Transforming the Culture of Teaching and Learning at a Public Research University

Project No.
PI Name
Patricia Turner
University of California Los Angeles


Abstract 1

Transforming the Culture of Teaching and Learning at a Public Research University

Presentation Type
Patricia Turner, Blaire Van Valkenburgh, Sylvia Hurtado, Richard Wesel, Arlene Russell, and Erin Sanders (all UCLA)


UCLA is committed to improving the quality of STEM education, improving student learning and persistence in STEM majors, and reducing the disproportionate loss of historically underrepresented students from introductory STEM courses. Affecting such changes at a scale that can reach a large, diverse student population typical of public research universities like UCLA relies on sizeable numbers of STEM faculty implementing inclusive, student-centered teaching practices. This project was initiated to understand current institutional barriers that keep faculty, and in some cases, departments entrenched in outdated pedagogical approaches or hinder their consideration of alternative, and demonstrably more effective teaching strategies.


Our goal, driven by the demand to promote the academic success of all students, was to create a strategic action plan for the institution-wide adoption of evidence-based teaching practices that foster equity and inclusion in STEM classrooms. Accomplishing this goal required a broad self-examination of STEM educational practices, spanning faculty attitudes and practice, administrative operation, and campus policies.


The campus-wide self-assessment involved four major activities: (1) Inventory of resources and programs within existing campus units that support faculty development, curricular innovation, and teaching excellence; (2) administration of the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) faculty survey, providing baseline data regarding the prevalence of student-centered instructional practices among STEM vs. non-STEM faculty at UCLA as well as STEM faculty at UCLA and peer institutions; (3) administration of departmental questionnaires directed at Chairs and/or course instructors; and (4) analysis of prior survey research and institutional data pertaining to the undergraduate learning experience at UCLA.


After synthesizing the relevant findings from consultation meetings with existing campus units, HERI faculty data, departmental questionnaires, prior survey research, and an analysis of institutional data, several factors emerged as obstacles to student success. With the intent to overcome these barriers, several recommendations have been made including (1) support the widespread adoption of student-centered teaching methods; (2) support faculty development efforts surrounding teaching; (3) enhance the training program for teaching assistants; and (4) reform inequitable grading practices.

Broader Impacts

As a hallmark of the success of this NSF-funded initiative, the Executive Vice Chancellor charged a campus working group to expand the study to include all disciplines involved in undergraduate instruction, with the goal being to identify areas of attention where UCLA could start to make changes that would have an immediate impact on improving the success of all students in the college classroom. A report summarizing the findings and recommendations of the working group is forthcoming, collectively calling for the engagement of UCLA faculty and administrators in discussions about teaching practices and policies.

Unexpected Challenges

Three issues resulted in postponement of our campus-wide faculty survey: 1- delays in attaining IRB approvals for faculty communications and survey item language; 2- challenges associated with obtaining a customized list of faculty emails; and 3 - problems connected to the original survey vendor. Postponement pushed back the project timeline by ~6 months, extending the project into a third year. Another issue that has emerged is in regards to grade distribution data, which highlighted major disparities between groups of students with different backgrounds. The now challenge is in how to use this data constructively to promote changes in grading practices, some of which reside at the level of an individual faculty member while others reflect departmental policies.


Not at this time. Publications are expected as part of our dissemination plan following release of the final report to campus stakeholders.