2004 Denver Annual Meeting (November 7–10, 2004)

Paper No. 7
Presentation Time: 3:00 PM


SANDERS, Laura L., Earth Science, Northeastern Illinois Univ, 5500 N. St. Louis Ave, Chicago, IL 60625-4699 and SCHLACK, Nancy D., NASA Project, Northeastern Illinois Univ, 5500 N. St. Louis Ave, Chicago, IL 60625, L-Sanders@neiu.edu

Building an interdisciplinary faculty team to improve teaching and learning in the sciences and mathematics presents unique challenges. At Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago, a three-year effort used a team approach to help faculty from geology, chemistry, physics, and mathematics become more effective teachers. The overall project goal was to increase major enrollments in these four fields. Instead of stepping up recruiting efforts, we decided to entice students by providing them with more meaningful classroom experiences. We predicted students who had a better experience in entry level courses would persist into the upper levels and eventually would major in our fields.

The team of 11 faculty met twice monthly to discuss teaching, learning, assessment, and curriculum. We attended workshops on innovative pedagogies; engaged experts to work with us on active/collaborative learning, curriculum design, and use of technology; held work sessions to develop interdisciplinary space science-related curriculum materials; and visited each other’s classes to observe and provide constructive feedback.

Three factors were key: holding a team retreat early in the project, hiring an extrovert, and providing food at gatherings. Working as a team to overcome pedagogic inertia requires trusting one’s teammates. We helped develop it at a team retreat with the goal of improving communication and discerning our shared values. Before the project, we taught and worked in relative isolation. We were conscientious Myers-Briggs introverts who cared deeply about teaching, but rarely talked about it. Providing food at gatherings helped enormously to build community among this group. More important, we hired a project director who was not only an expert in inquiry-based methods, but an extrovert who brought us together and kindly insisted that we talk to each other.

By the end of the project, the number of majors in the four disciplines increased 21% (n=261 to 316), while enrollments in the university as a whole increased only 8% (10,941 to 11, 825). The number of minority students majoring in our fields increased 30% (115 to 149), while in the university it increased only 10% (5466 to 6010). Project funding: NASA and the United Negro College Fund Special Programs Corporation, Curriculum Infusion Partnership Award.