Volume VI: Issue I, No. 1

Welcome to PKAL: 2010 and Beyond

A Letter from Susan Elrod

Susan Elrod - 2010 AAC&U Annual Meeting
Susan Elrod - 2010 AAC&U Annual Meeting

Greetings to the PKAL Community:

I am learning that one of the greatest assets of Project Kaleidoscope (PKAL) is its community of dedicated colleagues engaged in advancing and instantiating what works in undergraduate STEM learning on individual campuses, within networks of academic institutions, and among the wide body of stakeholder organizations and agencies that share the PKAL vision of what works. I am also learning that the PKAL community is large: over 5000 individuals in all parts of the country (and even across the world) are connected to PKAL in a variety of ways: some only electronically through alerts and web postings; others through involvement as leaders, planners, facilitators, and participants in PKAL workshops, institutes, colloquia, or roundtables.

This all confirms my conviction that from the beginning (in 1989) PKAL has invested in building community as a strategy for reform efforts and as the vision toward which those efforts were directed. The PKAL community in 2010 and the PKAL accomplishments over the past twenty years is evidence that this building community strategy is the right investment to make.

During this first year of my work with PKAL, I will be actively involved with continuing PKAL projects, with a major focus on the Facilitating Interdisciplinary Learning initiative, funded by the W. M. Keck Foundation. Through this initiative, thirty campus teams from around the country are exploring and establishing models and frameworks for interdisciplinary STEM learning environments, assessment, and leadership at the institutional level.

Planning at an invitational roundtable in the spring sets the stage for a National Colloquium on Interdisciplinary STEM Learning at the National Academy of Sciences, October 15 – 16, 2010. Please note this on your calendar and watch for further details. This initiative, in its final year, promises exciting results not only for the PKAL community, but for the broader community. Attention to enhancing interdisciplinary learning is one way we can work together to meet the urgent challenge of offering and assessing a 21st century STEM curriculum that is relevant, inclusive and rigorous— for non-majors and majors— no matter the careers they are anticipating or pursuing. Following the Colloquium, we will be preparing a report to the community on lessons learned, what works, and next steps in facilitating interdisciplinary learning.

I am also looking forward to meeting you all, and am planning visits to campuses and regional networks this year as well as participating in the PKAL Summer Leadership Institute. I want to hear from you about your work as agent of change and gather your questions and ideas about the future of PKAL in partnership with AAC&U. One exciting aspect of this new partnership is the opportunity to bring the expertise and experience (and connections) of PKAL in many of AAC&U’s ongoing projects. To this end, I will be co-leader of a session at the upcoming AAC&U General Education and Assessment meeting (Seattle, February 19), addressing the topic of scientific literacy, global learning, and general education. I will also be serving on the faculty of the Engaging Departments and General Education summer institutes for AAC&U. For more on these and other meetings, please visit the AAC&U meetings website.

As this next phase of PKAL unfolds, I am finding the archives of PKAL projects and reports to be a rich source of both past knowledge and present inspiration. Please reflect with me on these words about ‘the next decade’ from the PKAL report published in 1999, “Then, Now and In the Next Decade:”

    Education should be seen as a seamless web from kindergarten to graduate school; then the quality of preparation of K-12 teachers, as well as the quality of preparation of graduate students for academic careers, can be addressed. Building (K-16) networks at the local, regional and national levels is deeded to give greater credibility, visibility, and support to faculty and teachers pursuing the revitalization of education. The quality of the human infrastructure needed for the success of current national efforts to sustain global leadership, and cost to build and maintain this infrastructure, must be a concern of legislative bodies, business and industry, funding agencies, and disciplinary societies. Special attention should be given to bringing greater numbers from groups currently underrepresented in STEM fields into these scholarly networks.

Does that describe where we are now?

We made an important first step in shaping PKAL’s future at the recent AAC&U meeting, and I was pleased at the energy and questioning spirit in the several sessions that focus on PKAL and that helped me begin to identify critical questions to wrestle with as I begin my tenure as PKAL Director. Some of these dealt with leadership; others with assessment and introductory courses. A more detailed report from the AAC&U meeting will be posted shortly. For more information on these sessions now, please visit the PKAL Sessions web page at AAC&U.

Finally, I am a technophile, and some of my contributions to the AAC&U Liberal Education Nation blog can be found here. I also extend an invitation for you to share with me thoughts about the transition of PKAL as it joins in partnership with AAC&U. Comment on the blog posts, or send me an email at elrod@aacu.org

We celebrated, at the AAC&U meeting, Jeanne Narum’s role as Founding Director of PKAL and I say thanks to all in the community who helped us celebrate. I am watching Jeanne begin to reinvent herself, in her ongoing role as Director of the Independent Colleges Office and as an AAC&U Senior Scholar. I know she is working on new plans to expand her focus on learning spaces, and I will invite her sometime in the future to share those plans with us.

Looking forward to hearing from you. This is exhilarating work.

Susan Elrod, Director- PKAL