Departmental Action Teams: Sustaining Improvements in Undergraduate STEM Education Through Faculty Engagement
This project continues early work on a new model for institutional transformation through focusing on the need to shift departmental structures and culture to sustain improvements. The main institutional focus for this applied research project is the University of Colorado at Boulder where most of this work will take place. This University has a relatively long history of efforts to engage in STEM education reform. The work centers on a new type of working group, a "Departmental Action Team" (DAT). This team approach was developed by the STEM Institutional Transformation Action Research project, which grew out of the Science Education Initiative at this University that began nearly a decade ago. A DAT is a self-selected group comprised mostly of faculty (but including post docs and students) within a single academic department. DATs serve three main goals. One is to address an educational issue of interest to the department. A second and related goal is to sustain improvements made in solving (or improving) a departmental issue by creating lasting structural and cultural changes. The third goal is to provide a collaborative, community-building experience for DAT members. DATs are departmentally-focused, externally facilitated, faculty-driven, team-based, and focused on creating sustainable changes. Currently this University has six DATs. The focus of this project is to expand substantially the use of DATs to the point where departmentally-driven institutional transformation becomes the new norm.
The proposed work involves continuing to study and form DATs at the University of Colorado and expanding the model to Colorado State University (CSU) to see if a clean slate enactment can work. This project will develop: (1) a process for enculturating DAT facilitators and institutionalizing DATs in campus Teaching and Learning Centers (TLCs), (2) a theory of how DATs operate in different contexts, and (3) cultural and structural change metrics. Much research on change in university organizations identifies departmental culture as the lynchpin of change. This study will contribute substantially to understanding the prospects for adopting this model as an effective way to achieve institutional transformation.