Enhancing Engineering Student Learning in Foundational STEM Courses of Biology, Chemistry, Mathematics, and Physics: Transforming the Faculty Culture
We report preliminary and ongoing efforts of an NSF-supported multidisciplinary program to enhance learning in foundational STEM courses taken by virtually all engineering majors. Two foundational assumptions run through our efforts: (1) the incorporation of active learning modalities supports increased student learning and student success; and (2) the willingness to incorporate these changes in teaching by faculty requires both a supportive local departmental culture as well engagement by upper level administrators. We describe several of our efforts which are guided by straightforward theory of change and carried out within the departments of Biology, Chemistry, Mathematics, and Physics.
To support faculty who are new to active learning, the department heads appoint two Teaching and Learning Liaisons (TLLs) in each department. The TLLs are provided with customized training by the Center for Teaching and Learning and act as liaisons to the Center activities as well as providing direct support to faculty members who are adopting new research-based instructional strategies into their courses. These new efforts range from the use of just in time instruction to a completely flipped classroom. The TLLs from the four departments meet regularly to exchange experiences and to discuss teaching matters in a scholarly way. The TLL efforts are considered a significant service load and may result in a reduced course teaching load.
The departmental TLLs and others in a department organize regularly scheduled “Teaching and Learning Lunches” which provide an informal forum for topical discussions of teaching matters with topics that vary by department. Both internal and external speakers contribute. Since these topics focus on an individual department, local data is available and transparent which is a key to engaging the full faculty. Attendance at these lunches across all of the departments exceeded 65%, indicating faculty engagement and perhaps the beginning of a faculty culture that values teaching.
The Provost, Dean, and Department levels have initiated several actions. For example, the Provost has significantly increased faculty development funds including those for the development of teaching excellence. The Dean of the College of Arts and Science has asked for evidence beyond the usual student teaching evaluations to be included in all tenure and promotion dossiers. At the departmental level, we review specific results which find increased faculty engagement, a dramatically increased use of learning assistants in the classroom, and provide two specific examples of enhanced student learning, one in Physics and one in Mathematics, where changing to a flipped classroom resulted in a dramatic decrease in DWF rates. Finally we remark on the importance of the vertical integration of these efforts from the individual faculty member to the Provost.
Support from NSF DUE #1431350 and #1544001 is acknowledged.
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