We faced a number of big obstacles in transforming our biology curriculum -- but one of the biggest was the push-back from colleagues who saw no need for change -- especially pedagogical change. Not so many years ago, I was one of the obstacles. Lecture-only courses had stimulated my interest in biology, and it was the only teaching method that I knew. My students liked my lectures. I told them everything they needed to know. I was entertaining. They were polite, passive, and even worshipful. I was doing my job, right?
Not so much...
But the anxiety of changing the classroom dynamic is real. It requires a willingness to take on risk -- guided inquiry requires practice and letting go of control -- it requires setting high expectations for student engagement and keeping (my) mouth shut more than its open. It's scary.
Ten years ago I didn't even know the word "pedagogy," and when I first heard it I was derisive. "Edu-speak nonsense," I thought. As someone who prides herself as a lifelong learner, I'm embarrassed now by the willfulness of my ignorance for this area of scholarship, but my reaction is not uncommon among scientists.
I believe that faculty development is key to this work. In this discussion I invite you to share your story and the programs that have motivated and prepared you to undertake "transformation." What workshops, conferences, people, have motivated and guided your work? Who are your heroes? And if you have always approached your classroom with active pedagogical practices, provide a bit of metacognitive reflection as to why.
I encourage you to join the group "Transforming the Traditional Lecture." I have a page in that group that describes the CLIC approach to flipping the lecture hall. I believe that CLICing empowers professors to try their hands at active learning approaches such as POGIL, PBL, etc.. In my opinion, one of the obstacles to overcoming skepticism about the implementation of active learning during "lecture time" has been the professorial need to contextualize course concepts within a large base of knowledge. The CLIC approach accepts the primacy of inquiry-based, active learning in producing gains in learning outcomes, but also acknowledges the important role that faculty lecturers provide in providing this contextualization.
I have been able to convince several Biology and Physics colleagues to give this approach a try, provided that a submitted grant is funded (fingers crossed). The grant points to the need of furnishing incentives to faculty if they are to abandon traditional lectures. More on this and approaches to coaxing administrative support for active learning, later.
I've been following your discussions with great interest. Learning how to flip a classroom is a challenge for those who have spent years in the comfortable role of classroom sage.
I've just uploaded an article to the "how will we know if we've succeeded" discussion. In that article we describe our work using guided inquiry. I've spent a lot of my time over the last five years cajoling, encouraging, listening, commending, pushing....it's very human-intensive work. Even when we recognize that we should change, it's a frightening process. Having funding from NSF helped nudge my colleagues to take the plunge, so I have my fingers crossed that your proposal will be accepted!
I am getting to be pretty good in the "flipped" mode, but it was challenging for me to relearn my teaching craft. It takes practice and a willingness to accept that you won't be at your best in the early attempts. That is why I advocate an intensive effort toward faculty development workshops in which instructors have the chance to "be the student" and work through guided inquiry exercises (I would say that ours represent some combination of POGIL, CLA-in-the-Classroom, PBL, and SENCER approaches). After working through the activity, it is helpful to have a discussion about how each instructor might approach their role as students are working. Then providing time to develop guided-inquiry activities for their own courses is equally important -- and time is so difficult to find.
I would love to have your feedback on the article I posted!
Ellen, I like that you are starting a forum on the process of change. I must quibble with your title, however, as it subtly implies that it is primarily SENIOR faculty that are resistant to the efforts of change agents :-). Having quite a few gray hairs myself, I still like to think that I have much to contribute to change, and in fact find myself challenging junior colleagues to think creatively about new curricular approaches. In fact, I think a good subtopic for discussion would be how to protect junior faculty from any blowback (e.g. negative teaching evals) that innovation might initially generate, and how to overcome any fears they might harbor relative to this. I agree that faculty development is a key component in any effective reform effort.
I, too, have plenty of gray -- but that should remain a little secret within the PULSE community.
Seriously, though, I can see how my title can be construed as one-sided. I'll see if I can tweak it a bit -- obviously it has not inspired much response, and I thought yesterday about taking it down -- perhaps others have had your same reaction.
I certainly agree that junior colleagues also need mentorship and support. They face the added stress of gaining tenure, so it is important that there be a support system when they assume the real risk of engaging in new practices. Students can be critical on course evaluations of engaging pedagogical practices -- especially if those evaluations are worded in ways that favor traditional teaching styles, such as "The instructor demonstrates expertise in their discipline," in the absence of questions like "the instructor organizes class sessions in ways that actively engage students in their own learning."
