This Handbook is based on the Science Education Initiative (SEI), a transformative initiative aimed at changing STEM teaching practices in university settings. The SEI was successfully implemented in two institutions (University of Colorado Boulder and The University of British Columbia) over a period of 10 years. The SEI centered on department-based Discipline-Based Education Specialists (DBESs), disciplinary experts with training in the science of teaching and learning who serve as catalysts of change within departments. The two SEIs have influenced the teaching of hundreds of faculty and the learning of tens of thousands of students per year by promoting the use of evidence-based teaching practices in STEM. These teaching practices are informed by research on teaching and learning, and often include some element of active learning.
This Handbook shares the accumulated wisdom of practice in how to effectively implement a model of change based on the SEI.
We wrote this Handbook to help address a need—several needs, actually: a societal need to improve STEM education without continually reinventing the wheel. A program-level need to put together coherent, well-designed educational initiatives to effect real change. A department-level need to support engagement and learning among students and faculty. A faculty-level need to teach effectively and feel fulfilled in the classroom. And a need on the part of the folks at the front line of this model, the Discipline-Based Education Specialists (DBESs), to spend their time productively, doing the daily work needed to champion change at all the levels of the educational system.
We both care deeply about all of these needs, particularly for those of the DBESs. We have both worked in the Science Education Initiative (SEI) for a large part of our professional careers, first as postdoctoral fellows (DBESs) in physics and math and later as leaders of these initiatives and others like them. We have been thrilled to see so many others taking up the SEI model at other institutions as a potentially transportable model of change.
We often talk to others using the SEI model, discussing the challenges and effective practices that we learned during the SEI. “Don’t forget to have the postdocs complete monthly reports,” we’d say, or “offer incentives to engage faculty in transforming their courses.” We often worried that the lessons we learned in the SEI would be forgotten, that it wasn’t clear why these lessons were important, and that there might be unintended consequences for others taking up their own initiatives, discovered too late, if we didn’t share what we learned. We have written this Handbook in large part to relieve our own anxiety in being effective advisors to other SEI-like programs.
We know there’s a lot to keep track of; systemic change is a complex endeavor. It’s challenging enough that we felt the need to create this Handbook to complement the recent book about the SEI (Wieman, 2017), which discusses the history and outcomes of the two SEIs. We know you won’t do everything the way we did in the SEI; approaches will vary by local context. But our recommendations are hard-won and aligned with what is already known in institutional and organizational change, so we encourage you to consider them carefully. An initiative like the SEI is not magic; it is achievable by being deliberate and keeping track of important elements over a number of years.
On behalf of the SEI community, we welcome you and hope you will help us continue to learn about what works best for supporting deep improvements in education for students, faculty, departments, and the education community as a whole.
Stephanie Chasteen and Warren Code