This summer, faculty members and the greater STEM education community are coming together to share research and knowledge about STEM teaching and learning, equity and institutional transformation through a monthlong series of events hosted by AAAS’ Improving Undergraduate STEM Education Initiative (IUSE).
Also known as AAAS-IUSE, the initiative added to its wealth of resources with the launch of the AAAS-IUSE Summer Labs, a series of virtual sessions and workshops throughout June that provide sharing and learning opportunities for members of the IUSE community under the banner of “Catalyzing Inclusive, Transformative Undergraduate STEM Education.”
“The AAAS-IUSE Summer Labs provide unique opportunities to engage the entire undergraduate STEM education community, including researchers and practitioners, in the dissemination of proven best practices in teaching and learning and the fostering of future collaborations promoting additional research and implementation,” said Keith Sverdrup, lead NSF program officer of the IUSE program.
Among the offerings are an orientation for new awardees of grants through the National Science Foundation’s Improving Undergraduate STEM Education Program, through which AAAS-IUSE is funded, and grant management sessions. The lineup of events also includes a range of workshops and sessions with a particular focus on community transformation and on strengthening diversity, equity and inclusion at the classroom and institutional levels.
“By partnering with AAAS, NSF is able to significantly increase the broader impact of the IUSE program, extending the results of hundreds of IUSE grants to institutions and classrooms across the country,” added Sverdrup.
‘Turning Lemons into Lemonade’
Principal investigators and NSF program officers shared tips and strategies for “turning lemons into lemonade” in a June 3 workshop titled “What Happens When Things Go Off the Rails” about coping with unexpected roadblocks to planned project activities.
While many adjustments were unsurprisingly prompted by the challenges posed by the COVID-19, Jennifer Carinci, program director of STEM education research at AAAS and AAAS-IUSE principal investigator, noted that making challenge-related changes to improve upon original proposals is by no means limited to pandemic-related issues.
“The importance of being observant and adaptable, as well as keeping lines of communication open, to be able to realize opportunities that may originally present as obstacles is evergreen,” said Carinci.
Carinci added, “We are pleased to partner with NSF to provide in-demand resources like the Summer Labs and other programming our AAAS-IUSE Team has intentionally crafted based on listening to needs faculty have expressed.”
Britt Holbrook, IUSE principal investigator from the New Jersey Institute of Technology who shared his experience around when best laid plans don’t go as planned, said, “All remarked sort of spontaneously, this is great and not something that every other program does … there was broad consensus within my breakout group that this is a really great idea and this is a really great program and that this is something IUSE and AAAS should keep doing and be proud of.”
Strategies for Inclusive STEM Learning Environments
A June 4 Centering Identity workshop focused on strategies for designing coursework for STEM faculty that promotes inclusive teaching and learning: “important issues really at the center of improving undergraduate STEM education,” said Thomas Veague, community engagement manager for AAAS-IUSE.
In the interactive workshop, researchers shared findings from the Inclusive STEM Teaching Project, which aims to “advance the awareness, self-efficacy and the ability of doctoral students, postdocs and faculty to cultivate inclusive STEM learning environments for all their students and to develop themselves as reflective, inclusive practitioners,” according the project’s organizers.
Researchers shared highlights from their pilot courses for faculty and other participants to learn to foster inclusive classrooms – and previewed their upcoming Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) that will launch on edX on June 15. That course will also have in-person and virtual learning communities following along around the country.
“The crux of this project is really around social identity,” said Tazin Daniels, assistant director of the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching at the University of Michigan, who offered examples such as race, gender, ability status and religion. The project, Daniels added, is “contextualizing experiences of folks with diverse social identities against the larger systems of power and oppression that impact the education system as well as teaching and learning experiences.”
Daniels highlighted a number of features unique to their courses for faculty, graduate students and postdocs – and gave Summer Labs attendees a taste of these strategies in several interactive portions of the workshop.
She shared how their course uses filmed case studies to illustrate specific examples of how social identities can impact learning environments. By depicting examples of racism or sexism, for instance, the videos avoid “the desire to talk in abstractions” without putting the burden of sharing such examples on underrepresented and minoritized participants, Daniels said.
She also shared several ways that small group learning can further the aims of their course. Daniels noted that their course includes local learning communities, which have a number of benefits, she said. After all, not every campus or department has the same needs or priorities, so learning alongside others in similar environments is a benefit, as are the added accountability of synchronous connections and the ability to connect with colleagues with similar goals, Daniels said.
Local learning communities can also help center identity, which is important for faculty members and instructors who are seeking to center identity in their own classrooms, Daniels said. At the workshop, participants had the opportunity to connect with one another and center identity through icebreakers, with participants sharing brief stories of their name or a treasured object among small breakout groups.
Another type of small group learning, affinity spaces, offer a chance for “people who share similar identities can talk, unpack process and support each other on this journey as we go through some of these difficult scenarios and realizations,” Daniels said. Affinity spaces benefit learners from both majority and minority groups, she said.
Researchers also shared findings from their recent course pilots. Participants reported a greater awareness of strategies to learn more about their students and their identities and gained confidence in using inclusive design principles, said Bennett Goldberg, director of research in higher education, training and evaluation and professor of physics and astronomy at Northwestern University.
“It’s our responsibility as instructors to work on this consistently to create inclusive environments to reach all students and to treat all students with the opportunity of education in STEM,” said Goldberg.
AAAS-IUSE Summer Labs continues with workshops, working sessions, networking opportunities and more throughout June:
- June 15 workshop and June 16 working session: Pedagogical Professional Development for STEM Faculty: From Individual Change to Community Empowerment
- June 17 workshop: Utilizing a Principles-Focused Approach for Change Efforts
- June 22 keynote and sessions: Developing a New Faculty Model to Improve Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
"It is exciting to be hosting these events around important issues like promoting equity and institutional change to improve undergraduate STEM education,” said Lauren Manier, program associate at AAAS. “All of the presenters have been great, and we are eager to see how the IUSE community will take what they learned and apply it to their own classes and institutions."
The AAAS-IUSE Initiative also offers opportunities for individuals to write posts for The Disruptor blog and share project resources related to their research and best practices for undergraduate STEM education. Contact the AAAS-IUSE team to propose a collaboration, submit proposals for posts, presentations or resources at https://www.aaas-iuse.org/iuse-showcase-your-work-form/, and subscribe to the AAAS-IUSE list for further updates.