Full title of project:  Departmental Action Teams: Sustaining Improvements in Undergraduate STEM Education through Faculty Engagement (SITAR)

Principal Investigators: Daniel Reinholz, SDSU; Joel Corbo & Noah Finkelstein, CU Boulder.  Funded by the National Science Foundation, 2016-2020.

Description: There is an urgent need to improve higher education in the US, as less than 40% of interested STEM majors actually complete a STEM degree. Most efforts to address this challenge have focused on developing and disseminating innovations, but research shows that these approaches rarely result in sustained improvements. This project takes a holistic approach to change, focused on shifting departmental structures and culture to sustain improvements. The work centers on a new type of faculty working group, a Departmental Action Team (DAT), developed by the SITAR Project at CU-Boulder (CU) as part of the Association of American Universities STEM Education Initiative.

A DAT is a self-selected group of mostly faculty within a single department with three primary goals: (1) to address an educational issue of departmental interest, (2) to sustain improvements related to the issue by creating lasting structural and cultural changes, and (3) 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 from the offset; thus, the DAT model has a strong likelihood of generating the kinds of sustained educational changes that have been difficult to create with other models.

SITAR facilitated DATs in six CU STEM departments. These DATs have shown promise in creating structural changes, and additional departments at CU have already expressed interest in running DATs. The proposed work involves continuing to study and enact DATs at CU and expanding the DAT model to Colorado State University (CSU). This project aims to develop: (1) a process for enculturating DAT facilitators and institutionalizing DATs in campus Teaching and Learning Centers (TLCs), (2) theory of how DATs operate in different contexts, and (3) cultural and structural change metrics.

This four-year project involves facilitating DATs at CU and CSU through a combination of postdoctoral researchers and staff from the campus’s TLCs. Over time, responsibility for DAT facilitation will move entirely to the TLCs, to institutionalize the DAT model on each campus. This approach will be documented by a variety of data, including records of emails and meetings, public proclamations, and participant interviews. To capture structural and cultural shifts within departments, a number of existing metrics will be adapted, including the PULSE and the Cultural Commitments Survey developed through the SITAR project.