Documenting STEM Education Practices at a Campus-Wide Level and Using Data to Guide Institutional Change
Our WIDER project focuses on measuring and promoting faculty membersﾒ use of learner-centered instructional strategies. This project is needed because although undergraduates learn more in courses that use active-engagement instructional approaches (Freeman et al., 2014), higher education institutions do not often document how many faculty are teaching in this manner. This lack of information is a barrier to improving instruction and evaluating the success of programs that support change. Furthermore, one-time faculty professional development workshops have a limited capacity to create change (Henderson et al., 2011), so we use observation data to design ongoing, in-depth professional development programs.
The goal of our grant is to catalyze institutional efforts to broaden and enhance the use of evidence-based and active-engagement teaching practices in STEM courses throughout UMaine. To accomplish this goal, a diverse group of education stakeholders (faculty, undergraduates, graduate students, university administrators, and K-12 teachers) collaborated to: (1) systematically observe and document the nature of instruction; (2) establish a STEM Faculty Collaborative (SFC) in which faculty members observe each other, discuss observation results, and collaborate on improving instruction in their courses; (3) use observation data to guide the development of a series of university-wide professional development workshops; and (4) create a Head Instructional Assistant (HIA) program in which experienced undergraduates partner with faculty to implement innovative instructional practices.
Middle and high school teachers observed 264 STEM classes across 21 different departments. Teachers collected information on the nature of instruction using the Classroom Observation Protocol for Undergraduate STEM (COPUS, Smith et al., 2013) and faculty members discuss the observation results with a professional development coordinator. For the year-long SFC program, faculty meet in rotating pods of three: one individual teaches, one individual observes using the COPUS, and another provides feedback on areas the instructor would like to work on. The pod meets after the observation and discusses the results. We have also used the campus-wide COPUS data to design professional development workshops on topics such as: active learning strategies for large enrollment courses and using peer discussion to promote student participation. Finally, we have hired experienced undergraduate HIAs to work with faculty on making changes in the classroom.
The key outcomes of our classroom observation program are: 1) Faculty members teaching STEM courses cannot simply be classified into two groups, traditional lecturers or instructors who teach in a highly interactive manner, but instead exhibit a continuum of instructional behaviors; 2) Student behavior differs greatly in classes with varied levels of lecture; and 3) Faculty members are generally self-aware of their own practices. We are currently working on a follow up studies about how courses that use clickers differ from those that do not and the impact of the SFC program.
Our program has supported STEM faculty as they transition to active-engagement instruction, provided rich education and employment for students who are in the most rural state in the nation, and promoted novel professional development for middle and high school teachers.
One unexpected challenge is the overwhelming number of faculty applicants we have had for our STEM Faculty Collaborative (SFC) in which faculty members observe each other, discuss observation results, and collaborate on improving instruction in their courses. We are working with our administration to try to modify the programming on our campus to switch from offering workshops to offering the year-long professional development opportunities, but it has been difficult for the administration to think about how to scale these programs to a campus-wide level.
Smith MK, Vinson EL, Smith JA, Lewin JD, Stetzer MR. A Campus-Wide Study of STEM Courses: New Perspectives on Teaching Practices and Perceptions. CBE-Life Sciences Education. 2014, 13:624-635.