Improving Programs

Part of the InTeGrate University Texas El Paso Program Model

Program Motivation

This program involved faculty who teach at the University of Texas El Paso (UTEP), El Paso Community College (EPCC), and early college high schools (ECHS) in the El Paso area. The population in these institutions mirrors the population of El Paso (over 80% Hispanic). More than half the students at UTEP and EPCC are the first in their families to attend college. More than half the students do not speak English at home. At UTEP, between 5 and 10% of the undergraduates come from Mexico, many commuting across the border from Ciudad Juarez each day to attend classes. The El Paso region represents a "closed system" where more than 90% of the students attending UTEP or EPCC are from the El Paso metropolitan area (population of more than 830,000). About 75% of the K-12 teachers obtain their training at UTEP. Thus, many EPCC and ECHS students will likely transfer to UTEP to continue on to a 4 year degree, and by introducing a common curriculum across all 3 institutions, we can ensure these transfer students will have the knowledge and skills to succeed at UTEP. We are also working on ways to ease transfer of students from EPCC and ECHS to UTEP. More than 75% of students in Texas take some of their freshman and sophomore coursework at a community college or ECHS, thus it is critical to interest these students in the geosciences early in their studies.


Faculty at UTEP, EPCC and ECHS have increased student interest in earth science and climate science through use of InTeGrate materials and modules. In 2015-2016, more than 500 students/semester were exposed to InTeGrate materials. In addition, the ~ 22 instructors teaching these courses over that year became confident about teaching the material using active learning techniques. Communication and collaboration between faculty at different institutions have increased through a series of workshops focusing on pedagogy and use of InTeGrate materials. Additional meetings were held to discuss assisting transfer of students to UTEP and developing new articulation agreements as the curriculum continues to change at EPCC (changes driven by state mandates). Up to 11 students are poised to transfer to UTEP in Fall 2016.

Program Goals and Evidence

Goal 1: Assist faculty at these institutions in adapting geoscience and climate science modules developed by the InTeGrate program into their introductory level courses in geology, earth science, and environmental science.

Faculty at UTEP, EPCC and the ECHS who teach introductory courses in geology, earth science and environmental science first agreed to use Activity 1 from the Climate of Change InTeGrate module (including the gallery walk activity) as a pilot to test how the material could be adapted into a variety of courses in the Fall semester of 2014. Four instructors agreed to use a common set of assessment questions to determine how well different groups of students learned the material and if the materials needed to be modified for different student bodies. The results, described in this 2014 AGU poster (Acrobat (PDF) 3MB Mar16 16), showed that the students who used InTeGrate materials in the classroom had a clearer understanding of climate effects such as feedback, El Niño, and La Niña, than a control group of students who studied climate change without using InTeGrate materials. The results suggested no major modifications of the InTeGrate materials were necessary for use in our classrooms. Subsequent data collection related to performance on questions embedded into quizzes and exams in classes where other InTeGrate materials have been used (five classes using units of the Climate of Change module, six classes using units from the Environmental Justice-Freshwater Resources module, and eight classes using units from the Humans' Dependence on Mineral Resources module) has shown that 50-80% of the students answered these questions correctly on a pre- or post-activity quiz, while correct responses on exams that followed the activities reached 80-90%. There appeared to be no systematic differences in student responses that were related to instructors or class size/type.

Implementation activities began slowly since there were few InTeGrate materials available for the first two years of our project (2013 and 2014). In Fall 2014, four UTEP faculty, two EPCC faculty and one ECHS faculty member were using one or more units from InTeGrate modules. The materials were used in classes ranging in size from 8 to 220 and were used in lectures or labs. Most materials were used in introductory courses (e.g., Physical Geology, Historical Geology, Introduction to Environmental Science, Blue Planet). InTeGrate materials were also used to test the quantitative skills of students taking either Physical Geology or Introduction to Environmental Science as part of the University's natural science core. All faculty involved in this original pilot have continued to use InTeGrate materials including using new modules as they are available. Input from students, detailed in student reflections (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 25kB Mar16 16), has indicated they enjoy the materials and assessments show they retain what they have learned at least until the end of the semester.

Faculty who taught using InTeGrate materials in 2013 and 2014 assisted first-time users in 2015-2016 and gave advice on how to adapt materials to different class sizes or class types. A brief user's guide (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 24kB Mar16 16) was created to assist other faculty in determining what materials worked best in a course, how to sequence the materials, and how student learning has improved through use of the materials. These materials, as well as information on how individuals' pedagogy has improved through use of the materials, has been widely disseminated to the El Paso community and beyond (see Sun Conference abstract (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 16kB Mar28 16) and summit presentation).

