Workshop on Engaging Faculty: Promising Practices

In the pre-workshop survey, we asked teams:

  • In the context of engaging faculty and transforming upper division courses, briefly describe two things that are working well on your campus.
Every team responded. Below we have highlighted a few selections of their promising practices.

You can find the complete list of promising practices here.

Promising Practices

Oregon State University's Paradigms in Physics reformed the entire upper-division curriculum for physics majors. According to the original external evaluator of the Paradigms project, the most important practice was a faculty learning community. This group has been meeting every three weeks for 18 years. Membership of the group rotates according to upper-division teaching assignments. Topics discussed include scope and sequence of the courses, formal and informal assessment, specific student difficulties, and the results of formal PER research. More recently the departmental expertise with a faculty learning community at the upper-division level has been extended to communities studying the curriculum and reforming pedagogical strategies at both the lower-division and graduate levels.

The University of Massachusetts Amherst launched a multi-disciplinary undergraduate science program called the Integrated Concentration in Science (iCons) Program in 2010. The 20-credit iCons curriculum, which builds on the disciplinary strength of each student's major, consists of one course per year for the first three years, followed by a year-long senior research thesis. iCons projects include student teamwork on case studies, laboratory experiments, and research – all fostering cross-disciplinary communication and integrative problem-solving skills. After the first year, each student chooses a track in either Biomedicine/Biosystems or Renewable Energy. Students apply to the program as first-year college students and are taught by an interdisciplinary team of professors and experts in their fields. For more information, please see:

Florida International University has Learning Assistants available to facilitate the implementation of active learning techniques. They also provide financial support to help faculty transform their courses in the form of summer support to prepare materials and overload during the semester of the transformation.

Wayne State University has a series of workshops tailored to the needs of faculty based on a survey administered to faculty on teaching attitudes and teaching practices. Workshops are offered roughly every six months to encourage exploration of new methods and to practice these methods in upper division courses of a modest size.

Rochester Institute of Technology has a committee that oversees the three Capstone Research courses (Prep, Fall I and Spring II). This works exceptionally well, ensuring consistency in grading across students in a single semester and over time. It has helped ease mentoring issues, allowing faculty to focus on mentoring instead of grading, and allowed a community approach to problems as they arise. The program also places students with a secondary mentor, so students have multiple options of where to turn for help.

University of North Carolina at Charlotte has extensive institutional support (internal funding opportunities; faculty Academies) for faculty who wish to transform undergraduate courses. The Provost's office has provided financial support through several internal grant opportunities (the Center for Teaching and Learning's Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) Grants; Large Course Redesign Grants; University College Faculty Fellows Grants). These internal funding sources have supported departmentally-based course transformations - usually at the introductory level - in several STEM disciplines at UNC Charlotte, including chemistry and physics. In addition, the Center for Teaching and Learning facilitates professional Academies which support faculty through the course transformation process (Top 40 Freshman Success Academy, Active Learning Academy).

Boise State University is leveraging funding to take a system-wide approach. Their NSF-funded WIDER/PERSIST grant engages both key faculty and administrators in a STEM-wide effort to improve pedagogy. Academic departments are increasingly using PERSIST funds for upper-division transformation. The WIDER/PERSIST grant has funded tenured physics faculty to attend the Experienced Faculty Workshop of the AAPT to learn and implement active learning techniques in the upper-level courses they teach.

Other promising practices included, student-driven projects in Organic Chemistry; opening up classrooms for faculty peer observations; employing the SCALE-UP format; reforming labs for juniors and seniors in observational astrophysics where they use telescopes and analyze data; and collaborating with the Center for Teaching and Learning.