Making and Sustaining Change
Consideration of context
Dave: For the most part, the administration at Waubonsee Community College is supportive of most any activity that improves the educational process. At the beginning of the SAGE project, there were no programs at Waubonsee that directly addressed some of the strands, and it was that reason that I was searching for those kinds of professional development opportunities. There was the beginning of a campus-wide sensitivity to student assessment, which would be ancillary to the student success strand of the SAGE grant. In addition, Waubonsee had just received it's second Developing Hispanic Serving Institutions Program Title V grant, which was intended to address the completion rate of first and second year retention
Cheryl: During the course of this project, Illinois Central College has been undergoing a leadership transition with a new college president and vice president of academic affairs. There has been a visible emphasis on supporting students by removing barriers to enrollment, advising, and financial aid, all of which occur outside of the classroom. To support the success of all students within the classroom, I worked closely with our department dean. For my institution, this "bottom up" approach worked best. I could advocate for change in teaching and learning by giving presentations to interested STEM faculty. These presentations occurred every few weeks in the spring semester of the last year of the project. Faculty who attended these presentations made connections with me and other faculty who shared an interest in improving student engagement. I shared resources obtained through this project as well as those I have collected in my own research. In addition, attendees shared their experiences. We've developed a nascent support group that I hope will continue to grow with the encouragement and resources provided by our dean.
Things that worked well that we would do again
Dave: The goals of the grant are something I was always wanting to address, but never had the time or resources to explore and figure out ways to implement them. The Herculean task performed by the grant PI's during the many workshops with the Change Agents that provided these resources were absolutely critical to my personal success as a Change Agent. This training was critical in my developing a sense of confidence, and 'pedagogic identity' that was needed during my discussions, presentations and workshops with faculty and students. This support and additional training also inspired me to dig deeper into subjects not covered to my satisfaction; such as one of my goals is to increase the engagement and success of my LatinX students. To that end, I was motivated by the energy and preparation of the PI's in these training sessions to investigate multicontextural theory and other educational modalities proven effective in the LatinX community. Overall, this motivation instilled in me a desire to "pay it forward' and to expose my fellow faculty to these same ideas that have motivated me. These activities have given me a profound sense of personal satisfaction and professional achievement that I would not have otherwise been able to attain
The inclusion of my Dean, Maryedith Butler, into the workshops and SAGE program has been brilliant. Her exposure showed her, first hand, the scope and commitment of all that are involved with the SAGE program has. I was able to leverage this exposure to ask Waubonsee to cover costs of inviting Dr. Don Gillian-Daniel from the University of Wisconsin to participate in our local IL workshop. Without that exposure to the depth of the SAGE program during our workshop in Madison, it would have been a much harder task to secure that support that was much beyond the funds contributed by the SAGE grant.
For the regional work, the pairing with another Change Agent was critical to the success of the workshops that we ran. The selection of Cheryl was particularly advantageous, as she has skills and expertise in areas I do not, and vice versa.
Cheryl: One of the best planning ideas for the SAGE 2YC Faculty as Agents of Change grant was to build in the administrative support. Having the administrators involved in the annual workshops opened their eyes to the goals of the project which spreads across all STEM fields, not just the geosciences, and to the enthusiasm of their faculty to support students and grow our programs. The most important aspect of successful change is to have administrative buy-in to provide resources (rooms, supplies, and common time) for faculty to engage in discussions. As an example, our dean worked to create common time in faculty scheduling so most STEM faculty did not have classes past 2 p.m. on Fridays. This was a time I could use for presentations and small group workshops. Because of the presentations I've done at the department level, I've now identified other STEM faculty who share similar goals for student success and career pathways. This will be an important local cohort to develop moving forward so other faculty will be encouraged to join us.
Another key aspect of the program was putting Change Agents into regional teams. Although my partner, Dave Voorhees, works at a different institution with additional resources, we have to deal with similar constraints such as state budgets and faculty engagement. Dave also has more exposure working with the SAGE 2YC organization and is a wealth of information about people and programs that could help us with our goals. These connections are important because so often 2YC faculty feel like we're teaching in our own bubbles, especially with heavy teaching loads.
I will echo Dave's comments that participating in the annual workshops gave me the tools, the confidence, and the inspiration to realize that change can happen – both within my own teaching, and at the department and regional level. I was pleased that other faculty came from across the state to participate in our regional workshops. They not only took away some resources and ideas, but provided many of their own. Again, bringing together common shareholders is critical to successful change.
Supporting faculty change
Dave: I ran several 2 to 3 hour workshops on active learning and metacognition to Waubonsee faculty, as well as presentations at Division meetings and at IL regional meetings (Illinois Association of Geoscience Instructors). In addition, I provided multiple ad-hoc 'consultations' with individual faculty either before, during or after their implementation of an active learning pedagogy or techniques of metacognition in their classes.
Cheryl: I hope to continue my role as a moderator for discussing ideas with STEM faculty on our campus. I plan to work closely with our dean to brainstorm ways to continue these discussions. I am always available for one-on-one discussions with any faculty member who is trying something different to improve student engagement and success. Our connection to the regional group, Illinois Association of Geoscience Instructors, will hopefully continue to provide opportunities to encourage faculty change in the classroom and to develop more connections with our 4YC faculty at universities across the state.
