Making and Sustaining Change
Consideration of context
As two full-time faculty that are relatively new (<5 years) in the Earth and Space Sciences (ESS) program at Bellevue College we wanted to experience working as a team and relying on each other to better our program. We both have a drive to stay current in our teaching and have a growth mindset about constant improvement of our program and our individual teaching practices. We knew this was an important part of the future of our program as our longstanding program chair was retiring and we were preparing to step into the role of guiding the program in the future. The timing of this opportunity was also ideal in that we were undergoing a 5-year program review that allowed us to look at program data in context with our institution and set goals for the future.
The program review confirmed our worries about recent trends of declining enrollment and success rates for certain courses. We wanted to work on reversing those trends and shift the culture, and this program provided us an opportunity to strategize how to make changes. We are very lucky to have a supportive dean (who also happens to be a geoscientist). Major changes in our college administration led to a sudden increase in support for using data to support transformational education, making this project well-timed to align with new campus priorities.
Things that worked well that we would do again
The most important aspect of our work was to build relationships within the department. Early in the project, we identified the need for a stronger sense of community between instructors. We listened to colleagues about their needs, and tried hard to support adjuncts and full-time instructors alike. Adjunct participation was high during our project by bringing the ideas for departmental changes into departmental meetings and through collaboration on the departmental practices inventory (DPI). Involving more faculty in reflection on where we are as a department helped build our community.
The professional development on this project worked for both the change agents and for our colleagues. The two of us benefited from the focused professional development and chose highlights from that to create a workshop on active learning strategies for colleagues. We shared out specific teaching strategies to increase active learning and promote more inclusive classrooms. In doing so we have not only worked to improve the quality of classes but also improved teamwork. The process strengthened our team's internal relationship and improved communication within the department.
Supporting faculty change
We met as a program at the Fall Retreat and outlined our goals for the year and listened to needs of the program faculty. We participated in a meeting with the Provost to discuss the results of our program review. We held one additional program meeting during the year where most of our full-time and adjunct faculty attended. During this meeting, we discussed course level objective evaluation, the departmental practices inventory, and program review results. We try to send out more regular emails about program issues or events. Our biggest step was to hold a winter workshop on active learning strategies where a majority of our adjunct faculty attended. Additionally, we have our first annual ESS spring retreat planned this year.
Strategies for overcoming challengesOne of our biggest challenges was the uncertainty of where our department was headed with the impending retirement of our department chair. This project served as a catalyst for helping us work as a team together, individually we tend to focus on just partial aspects on problems. Dana tends to think in detailed sequential strategies and Rick thinks about globally about the future vision or where we are going. We discovered that we both appreciate direct communication and have complementary working styles. Being part of the SAGE 2YC project helped keep our work structured using well-designed tools to think about various aspects of our program and track our successes. Additionally the push to constantly move forward on projects as well as to stay reflective about past work really helped us develop as a team.
Taking a data-guided approach is one strategy that we both really appreciate. It takes time but provides real information on what needs to change, as well as helping us understand whether something worked or not. We looked into detailed data within courses and across the program which in turn led to comparisons with other fields (e.g., Chemistry). It was also valuable to have grant leaders (facilitators) to encourage and push as well as a community of practice to connect with other institutions.
Things to think about before you start this type of project
Sometimes we wish we had known how much work this project would be in advance, because it takes time, mental energy, and a commitment to putting in extra work to make change happen. We both agree that this project felt like having an extra class each term, many weeks the assignments or activities required a dedicated block of time each week to work on. In retrospect it would have been good to arrange for some sort of class release for the work, but I am unsure where the funds for that would originate. Overall, we feel that overall it was worth it and we would be naïve to think that change could happen easily. Determine how much support you have from your administration and department. We were really lucky to have a supportive administration and faculty who were interested in change.
Also make sure to figure out who your allies are. Answer whether you will need to team-build first and then implement change or if you are ready to rock! Decide whether what you are trying to change something you have control over so that you minimize frustrating dead-ends. When you have gotten these figured out, decide what is feasible – divide up work, choose what is the biggest priority and take action. Most importantly remember to accept that change occurs incrementally and slowly and sometimes moves in the opposite direction.
The rigorous reflection and analysis that we did on through this project has generated valuable baseline data on our program's success. That documentation provides us with a starting point for further reflection. We will be able to more easily compare and revisit issues. That will allow us to follow up and follow through on the goals we have set. It also gives us a platform for discussions with the Dean and the Provost, as we can refer between the data and our program review recommendations for the next 5 years. We now have a handy "checklist" to measure progress and reevaluate what we choose to be our highest priority issues.
Furthermore, through this project, our team began meeting weekly for progress updates and collaborative work. That has been a great routine to establish, particularly as we take on a shared role as department chairs. We used the time to check in on the SAGE 2YC project along with the state of the department. We plan to continue the weekly meetings in the future. We also pushed for more regular department meetings, which should help us maintain better communication with the faculty in our department. We can provide updates on enrollment and success data and continue to provide faculty with a forum for input into departmental changes.