Since the establishment of AAU on campus, STEM education has been identified as a campus strategic priority by the Chancellor. Similarly, our Office of Informational Technology (OIT) has made STEM education an area of focus.

The faculty senate has made evidence-based education practice a priority, and shifted its calls in its campus-wide Teaching Awards to focus on evidence-based practices and measures of impact and student learning.  [Insert new BFA call]

Teaching Quality Framework: A faculty working group is being established to create a framework for teaching excellence (the Teaching Quality Framework) that can be adopted and contextualized by individual units to shift our promotion and tenure guidelines and culture.  Currently 9 units on campus (from humanities to engineering) are engaged in a pilot to delineate scholarly approaches to teaching evaluation for merit, promotion and tenure.  These departments will share a common scholarly framework but take a disciplinary specified approach, using contextually meaningful research based tools for evaluation.

Visualization of Instructional Practice: In partnership with the Academic Technology Design Team, we have imported and adapted tools from the UC - Davis site to implement new classroom observational tools (COPUS, OPLE, TDOP) using the Davis GORP protocol.  A campus-wide service now exists for using classroom observations to assist faculty in measuring (in a reliable, scholarly, and more objective fashion) classroom practices, and then engage in consultations to shift those practices.

Student Pathways: In partnership with our Institutional Research office, we have again drawn from UC - Davis materials, to create Tableau-based visualizations of student academic pathways. These visualizations provide data to inform department and college-wide decisions based on evidence of the impacts of education, where students come from, where they head, and which courses act as “sources” or “sinks” in a given major.


Contact Noah Finkelstein at [email protected] for more information.