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The Benefits of Discipline-based Communities for Faculty Teaching Development

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


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Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

Learnin' Lessons about Faculty Development

Tagged Division

Faculty Development Division

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Paper Authors


Margret Hjalmarson George Mason University

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Margret Hjalmarson is a Professor in the School of Education at George Mason University. Her research interests include engineering education, mathematics education, faculty development and mathematics teacher leadership.

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Jill K Nelson George Mason University

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Jill Nelson is an associate professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at George Mason University. She earned a BS in Electrical Engineering and a BA in Economics from Rice University in 1998. She attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for graduate study, earning an MS and PhD in Electrical Engineering in 2001 and 2005, respectively. Dr. Nelson's research focus is in statistical signal processing, specifically detection and estimation for applications in target tracking and physical layer communications. Her work on target detection and tracking is funded by the Office of Naval Research. Dr. Nelson is a 2010 recipient of the NSF CAREER Award. She is a member of Phi Beta Kappa, Tau Beta Pi, Eta Kappa Nu, and the IEEE Signal Processing, Communications, and Education Societies.

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This lessons learned paper focuses on a set of faculty development groups that were active in STEM departments over a multi-year period. These group operated based on the SIMPLE Design model for faculty teaching development, which provides a structure in which instructors meet on a regular (anywhere from weekly to monthly) basis to learn about research-supported teaching strategies and receive support and feedback as they try those strategies in their classes. A central element of these SIMPLE teaching development groups is that they are discipline based; groups are centered within a single department or anchored by a shared program or curriculum. This characteristic of the model was motivated in part by the fact that STEM instructors often find it challenging to translate general teaching advice and strategies to discipline-specific contexts. We hypothesized that grouping instructors by discipline would facilitate “translation.”

As part of the project studied in this paper, SIMPLE teaching development groups were formed in six STEM departments at a single large, research-focused institution. Some groups were active for only one academic year, while others were active for up to three academic years. Group members were interviewed yearly to learn about the structure and functioning of their groups, their motivation for participating, what they found most (and least) valuable about being part of the group, and if/how participation was impacting their teaching practice. As participants discussed the activities and discussion that took place within their groups, the impact of having a shared discipline among the participants within each group became evident. One benefit was that participants were familiar with the courses taught by other members of their group and could easily map prerequisite knowledge and skills through the curriculum. This allowed for more in-depth discussion of challenges and potential solutions in a course-specific context. A related benefit was the discipline-based group’s familiarity with standard teaching approaches for disciplinary content and their ability to assess potential advantages and disadvantages of an alternative teaching technique for that content.

This paper will present lessons learned about formation of teaching development groups around a particular discipline. It will discuss the impact of a shared discipline on the functioning of the six groups studied and on the value group members gained from participation. Data from interviews with participants will be used to provide concrete examples and support the conclusions drawn. We suggest that this lessons learned paper be presented as a lightning talk in order to support discussion with other participants who are also developing communities of practice.

Hjalmarson, M., & Nelson, J. K. (2020, June), The Benefits of Discipline-based Communities for Faculty Teaching Development Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--35293

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