Making and Sustaining Change
Consideration of context
Delta College has always had a culture that supports innovation and making change. We have a culture where faculty have the freedom to do those activities where there is a need and where we can make an impact. While the administration is engaged in the details of running the college and not directly creating a learning environment, it is the faculty who are responsible to lead in this aspect. Having colleagues who can bring their own talents and a passion for teaching and learning has been key in making this project possible. Our divisions and departments have undergone significant restructuring during the past two years; however our "new" Dean of teaching and learning has been on board with us since almost her first day on the job. This has helped with our institutional buy-in and consistency. Since we are working from two different departments, Geology and Biology, we have been able to expand the reach of our project across disciplines.
There's never a "good" time to invest in making changes; I've (Andrea) heard the same thing about having children! We've faced significant personal and professional challenges during the course of this project, including big changes in our college's shared governance model - faculty are currently unionizing.
Things that worked well that we would do again
We seem to have identified five key aspects that have helped us be successful: 1) capitalize on faculty interests and goals in common, as well as strengths, 2) have a goal and vision for change in our own teaching and what we want for our students that we aren't seeing (yet); 3) having a structured community to help support and facilitate our work, 4) planning our larger goals to align with those at the college level, and 5) planning and scheduling in adequate meeting time.
The key aspects that have led to successful change include faculty who are able to collaborate well and have a vision for the future. Prior to our participation in this project, we were discussing aspects of our courses that would benefit from such a collaboration. That is, the students we share "in common" who are often in our Environmental Technology Program, could benefit from our building on what each of us teaches in classes they take from us. Especially those concepts we call "crossover" concepts. We were ready to engage in a structured approach to this and the SAGE 2YC project has helped us reach our goals and given us a path for continuing the changes. Our workshops and reading materials have all helped and given us an even broader reach than we originally planned. The resources shared by the group, the online connections and help, the people who have organized our activities have all been incredibly helpful in every way possible. Working to make sure our goals aligned well with those of our college's helped smooth the way and made certain that our work had support, even in the face of sometimes strained faculty-administration relations in the college overall. Planning time to regularly meet in person seems to be key - our "working meetings" as well as lunches and dog-walking sessions meant we could constantly discuss with each other as we worked, and ensured that we were committed to the work. This was not always possible to do well, but when we did it, we worked much better!
Supporting faculty change
We have been sharing some results with our division and new Associate Dean. We have reached out primarily to faculty in our institution who teach environmental, geology and chemistry courses. Part of the SAGE 2YC project is to reach out to peers in our geographic region to share what we've learned and to establish a community of practice. Our first workshop was May 11, 2019, and we are encouraged by the positive comments of the participants and look forward to having an ongoing collaboration with faculty from other institutions in Michigan. In addition, several additional faculty from Delta College have expressed an interest to be a part of this collaboration.
Strategies for overcoming challenges
Two main challenges we have faced in making the kinds of changes were:
- A significant restructuring of Divisions and Departments, which included the hiring of outside Associate Deans to lead each division and
- The formation of a faculty union, and major changes to our college's shared governance model.
The first challenge has been addressed with our new Associate Dean engaging in our discussion of this project and attending our May 11 workshop. We have been encouraged by her support and input. Involving the administration is an important step toward addressing both of these challenges. We have been communicating our efforts to other faculty and administrators, and invited them to our professional development activities. Both the College President and our division's Associate Dean were able to attend part of the professional development workshop we facilitated that included faculty from 6 other Michigan colleges. Both had very positive feedback after the workshop, which went a long way in making our efforts feel valued. Continuing with the SAGE 2YC project is a very positive effort amid the difficulties and it seems that faculty are interested in such a hopeful effort. It is also evident that we continue to maintain the support of our Dean of Teaching and Learning.
Sometimes bringing other faculty on board is challenging. Aligning with institutional priorities means that folks are hearing your message repeatedly and from others, and helps. We feel that it is very important to engage in major efforts with peers who are interested in changing what they are doing in the classroom.
Things to think about before you start this type of project
The structured approach of the SAGE 2YC leadership has been a tremendous help to us during the course of our project so far. There are several things that were/are particularly useful for such a project.
- Approaching key administrators early on helped. We believe they appreciate the courtesy and being kept in the loop of what we are doing.
- Working as a team has been encouraging and inspiring for both of us. Choose your team well and be deliberate in dividing up the tasks.
- Remember you are not alone and without resources. There are many people willing to share all they've done; take advantage of this network.
We structured our program to align with our institutional priorities from the beginning. Primarily to support student success. We have been able to do this by looking at the data (gathered by the SAGE 2YC project team) and making changes at the course level to improve success of students in those courses with a lower success rate. We also have been incorporating into our courses information and activities where the students, especially non-traditional science majors, to see themselves as a scientist. We both intend to do more of these activities. Finally we have taken students to Michigan State to attend one of their forums featuring professional geoscience research. Our goal is to do this each semester.
So our curricular changes and leading outside activities are sustainable efforts that have been, so far, successful.
We've also taken the first steps in establishing a community of 2YC faculty from our geographic region who share our goals and interests in reforming our teaching. Sustaining this will take some thought and planning, but the seeds have been planted and we have initiative to support our start. The feedback from our first workshop on May 11, 2019 is encouraging. The group that responded were very positive and they indicated that they are interested in continuing the conversation and sharing resources.
We have administrative support for this project and appreciate the participation by our President and Associate Dean at our workshop. We expect to continue to be supported by the administration and hope to get the word out to the larger community.