AAC&U News, April 2019
Perspectives

At High Tide: Teaching to Increase Diversity and Equity in STEM

By: 

The greater the interest involved in a truth the more careful, self-distrustful, and patient should be the inquiry.

—Harriet Beecher Stowe

For decades, Project Kaleidoscope of AAC&U has provided professional development for STEM faculty, empowering them to implement the most advanced undergraduate teaching strategies of our day. After thirty years of success in this important area of STEM reform, it is no wonder that we are often asked to provide expert information on the best evidence-based practice on everything from increasing the learning outcomes for core STEM courses to increasing the participation of students from historically underrepresented groups. Indeed, we have amassed a wealth of this kind of information, but there is one truth that emerges from all of the data we’ve seen, produced, or disseminated: no undergraduate STEM teaching strategy can be effective if the individual implementing it is unprepared to do so with fidelity and ease. What we also now know to be true is that no individual can be prepared to implement any strategy if they haven’t fully explored or critically examined their own core trepidations, biases, motivations, and inspirations related to undergraduate STEM teaching.

Through our Teaching to Increase Diversity and Equity in STEM (TIDES) initiative, AAC&U—along with its community of institution partners, cultural responsiveness experts, and disciplinary thought leaders—has provided a solid conceptual framework that can inform the development of new research frameworks related to undergraduate STEM teaching, the delivery of novel STEM faculty professional development opportunities, and the practice of using active learning techniques in the classroom. With the potential to influence the future directions of so many different aspects of undergraduate STEM reform, we feel compelled not only to understand but also to articulate fully those aspects of TIDES that “changed the game” for us and the students we serve.

In the recently published book, Culturally Responsive Strategies for Reforming STEM Higher Education: Turning the TIDES on Inequity, editors Kelly M. Mack, Kate Winter, and Melissa Soto combine the authentic voices of TIDES institution leaders into a convincing compendium of professional and personal breakthroughs that gave rise to our culturally responsive undergraduate STEM teaching. Through the power of reflection, storytelling, and data analysis, we’ve captured our diverse worldviews, institutional contexts, and theoretical concepts in a way that we feel sets the stage for revolutionary change in STEM higher education. As such, this book, now in its second printing, offers much more than a mere guide or how-to toolkit. It provides durable solutions for broadening participation in STEM that are grounded in the real-life narratives of STEM faculty—their realities, struggles, and triumphs. More importantly, it invites readers to consider their own stories and the solutions that can be derived from them.

There is one caveat, though. Each chapter, in its own way, diverts us away from the conventional thinking that there must be some specific strategy or intervention that will “turn the tide” on inequity in STEM at our campuses. Rather, they all point us toward the kind of deep introspection that gives rise to the successful implementation of those strategies or interventions. In essence, TIDES is less about what strategies we implement and so much more about how we must come to know what needs to be implemented, for whom, and under what conditions. Lior Shamir, assistant dean for research at Lawrence Technological University, sums it up best in this way:

It is very clear that there is no way we could have done it without . . . TIDES. . . . That was a life-changing experience, and for the rest of my career I will do everything in my power to make sure it changes as many lives as possible. . . . Still, I am more grateful for what TIDES did to me as a person than what it did for me as a professional.

Though this type of transformation could easily be considered the most powerful, we should make it clear that it is by no means the only outcome of the AAC&U TIDES initiative. Through this four-year long professional development program for STEM faculty, several other important outcomes have emerged. First and foremost, TIDES, in and of itself, is now a viable tool for increasing STEM faculty self-efficacy in implementing culturally responsive teaching strategies. Our data showed not only that measures of self-efficacy were statistically significant but also that most were connected to cultural responsiveness. This, we feel, could not have been achieved without careful and strategic planning of the TIDES professional development curriculum. Embedded within it is a solid structure of community accountability—our TIDES Tribunal—which subscribes to the expectation of excellence in undergraduate STEM teaching and depends upon rigorous, unfiltered critique of our performance from year to year. These outcomes, and so many more, are chronicled in our book, which now serves as a vital part of the knowledge backdrop of AAC&U’s current and future work in STEM higher education reform.

This summer, colleagues from across the country will join us for a week-long, adapted version of the TIDES Institute. It is our aim to empower as many additional STEM faculty as we possibly can, not just to implement culturally responsive teaching strategies but also to understand fully why particular strategies are more likely to succeed than others. By doing so, we hope to contribute to the daring new course of STEM higher education reform that AAC&U has laid out for the nation—one that acknowledges and embraces the need for the disciplinary contributions of the entire academy, disputes the evidence that limits excellence to narrowly defined constructs that systematically marginalize and exclude certain groups, and recognizes the leadership soul of all who vigorously foster, influence, and advocate for change in STEM higher education.

For more details on the AAC&U TIDES initiative or to purchase the book, visit our website.

About AAC&U News

AAC&U News is written and edited by Ben Dedman. If you have questions or comments about the newsletter's contents, please e-mail dedman@aacu.org.

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