Transforming STEM Education at a Research 1 University through Multi-Level Action Teams

Paula Lemons
Associate Dean and Professor
University of Georgia

Transforming STEM Education Through Multi-Level ActionNeed: Research-intensive universities in the U.S. need new core commitments that can serve as the rallying call and target for institutional improvement in STEM education. R1 universities need to move beyond the status quo to: center diversity, equity, and inclusion for students and faculty; use evidence in decision making; and foster continuous teaching improvement. The goal of the DeLTA project is to align STEM education at the University of Georgia with these core commitments through cultural and cognitive transformation at the university and department level.Guiding questions: The DeLTA project creates transformation through a department-level Leadership Action Team and university-level policy initiatives. The Leadership Action Team consists of department heads from 13 STEM units who meet regularly to reconsider department policies and practices related to inclusive and equitable practices in teaching evaluation. Facilitators promote interaction among department heads to stimulate action beyond the meetings and reflection on departmental practices that reveal underlying assumptions. University-level policy initiatives involve DeLTA working strategically within the structures of university committees to develop and implement policies pertaining to equitable and inclusive teaching evaluation. Concurrently, DeLTA conducts research on the extent to which individual and organizational thinking and actions develop toward the core commitments.Outcomes: Two important university-level policy initiatives have been achieved. DeLTA partnered with the Office of Faculty Affairs to revise the promotion and tenure guidelines regarding how to document teaching effectiveness. DeLTA also partnered with a university committee tasked by the President to create a comprehensive new teaching evaluation policy, which was recently approved. These university-level policy initiatives shift teaching evaluation from undefined teaching excellence toward evidence of teaching effectiveness, from methods subject to bias toward methods that mitigate bias, and from assuming everyone starts as an excellent teacher toward an emphasis on continuous improvement.Through the department-level Leadership Action Team, STEM department heads have recognized the need to improve their departmental systems, and are willing to engage in STEM educational reform, yet they need new knowledge and facilitation. Several STEM departments have implemented new teaching evaluation structures and practices, including teaching evaluation committees, peer observation and feedback protocols, and instructor self-reflection guides that faculty are expected to respond to in annual evaluation reports. Regarding research, DeLTA created the research-based Guides to Advance Teaching Evaluation (GATEs). GATES assists STEM departments as they self-assess their current teaching evaluation practices, build a long-term vision for reform, and develop robust practices. DeLTA also uses GATEs as a research tool, systematically documenting the teaching evaluation practices in participating departments. Broader Impacts: The implementation and study of DeLTA is leading to multiple broader impacts. The work is producing theoretically-grounded research tools that can be used by other institutions studying STEM education reform. DeLTA is promoting learning at all levels of the institution by facilitating long-term opportunities to explore and integrate knowledge about teaching, learning, and higher education reform among department heads and institutional leaders. The project is building human resources by employing and mentoring multiple undergraduates, graduate students, and postdoctoral scholars.


Paula Lemons, University of Georgia; Tessa Andrews, University of Georgia; Peggy Brickman, University of Georgia; Erin Dolan, University of Georgia