Research on Institutional Change and Professional Development

Kelsey Bitting, Northeastern University; Leilani Arthurs, University of Colorado at Boulder; LeeAnna Chapman, University of San Diego; Heather Macdonald, College of William and Mary; and Cathy Manduca, SERC-Carleton College


Over the past 20 years, numerous institutions and groups have repeatedly called for changes in undergraduate STEM education in the United States in order to develop a stronger, more diverse STEM workforce, to foster a more scientifically literate society, and to improve equitable access to education for all. We now know that students frequently leave science majors because of instructional experiences and lack of advising and mentoring, rather than because they lack the ability to succeed (e.g., Griffith, 2010; Seymour & Hewitt, 1997). Pressing environmental and societal challenges require additional geoscience majors from a wider range of backgrounds, well-prepared K-12 Earth science teachers, and a scientifically-literate citizenry. To achieve these goals, geoscience education must make substantial improvements in areas as broad as instruction, mentoring and advising, and departmental climate. Our ability to change can be supported by a better understanding of how educators, departments, and institutions change and how professional development opportunities foster and support productive change.

Undergraduate geoscience education brings together students' experience in the classroom, field, and laboratory, in co-curricular activities, and in the formal and informal interactions among students, faculty, staff, and administration. Improvements in geoscience education require change in this complex system. Here we consider how future GER can address issues of change in institutions of higher education and professional development that will promote high-quality geoscience education. Specifically, we focus on three components with the potential to influence geoscience education: the individual geoscience instructor, the departments and programs in which geoscience instructors teach, and the broader communities in which these departments operate (Figure 1).

Drawing on this context and the strong research base in institutional change and education-related professional development, we identified the three Grand Challenges (below) to guide research on institutional change and professional development in the geosciences.

Grand Challenges

Grand Challenge 1: How can we best support the continual growth of geoscience instructors' ability to teach effectively and implement research-supported teaching practices as they progress in their practice? How does the individual's cumulative experience, position type, institutional context, and the nature of the desired learning impact the type of learning opportunities that are most effective?

Instructors design and implement learning experiences, interact individually with students and manage classroom climate, and are commonly on the front lines of mentoring and advising. As we seek to broaden participation and accelerate change, further work is needed to understand how an instructor's personal history and identity interact with departmental, institutional, and disciplinary context and culture to motivate and sustain continual geoscience instructor growth and learning.

Grand Challenge 2: How can departments and programs support continuous improvement in undergraduate geoscience education?

Healthy geoscience departments and programs can be conceptualized as complex systems in which new and potentially valuable ideas about teaching and learning enter the system continuously and are discussed, experimented with, and implemented freely. Further work will need to clarify factors contributing to department or program health from both within (departmental climate) and beyond the department itself (e.g. academic advising, employers, disciplinary societies).

Grand Challenge 3: What roles do different types of professional development experiences play in promoting, facilitating, and sustaining ongoing evolution in geoscience instructors' teaching practices over time?

Geoscience educators have a rich palette of ways to learn and improve their practice, including on-campus interdisciplinary professional development, geoscience-specific opportunities offered by professional societies, in-department trainings, and national community of transformation meetings, as well as formal and informal exchanges.with peers. Changes in practice over time that may follow these learning experiences are often non-linear and multi-directional, and must be further explored.

Citation for this chapter: Bitting, Kelsey; Arthurs, Leilani; Chapman, LeeAnna; Macdonald, Heather; and Manduca, Cathy (2018). "Research on Institutional Change and Professional Development". In St. John, K (Ed.) (2018). Community Framework for Geoscience Education Research. National Association of Geoscience Teachers.

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