A Model for Emergent Change at Iowa State University

Return to search results | New search

Title of Abstract: A Model for Emergent Change at Iowa State University

Name of Author: Jo Anne Powell-Coffman
Author Company or Institution: Iowa State University
PULSE Fellow: No
Applicable Courses: All Biological Sciences Courses
Course Levels: Faculty Development, Introductory Course(s)
Approaches: Assessment, Changes in Classroom Approach (flipped classroom, clickers, POGIL, etc.), Faculty learning communities, Mixed Approach
Keywords: faculty learning communities introductory biology interdisciplinary institutional transformation Postdoctoral science education fellows

Name, Title, and Institution of Author(s): Craig Ogilvie, Iowa State University Clark Coffman, Iowa State University Emily Elliott, Iowa State University Diane Bassham, Iowa State University

Goals and intended outcomes of the project or effort, in the context of the Vision and Change report and recommendations: Our goal is to to increase student engagement and learning in first- and second-year science courses at Iowa State University, a research-intensive public university that enrolls over 30,000 students. This goal recognizes the recommendations from the Vision and Change report to focus on introductory courses, using evidence-based teaching strategies to encourage students to actively consider and practice core concepts and competencies. The intended outcome is that more students will graduate in science majors, prepared to address complex, real-world problems.

Describe the methods and strategies that you are using: Our strategy is emergent change. We seek to create an intellectually vibrant environment in which faculty instructors drive pedagogical innovation. We aim to inspire and coordinate simultaneous changes in several science departments, including Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and Geology, such that each student will benefit from multiple transformed courses during their first two years. Faculty are adding inquiry activities to introductory lectures and labs, including extended 5-6 week research projects in freshman- and sophomore-level lab courses, so that every student has the experience of designing experiments and considering solutions to real-world problems. Our primary mechanisms for effecting change are two-fold. First, we have initiated faculty learning communities (FLCs) that are devoted to curricular innovation and implementation. FLC participation is encouraged by a nominal stipend and by the time efficiencies that faculty have achieved by sharing resources and information. The FLCs have proven to be effective forums for emergent change, allowing coordination of efforts by the faculty and providing a platform for discussions of how best to implement strategies for transforming the undergraduate experience. Postdoctoral science education fellows are the second major driver for change. As scholars invested in education research, they bring energy, time, expertise, and a sense of urgency to reforms, and they critically assess the efficacy of the project.

Describe the evaluation methods that you used (or intended to use) to determine whether the project or effort achieved the desired goals and outcomes: We are testing the hypothesis that transformations in our courses will correlate with increased student persistence in STEM majors. We are assessing student learning and student attitudes in transformed courses. Faculty are evaluating student progress towards course objectives. Working with colleagues in the School of Education, we are using the Student Understanding of Science and Scientific Inquiry (SUSSI) instrument to assess students’ Nature of Science conceptions. We are also surveying faculty to evaluate changes in departmental or institutional cultures and practices.

Impacts of project or effort on students, fellow faculty, department or institution. If no time to have an impact, anticipated impacts: Since we are focused on large freshman- and sophomore-level classes, we are able to positively impact a great breadth of science majors. In 2012, 4000 students took lecture courses with increased active learning emphases, and we anticipate that this will increase to 8000 students in 2013. In 2012, approximately 630 students benefited from lab courses with new extended research projects, and this is expected to increase to 850 in 2013. Encouragingly, these changes correlate with increased retention of science majors at our institution. In the years before the project (i.e. students who entered Fall 2006, 07, 08) the 1-year retention in STEM majors was 74.5% ± 0.5%. For students who entered in Fall 2011 or 2012, the 1-year retention in a STEM major was 77.3% ± 0.8%, and this amounts to an increase of 2.8% ± 0.9%. There is encouraging evidence of positive department- and college-level changes. In recent surveys, 89% of the Biology faculty in FLCs and 48% of their departmental peers stated that they had worked to improve their teaching over the past year. More than 80% of the Biology faculty surveyed concluded that their departmental colleagues supported efforts to improve teaching. To support pedagogical innovation in our large enrollment laboratory classes, we have established graduate student Teaching Assistant Learning Communities, and approximately fifty graduate students have volunteered to join these communities to improve their teaching. Encouraged by the initial successes of the project, the college has provided funding to enable the recruitment of an additional postdoctoral science teaching fellow.

Describe any unexpected challenges you encountered and your methods for dealing with them: Enrollments in introductory biology courses have increased 27% since 2009. These high enrollments present both tremendous opportunities and great challenges. There are inherent difficulties to active learning in classes of up to 400 students. Further, it is a challenge to coordinate the evolution of courses that are taught in multiple sections by different teams of instructors. Our approach is to create supportive environments that value scholarly teaching. Iterative improvements in the courses require patience, and they also require good data. Postdoctoral science teaching fellows help to assess the efficacy of pedagogical strategies. The Biology departments have also invited seminar speakers who can provide other perspectives or expertise.

Describe your completed dissemination activities and your plans for continuing dissemination: We have published our initial studies of the Biology FLC's: Addis E.A., Quardokus, K.M., Bassham, D.C., Boury, N.M., Coffman, C.R., and Powell-Coffman, J.A., 2013. Implementing pedagogical change in introductory biology courses through faculty learning communities. Journal of College Science Teaching, in press. Faculty have presented findings at disciplinary meetings. We are continuing to assess student learning, faculty 'buy in', and student retention as the project progresses, and we intend to publish these findings.

Acknowledgements: This project is supported by a grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Other Co-PI's on the grant are Cinzia Cervato, Tom Greenbowe, and Gene Takle. Pedagogical innovations reflect the dedication and scholarship of the faculty instructors.