Making and Sustaining Change
Consideration of context
The Earth sciences at De Anza College are within the Physical Sciences, Mathematics, and Engineering Division. This is the largest division on campus in terms of class offerings, faculty, and students served. The Earth sciences teach to a largely general education population. Earth science course offerings are offered largely for fulfilling general education requirements in the lower division for transfer students. These courses are assessed by the college largely on their enrollment and the apportionment dollars that enrollment represents. In this environment, changes that have a negative impact on student enrollments are not particularly encouraged, regardless of their impact on teaching and learning. Students on campus are also very savvy to the perceptions of easiness of work and disparities in grade achievement in different classes that fulfill the same requirements. This makes implementation of change within the institutional setting problematic at times. It is not always the case that good educational changes within classes and curriculum are accepted. They must be popular with the students and that is an important consideration in design and implementation. Against this backdrop, support amongst the faculty in our program aligning changes and engaging the dean's support in the project was huge. Early integration of evidence-based practices into our online courses in Meteorology and later in Oceanography, and their success, helped a great deal. Large online enrollments helped the overall image of the program and allowed the Dean to funnel money into the program and support our innovations in all classes.
Things that worked well that we would do again
Discussing and coordinating changes in our classes amongst faculty in the departments was key. It had the effect of keeping us mostly on the same page. It also gave us a sounding board amongst people working in the same context as to the viability and potential success of particular changes.
Engagement of the Dean was also important in our program. Generally, support at this level translates into potential money, and curricular support. By tying our innovations in the classroom or in online education to enrollment and student success, the Dean increasingly viewed what we were doing favorably. That had the effect of also highlighting these accomplishments to upper levels of the administration at the college.
Working with institutional research helped us calibrate our efforts. Student success data was important to understanding how new approaches in teaching and learning were actually impacting outcomes in our classes. This proved especially important when we were adopting and testing some collaborative testing models.
Supporting faculty change
We offered multiple workshops that focused on active learning, metacognition, and networking with faculty from other colleges. These workshops also looked at strategies for supporting transfer of our students in the geosciences to 4-year universities. These workshops were initially only attended by faculty from other institutions along with the change agents. They became the focus of multiple discussions amongst the faculty and later the inclusion of one of our other faculty members in the Earth sciences. Three out of the four faculty in the program met in a virtual meeting to discuss teaching strategies and our overall aims in the project. Beyond that, most of the support came in direct discussions including face-to-face meetings. This was especially helpful in developing online courses and working through implementation of evidence-based practices in online teaching in the Earth sciences.
Strategies for overcoming challenges
One major challenge is motivating higher levels of administration about systemic change in Earth science instruction. Engaging and getting the support of the Dean was very important in getting support from the Vice President of Instruction. Getting the Dean out to our national meetings was key in helping bridge that gap. Also working with him and leveraging our success in enrollments in the online classes went a long way in gaining broader institutional support from the administration. Finally, showing the dean how our project goals line up with institutional goals in STEM education on campus was also useful in bridging that gap.
Because our project required engaging faculty from other institutions, recruitment was a major issue. Pressing time issues of faculty seemed important. We have had slow but gaining interest in our networking goals. Engaging students has seemed to help as does working with 4-year universities that are eager for increasing transfer students. This is an ongoing issue without an obvious resolution. Most recently, asking faculty to prepare something to share and pushing the idea of engagement seems to have sparked more interest.
On our campus, facilities are managed by different Divisions which can make it challenging to find suitable spaces for events. One strategy that we found helpful was to utilize spaces on partner institutions' campuses, particularly those who are focused on receiving transfer students. We also reached out to our Environmental Studies department to host our 2019 workshop. Although that did not happen, the engagement with them did increase participation in the event.
Things to think about before you start this type of project
I (Chris) think to initiate such a project in the future I would have discussions with the Dean first. It's important to have buy-in at this level and the earlier the better. This also true of faculty. I would engage faculty in the department and in other colleges in the project early on, getting them vested in the project from the beginning. I would also find out about facilities use prior to the project, not simply in the run-up to a workshop.
Sustaining impacts requires a change of culture by all the stake-holders of the project. This includes our program faculty, faculty from collaborating colleges, and our administration. That cultural change comes only with time and depends on level of investment. We have managed to get the buy-in of all the faculty teaching in the Earth sciences on our campus. We have made inroads into the 4-year universities locally and with some faculty in other two-year colleges. We are working on developing an online presence to help maintain the network initiative started in this project.