In the Fall semester of 2015, we began to hold workshops for interested faculty. Our first workshop in August 2016 had 26 attendees from UTEP, EPCC and ECHS (a mix of lecturers, adjunct faculty, teaching assistants, and tenure-track or tenured faculty) to introduce the latest modules. A follow-up workshop introduced instructors to different pedagogical activities (e.g. gallery walks) (see workshop outcomes (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 17kB Dec14 15)) . We offered a workshop in February 2016 for teaching assistants at UTEP and introduced a jigsaw pedagogical activity (see feedback from jigsaw activity (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 16kB Mar16 16)). Instructors considering using InTeGrate materials have visited classrooms when InTeGrate materials are being used and met one-on-one with instructors currently using InTeGrate materials. Most attendees expressed interest in using the materials. However, many attendees were put off by the amount of data they were asked to collect (e.g., student on-line surveys, geoscience literacy exams (GLE)) during their course. We found that newer instructors (those that have taught less than 6 years) were more likely to use InTeGrate materials and nearly every instructor who used one activity increased the number of activities they used as they repeated the course.

A series of workshops has been successful at engaging more instructors in the use of InTeGrate materials. About one third of instructors attending the workshops began to use the materials in the classroom in Fall 2015 or Spring 2016, contributing to a total of 22 instructors using the materials for the 2015-2016 academic year. Evaluations have shown that instructors find it helpful to practice new pedagogy several times before they feel confident to use it in their classrooms. Once they are confident in the use of materials, they repeatedly use the material in later semesters as well as add new materials. About 15% of the faculty attending the workshops who decided not to use InTeGrate materials reported in Spring 2016 that they were using other materials and pedagogical techniques that promoted active learning. Teaching assistants were particularly open to adopting the new pedagogies presented in the workshops.

Goal 2: Improve communication between faculty at these institutions to ensure that similar course content is taught at all institutions, thus ensuring students who transfer to UTEP to complete a BS degree have comparable curriculum to students starting a degree at UTEP.

UTEP and EPCC have had an articulation agreement and common set of courses for about 6 years (see alignment of UTEP and EPCC courses (Acrobat (PDF) 46kB Mar28 16)). This has allowed ease of transfer between institutions. This agreement has been in a state of flux as curriculum at EPCC is changing based on State regulations. We have continued to update the agreement and revise the 2+2 plan (Acrobat (PDF) 46kB Mar16 16) used in advising EPCC students through a series of meetings between faculty at the institutions.

All EPCC instructors have been invited to attend InTeGrate materials workshops and workshops. At least four instructors at EPCC are using InTeGrate materials. We have also been sharing course syllabi and have determined that the content of lectures and laboratories is very similar.

A meeting of seven EPCC and UTEP faculty was held at EPCC in January 2015 to discuss updating the articulation agreement, increasing enrollment at EPCC, using InTeGrate materials, and updates from the Summit on the Future of Undergraduate Geoscience Education. A follow-up meeting of fourteen EPCC and UTEP faculty and staff in February 2016 continued the discussion of articulation. An especially critical point was that the EPCC degree plan no longer contained a chemistry requirement, although chemistry is a pre-requisite for mineralogy (one of the first courses transfer students must take at UTEP). At the meeting we resolved to: 1) disseminate updated 2+2 curriculum guidelines to all faculty and advising staff to share with students, 2) hold similar meetings once each semester, 3) insure all transfer students are aware of the chemistry requirement for mineralogy, and 4) share a new recruitment video UTEP is developing with EPCC faculty and assist in other recruitment activities.

EPCC professor Joshua Villalobos taught at UTEP in the Summer of 2015 to determine how much overlap there was between Physical and Historical Geology courses taught at both institutions. He found the materials similar, although, unlike EPCC, he did not directly control or teach the laboratory content. EPCC instructor Russell Smith has shared desired outcomes and objectives for his Physical Geology and Earth Sciences courses with UTEP instructors and we have found that about 90% of the materials covered were identical.

Goal 3: Develop a bridge program to aid transfer students to succeed at UTEP.

We chose to focus on this goal later in the program model. UTEP has worked with EPCC and ECHS faculty to identify ~11 students planning to transfer to UTEP in 2016. We have developed a series of activities before and after transfer that we hope will enhance student retention. We plan to have a field day for the EPCC field research class (capstone class) in April 2016 that will involve a joint research activity for EPCC and UTEP students and will invite all EPCC students to attend UTEP's student run research colloquium on March 31-April 1.

The eleven students we have been able to identify are likely not all the students planning on transferring from EPCC to UTEP in Fall 2016. It is especially difficult to identify EPCC students who transfer early and do not finish the associate's degree at EPCC. In addition, there are 5 branch campuses at EPCC that offer geoscience courses and we have not yet been able to engage all adjunct and regular faculty in the bridge program.

