Advice for Future Implementations
Part of the InTeGrate Mercer University Implementation Program
Consideration of context:
Within the University, faculty in the education college (Tift) and in the college (Penfield) that provides content courses for education majors have a good working relationship. Some of us work together, literally, in the same office areas and this faculty interaction was the initial spark for the project. One of the team leaders is a department chair that includes the sciences and this helped to bring in science faculty, including adjunct faculty. Another of the team leaders was chair of the education college STEM/STEAM committee, which has been pivotal in keeping the project in front of the education faculty. Recently, the state of Georgia has just instituted a STEM endorsement and our education college has been approved to offer this endorsement to teachers. This provides additional impetus for collaboration between the two colleges.
Department chairs and the college deans support our efforts by promoting/describing the project in college and university-level meetings, but the project is faculty driven.
Things that worked well that we would do again
Having a faculty point person who is knowledgeable about the materials has been helpful in encouraging new faculty to take on the teaching materials or ideas. The InTeGrate materials are a large collection and for non-geoscience faculty, they may seem daunting to work through and find an activity or unit that connects with their course. One of our team leads regularly went through the modules and kept up with new materials and contacted Mercer University faculty whose courses or research may have some link. Staying in contact with faculty who are using or thinking of using InTeGrate materials, or including issues of sustainability, in their courses is important to maintain interest from those faculty. Discussing how students respond to the materials and pedagogies and sharing problems and achievements helpfed faculty become confident in including sustainability in their courses.
Collaborating with faculty in projects outside of using InTeGrate materials has led to solutions to unforseen problems. For example, when our plans for in-service professional development fell through in the first year, we were able to collaborate with the education college's STEAM Committee to run a professional development workshop. This collaboration involved connecting with a state-wide STEM day sponsored by an industry collective. Collaboration with faculty has also led to development of a service-learning course (WRIT390) that includes issues of sustainability in farming, which could be a model for future integrated courses that include science and other disciplines.
Being open-minded on how to promote the program helped us to reach and involve more faculty, students and community members in teaching and learning about issues in sustainability. Opportunities developed during the implementation project that we had not recognized during the planning phase, including working with graduate faculty, reaching Mercer education alumni (in-service teachers), collaborating with the STEAM Committee, and reaching out to our STIRS project (AAC&U Scientific Thinking and Integrative Reasoning Skills) and the University strategic planning committee.
Strategies for overcoming challenges
The major challenge was (and still is) getting departments to accept that issues related to sustainability are important to include in curriculum. We are addressing this by working with individual faculty members who recognize some value added to their teaching or their course(s) for student learning by including sustainability issues or new pedagogical technques. Based on the increased level of student interest in the materials we used from InTeGrate, the science faculty have recognized a need to review the science curriculum and pedagogies used in general education science courses to make them more interdisciplinary.
Connecting our project to an event led by an off-campus industry group catalyzed action from faculty not directly involved in the project. The state-wide STEM day encouraged the college of education STEAM Committee to run a professional development workshop for in-service teachers.
Things to think about before you start this type of project
Regularly scheduled workshops, discussion groups, or meetings with those who are using InTeGrate materials and/or are interested in sustainability would be helpful in driving momentum and to keep the project visible within the college/university. Some faculty gave up on inlcuding certain materials because students had difficulty understanding them and some regular contact might have helped those faculty consider different ways of using the materials.
If no one on your team has prior project management experience, you might consider a crash course in project management.
Be ready to adjust or change your original plans. Recognize that changes occur reguarly in higher education institutions in personnel, job responsibilities, department/college or institutional focus, and enrollment, among other areas. If you are working with a team/project outside of your institution, know that you can rely on those outside resources for support and help.