Initial Publication Date: May 2, 2016

Departmental Action Teams (DATs)

Daniel L Reinholz, University of Colorado at Boulder

Joel Corbo, University of Colorado at Boulder

Noah Finkelstein, University of Colorado at Boulder

Program Activities Type

Teaching Circles/Learning Communities

Program Components

Curriculum Development
Student Assessment
Professional Development:Pedagogical Training

Target Audience

College/University Staff
First-year College Students
Institution Administration
Non-tenure Track Faculty
Tenured/Tenure-track Faculty
Undergraduate Majors
Undergraduate Non-Majors

Program Point of Intervention


Program Description

Departmental Action Teams (DATs) are a new type of faculty working group, designed to improve undergraduate STEM education through structural and cultural change. A DAT is a self-selected group of 4-8 participants, consisting primarily of faculty within one department. DAT members select an educational issue of shared interest and work collaboratively to create new departmental structures to sustainably address it. DATs are distinct from but draw from Faculty Learning Communities (FLCs).

DATs are a part of our larger effort to improve undergraduate STEM through the SITAR project ( Our project uses a three-layer approach: (1) We work with groups of faculty through Departmental Action Teams (DATs) to create sustainable mechanisms to address educational issues in an ongoing fashion (bottom up); (2) We apply targeted approaches to individual departments to stimulate cultural change (middle out); and (3) We work with the administration and faculty senate to promote and incentivize the use of evidence-based teaching practices (top down). We support these three layers with infrastructure provided by the AAU and our collaborations with our Office of Informational Technology (OIT) to develop and import technology for better utilizing already existing institutional student data.

Program Purpose

To improve student success in STEM fields in a sustainable way.

Research shows that efforts to disseminate innovative teaching methods generally don't last unless corresponding cultural and structural changes are made to support their use.

Program Activities

Running a DAT has four main phases: (1) recruiting participants, (2) developing shared vision, (3) gathering data and exploring solutions, and (4) exploring new departmental structures. DATs are externally facilitated groups; facilitators bring expertise in educational research and institutional change, help coordinate logistics, and aim to mitigate the impact of existing departmental power structures within the DAT. Through the use of purposeful planning and design, a DAT aims to function differently from a typical department committee.

Notes and Tips

It is crucial that the DAT is faculty-driven; it is not something that can be done to a department.

The group needs to focus on shared vision and positive outcomes, not "problem solving."

Evidence of Success

Through SITAR we have created DATs in 6 departments. The two earliest DATs we formed both succeeded in creating new departmental structures to sustainably improve education: (1) a set of departmentally-sanctioned curriculum coordinator positions and (2) a standing committee to improve diversity. The other DATs are ongoing but work is promising.

Future Work

We are looking for ways to institutionalize this model, for instance, by enculturating facilitators within a teaching and learning center.

References and Accessory Materials

Corbo, J. C., Reinholz, D. L., Dancy, M. H., Deetz, S., & Finkelstein, N. (2016). Framework for transforming departmental culture to support educational innovation. Physical Review Physics Education Research, 12(1), 010113.

Corbo, J. C., Reinholz, D. L., Dancy, M. H., & Finkelstein, N. (2015). Department
Action Teams: Empowering Faculty to Make Sustainable Change. Paper presented
to The Physics Education Research Conference 2015.