Initial Publication Date: August 7, 2019

Individual Growth and Development

Team and Institutional Context »

The Faculty as Change Agents program sought to support faculty Change Agents' growth as instructors and leaders so that they could have a greater impact on their students and in their programs, departments, institutions, and regional networks.

Callan Bentley, Northern Virginia Community College

The project has been a valuable prompt to keep me conscious and reflective of the suite of issues that I might otherwise be tempted to neglect as "background." In particular, student success and engagement has been a realm that I've delved into more as a result of my involvement in SAGE 2YC. These foci have been changed specifically in my classroom. This has manifested in me embracing student activities as my 'default setting' compared to exclusively planning my classes as instructor-focused lecture. I now utilize a regimen of regular (weekly) low-stakes quizzing, "exam wrappers" to encourage reflection upon testing, and "Muddiest Point" for eliciting formative assessment from the students. I've started a proactive practice of intentionally reaching out to students halfway between the start of the course and the first exam to "check in" and make sure their study strategies are useful and empirically validated. My attitude is more "nurturing" and less of "you're a college student; make it happen, kid." In other words, being a SAGE 2YC change agent has facilitated me making a shift in my attitude, and that's been manifested as numerous changes in the classroom.

As a result, my students seems more universally engaged and interested in engaging in conversation about the course subject matter. I've gotten so many more great, thoughtful questions than before, and even had a few glorious after class 20 minute free-ranging, student-mind-blowing discussions about the implications of geology on humanity. It feels more authentic and more community-oriented than before.

Caitlin Chazen, Northern Virginia Community College

The SAGE 2YC program has inspired major changes in my classroom. I have limited my 'lecturing' time significantly and instead incorporated more active learning activities. The most successful activities for me are written reflections, small group discussions (similar to think-pair-share), and gallery walks. Additionally, I have introduced metacognitive exercises, including test wrappers and exam revision exercises. I've really tried to push my students to think about how they learn best and recognize that this may be different from other students in the class. This gives students the responsibility to make decisions that favor their own personal growth when engaging in group activities or working individually at home.

My students' general understanding and retention of information has improved with these changes. Some students have expressed reluctance to speak during class or a general fear of presenting. Initially, this really concerned me, but I'm starting to accept that some degree of nervousness is ok when it comes to class participation - particularly when I see them improve and become more confident during the semester.

I have also reduced the point value of my exams significantly and have replaced quizzes with regular worksheets. This requires students to put more work in outside of the classroom, relative to my previous curriculum, but the feedback has been really positive. Many of my students (especially English language learners) have expressed relief and even gratitude for the lack of emphasis on traditional exams.

Finally, I have really tried to focus on creating a more inclusive classroom. I've began to incorporate regular scientist spotlights into lectures and introduce more controversial topics. These 'Spotlights' highlight the contributions of scientists from underrepresented ethnic groups and challenge the assumption that scientists are all old White men. Moving forward, I am building partnerships with other change agents to pool our Scientist Spotlight database and introduce, 'Just Like Me' into the classroom. This will be used similarly to 'Scientist Spotlights' but feature 2-year college alums.

Not all of these changes have been successful every time, and when something doesn't work as planned, I try to be open and intentional with students about what did and didn't work. My hope is that by fostering this kind of openness, I can encourage students to be more curious and inclined to take creative risks.

In terms of my presence on campus, I have made strides to become more integrated within the department and my campus as a whole. Part of my approach has been to participate in campus wide events such as 'Major Madness,' to ensure Geology has a campus presence. I have also established regular contact with career services.

Within my department, I am trying to lean on staff and colleagues when I can benefit from assistance. For example, when I need samples or I'm looking for equipment I normally do what I can to find it on my own, but I've been more inclined to contact colleagues and reach out for help. I've also become more insistent on getting what I need for my classroom and labs even if it may cause some conflict at times.

Marla Morales, Northern Virginia Community College

As part of this program I have found myself more engaged in bringing the experiences of my students into the classroom. Rather than lecture after lecture of information, I've incorporated more discussion about how the different topics are relevant to their individual lives. Admittedly, this isn't always easy, because I still have to steer the discussion back to the topics they need to know. But I feel our discussions are giving my students more ownership in the class, and my hope is that as such they will take the information with them and share it.

Part of the goal for our group was to 'show' our students a different side/type of a "typical" scientist or geologist, and expose them to the potential career paths in the geosciences. I am a female-minority geologist, so I've incorporated into our discussions my geoscience path as well as other career paths that are out there with real-world examples and experiences that are outside academia. Over the past two semesters I have had a large number of female students and we have engaged in fascinating conversations about science, geoscience courses, and sometimes just life. Regardless of whether I am acting as an instructor or a sounding board, I feel as though I am showing them a new wave to geoscientists.

I have also incorporated the Scientist Spotlight into my courses. I have asked my students to provide a scientist for their career path or potential career path. It forced them to think of the science in their life. Again, this was in an attempt to make science real to each of them and for me it's been fascinating to learn about the different topics and lead to some great learning conversations.