Individual Growth and Development

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The Faculty as Change Agents program sought to support faculty Change Agents' growth as instructors and leaders so that they could have a greater impact on their students and in their programs, departments, institutions, and regional networks.

Dave Mrofka, Mt. San Antonio College

Because of my involvement in the SAGE 2YC project, I have discovered this thing called Geoscience Education. While I am being a bit facetious, I really had no idea (sad) that there was a whole wing of geoscience conferences devoted to the sharing of practices and experiences to help teachers understand how to engage students. I had taught for a number of years at both a University of California campus and at Mount SAC, but had never been exposed to the ideas and practices that I have learned about, talked about and used due to my experiences over the last three years. Several things stand out that I am excited about being involved in and excited about continued involvement.

Future Geoscience Instructors: My own experiences learning to teach at a 4YC point out a glaring deficiency, and an opportunity. A new and exciting element we incorporated into our last workshop was the inclusion of graduate students. My own experience as a teaching assistant was a total lack of investment, by my university, in any kind of training or preparation to teach geoscience classes. Many teaching assistants in 4YCUs teach one or two discussion sections a week and our anecdotal experience, and stories we hear from graduate students, indicates that these students are often thrown into teaching without any preparation. These young teachers represent some of the best opportunities to interest, engage and retain students in the geosciences. We are discussing ways in which we might create opportunities for partnerships with 4YCs, where their graduate students might attend one or more workshops and benefit from the practices we have benefited from over the last three years.

Geotechnical Career Paths: We have become aware that many of our students are interested in geosciences but, for a number of reasons, are not ready, or interested, in transfer after finishing at Mt. SAC. This could be for a variety of reasons: they are overwhelmed by the course load for transfer, they have a family and are ready for a job, they love geology but are not ready to transfer, etc. Recognizing this, we are creating a Geotechnical certificate program to meet the needs of students who are interested in the more immediate satisfaction of a geoscience career but are not ready for transfer. We hope that this helps us retain more of our students in the geosciences.

Getting this program off the ground has been smooth in some ways and rocky in others. Curriculum writing has gone reasonably smoothly, we have secured funding from California's Strong Workforce Program for release time and equipment, and the concept has been approved by the body in California that governs CTE programs. The most difficult task so far has been understanding how to generate interest among local professionals to provide curriculum guidance, equipment feedback and commit to serving on an advisory board; this is my part of the project so has been a difficult challenge so far. But, we are optimistic and excited about the opportunity to create what we think is a very unique program.

Curriculum Writing: The final thing I'll highlight is something I have gotten involved in relatively recently that I am very excited about. For a number of years a number of us in our department have struggled over the variety of course plans for one of our bread and butter courses, Earth Sciences and the complementary lab. The lab course is taught mostly by a number of adjuncts who use a variety of lab manuals, their own labs, or a mixture of both. All the labs are also taught in different sequences, depending on instructor. I received release time this spring semester to write the first half of a lab manual for the Earth Science lab.

I am very excited by this because it provides an opportunity to link our department objectives to what each instructor is teaching and to support the students who are also taking the lecture. Regarding my experience with SAGE, it also provides an opportunity to build into the labs more engaging resources and various active learning opportunities and assessment methods for instructors and students. Hopefully this will not just help improve the labs, but also serve as an opportunity for our adjuncts to experiment with different practices and, if they choose, carry those on to their different institutions they at which they teach.

Becca Walker, Mt. San Antonio College

Participating in the SAGE 2YC Faculty Agents of Change project has resulted in several significant and sustainable changes in my instructional practices, strategies for promoting student success outside of class time, collaborations with individuals and institutions, and willingness to assume leadership roles. I am particularly happy about the following changes:

Student performance reviews: Under the umbrella of "professional pathways", I am aware that the majority of students with whom I work in a geoscience class are not going to pursue careers as geoscientists. But that doesn't mean that taking a geoscience course isn't relevant to their professional pathway! I started doing performance reviews in my physical geology class that involve self-evaluations, an evaluation from me (focusing on grades, skills, punctuality and attendance, observations during class, etc.), and anonymous peer evaluations for each student. I compile all of these data into a single document and then meet with each student for 10-15 minutes to discuss the "performance review". We do this twice per semester. Students can choose to do an in-person or remote meeting. It's been an excellent opportunity for me to have 20-30 minutes of one-on-one time with each student, discuss their technical and interpersonal skills using evidence, encourage them to take more STEM courses, and give them some practice with similar performance reviews that they might encounter in the workplace.
Example performance review documents:
performancereview_compiled.pdf (Acrobat (PDF) 113kB Jun14 19)
performancereview_peer.pdf (Acrobat (PDF) 111kB Jun14 19)
performancereview_self.pdf (Acrobat (PDF) 102kB Jun14 19)

Collaborative review exercises (i.e., quizzes): I used to scoff at the idea of collaborative exams and quizzes. In hindsight, very strange because almost everything else that students do in my courses involves collaboration with colleagues, but still, I was vehemently opposed. After hearing about evidence-based, positive outcomes of collaborative exams and quizzes at several Change Agent workshops and learning about a scratch card assessment technique called IF-AT (Immediate Feedback Assessment Technique), I decided to pilot collaborative quizzes (I call them "review exercises", but if it walks like a duck.....) in my oceanography lab course. For the first ~10 minutes of class, students work individually on some review questions from the previous week's lab. Then, they work with 1-2 other students on some group review questions for another ~10 minutes and interact with me if they choose to do so. Sometimes, the group review questions are the same as the individual questions; other times, they are different but related. Sometimes, I throw IF-AT scratch cards into the exercise. Sometimes, students are permitted to use their lab notes during the collaborative portion. Since starting these exercises, I have noticed improvements in punctuality, number of students taking lab notes, and greater diversity in student lab collaborations (i.e., students aren't working on labs only with the people who sit at their table). Finally, I asked a bonus question on the final exam, "What did you learn in this class that you will remember 5 years from now?", and got a couple of interesting responses. One student wrote, "The class allowed me to realize that I am possible (sic) of learning as I go and also using my own thinking and interpretations to come up with conclusions." Another stated, "Know to relax and figure things out instead of panicking." I can't say for sure, but I hypothesize that the collaborative reviews play a role in these responses.

Intentional work with students on STEM internships, transfer, and careers:

The knowledge and communication tools that I have acquired as a change agent has improved my ability to advise STEM students at Mt. SAC about STEM course planning in preparation for transfer; internship opportunities for which 2YC students and/or students from groups historically underrepresented in STEM can be competitive; and potential STEM career trajectories. This advising has manifested itself informally with many more one-on-one meetings with students, as well as a new partnership with the Mt. SAC STEM Center. This winter, we are beginning to offer workshops for STEM students on the topics described above. I've written 10+ recommendation letters for summer internships in the past week, so something must be working!

Leadership roles: Imposter syndrome is a real thing for me! Thanks to the opportunities to lead regional workshops for Southern California, facilitate virtual discussions, and speak at breakout sessions at the Change Agent annual meetings, I am increasingly comfortable in assuming leadership roles within the geoscience community. Examples of things that I've done recently that I realistically never would have done prior to the SAGE 2YC Change Agent project include co-writing an NSF-Geopaths proposal for an early-REU program, volunteering to lead a 3-day workshop at the Earth Educators' Rendezvous, and co-directing the development of a Geotechnician Certificate program at Mt. SAC.