D: AAU Undergraduate STEM Education Initiative


TITLE: The Role of Cultural Change in Large-scale STEM Reform: The Experience of the AAU Undergraduate STEM Education Initiative

PRESENTER: Emily Miller, Project Director, AAU Undergraduate STEM Education Initiative
CO-AUTHOR: James Fairweather, Professor and Director, Center for Higher and Adult Education, Michigan State University

The Association of American Universities (AAU) is in the middle of a five-year initiative in collaboration with member institutions to improve undergraduate teaching and learning in STEM fields primarily in the first two years. The initiative offers an alternative to traditional STEM change efforts focused on individual faculty members, which, according to recent major reports by the National Academy of Sciences and PCAST on discipline-based educational research, largely have been ineffective. Instead, the initiative seeks larger and more permanent reform by influencing academic cultures to encourage STEM faculty to use teaching practices proven by research to be more effective in helping students learn.

The primary culture of interest is the academic department, although the AAU effort also examines the cultures of the college, institution and disciplinary societies. In addition to fostering and assessing changes in faculty pedagogy and attitudes toward teaching, the initiative seeks to reform faculty reward systems to enhance the value of undergraduate teaching at research universities. Eight AAU institutions are currently implementing projects for the initiative. All 62 institutions have appointed a contact person for the initiative and most plan to join a larger AAU-related network in support of this effort.


TITLE: The Roles of Data in Promoting Institutional Commitment to Undergraduate STEM Reform: The AAU STEM Initiative Experience

PRESENTER: James Fairweather, Professor and Director, Center for Higher and Adult Education, Michigan State University
CO-AUTHORS: Josh Trapani, Director of Policy Analysis, Association of American Universities; Karen Paulson (Co-author), Senior Associate, National Center for Higher Education Management Systems

Most literature on the utility of data in STEM education reform focuses on individual faculty members and the performance of their students in the classroom. This literature fails to address a much wider application of data to the reform process, which must take into account the departmental and institutional environments as well as the academic disciplines. We draw on two sources of information from the AAU Initiative to demonstrate how data can be used to influence institutional transformation.

The first source is qualitative information collected on visits to the eight AAU project sites, including examples of how student performance data has been used as evidence in departmental adoption of curricula reforms. The second source, quantitative in nature, is a cross-site instrument on faculty teaching practices and attitudes that was administered to faculty at both project and non-project AAU institutions. Obtaining faculty and institutional buy-in was vital in the development and administration of the instrument and required dialogue with faculty and administrators during the iterative development of the instrument. Communication of AAU’s project goals and objectives, as well as explicitly limiting analyses to aggregate project use, was essential.

We discuss potential applications of both forms of data to institutional and departmental decision-making. Finally, we address the role, and limitations, of common instruments in expanding the AAU project to form a broader network of institutions interested in STEM reform.


TITLE: Creating High Engagement Learning Environments in Large Introductory STEM Courses
PRESENTER: Kelly A. Hogan, Director of Instructional Innovation for the College of Arts and Sciences, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
CO-AUTHORS: Jennifer Krumper, Lecturer in Chemistry, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; Michael T. Crimmins; Mary Ann Smith, Distinguished Professor, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; Laurie E. McNeil, Bernard Gray Distinguished Professor, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

This presentation addresses the need for faculty development in educational innovation by increasing the support for faculty to change their teaching and lowering the barriers that inhibit needed change. At UNC, three departments (Biology, Chemistry, and Physics and Astronomy) are working together to bring evidence-based teaching practices to the introductory courses that have been traditionally taught by lecture methods.

We will describe how we are using a mentor-apprentice model to transfer effective techniques from instructors experienced in evidence-based techniques to their less experienced (but perhaps senior!) peers. In this way, we build on progress already achieved and thereby reduce the developmental phase (a barrier) for tenure-track and tenured faculty. A mentor and a course release provide support for faculty who are learning to teach with new techniques. Interdisciplinary faculty learning communities bring instructors from the three departments together routinely to solve common problems and share best practices.

Our presentation will share some initial data we have collected from interviews with faculty, some involved and some not directly involved in the project. We’ll also present challenges faced and our current view of best practices for replicating this model at another institution. Our long-term goals are to have 11 transformed courses that touch the majority of STEM majors, to have trained between 15-20 tenure and tenure-track faculty in evidence-based methods, and to observe those methods in continued use in semesters after the training. Besides affecting the culture of teaching, our goals include measuring changes in student outcomes related to attitudes, retention and learning gains for students in these courses.


TITLE: Developing Departmental Cultures for Evidence-Based Teaching Practices in STEM

PRESENTER: Debra Tomanek, Associate Vice Provost for Instruction and Assessment, Professor of Molecular & Cellular Biology, University of Arizona
CO-AUTHOR: Gail D. Burd, Senior Vice Provost for Academic Affairs, Distinguished Professor of Molecular & Cellular Biology, University of Arizona

This presentation will address the themes of understanding transformation through assessment and supports and barriers for transformation. The UA project is built on the assumption that a departmental culture of teaching is more likely to undergo transformation to more evidence-based approaches when faculty members within the culture initiate the changes. In order to grow our project’s potential for influencing transformation at the departmental level, we collect assessment of teaching data through surveys, classroom observations, and interviews and data on students’ academic performance.

We will describe, with the use of an example from Physics, how the data are used to first understand the current state of teaching and learning in individual courses and then to participate in departmental level discussions about possible changes suggested by the data. We will also discuss how our project is addressing barriers to the transformation process at the departmental culture level by (1) supporting faculty members who are already interested in change as participants in project-centric Faculty Learning Communities (FLC), and (2) supporting FLC members and key project leaders in their efforts to advocate for reformed teaching in their own departments. We have recently begun data collection to understand how one of our project departments (Chemistry and Biochemistry) is transforming all sections of general chemistry by supporting faculty teaching the reformed curriculum with active learning pedagogies.

Our long-term project goals are to (1) support the transformation of STEM departmental cultures to practice and sustain evidence-based, active learning instruction in their classes, and (2) redesign at least five introductory STEM courses in alignment with the first goal.