Background Information

Background on the Program

With support from the W. M. Keck Foundation from 1994 to 2007, PKAL provided consulting teams of senior faculty and administrators to institutions requesting assistance in continuing reforms begun at a PKAL-sponsored workshop. For reforms in undergraduate science and mathematics to take root and become institutionalized, external advice and counsel is needed at critical stages. Reports, phone calls and letters received from faculty and presidents of Keck institutions speak of critical forward steps aided by the advice of the Keck - PKAL Consultants:

"Following the advice to address common concerns and develop joint initiatives across the division, we had a workshop (attended by 85% of our science/mathematics faculty) at which task forces were established to consider issues such as: i) an integrated science program, ii) calculus and science, iii) environmental studies and chemistry, and iv) the role of student as instructor."
- a large state university

"Building on the counsel that the science curriculum for the non-major has not been considered as thoughtfully and creatively as the curriculum for the science major, we are beginning to consider developing a series of courses with interdisciplinary themes that would fulfill the general education requirement."
- a select private college

"The consultants challenged us to reexamine our mission, and to define more clearly a strategic plan. The College has committed resources to facilitate this planning effort; following a faculty retreat, we have produced a divisional mission statement that is congruent with larger institutional goals."
- a small regional college

Advice from the Keck - PKAL Consultants has ranged from comments on individual courses and new pedagogical approaches to broader institutional issues. Although a significant number of the consultancies were triggered by problems and concerns related to facilities planning, in most every case consultants challenged institutional representatives to step back and think more broadly about mission, and then about strategies to achieve that mission.

A formal evaluation of the Keck - PKAL Consultant Program was made, within the larger context of evaluating the work of Project Kaleidoscope. The report from Dr. Elaine Seymour, Department of Ethnography at the University of Colorado - Boulder, documents the institutional impact of these visits:

"It is clear that all of the Keck consultants understand Project Kaleidoscope's philosophy of curriculum and pedagogical reform, and--in selected cases-- the relationship between such reform and the development and/or renovation of science facilities. The Keck reports also reflect that the Keck - PKAL consultants have promoted the PKAL vision of what works during these site visits. This is evident from their persistent focus on encouraging inter-campus discussion and cooperation on critical issues of mutual concern.

Predominant among recommendations made were: encouraging the examination of mission statements and the development of specific, workable, and visionary campus master plans and curricular strategic plans; linking curricular planning to facilities planning; stressing student-faculty research and interaction; and supporting a wide variety of initiatives for faculty professional growth. Generally, the reports are informative and relevant. Their suggestions and recommendations reflect genuine consideration and support for the faculty, departments and institutions with whom they consulted; they emphasize the distinctive strengths and challenges of their assigned institutions.

The reports address two audiences: the institutions visited and PKAL. The consultants come as educators who are in the position of assessor and advisor. Institutions request a Keck - PKAL Consultation as a means to affirm or revise the institutional self-analysis of current problems and strengths and to seek advice on specific next steps in the process of reform, given the identified problems and strengths. The individual reports are valuable to the visited institutions as catalysts for the reform of local programs/cultures: as a source of ammunition for those already persuaded and as motivation for those who need persuasion."

It is important to note that a variety of institutions participate in PKAL activities, from large public commuter universities to liberal arts colleges. Keck - PKAL Consultant Teams have served at numerous small colleges with committed faculty, but limited resources; they have served at large, comprehensive universities. No matter the size or institutional mission, post-visit reports confirm that having an informed team of external consultants spend time with faculty as individuals and as departments, and (equally important) with senior administrators helps to broaden the discussion, to identify the timely questions and issues, and to assist in identifying models for reform that might be locally adaptable. The Keck - PKAL Consultant were a catalyst for improving the environment for learning within undergraduate programs of science, mathematics, engineering and technology education.