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STEM Status Report: Progress Toward Institutional Change

AAU universities are successfully implementing strategies to achieve long-lasting improvements in undergraduate STEM teaching and learning.

Based upon a comprehensive review of the undergraduate STEM education reforms occurring at AAU universities, we found the following key elements at various institutional levels to be important factors in improving the quality and effectiveness of undergraduate STEM teaching and learning.

  • Shift from individual to collective responsibility by departments for introductory course curriculum. AAU hasobserved that departments most likely to emphasize evidence-based active-learning strategies in foundational courses have thought deeply about the curricula and content of these courses, along with ways to assess student learning. Ultimately, collective responsibility for shared learning objectives by course will necessitate developing a uniform vision of educational improvement among faculty members within and across departments, as well as the development of mechanisms to assess progress in teaching effectiveness for all students.
  • Hire educational experts within departments to bolster reforms. One strategy to successfully institutionalize reform is to embed instructional expertise within the department to provide educational leadership and to support all faculty members in the adoption and use of evidence-based pedagogy. Although the types of appointments of individuals with this type of expertise vary widely (e.g., tenure-track, non-tenure track, junior and senior ranks), these individuals all have in common  an understanding of the discipline and how students learn best within the discipline. When used most effectively, these individuals are well positioned to provide educational leadership to the department.
  • Harness institution-wide data to support student learning. Research universities can greatly facilitate STEM education improvement by supporting the development and use of institution-wide data and analytical tools on student instruction and learning outcomes. Keys to successful use of data analytics include: 1) distinguishing between the types of data useful for individual faculty members  designing and assessing their courses and the types of data used in departmental decision-making; 2) the ease and efficiency of use are essential to broad  acceptance of teaching-related metrics; and 3) data should not be seen as sufficient in their own right but must be used to help make decisions and establish policies aimed at advancing educational improvement.
  • Reorganize administrative support services to better support departmental reform  efforts. Another key to successful institutionalization of undergraduate instructional reforms is to align relevant administrative units, such as Centers for Teaching and Learning, with department-based instructional improvement efforts. Providing college or campus-wide structures to support departmental reform efforts increased the likelihood of institutionalization in AAU project sites.
  • Develop and re-engineer learning spaces. Creating collaborative learning spaces to support evidence-based pedagogy has been a catalyst for faculty members to reflect on how they teach their courses. Students have also attributed learning gains to classroom environments that foster engagement and interaction.
  • Better manage the simultaneous pursuit of high-quality teaching and research. The development and use of more effective ways to evaluate teaching quality and effectiveness in the faculty reward structures will be required to institutionalize STEM educational reforms.
  • Commit to systemic and long-term STEM reforms. Institutionalizing reforms of undergraduate STEM education at research universities eventually requires internal institutional investment and alignment of resources; it cannot be achieved solely by a series of isolated externally-funded grants. Public pronouncements of support for these undergraduate reforms by university leaders also contributes to the spread of instructional reforms across departments. Without further institutional commitment, however, such pronouncements fail in achieving meaningful and long-lasting reform.
  • Leverage AAU to advance educational reforms and institutional change. AAU involvement has symbolic implications that can help campuses achieve cultural and institutional change by providing legitimacy to STEM education reform efforts.