Advice for Future Implementations

Part of the InTeGrate Claflin University Program Model

Consideration of context:

Our model works best in small institutions where faculty and staff participate in common meetings and committees and know each other even though they are not from the same school or department. This is the main reason why we could gather such a cross-disciplinary and large group of people. We are also a HBCU with over 90% African American students so we have a strong focus on culturally relevant teaching. Thus, the "Map Your Hazard" module was very appropriate for the student audience who tend to come from poorer rural areas, more vulnerable to anthropocentric and natural hazards.

Timing of infusion was one of our challenges. We infused the courses right after the week of midterms. After two weeks of module infusion we found that students have disconnected from their discipline specific material and it was difficult to recover. Thus, infusion should be spread out throughout the semester not offered as a block.

Things that worked well that we would do again

We would again present all but the first workshop as opportunities for faculty development. That required good planning with a title and agenda disseminated every time.

The selected titles were:

  • "Earth Sciences Curriculum Modification & Adaptation for Culturally Relevant Teaching at a HBCU Institution"
  • "Assessment of Interdisciplinary Earth Sciences Course Infusion"
  • "Interdisciplinary Teaching of Geosciences for a Sustainable Future: What's Next for CU?"
  • "Assimilating Earth Sciences content into larger institutional agendas"

Strategies for overcoming challenges

Student level:

Challenge: Unavailability of computers (in all but one infused class) so that students could perform some of the tasks presented in the module.
Strategy: Some of the work was assigned as homework and demonstrated by instructor in class. More complicated assignments requiring access to computers were either eliminated, simplified (see next challenge), or replaced (such as the power point map replaced by printed team poster maps).

Challenge: Lack of prior knowledge of Excel to allow completion of the survey analysis.
Strategy: Simplified the Excel from the module and created charts and tables pre-populated with formulas. Students were required to insert their own survey data for two selected variables, then transfer the charts into their Power Point project presentations.

Challenge: Despite increase in knowledge for all students, there was still a significant gap between those in natural sciences and those in social sciences. Most significant improvements were recorded in smaller classes (except for Freshmen). The 100 level classes, however, had a high number of students failing the assignments.
Strategy: The proposed certificate will address this discrepancy by balancing the STEM and non-STEM materials and offering co-teaching (two faculty, one from STEM and one from Social Sciences).

Challenge: The two-week infusion format made students quit their learning flow for their major, which resulted in a gap to be undertaken by the faculty teaching the course.
Strategy: Problem addressed by replacing block course infusion with certificate.

Challenge: Due to limited prior exposure to Earth Sciences among students, a large number were initially lacking interest in the infusion materials. Those in Social Sciences (especially Criminal Justice majors), in particular, were less interested in the material.
Strategy: The proposed certificate will address in more detail the cultural aspect of natural hazards and use case scenarios from the past few years when the area witnessed at least three extreme weather events. Also, students enrolled in the certificate will participate voluntarily and receive a certificate of completion (stronger motivation).

Faculty level:

Challenge: Having a large group of faculty from different departments posed challenges in terms of planning for meetings and keeping the dialogue open.
Strategy: Team lead must have great planning abilities and a lot of patience! While having faculty team members with administrative role in the team is extremely valuable in navigating the bureaucratic process, that also comes with greater challenges in adjusting to everyone's already very busy schedule. It is important to attract the doers in your team, but many times those are also the busiest people. Two aspects are extremely important in insuring success: 1) the team lead has to be a senior faculty or, if not, very "connected" within the University and; 2) a larger group should also include junior faculty in their first years of teaching and on tenure-track who are more motivated to attend such meetings and work the extra time while building their portfolios.

Challenge: Faculty who had no prior background in Earth Sciences found it very difficult to stimulate students' interest and demonstrate its value and importance;
Strategy: Co-teaching will address this issue. We actually expected this challenge but still couldn't address it with co-teaching due to conflicting schedules. We still provided some mentoring to individual faculty when requested.

Challenge: The "faculty team members" role assigned to each participating individual outside of the PI/lead has little to no value in terms of grant activities that are part of the yearly faculty portfolios. While senior personnel have a higher motivation to participate in activities and help the lead with work, this particular format puts a lot of pressure on the PI/lead to keeping the team motivated and engaged.
Strategy: Again, presenting the different meetings as professional development opportunities partially addressed this issues. But the question is: who or what will keep the PI/lead motivated?

Things to think about before you start this type of project

  1. This type of project involves a lot of time, effort, and patience. Thus, for those who have a large teaching load at their institution it is important that they request at least a one course reduction for the time of the project if they are they PI/lead.
  2. The project involves a lot of planning and reporting. A co-PI would be great to take on a few tasks.
  3. Student motivation is highly important. We focused mostly on faculty motivation (the working lunches were actually the most prolific and helped people connect better) as this was a primarily course infusion grant, but we need to invest more in student field-based activities. The few field trips or the Earth Day we organized for students outside of InTeGrate course infusion (not necessarily related to this project) attracted more and more motivated students to Earth Sciences and Sustainability.