Initial Publication Date: December 1, 2016

Improving Teaching and Learning

Part of the InTeGrate University of Illinois Chicago Program Model

Courses and Materials Developed by the Project »

Impact on Teaching and Learning

Impact 1: Student Exposure to InTeGrate Materials and Pedagogies

During our 1.5 year program, over 850 students have been exposed to InTeGrate materials and pedagogies. While we started our program in just a couple of courses, we have been able to expand and incorporate a few additional courses. We are fortunate to have two introductory courses that are taught every semester that allowed us to continue familiarizing ourselves and incorporating InTeGrate materials.

We know that our introductory courses are an important opportunity to recruit students into our major. Faculty are generally enthusiastic about making the courses more engaging through content that is socially relevant and teaching methods that are more active. Additionally, students have been responding well. Preliminary trends in our department have shown continued high enrollments in our courses. Specially, our introductory courses for the last 3 semesters have had full enrollments of 176 (EAES 101) and 144 (EAES 111) students. Several of our elective departmental courses, like soils, sedimentary environments, and hydrology have also seen growing numbers of enrolled students.

Moreover, on the IAI, students responded with a strong Earth and environmental focus when asked about their future career. On a scale from 1(not important) to 7 (very important), students were asked to rate 1) how important it was for them in their future career to use their knowledge of the Earth and environment and 2) how important it was for them to work at a company that was committed to environmentally sustainable practices. The average student response was respectively 4.6 and 4.9, indicating that students thought it was fairly important for them to seek careers that incorporated their geoscience knowledge and was environmentally conscientious.

Impact 2: Faculty Community around Teaching and Learning

Overall the program has helped faculty in our department think more about revising course content, look into new teaching methods, and talk to each other about teaching. While primary efforts to improve teaching and learning have been focused on individual efforts to revise course content throughout a semester, it is promising to see faculty meeting formally and informally to have meetings on specific class activities, general strategies to incorporate more active learning, and visions for the future of the department. In addition to informal discussions of teaching and learning, a couple more formal events have occurred where an outside representative (e.g. Office of Career Services, Teaching and Learning Center) has presented and led discussions for faculty in our department. There was a strong interest by younger members of our team to participate in longer discussions and watch professional development webinars together in small groups.

Related to Module Implementation - For some specific courses, small cohorts of faculty met to discuss specific changes and revision. In those courses, InTeGrate materials served as a jumping off point for possible course content and changes in teaching style. In other instances, more informal one-on-one conversations were had at the beginning of a semester to discuss successes and challenges associated with a specific course and what InTeGrate content and pedagogies might offer.

Curriculum changes, related to InTeGrate module implementation, also seem to be trickling into other courses within our department. In an upper level Soils course, faculty have incorporated more ways to demonstrate societal relevance by having students give short presentations about mainstream media and news that relate to course topics.

Supporting Faculty Change

We first asked faculty from our department to participate in a survey to assess overall viewpoints on undergraduate education and the current status of our undergraduate courses.

What are Faculty Priorities? - We found that a majority of faculty members ranked a) attracting well-prepared and motivated students into the discipline and b) improving competencies, skills, and conceptual understanding in students as extremely important. This information helped us establish a framework of how we could potentially motivate our colleagues towards change and attempt new course activities. Recommendation - The survey results suggested that we shouldn't necessarily focus the program model on just applying student-centered teaching methods, but instead suggest curriculum changes as a means to recruit new majors and grow the department.

What are Barriers to Change? - From our survey, we also found that a majority of faculty felt the largest barrier to change in teaching was lack of time and support and a lack of administrative value of teaching over research. This result was important in acknowledging to our team that changes in teaching are difficult and addressing beliefs that the time and effort put in may not be acknowledged. We made it a priority within our program to not overly burden faculty time. Recommendation - To be respectful of everyone's time, we tried to limit the number of full departmental meetings we held and instead we opted for smaller meetings of specific groups that could focus on a particular activity or course. In some instances, we also recommended specific activities, instead of trying to implement a whole unit or module. Moreover, to help save time we enlisted the help of 1) motivated graduate students to revise course curriculum, 2) alumni and employers who presented about their careers in class, and 3) the Office of Career Services who helped with class activities.