Peer Review

From the Editor

In a 2007 issue of Liberal Education that centered on faculty leadership and institutional change, editor David Tritelli wrote, “Institutions whose mission it is to prepare students to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century are not always well served by the persistence of traditional boundaries among disciplines and departments or between the curriculum and the cocurriculum, academic affairs and student affairs, or the liberal arts and the professional fields. In fact, the primarily vertical organization of colleges and universities can create structural impediments to achieving the goals of a twenty-first-century liberal education.”

However, achieving the level of change that builds institutional capacity to ensure that all students have the opportunity to do inquiry-oriented, hands-on, and integrative work requires moving campus constituents out of their comfort zones. Mark Twain got it right when he quipped, “The only person who likes change is a wet baby.” This is as true for reform of undergraduate science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) learning as for any other significant curricular change effort.

To determine which elements are necessary for a successful STEM reform, Project Kaleidoscope (PKAL) launched the STEM education effectiveness framework project, led by Susan Elrod, former executive director of PKAL and now interim provost and vice president of academic affairs at California State University–Chico. That project aimed to develop a comprehensive institutional change model to help campus leaders plan and implement evidence-based student learning and success in STEM reforms into scalable and sustainable actions. The project was funded by the W. M. Keck Foundation and engaged eleven colleges and universities in California to test evidence-based strategies that would lead to program, departmental, and eventually, institutional transformation. The project leveraged PKAL’s twenty years of STEM education research and reform experience in creating more effective curricular, teaching, and program strategies. The participating institutions developed their own campus projects and, through their work, helped shape the model.

This issue of Peer Review, also sponsored by the W. M. Keck Foundation as part of the PKAL project, tells the stories of six participating institutions that developed and field tested the project’s comprehensive institutional model for facilitating strategic change in STEM education. Instead of using our traditional practice article format, this issue features case study excerpts from the Keck/PKAL project that give a sense of each campus’s progression toward institutional transformation as they negotiate the model’s eight steps: (1) establish vision, (2) examine landscape and conduct capacity analysis, (3) identify and analyze challenges and opportunities, (4) choose strategies/ interventions/opportunities, (5) determine and build readiness for action, (6) begin implementation, (7) measure results, and (8) disseminate results and plan next steps.

This fall, AAC&U will publish Increasing Student Success in STEM: A Guide to Systemic Institutional Change, a guidebook by Susan Elrod and Adrianna Kezar that expands upon information presented in this issue. This forthcoming publication includes detailed information about each element of the institutional change model accompanied by an explanation, key questions to consider, and highlights from campus case studies. It also frames the key questions that should be asked during each phase of program development and includes a rubric to help campus teams gauge their progress through the phases of the process. The book also reflects efforts based within the STEM disciplines but that are applicable to all, providing an organizational framework to help campus leaders anticipate and address the infrastructural issues that can impede long-term interdisciplinary program sustainability.

Navigating campus reform efforts can be tricky, complicated, and sometimes frustrating, but the outcomes make all of the work worthwhile. As Elrod and Kezar point out in the forthcoming report: “We appreciate the efforts of our pioneering campuses that explored new territory—literally going where few colleges have gone before. Campuses that are open to a broader vision for student success and that allow themselves to engage in what can be a messy process of change can create high-value, sustained, and scaled efforts at STEM reform.”

Previous Issues