Strategies for overcoming challenges
Dave: Having conversations with faculty about their teaching, either content or style, is difficult. As this program has a goal of changing them, these conversations tended to get delayed. However, once they did occur, it turns out that there is more commonality than predicted. When encountering difficulties, if you build on the commonality, changing the ineffective teaching strategies, or adding more effective teaching strategies, becomes easier.
As with many 2YC geoscience classes, the' attitudes, interests, and values of the students (their affect) in the general education dominated students is quite low, so much so that it impedes their educational growth and success. Using the strategies of Sandra MacGuire in presenting metacognition techniques, I have found that this can change student affect in many. By talking to students as professionals, and talking about these ideas directly and at temporally effective opportunities, many students accept them wholeheartedly. In my metacognition training of students, I speak plainly about how any student can be successful, it really depends upon their motivation, mindset, and metacognitive skills. This immediately discounts the students who say "I can't do science", which I tell my students is setting them up with a closed mindset from the beginning of the semester. Also, I have discovered that an informative discussion of Bloom's taxonomy can be very effective and insightful to many students. I feel that these kinds of discussions with my students has led to them having an increased respect for my interest in their success, which leads to an increased motivation and perhaps mindset.
Cheryl: I found the greatest challenges to change came in three areas: institutional professional development, faculty engagement, and student perceptions. At the beginning of this project, our institution had a director of faculty development. The person in that position offered many opportunities for faculty from across disciplines to meet and share ideas related to teaching strategies and improving student engagement. Opportunities included breakout sessions at orientation, on-going activities throughout each semester, such as book discussion groups, and a 3-day "Great Teachers Seminar." These avenues for sharing what I learned about active learning and metacognition were invaluable. During the course of this project, new leadership at our institution removed the faculty professional development position. In its absence, I've worked closely with my dean to provide sessions for our STEM faculty to learn about the different strands of this project. Developing this connection within our department is vastly important to provide information and maintain enthusiasm for continuing the work of this project.
Things to think about before you start this type of project
Dave: Change is hard for some, but change is easy if one sees a need for it. For students that have just experienced an educational crises by a poor performance in an exam, their willingness to change, at that moment, is high. For Faculty who see an average or high completion rate (%A, B, C) in their classes, their need for change is low. However, this feeling may change as our school begins to adopt more department-wide assessments.
Change takes energy, resources and time. Many faculty lack all 3, and the challenge is to counsel faculty to trying a few ideas, and then bring more in as time goes on. The same strategy applies to students, who have similar constraints. For the student constraints, I always frame it as not studying more, but learning how to study more efficiently or effectively.
Fundamental to this, is the willingness to change yourself. Are you the type of instructor that changes lectures and exams periodically? Or do you use the same lectures and exams for many years to decades, just because change takes effort. Once you have developed the willingness to change, be ready to absorb a dramatically increased personal satisfaction.
Cheryl: I echo Dave's observations. I would emphasize that change takes time as well as motivation. This is especially true for the change agents involved. It can be easy to feel like the "lone wolf" at your campus. I recommend identifying existing partners in the institution who can provide support. For example, the TRiO office at our college provides support for first-generation college students and is willing to work with faculty who are introducing metacognition, active learning, and time-management skills to their students. TRiO is one example of existing college support for students and I wish I had identified them earlier in the Change Agents grant to broaden the outreach of my efforts.
Dave: A change that I think will persist is the exposure and knowledge of active learning pedagogies and metacognition by faculty. Although this is not true for all faculty, there are some that are continually bringing new techniques into their classrooms.
There have been a couple of major campus-wide changes that align with the goals of this project, that are more than likely coincidences, than actually from my influence. All Waubonsee faculty were required to attend (3), ½ days of meetings before each semester ("Orientation"), during which we were subjected to various presentations by various administrators and faculty. These presentations were usually on administrative programs and new software. At a recent Orientation, a 2YC geoscience colleague led a 3 hour workshop at my invitation on "Motivating students to learn by creating a classroom community" to about 140 faculty and administrators (including the College President). It was exceedingly well received with many exceptional comments. She also led 2 sessions during the following Friday morning series of concurrent sessions. During the previous Orientation, the new Vice President of Educational Affairs attended a presentation I gave to faculty on metacognition, after which she mentioned that she found it valuable, speaking as a former teacher. Following this Orientation, the entire 3-day program was redesigned into a workshop on Faculty Development. This redesign was coincident with the establishment of the new Faculty Development and Engagement Division on campus, part of an extensive campus-wide evaluation and assessment of the Educational Affairs Action Plan
Cheryl: It is more difficult for me to identify changes that have been institutionalized as our college has eliminated the administrative position that focused on faculty development. However, I am encouraged to use my voice on campus to advocate for a return of this position or at least, the programs that it supported. Having the support of my dean is key to any long term change which I plan to leverage at the department level.