Project Kaleidoscope

Reflections on 2006

The beginning (almost) of a new year is time to step back, reflect on the past and the future of PKAL. Such a pursuit is particularly timely for several reasons. Through the PKAL Leadership Initiative (LI), we are beginning to uncover new “how-to” lessons in regard to pursuing systemic and sustainable transformation of the undergraduate STEM learning environment. Some of the resources prepared for and emerging from the LI experience have been posted on the PKAL website; others will be posted in the spring of 2007. Our plan is to capture the LI experience in a major publication on institutional transformation, a companion to PKAL’s handbook on facilities planning.

Another catalyst for these reflections is the evolution of plans for PKAL’s future, building from a series of white papers prepared by the PKAL National Steering Committee. A new PKAL Board of Directors has been named. They will be working with other PKAL leaders, including PKAL F21 members, to develop proposals and implement plans to address key directions outlined in the white papers on the future of PKAL, which include:

  • continuing and expanding efforts to develop leaders for the undergraduate STEM community, with special attention to faculty at all career stages–including but going beyond pre-tenure faculty
  • shaping new institutional transformation initiatives that respond to the increasingly interdisciplinary nature of 21st century science and technology–how it is practiced and thus how it must be learned
  • becoming more intentional and systematic in building, supporting and enhancing topical, local and regional, and national networks taking formal responsibility for developing leaders in STEM fields.

In looking to PKAL’s future, it has been important to build from the past. From the first, PKAL leaders have had a vision about student learning; in the opening chapter of PKAL Volume I, our first major report (1991), we posed some fundamental questions that are still relevant today:

  • Scientists love doing science. How can the curriculum be organized so as to induce science students to enjoy science from the first day?
  • Real science is carried out by teams in settings where face-to-face communication and shared values create a common culture. How can students begin to develop a sense of membership in a science community from the very first day?
  • Science is a human enterprise, internally connected, and linked also with the world, with other disciplines, with social and political forces. Beliefs and actions regarding science have important consequences. How can we teach science so that those connections and consequences are visible and appreciated from the very first day?

The approach taken by early PKAL leaders to answer those questions was to ask a further question:

From my personal experience in classroom and lab, what worked for me?

As PKAL moves into its future, these kind of questions are still on the table. It will be important to note if and how the answers change in a STEM world that is increasingly interdisciplinary and interconnected.