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Faculty Research Collaboration

NSF Improving Undergraduate STEM Education: HSI Program

Building Culturally Diverse STEM Communities

By Heather Galloway Department of Physics and Honors College Dean

Learning assistant preparation meeting
Learning Assistant preparation meeting

“By focusing on student-faculty engagement, we hope to make the most of one of Texas State’s valuable resources—a diverse student population.”

May workshop, thanking all our participants
May workshop, thanking all our participants

Research in teaching and learning for STEM disciplines has led many colleges and universities to incorporate active learning strategies and other evidence-based practices. However, Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSI) such as Texas State often have fewer resources, and some recommended instructional changes have not been evaluated in culturally diverse institutions.

We have been awarded a $2.5M grant from NSF over five years to implement and study a comprehensive instructional change effort in the College of Science and Engineering (COSE) at Texas State University. Our goal is to improve the already stellar instruction in the college while also researching effective practices at an HSI. By focusing on student-faculty engagement, we hope to make the most of one of Texas State’s valuable resources—a diverse student population.

Our research team consists of faculty members from multiple disciplines: while I serve as PI (Physics/Honors), co-PIs are Eleanor Close (Physics), Li Feng (Finance and Economics), Cindy Luxford (Chemistry), and Alice Olmstead (Physics). The team also includes postdoctoral researchers Mavreen Tuvilla and Jiwoo An Pierson. We attribute our success in getting this grant to our enjoyment of working as a team.

Once we received the grant, we invited all COSE faculty who teach undergraduates to join us in the project.  We are hosting events and professional development activities, including a large workshop we held in May with 54 attendees. In fact, a quarter of COSE faculty have been to at least one of our events. Currently, we are working with four teams to provide them with more information about students in their classes and will continue to provide support as they plan improvements for a particular class in their department. More teams will be added each year during the five-year project.

May workshop, Faculty celebrating their hard work
May workshop, faculty celebrating their hard work

This year our focus will be on increasing student participation.  We are surveying students and having them participate as panelists at some of our workshops so faculty can learn more about the student experience at Texas State. We will also pilot projects using Learning Assistants (LAs). LAs are undergraduates who have been prepared to work in an interactive classroom and in close partnership with faculty.  Since peer teaching in undergraduate courses is a long-standing practice at Texas State with positive outcomes, we know faculty see the value of engaging with students in this way. Although our change effort is not solely focused on Learning Assistants, the evidence from efforts at other schools shows significant improvement in student success outcomes in courses and in the LAs’ development.

During each step of the process, we are measuring shifts in faculty knowledge, perceptions of students, and instructional practices. We are also evaluating the trajectory of STEM students at Texas State, which includes conducting the first nation-wide evaluation of Learning Assistants after they have entered the workforce.

We are excited about this grant because the work is important, but we have also enjoyed the chance to share our joy in working together with others. The heart of our effort is to support faculty teams to improve instruction and to support the entire community of COSE faculty.  During this strange time of remote teaching, working together is more challenging and more important than ever. We hope to see all COSE faculty at one of our future events.