Initial Publication Date: December 1, 2016

Improving Teaching and Learning

Part of the InTeGrate University of Northern Colorado Program Model

Courses and Materials Developed by the Project »

Impact on Teaching and Learning

There was a very strong positive student response to new InTeGrate-aligned activities and courses and increased student engagement and interest in pursuing careers in geosciences.

The first year of implementing upper-division InTeGrate-aligned activities as well as activities designed to promote environmental awareness and sustainability in Scientific Writing have shown positive learning gains. Some students who have participated in courses with new upper division activities have shown increased engagement and an interest in pursuing undergraduate research projects in geosciences. Students who took the course in Scientific Writing showed greater interest in pursuing a career in the geosciences after the course.

Perhaps more than anything, there is a renewed "BUZZ" about teaching and learning for both faculty and students in the InTeGrate implementation courses. Moreover, this increased engagement of both faculty and students spills over into other courses, and affects other faculty and students in the Department and the University. For the fall of 2016 and the spring of 2017, preliminary enrollment data show overall increased enrollments in geoscience and environmental science courses, both in the general studies/liberal arts core and in the upper division major courses. Attributing that all to InTeGrate implementation activities would be unwarranted, but surely this project has moved us in a positive direction!

Evidence for increases in student engagement is anecdotal, but assessments from each of the newly-developed activities show learning gains. In the Scientific Writing course, taken by most STEM majors, slightly more than half of the students who took the course have expressed an increased interest in a geoscience career after the InTeGrate-aligned activity. (Note: some of the students had an interest in a geoscience career prior to taking the course.)

Supporting Faculty Change

We developed two workshops for faculty. The first, offered to Earth Science faculty developing upper-division InTeGrate-aligned activities provided an opportunity for faculty to consider how to develop activities for their courses. In order to make this "how to" workshop successful, it is necessary to bring in someone to your department who is experienced at developing InTeGrate curricula, and is also a great communicator. If you happen to have someone in your Department who can do that, use them (that is precisely what we did). On the other hand, if you need to bring in someone from outside to come and serve this purpose, InTeGrate and the National Association of Geoscience Teachers sponsors a Traveling Workshop Program that might be able to help with this. The program brings national leaders in Earth and environmental education to your campus to share lessons learned through InTeGrate (among other topics related to strengthening teaching and programs in general). There are application deadlines to host workshops twice a year.

The second workshop on Diversity Awareness was open to all STEM faculty at UNCO. The main idea of this workshop was to encourage faculty to think critically and introspectively about how we interact with students from underrepresented groups--and all students really. What do we assume about them and their cultural interests? What do we know about their personal interests? Do we focus on the "higher education" information overload, or ask them what they want to know? Are we prepared to broaden our view of what a geoscientist or environmental scientist looks like? Are we prepared to help them navigate these questions? Do they have to be trained exactly like we were and work from our familiar cultural norms? Hard questions for any faculty member to address.

The Dean of UNC Natural and Health Sciences has asked us to highlight this program for the University in January 2017 to make the rest of the college aware of these efforts. Given the fact that Northern Colorado has more than 1/3 of its students as first-generation college-goers, this is pretty important for us to understand. Moreover we are approaching 25% of the undergraduate student body from Hispanic heritage, which means we will soon reach a commonly-understood threshold as an Hispanic-serving institution. What are--or will be--the demographics of your college or university in five or ten years? Can you really afford to wait on this?