PULSE – Organizing to Catalyze Change
Teresa Balser, University of Florida, Loretta Brancaccio-Taras, Kingsborough Community College, Kate Marley, Doane College and Akif Uzman, University of Houston-Downtown
The final decades of the 20th Century witnessed an explosion in knowledge generation across the life sciences, largely due to new technologies developed to explore living systems and computational methods to model complex phenomena or analyze large data sets. However, our approach to teaching biology and other life sciences has not kept pace with our new knowledge and research approaches. There is a need to realign the biology we do with the biology we teach. In addition, to maintain a diverse pipeline into research we need to engage students early in the process of research and educate them in diverse technical skills and critical thinking. Emerging knowledge of how students learn provides new opportunities, and also challenges college educators to rethink how science is taught.
Biology is a core course for many majors, reflecting the importance of an understanding of living systems and how scientific research is conducted. A citizenry well versed in the life sciences is essential for decision-making, whether managing one’s health, deciding what food to eat, understanding how individual actions influence the environment, or voting on policy initiatives. In 2006, the National Science Foundation (NSF), with assistance from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), initiated a multi-year conversation with the scientific community, resulting in the 2011 report, Vision and Change in Undergraduate Biology Education: A Call to Action. This report recognizes that a 21st century education requires a change from teacher-centered teaching to student centered learning and a physical and administrative infrastructure to support this new model for education.
The Partnership for Undergraduate Life Sciences Education (PULSE) is a collaborative effort funded by NSF, NIH, and HHMI to help catalyze this change in undergraduate STEM education. A steering committee from these agencies recognized the importance of the department chair and higher administrative levels in creating lasting institutional change and created the “Vision and Change Leadership Fellows” program, charged with the goal of developing strategies to catalyze the implementation of the recommendations from the Vision and Change report across the full spectrum of post-secondary educational institutions. The Vision and Change Leadership Fellows therefore represent all institution types; research universities, regional comprehensive universities, liberal arts colleges, and two-year colleges and are academic leaders in their institutions, with most currently or recently serving as department chairs or deans.
The 40 Vision and Change Leadership Fellows came together in October 2012 and identified opportunities for and barriers to improving undergraduate life sciences education. From this initial meeting we formed four working groups each focused on key actionable objectives within the coming year. Each of the working groups’ efforts can be mapped onto the spectrum of institutional change efforts – with activities designed to complement others in the U.S. focused on raising awareness of the need for change, supporting efforts to develop new activities and behaviors at a departmental level, strengthening and expanding these efforts, and finally reinforcing them at the highest level.
The four working groups are:
1. “Raising the PULSE” – is devoted to increasing awareness of the Vision and Change report, celebrating the work already underway around the country, and inspiring other departments to embrace the challenge.
2. “Taking the PULSE” – seeks to create a recognition program for departments that meet the PULSE and Vision and Change goals for transformed undergraduate experience in the life sciences. This group has developed tools to help departments self-evaluate progress in their efforts to implement Vision and Change principles. Plans for a complete certification program are also underway.
3. “Faculty Networks” – is devoted to building regional and national faculty networks and disseminating a blend of new and existing resources for faculty development. This group plans on developing regional conferences using a “toolkit” generated as a shared effort of two of the four working groups.
4. “Vision and Change Ambassadors” ["Spreading the PULSE"] – seeks to recruit and train PULSE members to serve as Vision and Change facilitators prepared to visit departments and engage faculty in efforts aimed toward implementation appropriate for individual institutions.
The progress of the four PULSE working groups can be followed at the PULSEcommunity.org website via Groups in the site menu. Four fellows, Balser, Brancaccio-Taras, Marley, and Uzman, are coordinating and facilitating the work of the fellows and will summarize the key results of the working groups and how they integrate to move forward the recommendations of Vision and Change at the departmental level.