The project seeks to transform teaching and learning by simultaneously effecting change at the individual faculty level and at the organizational level. Key here is the adoption of evidence-based teaching & learning practices derived from research on cognition and how people learn. To maximize project impact, we focus on the core engineering curriculum and the introductory mathematics, science, and engineering science courses taken by students in their first two years, with approximately 600 students entering engineering each year. Strategies to support faculty change include ongoing discussions of the principles of teaching and learning; engagement in discipline-based education research; provision of trained peer assistants to facilitate active-learning pedagogies in lectures and recitations; use of midterm course evaluations as formative feedback; and advocacy with colleagues to catalyze diffusion beyond these early courses.
At the organizational level, the goal is to create a climate where effective teaching is expected, supported and rewarded. A campus-wide baseline survey administered at the start of the project highlighted the institutional climate factors that are likely to support/hinder the transformation to evidence-based teaching. In short, evidence-based practices were generally perceived as not supported or rewarded, not easy to implement, and require development of new skills. The cultural supports for change have been addressed with the Faculty Senate and senior academic administrators. Consequently, in 2017 an explicit goal to implement evidence-based teaching practices was incorporated into the University’s most recent revision of its strategic plan.
The project has engaged three cohorts of faculty, with each cohort receiving summer support for three years beginning summer 2016 (N=9), 2017 (N=5), and 2018 (N=5). These are faculty members who teach the core Calculus, Chemistry, Physics and Biology courses, together with the foundational computer programming, and engineering science courses in Engineering Thermodynamics, Engineering Mechanics, and Electrical Circuits. All thirteen of the core courses have so far been impacted to some degree. The faculty engaged to date are heavily weighted towards teaching stream, but our theory of action anticipates these being the champions to effect diffusion through sharing their experiences and successes with the tenure-stream faculty who tend to teach upper-level courses.
The extent of participating faculty and organizational transformation is being examined through the lens of limiting-factor analysis (LFA), which identifies and addresses those factors that need to be in place if the project is to be sustainable. To this end, each cohort of participating faculty are interviewed before and after implementing changes. Leadership at all levels of administration (Provost, Dean, Department Chair) are interviewed to ascertain their perceptions of, and support for, transformational change. In addition to LFA, measures of the nature and extent of faculty changes are captured in two ways. First, a yearly teaching practices survey is administered to all faculty teaching a core course. Questions focus on use of active-learning strategies, instructional supports (e.g., TAs, graders, peer leaders), and strategies for monitoring student understanding throughout the course. Second, participating faculty are expected to make changes to their instructional practices, document their rationale for change (e.g., deep learning), nature of that change (e.g., increased emphasis on cross course connections), and evidence that the change was effective (e.g., concept map). Midterm and end-of-course evaluations provide student input on their perceptions of the teaching and learning environment experienced in the core courses taught by both Foundations and non-Foundations faculty.
A significant recent outcome was an agreement to coordinate and strengthen TA, tutor, and peer leader training so all can support a student-centered active learning approach to teaching and learning at the college level. Historically, these efforts were handled by different centers on campus with differing levels of faculty and/or department input. Factors limiting the spread of evidence-based teaching practices have been found to include difficulty in making changes to one section of a multi-section course, lack of alignment between teaching for understanding and exams designed for quick grading, student resistance to a conceptual approach, course enrollments that make active learning more difficult, and heavy reliance on student evaluation for assessing faculty. Faculty and student surveys have highlighted differences in what faculty say they are doing and students perceptions of how helpful various strategies were to their learning. The faculty participating in the project have increased their efforts to help students connect concepts across courses through projects or specific problems that require the application of concepts learned in one course (e.g., calculus) to problem solving in a subsequent course (e.g., thermodynamics).
This project is supported by the National Science Foundation EHR/DUE IUSE: EHR Program
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