Quality undergraduate STEM education is critical for national success, progress in science, the advancement of national health initiatives, and overall national prosperity in an increasingly technical economy. However, retention in STEM fields is critically low, particularly for women and other underrepresented groups. Reforming STEM education has drawn national attention, but ineffective instructional practices continue to dominate. The goal of this project is to address the national call for improved learning environments for undergraduate students in STEM classes by implementing a new framework for instructional change at the University of Portland that will serve as a model for sustained instructional change. The University has faculty in the following STEM fields: Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Mathematics, Environmental Science, Engineering, and Computer Science. Participating faculty will learn to incorporate research-informed educational practices that favor active learning. Ongoing support for sustaining these new instructional practices will be fostered within cohorts of faculty as they engage in a reflective process of regular peer observation. The resulting instructional changes will improve the retention and success of STEM students while shaping the institutional culture of teaching in a lasting way. In addition, this model for supporting instructional change through shared practice will inform institutional change at other regional, comprehensive universities where reflective instruction is paramount.
To foster systemic instructional change, the project will invite a total of 25 STEM faculty members at the University of Portland to participate in week-long summer workshops across two successive years. They will explore current research-supported instructional practices. Project leaders will assist participants in the development and implementation of evidence-based, student-centered curricular innovations and meet with participants throughout the implementation period. In order to ensure that instructional change is sustained by participants, project leaders will also foster the development of communities of practice, wherein cohorts of participants will observe one another and engage in structured, reflective conversation about teaching and learning. Participants will be trained in formative assessment and in process-oriented protocols for evaluating teaching. Project leaders will host a local symposium at the end of the project to disseminate results and strategies to other regional universities that could similarly benefit from systemic change efforts.