We've been very lucky here in that our more recent hires have helped lead change -- in fact, it would have been very difficult to get as far as we have without them. This has been fostered in no small measure by some great training they received in graduate school. Three of our recent hires at Wofford (one in Bio and two in Math) received their PhDs from Duke, and all received their Certificate in College Teaching -- a voluntary add-on to their PhD training (http://gradschool.duke.edu/prof_dev/cct/index.php). As a result, they are all quite knowledgeable in active learning strategies, and they regularly attend and lead faculty development workshops -- for them it's just part of their commitment to ongoing professional enrichment. I can't tell you how thankful I've been during the last four years when my tenured colleagues have said "we can't possibly do it that way" and I heard, "sure we can, we did that at Duke, and it worked great."
These types of programs are popping up in other graduate programs as well, and when they become the norm, such efforts as PULSE may become obsolete. Let's hope so.
In the mean time, I agree that we need to work to inspire colleagues in all career stages.
efforts to foster change were most often impeded by tenured instructors, regardless of age.
Please don't take the discussion down, Ellen! I think it's very important.
Embedded in your opening post is the desire to help colleagues but I also think motivation is needed.
Even across my own kitchen table at home in the evenings, I have a tough case making the point that the "sage on the stage" model is just not as effective as other teaching/learning approaches! The concept of a meritocracy is so engrained (...if we "earned our stripes" through a gauntlet of lecture courses, why shouldn't we continue to winnow, groom and educate this generation that way - why change the rules? do we really need more life scientists?).
I am motivated to join this discussion because I was one of the many who were unengaged by lectures (and my GPA showed it!). I was excited about being a scientist only when I worked in a laboratory during undergraduate summers. My GPA and, obviously, my persistence improved remarkably once I was able to "be" a scientist.
Women, students underrepresented in the biological sciences, and students first-in-their-family to attend college perform, persist and graduate at higher rates when involved in (almost) any other type of pedagogy than the gauntlet of lectures/cook-book labs. So there is a social justice or diversity argument to be made to drive change. Medical schools and employers have articulated the need for more students able to work in multi-disciplinary teams; most agree memorization of content is not as important as it once was (there is too much!).
But there must be other arguments to be made. I'm not sure that the Vision & Change report itself makes a grand case; the motivation for the report had more to do with the changing nature of the biology discipline itself (there is too much!).
So the selfish bottom line...compiling some motivating reasons for changing undergraduate life science education here in this discussion might help me win some arguments at home occasionally! If I can change and motivate minds at home, perhaps I can find the tools to use on campus!
Thank you for your heartfelt post. Your story is so important to this discussion. Research shows that engaging, active classrooms and open-ended labs don't hurt those students that would have gotten an A regardless of practice -- it shows that we capture students like you -- and like me.
I did fine, but I was underachieving. When a professor invited me to be a lab assistant, it changed my life. He invited me to partner in the teaching role -- and I was inspired.
If we also partner with our students in constructing new knowledge through authentic research, it's exciting to imagine the collective impact of their future work. Work motivated more by doing good than by making a profit -- but I digress.
We have so much influence on our students -- and with it so much responsibility. It keeps me up at night.
The bottom line you mention isn't selfish -- the passion that your bring home means you care. We're both lucky that we have family members who encourage and challenge our ideas -- I hope you find within this PULSE forum the same opportunity.
From what I can tell so far, we're a bunch of kindred spirits learning from from each other -- and from those who set the stage.
Ohio State also has a Graduate Inderdisciplinary Specialization in College and University Teaching: http://ucat.osu.edu/gis/
We (Center for Life Sciences Education, responsible for all intro bio courses at OSU) teach a couple of courses that count towards the GIS in College Teaching. We require teaching assistants who are sent by any of several departments and graduate programs to take one of the two courses every time they teach for us (one of the courses is very flexible, and can be repeated as many times as necessary). We have had push-back from faculty, departments, graduate programs, and graduate students against our policy of requiring these courses, to the extent that I don't think we would have been able to implement this policy if we were part of a department. We also get positive feedback directly from our biology students, as well as from graduate students applying for teaching positions, faculty complimenting us about their students' presentations at meetings, faculty who teach for us and appreciate the professionalism of their GTAs, etc.
