Preparing Faculty to Engage in Vision and Change

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Title of Abstract: Preparing Faculty to Engage in Vision and Change

Name of Author: Grant Gardner
Author Company or Institution: Middle Tennessee State University
PULSE Fellow: No
Applicable Courses: All Biological Sciences Courses
Course Levels: Faculty Development, Introductory Course(s)
Approaches: Changes in Classroom Approach (flipped classroom, clickers, POGIL, etc.), Professional Development
Keywords: Faculty development, seminar, course, graduate teaching assistants, active learning

Goals and intended outcomes of the project or effort, in the context of the Vision and Change report and recommendations: The release of the Vision and Change document, as well as other current calls to action such as the National Research Council’s review of discipline-based education research, have provided a pragmatic framework to promote pedagogical changes within undergraduate biology departments. As a discipline-based education researcher housed in a biology department, I am actively involved in pedagogical research, assessment, teaching, and faculty development initiatives. This abstract focuses on two initiatives to promote faculty teaching professional development that aligns with various Vision and Change action items: a) “...provide professional development opportunities for faculty to enhance their scientific and pedagogical expertise”, b) “’encourage’ the development of a community of scholar-educators to share resources and expertise”, c) “faculty must engage in regular conversations and peer-to-peer mentoring about teaching and learning, and improve, test, and share their own understanding of how students learn”, and d) “organize workshops as their home institutions”. This led to the development of the following goals that are aimed at targeting both current and future faculty (graduate students): 1) provide information about the state of biology education research (BER) and relevant findings, 2) translate BER results into practical solutions for classroom instruction, and 3) provide sustained support and collaborative networks to implement research-based instructional strategies in the classroom.

Describe the methods and strategies that you are using: In order to achieve the above goals the department has initiated a two-pronged approach. First we have created a semester-long graduate course required of all doctoral students that engages them in the BER literature, helps them to develop a teaching portfolio for future employment, and gives them experience with developing exercises to promote active learning in the undergraduate biology classroom. The second initiative began when Dr. Carol Goodwillie (Associate Professor, Biology, ECU) and I envisioned providing a day when our departmental faculty could actively reflect on the teaching portion of their professional responsibilities. We began inviting one education researcher per year to present an education research seminar during our normal departmental seminar series. Despite financial constraints limiting us to inviting speakers within our general geographic region we have been able to attract several prestigious researchers who have been tasked with presenting and translating their scholarship to an audience of disciplinary faculty as well as describing practical classroom implications of their work. Attendance at these seminars has paralleled that of our regular disciplinary seminars. We also structured events in conjunction with the seminar: a discussion group and a teaching workshop. The discussion time was created as a means to allow faculty to discuss research results related to the seminar, discuss challenges to implementing research-based instructional strategies in their own classrooms, and collaborate with other faculty on these issues.

Describe the evaluation methods that you used (or intended to use) to determine whether the project or effort achieved the desired goals and outcomes: Evaluation within the graduate course has consisted of pre- and post-assessment instruments measuring student perceptions of teaching and learning as well as their philosophical alignment with reform-based teaching methods. Data sources include survey instruments, student teaching portfolios, and observations of students presenting an originally-designed teaching module. Data is current being analyzed. No formal evaluation has taken place surrounding the teaching seminar and workshop as of yet although informal impacts are discussed below.

Impacts of project or effort on students, fellow faculty, department or institution. If no time to have an impact, anticipated impacts: The graduate course has currently impacted 16 biology graduate students. They have had the opportunity to develop teaching portfolios that have helped several of them secure employment in academia, provided them time to reflect on their own philosophies of teaching and learning, given them awareness and access to teaching resources, and made them literate in the BER literature. In addition, several students are moving forward with publishing their originally-designed biology teaching exercise in a practitioner journal with one students’ publication coming out in The American Biology Teacher in September. For the faculty development workshop, the discussion format is particularly beneficial in that invitations extended to other STEM departments (chemistry, physics, geology, engineering, etc.) have opened avenues of interdepartmental dialogue on matters of undergraduate teaching and learning. However, increasing participation of individual outside the biology department continues to be one of our future goals. Workshop time is spent practicing classroom applications of the described research. This has result in a current half-day worth of events that we hope to extend to a full day of engagement and reflection in the future. To highlight one particularly exciting outcome of this project, following a seminar and workshop by Dr. Bob Beichner who conducts evaluation research on active learning techniques within SCALE-UP (Student-Centered Active Learning Environment for Undergraduate Programs) classrooms, one of our faculty (Dr. Jon Stiller) became particularly interested in this method. As a result of this seminar Dr. Stiller successfully lobbied to get the funding to convert one of our biology lecture rooms into a SCALE-UP classroom. This project will be complete for the Fall 2013 semester and the department is now is planning on transitioning the majority of our first-semester introductory biology course for majors (BIOL1100) into these classrooms to promote active le

Describe any unexpected challenges you encountered and your methods for dealing with them: As always, some of our biggest challenges in the workshop effort are a lack of time and money. We originally envision the workshop as a daylong workshop allowing faculty to reflect on their teaching and learning. To do this is a valid and effective way we need to be able to recruit individuals of national standing to present at our seminars and this is difficult without a source of funding. In addition, finding the time to plan and implement the workshop is difficult. We have the additional challenge that faculty and graduate students who participate in the workshops are often those that have an inherent interest in subjects related to teaching and learning, whereas faculty who do not see it as a worthwhile use of their time do not attend. Often times, those faculty that do not attend are those that would be best served by this reflective time. This is an ongoing issue and one that only a methodical change in departmental and university culture will alleviate.

Describe your completed dissemination activities and your plans for continuing dissemination: Data on the graduate teaching class is currently being analyzed and will be disseminated in research journals and conferences in the near future.

Acknowledgements: Carol Goodwillie is my co-organizer that has helped plan and implement the faculty seminar and workshop. Jeff McKinnon is the department head who has continued to support a culture of evidence-based teaching in the department