Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education Program Book - 1997

University of Wisconsin

A Process for Curriculum Reform through Faculty Development in the Physical Sciences and Engineering

Research institutions such as UW-Madison commonly reward experimentation in research, but seldom reward classroom teaching and curriculum design. This problem is exacerbated because the majority of faculty are never exposed to educational theories or guided practice to assist them in their profession as teachers. Improvement in teaching methods and curriculum is needed not only to enhance the education of all students in the sciences, but also to reduce the high attrition of minorities and women in the physical sciences. The UW-Madison has developed a voluntary, cross-disciplinary, team-based process of faculty development that stimulates, facilitates, and supports innovations in the classroom and curriculum.

The UW-Madison College of Engineering was the originator of this faculty development program called "Creating a Collaborative Learning Environment" (CCLE). CCLE is a grassroots, faculty- driven and advised professional development process, which helps faculty develop themselves as teachers, collaborators, and learners.

CCLE has two stages of participation. In the first stage (Facilitated Teams), faculty work in small groups with a facilitator to learn about learning and to reflect upon and redesign their teaching. They collaborate to develop a group model of the learning process based on personal experiences as learners, with input from education theory and research. This team experience increases faculty awareness of the need for change and provides possibilities for changes in teaching content and approach.

The second stage of CCLE consists of two options for types of teams, Classroom Experimentation Teams or Advanced Learning Teams. This stage is designed to help faculty apply the theory derived in the first year's Facilitated Team or elaborate upon it. Classroom Experimentation Teams provide a framework for planned and recursive classroom experimentation. Faculty work in small groups to help each other plan, implement and assess changes in the classroom. They learn to mentor each other and to give each other positive, specific, and critical feedback.

The second type of Stage 2 team, the Advanced Learning Team, addresses the desires of some of the faculty to revisit some of the theoretical discussions from the initial Facilitated Team experience.

We are currently concluding our second year of expansion beyond the College of Engineering to include the Physical Sciences division at UW-Madison. Importantly, this year we broadened our invitation to include the UW Teaching Academy members (who span all disciplines). It is significant that the structure and activities of CCLE are attractive to faculty from disciplines as diverse as African Languages, History, Law, Urban Planning, Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, and Mechanical Engineering. We are very pleased with the response from the non-scientists, and have found the increased diversity of our new teams to be a distinct advantage over more homogeneous groups.

CCLE has also continued to be a support structure for course design since 1994. The first large-scale curriculum reform effort to be initiated in the College of Engineering, across disciplines, was created and implemented by the first Facilitated Team to "graduate" from the pilot CCLE. The team and the CCLE Director volunteered to develop a freshman course entitled, "Introduction to Engineering." It was designed to provide an experience for freshmen students to discover engineering by its practice and to make that experience realistic, rewarding, and successful.

CCLE continues to be involved in Phase II of the AAHE Peer Review of Teaching and Learning Project. We are finding that CCLE's basic premises of facilitated faculty team-work, structured work processes, examination of underlying assumptions and consensus on a group goal can be applied in many related efforts such as the Peer Review Project.

CCLE seeks to raise faculty awareness of the need for changes in teaching content and approach and innovations in curriculum. It seeks to help faculty critically question their own teaching, collaborate with peers effectively, and redesign teaching to create positive learning environments that meet the needs of a more diverse student population. Additionally, it provides a forum for faculty to communicate results with colleagues and to create new ideas and approaches. Faculty have opportunities to work with peers in a structured environment to develop new curricula that transcend traditional disciplinary lines to improve the span of knowledge and integrate it into more unified courses.

Katherine Sanders
Robert Skloot
Wisconsin Center for Education Research
345A Educational Sciences Building
1025 W. Johnson Street
Madison, WI 53706
Tel: (608) 263-4257
Fax: (608) 263-6448