I have also seen a few (so far) examples where GTAs and staff members interested in innovative and creative ways of teaching encourage and provide support for faculty to experiment with more active classrooms, causing the faculty members to enthusiastically change their teaching with little prodding.
Thank you for beginning this thread. I absolutely agree with your statement that faculty development is key. I think that we are actually asking faculty not to change but to TRANSFORM what they do in the classroom.
Like you, I have come to my understanding of an improved learning in the last decade or so, mainly after reading How People Learn. HPL challenged the foundations of my own understanding! This is what I mean by transformation.
Part of the problem we face is that in any transformation, the 'students' (in this case faculty) do not actually have a vision of where they can be. This will be one of our greatest hurdles in my opinion. Student engaged classrooms are more than using active learning strategies. I think they are bringing what it is we know about learning (engaging misconceptions, asking students to apply and transfer, teaching metacognition, using error-making as a teching tool, building community, starting where the students are and building from their knowledge base, linking the material to their lives, providing immediate and relevant feedback and more...) into the classroom everyday and making in the moment decisions based on these principles of learning.
One thing that I come to when thinking through faculty development efforts is that we must apply what it is we know about learning to develop those programs.
I think too, that faculty development efforts will have to look different than they do now, at least for many of us. You may be able to begin the transformation process in a workshop but old habits and thought patterns die hard.
How People Learn was a transformative tool for me as well. Clearly, you have digested it and put it into practice.
Our busy, time-strapped, colleagues often find it overwhelming to take on learning "outside their field," which is understandable. But as you point out, understanding how we learn is KEY to being successful in our chosen avocation as educators. Finding/creating time for faculty learning is critical, and workshops and lunch discussions are useful tools.
As life-long learners, we are all students. When we develop our own metacognitive awareness, we can help students develop theirs.
Thanks again for responding.
Thank you Ellen for posing this question and to all other members for posting excellent ideas.
There is no question that we all subscribe to active pedagogical practices, hands-on activities, and so on, in whatever form these activities take (examples of excellent practices abound). To me, the problem is not only that some colleagues cannot see the value of science pedagogy. I would add that one of the main obstacles is that mane faculty either do not have the time or the confidence to adopt such practices in the classroom. The pressures of evaluation, grants, etc. are far more pressing and more demanding to them. Thus, unless we generate the appropriate conditions to motivate faculty to change and reward them for trying, all efforts may prove unsuccessful.
In my view we need to have a dual approach to this issue: first, we need to ensure that all PhD programs include science pedagogy courses. Further, hiring criteria should include teaching experiences on top of research credentials. Second, as we adopted at our institution, we need to come alongside faculty and provide incentives for them to attampt changes, however small. With support from a grant we created a working group of volunteers who each generate a project of their own choice (ranging from a single classroom exercise to a whole new course offering); we then assist this colleague in accomplishing the goal they set for themselves. This effort has proven very successful so far, and we are moving from the "Incentive" phase to the "Maintenance" phase before we scale up to "Institutionalize" phase.
In our view, the "bottom-up" approach is the way to go. After all, as scientists we can only be convinced by data, and the data on student learning is very clear. I look forward to further discussion on this topic.
I do agree that leadership needs to come from the life sciences. However, changes happen manytimes not from department chairs but from others in the department more willing to take risks in cutting edge pedagogy that might not be popular with other faculty. As a department chair, taking these types of risks might not be popular and a department chair needs to be sensitive to the needs of others. I actually feel that I have made more of an impact in our department by asking not to be a department chair when asked by our former Provost.
I just want to echo what Stasinos and David are saying- there is a real need for stronger pedagogical training for PhD candidates (future faculty) and that impetus may come from many sources that are not "directed" from the top. A few years ago, while at University of Hawaii-Manoa, I created and taught a science teaching seminar for science grad students. It was pretty well-received by the students, many of whom told me the extent of their TA training was safety and sexual harassment seminars. But it wasn't mandated or required by anyone (although the Zoo department chair at the time graciously helped me set it up, find a room etc.) and I taught it as an unpaid overload because I really believed it was important. I do still hear from some of my former seminar students, and I'm really gratified that they all seem to have become thoughtful reflective teachers- of course, they were also self-selecting by choosing to take the seminar!