Using Faculty Learning Communities to Increase the Use of Evidence-based Practices
National surveys show that most STEM faculty use lectures as their primary method of instruction. This is also the case at Northampton Community College, especially among adjuncts teaching STEM courses. We decided to determine if the use of faculty learning communities to support full-time and part-time instructors as they implemented an evidence-based practice would ease the transition, result in expanded use of the practice, and improve student learning.
Goal: To increase the use of evidence-based strategies in STEM courses
Two faculty learning communities (FLCs) were formed and participants recruited. Two investigators facilitated each FLC initially, but a distributed leadership model was used after the FLCs were up and running. Professional development occurred as part of the FLCs. The impact of the changes were evaluated. The lessons learned were disseminated to the College community.
Each participant was required to try one of three strategies (inquiry-based learning, experiential learning, or modified learning community) and report back to their FLC sharing what they did, what they learned, student responses, and how they planned to change their approach the next semester. Participants were paired with another member of the FLC to assist them in developing lessons and implementing the changes in their class. We also included Student Services personnel to assist us with using service learning, job shadowing, undergraduate research, and internships. In general the participants were very pleased with the results and almost all continued to use the strategies and expanded their use. A web site to support the goals of the project was designed and is almost finished.
We learned that we needed a better understanding of how change occurs and spent several FLC meetings looking at research on change. We also uncovered barriers to change that we will have to address if we are going to scale up our approach. A primary barrier was time. Full-time and part-time instructors both said time was a problem. They were concerned that they would not 'cover' all the material if they used one of these practices. They were concerned about having time to develop the needed instructional materials. A second concern was our rewards system. Students often rate an instructor lower when they try a new approach, which could result in a part-time instructor not being rehired for the next semester. Risk-taking does not help instructors to get tenure or promotions. The FLCs were too unstructured. We will use communities of practice next time.
Lessons learned from this project may impact the outcomes of nearly half the nationﾒs STEM students as the resulting plans will address the realities of STEM student success initiatives in the Community College environment. This project will add to the body of knowledge on the effect of increased use of Inquiry Based Learning, Experiential Learning, and Learning Communities on student learning, especially for members of underrepresented groups. We will demonstrate how to create a community college FLC and keep it running effectively. Moreover, we will learn how to assess the extent to which faculty are implementing best practices ﾖ including revising or creating instruments that can be used for this purpose.
We had some problems recruiting part-time faculty for the project, because they were concerned that trying evidence-based practices would result in lower instructor rating questionnaire results and the possibility of losing their position. We discussed this with the two deans and they agreed to use a different evaluation approach with adjuncts in the program.
Counterman, C. & Ebersole, D. (2015) A Community of Learners: Including Part-time Instructors in Mathematics Faculty Development, MathAMATYC Educator, Vol. 7, No. 1, 31 - 33.