Initial Publication Date: April 13, 2020

Making and Sustaining Change

Consideration of context

Cape Cod Community College is a modest sized public community college (approximately 3000 students from 16 to 80 years old with 61% females and 25% students of color) with many programs and certificates, including site assessment, coastal zone management, earth science, and environmental science. Most students enroll as general study A.A. degree candidates, hoping to transfer to a four-year degree program or obtain their desired employment. There are many first- and second-year geosciences course offerings. In recent years, however, many of these course offerings have been cancelled due to low enrollment. Students, advisors, and faculty have been frustrated due to the unpredictability of completing existing certificate programs with declining enrollments. Strategies such as directed studies and substitutions have been employed with modest success.

When the geoscience program began to expand twenty-five years ago, geoscience professionals were recruited as part-time faculty to train future employees. The potential employers were on the advisory panels to recommend learning objectives. Yet over the past ten years we have not had any program reviews and course enrollments have declined. Our students, faculty, support staff, administration, and community want to revise the individual courses and programs to fit today's transfer and employment marketplace. There is almost unanimous support to improve teaching and learning strategies as well as increase student engagement and nurture a sense of belonging.  

We have been implementing many modifications to achieve these goals. All the geoscience course descriptions, learning objectives, enrollment, and retention have been reviewed and revised where needed. Our 2019-2020 catalog reflects a huge reduction of courses and certificates. By reducing the number of courses offered, we hope to avoid having to cancel courses due to low enrollment. In addition, we have changed the list of electives to include all the STEM courses so that students are encouraged to pursue their interests.

Things that worked well that we would do again

I (Catherine) usually make small changes one at a time in my pedagogical approaches but for this project I not only flipped my classes [add link], I made many other big changes as well. I am now using almost all open educational resources (OERs), supplemented by online current events. The OER adoption forced me to totally change my syllabi and online educational platform. I also revised my syllabi for relevance and transferability to our popular four-year institutions. Both face-to-face students and online students became more engaged and course-level retention improved.  

As a department, we also invested a lot of effort in analyzing the students' perspectives. We increased Universal Design tools [add link] and added more reflection and case studies which seems to increase student interest in the course topics. We revised our lab manuals to provide stronger connections to the lecture material as well as increasing their relevance to the students' world. Specifically, for example, we redesigned the air pollution lab to include measuring the rate of temperature change of the different greenhouse gasses. This lab was connected to our energy efficiency light bulb lab, our carbon footprint activity, and sustainability. We have seen increased course-level retention and increased student success in meeting learning objectives.

Supporting faculty change

Our first regional workshop, Science by the Sea, was well received and sparked continuing discussions in our department. The workshop provided an opportunity for twelve instructors to engage in learning about local geology, coastal processes, and marine habitats that support biodiversity through evidence-based learning strategies. We discussed the challenges our students were facing and some of the tools we could use to help them succeed. We shared student success stories and discussed how we could help more students succeed. 

Strategies for overcoming challenges

We began our overhaul of our courses and programs by focusing on current student interests and demographics, funding, and institutional priorities. After we decided which courses and programs to keep, we used resources we learned about from the SAGE 2YC website and workshops [add link] to revise course content. Our students have greatly influenced our ability to change. They want a more engaging classroom.

Things to think about before you start this type of project

The changes we have made have taken a huge amount of time and effort. We continue to review the outcomes and will continue to make revisions based on those outcomes. If I (Catherine) could have taught a reduced load, I would have. 

Sustained impacts

We have completely overhauled our course and certificate offerings. The 2019-2020 catalog reflects many of the course and program changes we have implemented. Our institution currently provides a huge amount of support to sustain these improvements. They provide an optional summer and winter institute stipend so that we can continue to work individually or as a team to review, revise and document our course and program outcomes. We will review these and make more changes based on our findings. Since we have been able to fill the courses we retained, these curricular changes will be sustained. We are now able to add or revise one course at a time.

Our first regional workshop [add link] was offered during our state's STEM week which seemed like a good time because we had additional advertising. Likewise, we will have our second regional workshop [add link] during our state's 2019 STEM week. Going forward, we hope to continue offering a workshop annually during our state's STEM week.