How can departments support efforts by STEM faculty to change the way they teach for improved student learning?

Do you know of examples of such efforts?

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I was a university department head for a biology department with faculty who had strong research backgrounds.  At the time I took over the department, the evaluation of appropriate pedagogy was rudimentary and science education research was not valued.  At first, my efforts were focused on rewarding faculty for using their research and related research projects to reinforce biology content in the upper level courses.   For the lower level courses, faculty were provided guidance on effective teaching without making them think they were totally ineffective at what they do.  My dean and I provided incentives for faculty to take part in science education organizations and meetings. We also awarded merit for science education pursuits towards rank and tenure.  The major thing a department head can do is offer gentle guidance into successful pedagogical strategies and provide abundant evidence that higher education science teaching research has value and is not just a “trend.”

Brian brings up some very important points.  As the head of a chemistry and biology department, I try to bring in seminar speakers who are experts in science teaching and assessment.  Our dean and president strongly supports this effort and fund many speakers.  We too had to overcome the inertia of science teaching research not being valued by some faculty and adiministrators.  We also send some faculty to STEM workshops during the summer so they can learn and bring back ideas and new pedagogy to the department and university.  Deans and presidents of universities need to say to faculty often that teaching research and innovative teaching IS valued and will be rewarded.  I truly believe that faculty will get on board with "gentle guidiance" as Brian points out.

I have a question related to the question and the comments by Brian and Leon.  They talked about using "gentle guidance" for change but I need some strategies for transitioning the 'old guard' away from the lecture heavy teaching method.  These folks are not close enough to retirement to wait it out and focus on replacements, but they are also not receptive to changing anything about the way they have been teaching for 20+ years.  HELP!  

I appreciate the comments made by Brian and Leon, I think their “gentle guidance” approach is important to success. By gentle guidance I understand you to mean we should encourage their strengths and at the same time challenge them with new ideas, I agree.

Everyone can improve; the question might be how can we encourage science instructors so they will want to improve? Once they have taken the first steps in change, I think there will be such satisfaction they will want to continue in the process.

I also agree that encouraging without making them think they were totally ineffective is a good idea. By using a positive approach we might not have to separate people into the two groups, good professors and bad professors. You might think I am too hopeful, but I think everyone wants to be on a winning team.

Thank you for your comments.

I really appreciate Donna's comment that "everyone can improve; the question might be how can we encourage science instructors so they will want to improve?" Does anyone have concrete example(s) of faculty who improved their instruction despite of having "gentle guidance" from their department? How did such faculty achieve change?

My example: A faculty member on my campus used research methods (no one else was)as a teaching tool because he says he was boring himself with lectures and wanted the students to experience hands on science. He could see that the students were more enthusiastic and motivated. He took it so far as to test the students that had a research experience as well as students in a section of the same course without hands on research. The results showed no difference in student learning of content that semester. He was discouraged and baffled based on what he felt from the students. All the same students were tested again on the same content one year later and this time there was a significant difference! The students with the hands on research experience retained the content. He slowly enlists believers and continues on after starting these efforts more than 10 years ago!

Leading by example, especially if you have data that demonstrates increased student interest/engagement/learning outcomes elicited by V&C-related pedagogy, is often a good first step in getting the attention of the "old guard."

One method that can work Melanie is to assign a member of the old guard with a newer faculty member in a team-taught course where they have to work together. Hopefully the senior faculty member will compromise somewhat in their approach. If that does not work you can try the data approach - show them the data that the method you are proposing is more efficacious than what they are doing. Good luck.

It might help to have them teach a course they've never taught before. It may be more appealing to try new methods in a course you are building from scratch anyway, rather than "tear down" parts of course you've already fine-tuned for years. In our Department we started teaching sophomore-level methods classes, which inherently involve active learning environments. I think some of those approaches are now diffusing over into our other courses.

Getting faculty to embrace taking on new courses can itself be a challenge, but perhaps this can be incentivized. Faculty members could be given an opportunity to teach an especially appealing course (say a highly specialized, low-enrollment course in their micro-topic of interest) on the condition that they incorporate some new pedagogical approaches.

The time constraints argument suggests that perhaps departments can provide graduate or postdocs support through teachng courses to assist faculty with course transformation. Also rewarding integration of the faculty members own research into lab courses or courses that are free standing. One might take a look at David Lynn's  ORDER ( On Recent Discovery's by Emory Researchers) as a potential model.

At our research-intensive land grant university, faculty learning communities (FLCs) have proven to be potentially powerful forums for faculty-led transformation of large-enrollment lecture and lab courses.  A central goal of these communities is to increase student engagement and learning, especially in our introductory courses.  Importantly, the FLC’s allow faculty to recognize efficiencies of effort, by sharing ideas and materials.  Inspired by the VC call to action and supported by their colleagues, some faculty members have written intramural and extramural grants to develop course tools or to invite educational speakers for departmental seminars.  Additionally, we have been fortunate to recruit talented and dedicated post-doctoral science teaching fellows, who bring scholarship and energy to the challenges of transforming our courses.  The post-docs also seek out experts in other departments, helping us to recognize and synthesize diverse perspectives and scholarly strengths on campus.

We are trying a new strategy this year during our in-service period (the week before classes start each semester).  Our administration has been modeling "best-practice" teaching while running informational meetings.  It is interesting to watch faculty get excited about "participatation time", "break-out pair and share sessions," and "one-minute papers."  All of professional development sessions on pedagogy model the strategy; we do not lecture about not lecturing.



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