Advice for Future Implementations
Part of the InTeGrate University of Northern Colorado Program Model
Consideration of context:
The University of Northern Colorado is a 4-year public institution that aims to maintain a high level of educational standards, in part, by attracting strong students, and helping them prepare for an evolving job market. In the fields of environmental and related sciences, this has never been more critical. There is long tradition in the Earth Sciences major of preparing students with focused disciplinary coursework and significant field experiences. However, with evolving priorities, and the evolving nature of support for work in environmental and earth sciences, students need to be flexible enough to adapt to new circumstances and changing scenarios. With that realization, there was support for changes in our program at all levels of administration, and among individual faculty.
We cannot emphasize enough the importance of early and often engagement of administration in your efforts! Though your College Dean may well be the most strategically important support person, don't stop there--think up and down your institution's administrative structure to include your Department Chair, Directors of campus Cultural Centers, Dean of Admissions, Director of Media Relations, Director of Sponsored Programs, and the Provost. In our case, significant matching "buy-in" from each of those individuals made the project go. More importantly, the sustenance of project in the context of larger Department and University goals can only be maintained for the long haul if all are pulling on the rope in the same direction!
Faculty groups outside your Department should be engaged for similar reasons. Consider how strategic faculty assignments from your Department to University faculty groups might help your causes (e.g. Curriculum Committees, Faculty Senate, Information Technology Committees, Sustainability Councils, Honors Programs, and the like). Working seriously with each of these groups has enriched and mainstreamed our work in our local context.
Things that worked well that we would do again
At the very beginning of the whole process of enacting change, the key element for a successful change in a program is faculty support; spend time in designing efforts such as preparation (in workshops), compensation and recognition for time spent on new projects (recognize efforts in faculty evaluation), and follow-up (opportunities to discuss experiences, share ideas, and think about how to move forward). There is rarely a substitute for investing the necessary time to make sure the Departmental culture is conducive for acceptance of such changes. We would again invest in cultivating a positive and encouraging environment in the Department and the College--rewards in such a climate are there for everyone involved!
Faculty, students and administrators can recognize what is great pedagogy. Learn what that is and how it might fit into your local context. (For ideas, see the page on Incorporating Expert Ways of Thinking). From the vast sea of pedagogical ideas and strategies, research and implement those that have an easy pathway for recognition for your faculty, students, and administration. It is time well spent--and we will do it again and again.
Demonstrating to administration how our recruitment efforts feed into a healthy bottom line was a critical need to allow the project to work well. In fact, if what we are doing has no effect on helping the University pay its bills, we would need to rethink the long-term feasibility of our projects. Administration is willing to invest in programs that have likely fiscal payback; faculty are well-versed in how to make academic programs excellent. But educating faculty on the business side of the equation is time well spent.
Getting InTeGrate courses, modules, and activities out into the University general studies-liberal arts core programs worked well. We designed a new Environmental Earth Science lab course into the general studies curriculum as part of this project, and significantly revised the existing Scientific Writing course to include sustainability themes and activities that culminate in public poster presentations. In other words, if your intention is only to bring about change within your Department or College, think bigger. Helping the whole University also helps your Department.
Strategies for overcoming challenges
One of the key challenges is to ensure that faculty participating in the project do not feel overburdened by additional work. It's important to make sure everyone understands the goals of the project and is willing to start on the same page. We accomplished this through an initial workshop on activity development, including a clear rubric for activity development, and discussions on how to collect assessment data. This takes a seasoned and respected person who has "walked the walk" before and has the credibility and commitment to see it through.
A big and very real challenge for geoscience programs has been getting the word out--at our schools and to a variety of external audiences. In addition to keeping deans, admissions officers, and the Provost abreast of your efforts, be sure your media relations department knows of your work prioritizes getting it out. Many graphic artists, social media specialists, and marketing experts engaged in our project and they know us now much better than before. Nowadays, they are among the strongest allies one could hope for--we will keep working with them again and again!
We also continually remind ourselves that institutional change takes time and patience. We understand the need for continued support and discussion among faculty and importance of recognition of efforts by one's peers and by higher administration.
Things to think about before you start this type of project
Are the faculty in your program ready for change? Are individual teaching philosophies aligned with the change, and is this good timing for everyone? The day-to-day demands of being a faculty member leave us little time to discuss teaching philosophies and strategies with our colleagues just down the hall. But a successful project requires that everyone be on the same page. Consider doing a department-wide survey of teaching styles and strategies prior to beginning the project. You might also prompt discussion at a faculty meeting regarding what strategies individual faculty members find most successful, and what they might be struggling with. Ultimately, make sure all faculty agree regarding the goals of the project, and get a firm commitment. It is possible that not everyone will be on board - not because they don't value change, but because it might be impractical at the moment. Be sure that there are sufficient resources to compensate faculty for their extra work, and make it clear how this work will be accounted for in annual and comprehensive evaluations.