Making and Sustaining Change
Consideration of context
Portland Community College (PCC) together with adjacent Mt. Hood Community College (MHCC) have five campuses spread throughout the Portland metropolitan area serving a partially shared pool of students that feed into the same major regional transfer institution (Portland State University). Student enrollments swelled after the great recession and are now ebbing. Both institutions are engaged in creating first year experiences to better onboard students and in creating pathways to guide students to college completion. They are also examining their institutional practices with a diversity, equity and inclusion lens to identify structures which privilege and disadvantage various student groups. PCC has joined the Achieving the Dream network and is labeling its change efforts YESS (Yes to Equitable Student Success). As these change efforts have proceeded there has also been a fair amount of change in the administrations from the level of college president to the division dean. The one constant for Change Agents is change; however, the three strands of student success, broadening participation and creating professional pathways are easily tied to whatever the current institutional initiative may be. Keeping these three simple strands in mind and relating them to whatever the current institutional efforts are will let you proceed in your change work with continuity as the world around you changes.
Things that worked well that we would do again
Allowing us to have three members on our regional/local team rather than just one representative has proven to be quite advantageous. Not only could we brainstorm together and split up the workload, but collaboration opportunities increased significantly throughout this project because of the team building component inspired by the SAGE 2YC philosophy. Additionally, we could "nudge" each other at times to meet deadlines or complete the work post-deadline.
A major asset, both at the regional/local level as well as nationally, were the Zoom and Google Hangouts video conferencing apps. We enjoyed "stressfully, at times" the online working sessions which kept us involved, on our toes, and moving forward with the SAGE 2YC project goals. These tools allowed meetings to occur without having to "be there," but still appear face-to-face. One thing that was successful for our local level group was having a quarterly get-together face-to-face (over a beer) even though the majority of the meetings were the aforementioned video conference calls. This built a stronger and more bonded Change Agent Team. Notwithstanding, I (Daina) would totally use these apps again, and in the future. I am actually thinking of the potential for incorporating this at the classroom level, in order to support student success, broaden participation, and/or even facilitate student pathways via advising.
Another useful tool that actually worked well, once we got used to it, was Google Docs. This allows multiple people to be on one document, editing in "real time" while in a "meeting" or conversation on the phone or via the video conferencing apps. This tool is very useful as long as there is a WiFi connection.
The regional workshops, while somewhat overwhelming to prepare, also proved to be a success for the "Portland Trailblazer" team. We received relatively positive participant responses overall for each of the workshops that we conducted. The SAGE 2YC project management team did an excellent job administering this initiative and supporting it throughout the project. Support was provided at the logistical, financial, technological, geological, pedagogical, and professional level the whole time with careful consideration, some constructive criticism, and most importantly lots of encouragement.
Supporting faculty change
Each Change Agent team has held yearly workshops for their local Geoscience community, as have we. PCC (Portland Community College) has multiple adjunct faculty who have attended these events and the Change Agents have been able to support their adjunct faculty by working closely with them during their SAC (Subject Area Committee) meetings to help implement change.
However, at MHCC, as a lone Geoscientist, this is both a blessing and a curse. This means I (Daina Hardisty) have had the opportunity to share with the MHCC faculty some of the concepts and ideas I've gained from involvement with the SAGE 2YC group. I held a couple of active learning workshops in 2018. In this vein, it would be awesome to continue this great cycle, to continue to share both institutionally and in the local region the ideas we've gained as a part of this project.
Strategies for overcoming challenges
A strategy for meeting the challenge of developing a regional earth science teaching community and creating institutional change is to develop personal relationships with a few key individuals that you enjoy working with to help sustain the work. Constantly onboarding people by explaining what you are doing and why takes a certain type of energy; having a core group of people that 'get it' that you can efficiently collaborate with makes this more sustainable.
Developing a group of collaborators from outside your normal work group is challenging, in part because of frequent staffing changes. A good strategy is to use campus events, committees and work groups to network and establish one on one connections with potential collaborators rather than cold emailing them.
Sustaining energy and focus on a long term project while being ambushed by a variety of immediate issues and challenges is very challenging. Having annual events with their own sets of collaborators makes this more sustainable by providing continuity and a chance to celebrate successes with coworkers. Having "forgiving partners" and "gentle nudgers" is essential in the well-being of the people part of the project.
Things to think about before you start this type of project
This work is less transactional and more vision driven than the work we had previously been doing where the main goal was to teach each course as well as possible while addressing the ongoing asks from the administration. This work is not just an add-on but a transformation in how you do things; having said that, it is important to reschedule your work as this is something that is very difficult to just squeeze in along the way.
I (Eriks Puris) wish I had planned more clearly how I was going to schedule the time necessary to focus on this work. I also wish I had been better at saying no to some of the service work I have been asked to do for our college so that I could better focus on this project. Given the various immediate tasks that need to be completed it is very important to make the time for the long range planning and regular evaluation this work requires.
Although I (Daina Hardisty) agree with the above assessment of "I wish I had known the amount of time" to devote to this project, I think that even with limited amount of time to give, it is much like our classes in which we have students having overfull schedules. They are juggling much like we are, they are trying to keep afloat and get through and pass the course. It still is the involvement in the process that improves one's knowledge & life. I wouldn't trade this project for anything, and might have foregone becoming involved had I known. I am a much "richer" instructor now for having struggled through this project. I have grown, changed and become so much more inspired and enriched by this project!
At PCC we created three new topic-driven introductory courses: G 147 Geology of the National Parks, G 148 Earthquakes and Volcanoes, and G 184 Global Climate Change. These courses have lower math prerequisites than our existing introductory one term survey courses making them accessible to a broader range of students. By focusing on societally relevant aspects of the earth sciences we hope these courses attract a diverse group of students and engage them by teaching them how their Pacific Northwest is crowned by national parks, shaken by earthquakes, studded by volcanoes and vulnerable to climate change. Because these courses stress depth over breadth, instructors are more willing to utilize and experiment with active learning techniques, which foster student success. We hope that these courses will serve as "on ramp" courses, attracting a broad diversity of students to our program. Increasing enrollment in these courses indicates that this approach is working and we have had several students continue on from these courses to take the standard geology sequence and to transfer to four year programs in earth sciences.
Really, it's like a grassroots level beginning..... At MHCC most of the changes have been within the Geosciences classroom arena. Although as mentioned previously, I, Daina Hardisty, have had the opportunity to share active learning strategies with other instructors on campus, just as a grassroots organization expands, I have started sharing what I have learned to become a Change Agent. These active learning strategies in my class have led to a greater number of "that was a fun class" response from multiple students. I plan on continuing to expand my repertoire of active learning strategies in the classroom. I feel I've only just gotten started. There is sooo much more I want to start to do, try and continue. Interestingly, at MHCC, the institutional priorities have surprisingly aligned with the work that we have been doing for SAGE 2YC. There has been a push toward diversity and inclusion at MHCC which aligns with the broadening participation strand as part of SAGE 2YC, as an example. The other strands, supporting student success by developing life-long learners and facilitating pathways, align well too.