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Studies of faculty adoption of instructional innovations and surveys of instructional practices in science

and engineering have identified several factors that instructors often perceive as obstacles to using more
research-based practices (for example, Henderson and Dancy, 2011; Jacobson, Davis, and Licklider, 1998;
Knight and Wood, 2005):

*Time involved in learning about new strategies and redesigning courses
*Concerns about ensuring that students are taught important content
*Concerns about students’ reactions to an unfamiliar teaching method and the impact on student course
*Concerns that a different strategy will not work as well, especially if it impacts tenure
*Departmental norms about teaching methods and other expectations
*Class size and classroom facilities
*Course scheduling issues

Although some of these factors are more myth than reality, several can present genuine challenges.
Henderson, Dancy, and Niewiadomska-Bugaj (2012) suggest that about one-third of the faculty who try
at least one research-based strategy abandon their reform efforts, often when they are confronted with
implementation challenges, such as student complaints, concerns about losing important content, or
weaker than expected student outcomes. In addition, faculty members frequently modify a research-
based strategy to suit their needs—a reasonable reaction, but one that can compromise effectiveness if
the modifications omit elements that are critical to the strategy’s success.

The good news is that real challenges can be overcome, particularly if departmental and institutional
leaders can be brought on board to address challenges that cannot be dealt with by individuals alone. Of
the faculty in multiple science disciplines at the University of British Columbia (UBC) who adopted
research-based instructional strategies with the support of the Carl Wieman Science Education Initiative,
only a tiny fraction—1 out of 70 individuals—quit using them, according to a study by Wieman,
Deslauriers, and Gilley (2013). In addition, more than 90 percent of the faculty adopters in the UBC physics
and geosciences departments, both of which had grants of five or more years to transform their
undergraduate courses, started using research-based strategies in other courses when they had the
opportunity, with minimal or no support from the Initiative. Sections taught using research-based
instruction had better student attendance, higher student engagement, and greater learning gains than
sections taught in traditional ways (Wieman, Deslauriers, and Gilley, 2013). The study authors speculate
that the direct support provided to adopting faculty members by a trained science education specialist in
their discipline was instrumental in helping them persist through the initial stages of implementation, and
that a supportive departmental environment was also a critical factor.

While departmental and institutional support is desirable and helpful, the lack of this support is not an
excuse for retaining the status quo. Individual instructors can still adopt and advocate for research-based
strategies even without the active involvement of their department or institution. Some well-known
pioneers of research-based practices report that when they started out many years ago, their department
provided little to no encouragement for their efforts or took a neutral stance—or “tolerated” them as
long as they brought in grant money, as one senior professor of physics at a state university noted.

In fact, many of the programs, models, and strategies highlighted in this book began with one or a few
instructors who were committed to improving their practice. While “lasting change is not created by lone
visionaries” (Chasteen et al., 2012, p. 75), individuals can plant a seed that blooms, propagates, and
flourishes with the right sustenance from colleagues and institutional leaders.

“The thing that transforms a department is not the department but the faculty in the department,” says
Eric Brewe,4 a physics professor at Florida International University. “If I’m a department chair and I want
to change the way my faculty teach, [I] have to support it—commit resources to it. But the research on
institutional change says that once you get to 20 percent of an organization, you can start to see some
momentum. In a department of, say, 30 faculty members, that’s 6 people. That’s not too much to ask for.”
This speaks to the need for instructors in the vanguard of reform to reach out to their colleagues in their
own institution.

The sections that follow examine the most common challenges that can be addressed by individuals—
those relating to time, content, and student reactions—and offer ideas for overcoming them. In addition,
the chapter suggests ways in which instructors can expand their knowledge and skills in research-based
practices so they are better prepared to face implementation challenges and to secure funding and other
resources to support more ambitious reforms. A final section suggests ways in which individual instructors
can help to create a departmental or an institutional culture that fosters research-based innovations in
teaching and learning