PKAL Leadership Initiative

Barriers to Overcome

  1. COMMON BARRIERS.
      • No visible institution-wide commitment toward exploring […new programs].
      • No flexibility in the culture for risk-taking, for trying something new.
      • Few faculty champions for change.
      • No positive track record on follow-through on strategic planning.
      • Unease about transitions in top-level administrative positions.
      • Culture of departmental/individual silos [the “it belongs to me” concept of designing programs, using spaces, etc.].
      • Faculty confusion re: expectations for review, recognition and reward.
      • Self-serving, conservative discussions within major faculty committees.
      • Inflexible faculty governance system that makes responding to new opportunities difficult.
      • No formal faculty development program to introduce faculty to new approaches, national discussions.
      • Core set of requirements too big, too cumbersome, too prescriptive and too confusing.
      • Lack of financial planning integrated into strategic planning.
      • No track record in securing external support.
      • Facilities unattractive, out-dated, and unsafe, that hinder new approaches and programs.
      • Lack of faculty engagement in national discussions about undergraduate STEM learning.

  2. INTERDISCIPLINARY BARRIERS.
    1. Barriers to overcome to achieve a robust interdisciplinary undergraduate STEM learning environment.
      • Lack of congruence between goals set at the departmental and divisional level and broader institutional goals that clearly suggest the value of an integrated learning experience for all students.
      • Lack of faculty experience in developing, offering, assessing courses that cut across/dissolve disciplinary boundaries, either within the traditional STEM communities (bio/math, etc.) or those that explore the ethical, philosophical and social dimensions of the traditional STEM fields; no campus-wide experience in team-teaching.
      • Students’ inability to transfer--from course to course, discipline to discipline—what they are learning.
      • Historic departmental autonomy for setting goals for student learning for courses and programs for which they are responsible.
      • Current policies and practices for recognizing and rewarding faculty do not consider involvement in interdisciplinary activities.
      • Disagreement about (and lack of interest in discussing) institutional priorities and broader student learning goals.
      • Spaces that support departmental/disciplinary silos rather.
    2. Needs (& opportunities) for overcoming barriers to achieving a robust interdisciplinary undergraduate STEM learning environment.
      • Need to discover current ‘goodwill and cooperative efforts’ that are beginning to facilitate sharing of intellectual and material resources on our campus.
      • Need to increase attention to quantitative literacy and reasoning skills of all students.
      • Need to have conversations about what interdisciplinary means for our community, about the relationship between disciplinary offerings and interdisciplinary integration, about where it (ID) fits best for which students (introductory courses, capstone offerings, etc.).
      • Need to link efforts to shape an interdisciplinary learning environment in the context of larger efforts to increase the participation and success of women and under-represented minorities in our STEM programs.
      • Need to address policies and practices related to faculty: decisions about teaching loads, review and tenure, etc.
      • Need to make creative use of technologies to enhance our interdisciplinary advances.

  3. RESEARCH-RICH BARRIERS.
    1. Barriers to overcome to achieve a robust research-rich undergraduate STEM learning environment.
      • Lack of congruence (significant disparity) between expectations for new STEM faculty appointments in regard to ‘research-rich’ and research productivity with current culture within our STEM departments.
      • Lack of faculty experience and success with seeking external grants, leading to a sense of feeling threatened by the prospect of responsibility for a research-rich learning environment.
      • Lack of adequate infrastructure (instrumentation, spaces, budgets) to support a research-rich learning environment.
      • No policies for securing, allocating or reallocating funds to build a research-rich learning environment.
      • Cadre of research-inactive faculty whose views shape our culture; faculty confusion about relative import of research/teaching and learning.
      • Increasing pressure on faculty to make STEM courses for all students more engaging.
    2. Needs (& opportunities) for overcoming barriers to achieving a robust research-rich undergraduate STEM learning environment.
      • Need to engage faculty with national conversations about undergraduate research—what it is, how and why it works.
      • Need to discover what is actually happening in pockets around the campus in facilitating undergraduate involvement in research.
      • Need to have general institution-wide discussions about contemporary research on how people learn and link those to specific discussions about the ‘why’ of a research-rich learning environment.
      • Need for institution-wide discussions about what research-rich means for our community, within and beyond the sciences; need to gain broader buy-in.
      • Need to maintain and advance nascent innovative programs beginning to achieve demonstrable success at the edges and reshaping our core, in a time of shrinking resources.
      • Need for a coherent “bottom-to-top” research-rich learning environment in all STEM departments that emphasizes discovery-based learning from day one.
      • Need to address students’ fear of ‘doing science.’
      • Need for strategies to “do it all”—to engage all students in discovery-based STEM learning, no matter their background while at the same time serving the students in the middle and the honors students most creatively.

  4. SCIENCE FOR ALL BARRIERS.
    1. Barriers to overcome to achieve a robust undergraduate STEM learning environment for all students.
      • Lack of information about student learning outcomes in the introductory sequence for non-majors (indeed in courses for prospective majors or current majors).
      • Non-majors view science as irrelevant to their academic major.
      • Courses that are perceived as being too difficult for general students; in reality courses that are designed to filter students out of STEM.
      • Student resistance to “first encounters” (to be the guinea pigs) with pilot programs.
      • Self-perceptions of students, who fall victim to their fear they are viewed by others as being less well-prepared.
      • Demands for research productivity of faculty.
      • Fear that courses that ‘engage’ students are in essence less rigorous or content-rich.
      • No connection to national discussions about pioneering efforts (why and how) to engage all students in STEM learning.
    2. Needs (& opportunities) to achieve a robust undergraduate STEM learning environment for all students.
      • Need to make an informed, institution-wide analysis of student learning, and to have people in place to do such an assessment.
      • Need to have a critical mass of campus leaders (administrators and faculty) attending to the work of supporting students who are, or are at risk to be, underperforming in STEM courses.
      • Need to develop a culture in which faculty are rewarded for strengthening student learning as well as for their research productivity.
      • Need to inform our broader constituency (parents, alumni, prospective supporters) about the value of a robust undergraduate STEM learning experience for all students.