Promoting Evidence-Based Change in Undergraduate Science Education

Saturday, February 16, 2013
Room 210 (Hynes Convention Center)
Ann Austin , Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI
A solid body of research highlights pedagogical practices that impact undergraduate learning in STEM education in productive ways. At the same time, however, current reform efforts often meet resistance, and change toward evidence-based pedagogical practices among those teaching undergraduate students is often not easy or rapid. The presentation will draw on the research and literature on organizational change, academic organizations, and academic work to examine forces and factors that serve as barriers and opportunities for improving undergraduate STEM education. The presentation will take a systems approach, viewing the universities and colleges where undergraduates learn and faculty teach as complex organizations in which an array of factors are relevant to organizational change, and, more specifically, to the decisions faculty members make regarding their use of evidence-based approaches in their undergraduate teaching. Such a systems approach draws attention to: (1) individual faculty members’ values, backgrounds, abilities, and aspirations as they relate to their teaching decisions; (2) the various organizational contexts internal and external to higher education organizations that influence faculty members’ teaching decisions and practices, including the department, college, institution as a whole, and other organizations such as government bodies and accrediting agencies; and (3) the array of elements within the organizational context that can serve as “levers” or barriers to faculty members’ decisions about their teaching, including evaluation and reward systems, workload allocations, professional development opportunities, and leadership practices. Based on research findings, the presentation will suggest that efforts to foster reform in undergraduate science teaching need to take into account individual characteristics and differences among faculty members, and factors within organizational contexts that promote or inhibit change. Specifically, the presentation will highlight how professional development, reward systems, and leadership strategies can support reform efforts. The overall thesis will be that addressing barriers to reform requires examining and utilizing an array of factors embedded within the contexts in which faculty members work and STEM undergraduate education is offered.