How Supporting Faculty Through Communities of Practice Leads to More Equitable Teaching Practices

Lucas Myers, Lower Columbia College, Washington State Community College System

In the Spring of 2020, STEM faculty across the Washington State Community and Technical Colleges (WA CTC) system were forced to quickly move face-to-face labs and other STEM-related courses to a new online format. Through the creation of an online Community of Practice (CoP), the WA CTC system provides professional development and support for STEM faculty while also creating a space to discuss broader initiatives like racial equity in STEM education.

Responding to Faculty and Student Needs

To support STEM faculty across the state of Washington, Lucas Myers worked with the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges and their staff to develop online (using zoom, Instructure, and Google) STEM Communities of Practice (CoPs). The STEM CoPs are faculty-driven learning collectives designed to help the system lead with racial equity by supporting educators in creating significant and equitable learning environments for students in STEM. As of Spring 2021 there were over 500 faculty from all 34 WA CTC institutions signed up to participate. CoPs are:

  • coordinated by STEM discipline,
  • organized to meet bi-weekly,
  • focused on creating successful online learning environments that were low cost, low tech, and led with equity,
  • and used the Instructure Learning Management System (Canvas) to create shared assignments, activities, assessments, and teaching strategies that were based on the goal of producing high quality, equitable STEM education in an online environment.

Additionally, one faculty member from each discipline group served on a faculty leadership team with one representative as a part of the overall CoP leadership team. Leadership teams met weekly to discuss the needs and goals of each discipline and the direction of the CoPs.

This [CoP] was a lifesaver when we were suddenly forced online. Thank you! I think the reason I keep going is a chance to share ideas across the colleges. It’s worth it.

Implications Beyond the Pandemic

Key takeaways from this work include:

  1. Centering faculty leadership in professional development increases buy in from all faculty. With faculty being the leadership structure in the professional development setting, trust increases as faculty have a sense of shared experience and are willing to trust the professional development process. The faculty leadership model also creates a space for authentic development, adaptation, and community development across the state of Washington.
  2. Building a network of peer support is important to support faculty during difficult times while also creating the space to explore longer-term goals. The CoP network provides a weekly/monthly place for faculty to ask questions, receive affirmation on their work, grow as educators and practitioners, and support educators’ mental well-being during difficult times. This supportive environment also creates the space to discuss longer-term goals and challenging topics like incorporating equitable practices in STEM courses and more (See goals described in #4 and #5 below).
  3. Using technology like Zoom, Instructure (Canvas), and Google furthers faculty development. Through Zoom, the CoPs are able to hold meetings with faculty from 30+ institutions across the state. Platforms like Canvas and Google further support the CoPs by providing a shared space for collaboration where faculty could post work, resources, templates, discussions, etc. for the mutual benefit of all participants.
  4. Developing equitable, low cost, low tech STEM education that results in a significant learning experiences is important to support students. Resources faculty worked together to create include:
  5. Meeting in STEM CoPs provides an avenue to align work with broader state-wide goals, like Guided Pathways, to improve consistency across state institutions and allow for discussions and action on topics like improving introductory STEM courses through a racial equity lens and supporting 2-4 year transfer pathways.

As a leadership team, we spent time exploring research and work around racial equity and what that meant for online STEM instruction and STEM curriculum development. Then each lead made sure to be purposeful about framing our conversations around equity. If the topic of assessment was being discussed (which it did often), then we made sure to keep our lens of racial equity up while discussing assessment – including bringing in resources (linked above) to help faculty realize how they could best adapt their assessments and online instruction to address equity. We also had specific conversations and topics throughout the CoP meetings addressing all of these topics, from transfer pathways, to introductory STEM courses, to guided pathways work. Many of the faculty involved in the CoPs are heavily involved in the Guided Pathways reform on their campuses, which created momentum and consistency in our work. -Lucas Myers

Learn more about the Washington Community College System STEM CoPs.