Building Momentum for Change in a Biology Department

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Title of Abstract: Building Momentum for Change in a Biology Department

Name of Author: Joanna Mott
Author Company or Institution: James Madison University
PULSE Fellow: No
Applicable Courses: All Biological Sciences Courses
Course Levels: Across the Curriculum, Faculty Development
Approaches: Assessment, Changes in Classroom Approach (flipped classroom, clickers, POGIL, etc.), Department level approach, Material Development, Mixed Approach
Keywords: faculty engagement, professional development, incentives, pedagogy, authentic research

Goals and intended outcomes of the project or effort, in the context of the Vision and Change report and recommendations: The goal of the effort is to build momentum, using a step-wise strategy, for faculty engagement and leadership of curriculum change in the biology major. The intended outcome is a re-designed 21st century biology program based on student-centered learning, reflecting the V&C recommendations.

Describe the methods and strategies that you are using: College leadership laid a critical foundation for department implementation of V&C. Key steps included: i) inviting leaders in the V&C initiative to participate as external reviewers for a biology academic program review, the resulting recommendations form a framework for re-design; ii) hiring a department head; and iii) designing a new biology building to promote student-centered learning. The foundation set the stage for implementation of a strategy, based on multiple incremental steps, to build momentum for change in the curriculum. The approach has alleviated initial faculty concerns for change. It has been important to: i) maintain a culture of faculty-led curriculum; ii) to listen to concerns of individuals; iii) appreciate past efforts at developing curriculum; and iv) find different ways in which faculty can participate based on their strengths and interests. First steps have focused on faculty engagement. Key strategies being utilized are: i) promotion of professional development opportunities (e.g. re-design workshops, assessment fellows); ii) active encouragement of faculty-led course re-design initiatives; iii) facilitation and incentivization through allocation of resources (e.g. travel funds); and iv) use of engaged faculty as models. In addition to individual course re-design the curriculum has been examined from a broader perspective using faculty groups to discuss curriculum across the program and mapping current curriculum to identify overlap and missing critical skills. A next step will be to share findings and identify re-design needs. Finally, steps to address overarching changes have been initiated e.g. providing all students with an authentic research experience including: i) ongoing dialogue at retreats and research community meetings; ii) web postings for students of external opportunities; iii) re-design of laboratory sections using inquiry based learning; iv) a new research skills course and v) plan for summer research courses.

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 methods will include assessment surveys regarding student research experiences, curriculum and outcomes to gauge outcomes from a student perspective. Other evaluation will be through curriculum mapping to assess alignment with V&C recommendations, faculty activity review (workshop attendance, presentations and publications on efforts), and the next academic program review which will provide an outside perspective on the re-designed curriculum.

Impacts of project or effort on students, fellow faculty, department or institution. If no time to have an impact, anticipated impacts: Initial impacts on students and faculty are being seen through increased engagement in research (greater student and faculty participation in presentations and in publications) and broader attendance at external and internal curriculum meetings. While not quantified, it is apparent from conversations that more faculty are engaging in discussions about curriculum and considering re-design. Initial assessment on student learning in courses using student-centered pedagogies is in progress. Anticipated impacts will include a re-energized faculty engaged in a student-centered curriculum, and students excited about their program, with experiences in authentic research and prepared for their future career paths.

Describe any unexpected challenges you encountered and your methods for dealing with them: A challenge being encountered is how to effectively scale and integrate the individual initiatives to create a unified vision for a redesigned curriculum. A broad membership curriculum committee is being tasked with initial steps in leading this aspect. Another challenge has been to identify meetings and workshops that will enthuse the faculty, providing positive feedback to the rest of the department. For faculty who are not fully committed to change this is critical and an experience not viewed as valuable can quickly diffuse momentum.

Describe your completed dissemination activities and your plans for continuing dissemination: Internal and external dissemination is expected to be through faculty presentations at meetings and workshops, with subsequent publications. An initial local workshop on backward design is planned based on a faculty group’s experience and participation in a regional NAS V&C workshop.

Acknowledgements: I would like to acknowledgement the leadership and support of the upper administration and particularly Drs. David Brakke and Judith Dilts, Dean and Associate Dean, College of Science and Mathematics at James Madison University and the efforts of the biology department faculty.