Impact of Keck/PKAL Reports
During a review of the program, institutions receiving a Keck/PKAL consultant visit were asked to identify the most helpful recommendation and indicate how the campus community had responded.
The most useful was to keep thinking about our goals and to keep on track with our planning. In that there is no consensus on abandoning standard lecture/lab format, we have arrived at spaces that are flexible to allow for a variety of teaching methods.
The recommendation to move more quickly on developing and approving a campus master plan was a critical one, in that it advanced and formalized our planning. This recommendation was connected to those regarding the identification of a project shepherd and exploring options for contracting out the project that were also valuable, as was the recommendation to study the impact of new facilities on the annual budget and to expand the physical plant staff.
The need for the dean to develop and articulate a vision for the sciences received the most immediate and visible attention, leading to a report to the Board of Trustees that identified support for the sciences as the #1 institutional priority.
The recommendation to link the parallel, but heretofore disconnected, efforts to plan a new science facility, develop a new campus plan, and draft a strategic capital campaign plan was stalled at first. Since the science faculty did not believe a new building was to be a reality, they were not motivated to take such discussions seriously; now that the project is on-line, faculty are involved.
Having us rethink the adjacencies in the proposed addition was a valuable recommendation, and now our laboratories, support rooms and offices are much better integrated than they would have been This has had particular impact on how the student research spaces and faculty research space connect to the support spaces; prior to the consultancy we had been trying to save dollars by not moving support spaces. We've also honored their recommendation for extensive student study areas.
The impact has been great, in particular the discussions between the consultants and the administrators which brought to light new issues relating to the facilities planning project. They also helped the faculty be more realistic and careful in thinking about what we might want in the new spaces, but also more confident in asking for what we really wanted, since we have worked so hard to "make do" with our current spaces.
Until the consultancy, faculty had had little access to administrators, with "conversations" limited to written reports from chairs. This consultancy effectively opened the door for communication, which continues to this day. Although a new facility is still some time away, we do have exciting news to report. One of the key administrators to meet with the consultants was our provost, who became convinced of our needs and supported our efforts to renovate a space into a modern learning laboratory and we are now in our inaugural semester in this biotechnology laboratory– the first student-dedicated research space in our department.
While almost all recommendations proved ultimately to be useful, probably the most useful in the short term were those to commission a mechanical engineering consultant to evaluate our existing lab, to develop a prototype teaching laboratory and to commission the preparation of a new physical master plan. We have converted on classroom into a prototype teaching laboratory and it is now used to teach the new math, science, and technology course, as well as courses in introductory biology, math, and college writing. We hope to incorporate our experiences with this prototype lab into the design of our new building.
To start small, by rearranging existing furniture to accommodate collaborative learning. Based on our actions relating to this recommendation, we've been able to convince the administration to replace armchair desks with tables and chairs.
As with facilities planning, the recommendations in regard to curricular development (in our case K-16 connections) were to expand the group "at the table." A Curricular Task Force has been meeting and has identified five ways in which to collaborate.
The major recommendation was to break down the barriers between biology and chemistry, and there has been some progress. The chairs now meet regularly and courses are scheduled so students have as little conflict as possible between the two majors. The two departments are collaborating in paying for equipment upkeep and for materials. The continued team-teaching is meeting with varied success, as students seem to have a hard time switching from one instructional style to another. Students also still see the boundaries between the departments as impediments.
The need to maintain and increase synergistic ties between biology and chemistry is being addressed. In part as the four-semester requirement for introductory biology courses is revisited (perhaps ending with organic chemistry in the first year).
The most immediately useful recommendation was how to revise our courses to take advantage of the new semester calendar to switch to less lecture and more lab time; we also appreciated their advice to allow the numerous general chemistry sections to evolve independently, without a common syllabus. The most important long-term was the recommendation to develop a five-year plan for our classroom and lab instructional programs.
The recommendation to develop a departmental plan for the regular submission of proposals for external support has been the most useful, because it is something that requires no institutional support and can be done by small teams of faculty. We have in place a logical sequence for securing support and have received three major grants in the past two years.
During the consultants' visit we arrived at a departmental consensus to rethink the introductory biology curriculum and to implement a more integrated "workshop" approach. We are still working to get this right. It is working well in one course, in the midst of implementation in the 2nd and starting in the 3rd. One mistake we made: intending to free up faculty resources for other courses, we reduced the faculty allocation to intro courses; this has proven to be unrealistic, providing not enough time for work with students.
We gained advice on how to integrate science and mathematics and how to prepare a proposal for required instrumentation. Our collective efforts to integrate efforts have trickled down into the individual courses the three of us teach.
Part of the challenge was dealing with the timing, considering the context of larger institutional curricular change as we thought about changes in the sciences. But the advice from the consultants gave credibility to nascent plans for interdisciplinary efforts, together with advice about how to go about this at the grass roots level. In particular, the consultancy brought psychology more explicitly into the faculty of Natural Science and Mathematics and discussions were initiated for an interdisciplinary program (which is now in place).
The recommendation that administrators be more sensitive to potential faculty burn-out has been addressed. Faculty in greater numbers have requested, and been awarded, leaves; a stockroom assistant and lab coordinators have been added; faculty size has been increased and PKAL workshop participation supported. It was not possible to make a joint biochemistry appointment, given the cumbersome nature of the administration.
The most valuable recommendation was in regard to qualifications of faculty appointments in the department of psychology, which led us to close the search, redefine and reopen the position. A strong person has just been appointed.
Recommendations were reviewed collectively by senior administrators, the facilities planning task force, the curriculum task force, and by the entire faculty.
The recommendation most welcomed by the faculty was for an institutional grants officer, but given budgetary constraints and competing interests, it has been difficult to convince the administration to move ahead on this– with continuing high demands on faculty time to prepare competitive requests for external support.
The recommendations for college-wide attention to computer needs and maintenance is not yet addressed, given budget constraints.
To address and implement the recommendations, we had numerous meetings with all departments and with the Provost.