AAAS Vision and Change in Undergraduate Biology Education: Chronicling the Changes-- Abstract from Spreading the Pulse (V&C Ambassadors)

Ambassadors for Curricular Change

A multi-year planning process produced the 2011 report, ‘Vision and Change in Undergraduate Biology Education: A Call to Action’ that advocated for a focus on core concepts and core competencies in undergraduate life science education. Widespread adoption of these recommendations will in many cases require changes to how the life sciences are taught, how academic departments support faculty, and how curricular decisions are made. To support and promote these changes, NSF, NIH, and HHMI created the Partnership for Undergraduate Life Science Education (PULSE) and identified a cadre of 40 Vision & Change (V&C) Leadership Fellows who were charged with developing strategies to promote adoption of the recommendations in the V&C report. In their inaugural workshop in Oct. 2010, the V&C Leadership Fellows distributed themselves into four working groups, each focused on different but complementary aspects of systemic change.

There are many barriers to widespread adoption of the V&C recommendations—limited resources of money and time, lack of knowledge, fear of failure, and skepticism about the merit of the recommendations, among others. A hypothesis of the V&C Leadership Fellows is that even when departments have the will, means, and information to change, they may need personal guidance and support from life scientists who have experience with making the curricular changes recommended by V&C.

Therefore one of the Fellows working groups (designated Spreading the PULSE) has been devising a program for recruiting, training, and organizing a group of facilitators, tentatively called V&C Ambassadors, who will be available to assist departments in instituting curricular change. By June 2013 this working group plans to have designed a program to accomplish this goal. Toward this end we are developing methods for recruiting individuals with the interest, experience, and interpersonal skills to be effective Ambassadors. We are also creating multiday workshop program to train Ambassadors in the tools and resources available to support the recommendations of Vision & Change and in the approache necessary to promote and sustain departmental change. In collaboration with another of the working groups, we have been gathering print and online resources to serve as a portable “toolkit” that Ambassadors can provide to interested departments.

While we have not yet finalized all aspects of the Ambassadors program, our preliminary views are that departments would self-identify as being interested in adopting the recommendations of Vision & Change (or having begun the process, as wishing to move further towards institutionalizing it). The department would complete a self-assessment of its activities to date, where it has achieved successes, and what barriers it may have encountered. This will enable us to partner the department with a team of two or three Ambassadors who have expertise in surmounting the barriers, or promoting the changes, that the department wishes to accomplish. This ongoing partnership will involve a campus visit by the Ambassador team to meet with faculty, administrators and students to learn about the departmental culture and to provide advice, guidance, and resources that will advance the department’s goals. Subsequent to the visit and a written report from the Ambassadors, they will be available to the department for regular follow-ups by phone or videoconference, with at least one return visit to campus about a year after the initial visit.

Because curricular change is not only a intellectual but a social endeavor, we believe that faculty members are more likely to adopt changes if they have the guidance and encouragement of people known to, and respected by, them. By developing a program to recruit, train, and vet such Ambassadors, we will provide these respected guides that can be effective in helping departments embrace Vision & Change.

The Spreading the Pulse group of PULSE V&C Leadership Fellows plans to use the Change meeting to publicize our accomplishments to date, to solicit assistance for spreading the word about the Ambassador program widely, and to recruit from among the attendees those who have successfully implemented the recommendations of Vision & Change and would thus be effective Ambassadors.

Members the Spreading the PULSE group include include deans and chairs or former chairs of life science departments from regional comprehensive universities, liberal arts colleges and two-year community colleges. Faculty from regional comprehensive universities include Joann Otto (Chair) Western Washington University, Edwin Barea-Rodriguez (University of Texas, San Antonio), Betsy Desy (Southwest Minnesota State University), Michael Kelrick (Truman State University), Karen Klyczek (University of Wisconsin, River Falls), David Marcey (Cal Lutheran), Mary Smith (North Carolina A&T State University), and Akif Uzman (University of Houston, Downtown). Representatives of liberal arts colleges include Alix Fink (Longwood University), Rick Gonzalez (University of San Diego) and Gary Reiness (Lewis & Clark College). Nitya Jacob from Oxford College of Emory University represents two-year colleges.

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