We are conducting pre- and post-transfer surveys of the ~11 EPCC transfer students' attitudes towards geology and the geology program. Initial surveys were completed in early Spring 2016.

EPCC instituted a program in 2014-2015 called "Geoventures" that sponsors a series of local geological field trips for students interested in geology or taking a first geology course. The program is run by an adjunct faculty member at EPCC and is billed as a "stress free" way to learn about geology (unlike a class field trip where students may be so busy taking notes or concentrating on what the instructor says that they do not enjoy the scenery or have fun). Following a successful first year, the program was expanded to include UTEP students. This is proving to be a new way for EPCC and UTEP students to interact and for EPCC students to learn about UTEP's program very early in their studies. A February 2016 "Geoventures" activity attracted twenty EPCC students and ten other participants, while a March 9, 2016 activity attracted 12 EPCC and two UTEP students and six other participants.

Goal 4: Utilize InTeGrate modules in UTEP upper division courses for majors and non-majors.

Materials developed by the InTeGrate program are primarily suitable for lower division, introductory classes. We have used the materials for one upper division course, Geology for Engineers/Geological Engineering, a junior level course for civil engineers. UTEP professor Laura Serpa also tested InTeGrate materials in her graduate level "Fundamentals of Earth Science" course for teachers prior to use by teaching assistants in the Physical Geology laboratories.

The Geology for Engineers class has used materials from the Humans' Dependence on Mineral Resources (units 1, 2, 4, 5, and 6) and Environmental Justice and Freshwater Resources (units 5 and 6) modules for the past three years (see student outcomes (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 37kB Mar16 16) from the first two years the materials were used in the course). Student performance in the class has improved with use of InTeGrate materials, similar to that observed in introductory courses. Data have been collected on specific questions embedded in the courses' quizzes and exams and will be examined in detail following the end of classes in the Spring 2016 semester.

This semester the course is being taught by a different instructor (Dr. Musa Hussein) and is the first semester the instructor has used InTeGrate materials. Preliminary comparison of performance on the first two quizzes in 2016 to previous years show similar student outcomes. Dr. Hussein was so pleased with the way students worked together and enjoyed InTeGrate activities that he has adopted similar active learning activities for his Natural Hazards class.

Unexpected Outcomes

Outcome 1:

The best way to engage instructors in the adoption of InTeGrate materials was through a series of workshops, however it was extremely difficult to get any instructors to collect GLE data or keep teaching logs. Workshops helped lead the instructors through new pedagogies, provided them with example syllabi of how to use the materials and helped them to navigate through the InTeGrate materials website.

Few instructors (4 or 5) used InTeGrate materials in 2014-2015. This increased to 22 instructors in 2015-2016, with about one-third of these instructors deciding to adopt materials following one or two workshops. Follow up interviews and focus groups helped capture the reflections of instructors at the end of the semester, but more student reflections would have been helpful.

Outcome 2:

Newer instructors were more likely to use InTeGrate materials. Instructors having taught more than 6 years were hesitant or resistant to adopting materials, even when evidence of positive student outcomes were demonstrated or they visited classrooms to witness student engagement in InTeGrate activities.

Of the instructors who adopted InTeGrate materials in 2015-2016, about 70% had taught less than 6 years. Established instructors were reluctant to "retool" courses they had taught for several semesters, whereas newer instructors needed to focus on course design and felt InTeGrate activities helped saved them time in designing engaging activities that covered important topics. Established instructors also cited "lack of time" or the fact that they felt InTeGrate was another passing fad (along with all the various tools presently provided by textbook companies) for getting faculty to adopt a new teaching strategy. When we attempted to hold workshops the week before classes started, no one was back in town, yet when we held workshops the first week of classes, many claimed they were already too busy to attend or had already committed to a set syllabus. About 15% of the instructors attending workshops who decided not to use InTeGrate materials (with 80% of this15% being established instructors) reported they used other active learning materials including resources from On the Cutting Edge and the The Math You Need When You Need It.

Long-term impact and next steps

We are planning a series of Fall 2016 semester workshops for instructors and continued workshops for teaching assistants. A new graduate student coordinator whose duties include organization of labs and teaching assistants has just been hired at UTEP. We hope to work with her to show the advances we have made in the teaching of physical geology labs and discuss ways to infuse InTeGrate materials until other introductory labs. With her help it may be possible to collect additional GLE data in fall labs.

We plan to complete a more extensive user's guide to InTeGrate materials with example syllabi from all introductory geology courses taught at UTEP, EPCC and ECHS to show where the materials have been successfully used.

We plan to have a meeting of EPCC and UTEP faculty every semester to discuss issues of common concern including transfer students, articulation agreements and recruiting.