You Gotta' Have Friends

Mathew Ouellett, Office of Teaching and Learning, Wayne State University

For the Wayne State University (WSU) Office for Teaching and Learning (OTL), collaborations with STEM faculty members and the Graduate School have been essential to advancing our campus wide goals related to the transformation of undergraduate education and to establishing the OTL as a meaningful and productive center for faculty and educational development in Academic Affairs.

Formally, our work together began with collaborations on two National Science Foundation (NSF) WIDER grants. The work related to these initiatives has been critical to the success at WSU in making progress towards transforming STEM education and career preparation at both undergraduate and graduate levels. They have also provided a particularly robust platform for a newly reconstituted OTL to expand and

The first OTL / WIDER collaboration took root in in 2013-15 with an NSF-funded WIDER planning grant, "Evaluation of WSU Use of Evidence-based Methods in STEM Instruction". Our research team included: Andrew Feig (chemistry) (P.I.), Peter Hoffman (physics), Robert Bruner (Math), Karen Myhr (Biology), Alsi Koca (Math Education), and Mathew L. Ouellett (OTL). Our goal was to study current teaching practices in use in our STEM curricula, to assess awareness of evidence-based teaching methods, and to gauge readiness to adopt such practices more fully in the future. As a part of this grant, we surveyed instructors in our STEM departments to establish a baseline of teaching related behaviors against which we can measure progress. Together, we hosted nationally recognized external speakers and co-presented a highly successful OTL-sponsored workshop series on evidence-based teaching practices. We facilitated departmental planning meetings with interested faculty from Biological Sciences, Chemistry, Math, and Physics. These departments were priorities as locations of key foundational STEM courses (often "gate keeper" courses with high DFW rates).

The second OTL / WIDER collaboration took root in in 2015-20 when the same research team applied for and received an NSF-funded IUSE grant, "WSU SSTEP: Student Success Through Evidence-based Pedagogies," 2015-2020. We will use this grant to engage faculty teams and departments in curricular and campus transformation via teaching development grants. Grants will be up to $100,000 per project to transform courses, labs, and course sequences in undergraduate STEM courses. Recipients will participate in a faculty learning community, and ongoing workshops and individual consultations via the OTL. This grant will allow the OTL to add a science education person to our instructional design team to further support the grant and the dissemination and implementation of evidence –based teaching strategies campus wide. The first round of funded projects launches in fall 2016 with projects in the departments of Biological Sciences, Chemistry, Computer Science, Mathematics, and Physics and College of Engineering.

Informally, these collaborations came at the most opportune time possible for the OTL as we launched a new staff, mission, vision, and complement of faculty development programs and services. As background, the OTL had previously reported to a specific dean (the dean of the WSU Libraries) and as such had primarily, but not exclusively, served a BlackBoard training function in the Technology Resource Center. In 2013, the then provost realigned the OTL in two important ways: the head of the unit now reports directly to the provost and has a split function and title (associate provost and director of the OTL). From the OTL's perspective, the opportunity to collaborate with our STEM colleagues on these grants afforded us a meaningful entrée to our STEM faculty and students, partnership on an important initiative to improve undergraduate education, and a persuasive way to signal the campus about the alignment of the OTL with a broad range of interdisciplinary teaching and learning issues of concern to WSU faculty.


Center Profile: Office of Teaching and Learning - Wayne State University