PKAL Faculty for the 21st Century

Ann Catherine Smith

What works: Observations from the field

Ann Smith is Director of Undergraduate Programs in the Department of Cell Biology and Molecular Genetics at the University of Maryland College Park.

Faculty for the 21st Century members reflect on their experience in making a difference for their students and for the communities of which they are a part.

What kind of institutional culture needs to be in place to nurture careers of faculty actively seeking to integrate their research and teaching?

Community, opportunity for recognition, support from the administration, and seed money. I have seen the importance of each in two endeavors where I have been involved. The third example is one that has just been initiated at University of Maryland. Now I am serving as an Interim Assistant Dean in the College of Undergraduate Studies. I have been watching this third example unfold. I believe it has all the potential for success and will represent an excellent example of faculty integrating research and teaching.

Example at the course level:

For the past ten years, I have worked with my colleagues who have also been assigned to teach a large lecture general microbiology course. The team consisted of a mixture of research faculty and instructors like myself. In a single year there could be three faculty members involved as course instructors with as many as 800 students. By creating a community among the instructors we found a venue to completely change the nature of the course. We also found a way that the research faculty in the course could be involved in scholarship of teaching projects without affecting their research lab productivity. By working as a team, we created a community in which to share the best of what each of us brought to the course.. Research faculty contributed their expertise to case studies and course power points. Instructors attended science education meetings and brought new ideas about best practices for the large lecture course. In the end our community approach to teaching not only involved shared development of course materials, but perhaps more important, shared use of all materials that we developed. As the course now moves to new instructors, the community aspect of the course continues, new faculty have moved in to the community, first sharing of the accumulated resources and then eventually adding to the course. Through this model the course has evolved to meet student and faculty needs.

In this case “community” was the most significant aspect that allowed faculty to integrate research and teaching. But the work that we did together brought us recognition, one published paper and a number of teaching awards. This recognition has further supported the benefit of this team model to those of us who took the time to formulate the model. Also, from at least one of the awards we received, along with the monetary support from our department, allowed us to travel to science education meetings to learn and share ideas. Thus community, recognition, and some small amount of funds brought research- active faculty together with instructors integrating research and teaching on multiple levels.

Example at the Department/College Level:

Two years ago our College ( Chemical and Life Sciences) designated a portion of its Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) grant toward curriculum development. Faculty groups competed for small grants that would support a graduate student or post doc for two years as well as some faculty summer salary.

Our group (the Host Pathogen Interactions teaching group) received support formed with the premise that faculty working on courses as a team will make greater strides than working alone. This team had as its base the faculty whose research area includes host pathogen interactions, who already meet as a research group, and contribute to one of the eight courses that cover HPI concepts. Also joining the group were instructors who taught in these courses but did not have research labs, and a faculty member with an emphasis in science education.

The group met to discuss published best practices for teaching and sought to create opportunities that linked the eight HPI courses on our campus, so that students taking one course would be able to understand that material from their next course, thus deepening their understanding of the HPI concepts. Each semester the group of faculty targeted a particular project, such as writing case studies or using concepts maps. Also we worked on an assessment tool, now in its third revision; we hope this tool will be useful as a HPI concept inventory assessment and will be useful as a pre- and post- test to measure progress in facilitating student learning.

Again the community support provides sharing of best practices and more people to work on teaching projects. Further there has been a mentoring aspect as new faculty learn from those more experienced in the classroom. As the topic of instruction is also the research area of all research faculty of the team, this team has found a useful way to bring experts in host pathogen research to the table to discuss teaching enabling research faculty to integrate teaching and learning more effectively. Everyone in the group has reported that the community has been a positive experience. This is further evident in that we have had consistent participation over two years. The benefits from the group work is being recognized by our College as we report out at various meetings relevant to the HHMI funding. Further we have presented work from our projects at two national meetings, have submitted one paper and have abstracts submitted for two additional national conferences. This provides recognition to the faculty involved but the team effort has made the work reasonable. The seed money from the College got the group started and we have benefited from having a funded graduate student. We used the summer salary allotment to support our workshops and monthly group meetings.

Example at the University level:

This example describes a recently-released request for proposals from the UM Office of Undergraduate Studies (this office supports campus-wide initiatives in undergraduate education). Along with the support of the Provost, the Dean of the Office of Undergraduate Studies has put out a call for “marquee courses aimed at generating appreciation and understanding for how science works to provide solutions to present and future world challenges.” A primary goal of these courses will be to improve the understanding and appreciation of science for students not choosing to major in science. This call asks for faculty from science colleges to design large enrollment courses that will use their discipline to teach students about how science answers questions. Many of the courses will likely be problem-based: requiring students to struggle with a contemporary or predicted problem, threat, issue, or challenge (global warming, energy policy, and emerging health issues) where possible solutions are expected to be found in the application of scientific understanding and principles.

This initiative will provide recognition to the faculty teaching these courses. These “marquee” courses will be advertised as special by the Office of Undergraduate Studies. Further seed money is offered to all instructors to use as they like to support the course development. The project will develop a community of educators at Maryland interested in addressing the need to improve the education of all students with respect to STEM disciplines.

This is an exciting endeavor spearheaded outside the college of science to bring together interested faculty across colleges to address this nationally-recognized concern about science literacy as they develop truly unique courses. The efforts of the faculty will be recognized, supported, leading to a greater community of scholars. This community will support instructors in their struggle with the challenges of teaching large courses. They will also be an opportunity for research faculty at Maryland from various STEM disciplines, to discuss current world problems that may find a solution in science and to determine how best to bring these problems/issues to the classroom in a notable manner that will have far reaching consequences for UM students.