An Assets Based Approach to STEM Faculty Teaching Development

Corey Ptak
Rutgers University

Need: There are persistent myths about why faculty do not adopt research-based teaching practices. A common assumption is that faculty are not aware of the problems of traditional instruction and need convincing. However, the available evidence suggests that a large portion of faculty recognize the problems with traditional instruction that are documented in the research literature and are well aware of the disadvantages of traditional methods but still fail to implement reformed instructional practices. Another common view is that faculty are just too busy or too research-oriented to care about implementing reforms. Yet, most new faculty, regardless of the type of institution, spent the majority of time working to improve their teaching. The problem with these commonly held views is that they are deficit framing towards faculty and ignore the complex system in which faculty exist. In reality, institutional structures prevent faculty from engaging in course reform and a deficit framing effectively undermines faculty agency. Faculty conduct their work in multiple, and often conflicting, historical and ideological contexts, facing critical organizational obstacles. The view of educational knowledge as a commodity, controlled and enforced by experts who deliver it to teachers who are assumed to be incapable or unwilling to engage in pedagogical change represents a significant barrier to agency. Blaming faculty for their unwillingness to change ignores how institutional reforms can be perceived as threats to faculty autonomy which in turn generates the faculty’s resistance to change. The Rutgers Teaching Excellence network seeks to reframe the conversation around faculty development by recognizing institutional barriers to teaching development while acknowledging the assets faculty bring as partners. Guiding Questions : The Structure and Change theoretical framework suggests that institutional structures and cultures define who within that institution has agency to make change. In higher education this manifests itself through value and reward structures and cultures around teaching which actively remove agency from faculty when it comes to investing in teaching reforms. We use this structure and agency framework to ask three broad research questions: What institutional structures and resources promote or inhibit faculty members’ agency to enact course transformations? Which institutional structures and resources promote or inhibit faculty members’ motivation to enact course transformation? How do motivated faculty agents drive structural changes to support and improve course transformation resources? To examine these research questions, we describe a set of programs that actively identifies and dismantles institutional barriers to faculty agency in teaching reform. Systematic study of the programs described will provide the data necessary to reach the specific aims of this proposal.Outcomes: This work has several important goals, including toEmpower faculty agency to produce sustained institutional change around teaching. Formalize the coordination of existing institutional resources for teaching within a Teaching Excellence Network to make resources and opportunities more visible and accessible. Design and implement new and complementary resources to decrease faculty barriers to course transformation. Engage institutional leadership in promoting and valuing teaching reform efforts. Generate knowledge on institutional change surrounding teaching and how faculty support programs influence faculty agency. Develop, assess, and disseminate best practices for teaching professional development for STEM faculty that results in lasting institutional and cultural change around teaching. Broader Impacts: Reformed pedagogies have been shown to have a significant impact on the retention and performance of students from under-represented groups. Thus, increasing the adoption of reformed pedagogies will broaden participation of under-represented groups in STEM. The programs in this proposal bring together campus partners and make resources more easily accessible in order to facilitate course redesign and scholarship/research in education thereby enhancing infrastructure for both research and education. Locally the programs in this proposal will impact up to 250 faculty and change the learning environment for an estimated 60,000 students. Beyond Rutgers we will be actively disseminating the results of this program to spread a holistic model of faculty professional development that enhances STEM faculty’s understanding of teaching and learning and inform institutional policies on faculty professional development.


M. Emenike, S. Blackwell, C. Ruggieri, P. Brown – Rutgers University New Brunswick N.J