Improving Our Collaborations: A New Survey for Instructional Change Teams in Undergraduate STEM

Alice Olmstead
Assistant Professor
Texas State University

Need: Much progress has been made in understanding how to foster undergraduate learning in STEM courses. We also now understand that change strategies beyond those focused on individual instructors are likely necessary to generate lasting change. Team-based approaches to improving undergraduate STEM have significant promise and are becoming more widespread. Yet establishing effective teams can be challenging, as team interactions can be highly complex, and not all teams are equally successful. Moreover, supporting teams can be quite resource intensive for change agents, funding agencies, and institutions. Thus, team leaders and other change agents need evidence-based guidance to help them create high-functioning teams and navigate emergent challenges.

Guiding questions: Our work focuses on instructional change teams, i.e., groups of three or more stakeholders, including faculty, who are working together to redesign a course or set of courses, in undergraduate STEM. In our prior research, we developed a model of instructional change teams that includes elements in four categories: team inputs (how teams are set up), team processes (how teams work together), emergent states (how teams think and feel about their work), and team outcomes. Our primary research question is: “How do elements of team setup correlate with team processes and emergent states, and with team outcomes?” As we address this question, we will explore the interrelationships between all of the major pieces in our model. We are also addressing the practical question: How can we share team member responses to our new survey instrument in ways that are useful for team/project leaders and team members?

Outcomes: We have created a pilot survey that measures team members’ perceptions of five key team processes and three emergent states. The team processes are: strategic leadership, egalitarian power dynamics, team member commitment, effective communication, clear decision-making processes. The emergent states are: shared vision, psychological safety, team cohesion. The survey also measures aspects of team setup and team members’ perceptions of their progress/outcomes, including the quality and sustainability of instructional changes, collaboration changes, and individual changes. We anticipate ending the project with a validated survey and the ability to automatically generate formative reports for teams.

Broader impacts: We are engaged in ongoing data collection and sharing of team-specific survey results through collaboration with leaders of instructional change teams across the U.S. We have surveyed and provided summary reports to a small pilot group that included 9 teams, and anticipate that these numbers will increase by the end of Spring 2022. As such, we are guiding local change efforts by sharing evidence-based formative feedback with team/project leaders. We will ultimately generate research-based recommendations about how to set up teams for success that can be used alone or in coordination with our validated survey instrument, which we aim to make freely available and accessible online. Thus, this project will contribute to sustained improvements to undergraduate STEM instruction at higher education institutions across the U.S., which in turn will impact the experiences of thousands of current and future undergraduate STEM students.


Andrea Beach, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, MI; Amreen Nasim Thompson, Texas State University, San Marcos, TX; Diana Sachmpazidi, University of Maryland, College Park, MD; Charles Henderson, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, MI; Cynthia Luxford, Texas State University, San Marcos, TX;