It is important to keep in mind that implementing the kinds of changes made in the IMPULSE program requires hard work, planning, and access to good resources. During our interviews with the IMPULSE instructors, we explicitly asked "how" questions, such as:
We also asked them for advice they would give to others who are about to embark on this path--things they would have appreciated knowing before they got started. Drawing on their responses to these questions, we present IMPULSE faculty insights and advice on how to implement the kind of learning environment they have developed. We start with the personal resources and processes for learning from colleagues across the nation that the IMPULSE faculty believe are crucial for "getting going." We then consider technical resource issues, which can pose major problems for faculty at many institutions. We finish by presenting a set of issues pertaining to the cultural and institutional factors that shape faculty teaching and student learning practices.
1. Personal Resources
As the leader of a program of this type, Nick had valuable personal resources. He drew on his two positions within the university--member of the Electrical and Computer Engineering faculty and Associate Dean for Undergraduate Programs in the College of Engineering-- to promote this programa. We also learned that Nick has charisma and vision, and is an astute leader. For example, he orchestrated one of the key processes that enabled this change at UMD, the formation of a working group of faculty across many disciplines who already had demonstrated a strong interest in reformb. As one of these instructors, Bob Kowalczyk (mathematics), explained, "I think what brought me into it was that I'd been using technology and teaching mathematics for quite a while, and when Nick talked about this new kind of idea--using technology with engineers and even a computer classroom, that sounded very exciting to me." (For more on Nick's role as a leader, see Discussion 3. The role of organizational savvy. Additional insights into the role of leadership in launching this program can be found in Discussion 1. History of the IMPULSE Program.)
Reform-ready, technology-savvy frame of mind
Interest in integration across disciplines
These reformers' commitment to the integrated curriculum of IMPULSE is also evident in their wholesale reorganization of the content they teach. Bob Kowalczyk described how he adjusted topic order in his syllabus to meet the needs of engineering students taking introductory physics:
In the traditional calculus course we'd spend most of the first semester doing differentiation; we'd do all of the rules and applications. Well now, we do some of the differentiation rules and by week six, we're starting integration; the students need some integrals in physics. So in the new syllabus, we do a little bit of differentiation, then we introduce integrals and do a little bit of integration, so the physicists can use it. And then we return to differentiation again including the more advanced rules and applications.
2. Learning from colleagues across the nation and from each other
Academic institutions are very traditional enterprises. Even in disciplines like engineering that are generally very responsive to technological changes, wholesale curriculum changes are difficult to achieve. Getting educational institutions to undertake change not only requires leadership and other personal characteristics (such as a reform-ready technology-savvy frame of mind), but also the establishment of organizational processes that can get the project going and sustain it. Key among the organizational processes that the UMD faculty identified as critical for them is a period of preparation during which they learned from colleagues across the nation.
The IMPULSE faculty identified the following reasons why learning from colleagues across the nation is critical for launching a program such as theirs. External expertise:
1. Special project funding
See Discussion 1. History of the IMPULSE Program, for information about the external funding, and special internal support that the IMPULSE faculty obtained in order to launch this program.
2. Technical Resources
Implementing a program like IMPULSE at UMD, where students perform experiments, and then capture, analyze and graphically represent their data, requires significant technical resources. We consider the (1) hardware, (2) software and (3) technical support resources that these faculty needed to achieve their pedagogical objectives. We address these three topics separately, although in many cases, they are connected.
You have to get the resources for the equipment for 48, but it's worth it--I went through the numbers: You abandon the lecture-recitation- lab design, and you lose all the scheduling nightmares that go with it--80 to 150 students in the lecture, 24 in each recitation, 12 in each lab. In its place you put 48 students in each studio class. We will merge the class and lab and meet four hours per week like the RPI model. It will be team-based, and we will put the instructor in there with the undergraduate TA and they'll go around and help. The philosophical change meant that we had to equip 12 tables serving 48 students as opposed to four stations in a 12-student lab. That involved a bigger initial investment.
In the early stages, there were technical challenges for faculty who were expected to be "Jacks and Jills of all trades" and have answers for any problems, technical and otherwise. They had learned by observing at RPI that having a faculty member and an undergraduate teaching assistant in room at all times was critical.
The number of technical problems declines over time, but it is still necessary to have a strategy for coping with equipment failure in the steady state. To accomplish this, the IMPULSE instructors use spare equipment to keep the classroom running and bypass the notoriously slow university repair process. Nick explained that when every seat in the class is occupied, every piece of equipment must work. And to work around the slow university repair processes, they arranged for a spare computer for each of the classrooms so that they can just replace defective equipment. "It takes five minutes to pull out the tables, plug it in and put it back together. The hard part is to keep the spare from becoming somebody's machine." While this approach works fairly well, particularly if the classes are not enrolled to capacity (48), it is still necessary to anticipate irritating and expensive problems with the hardwarec.
Another central hardware-related issue is the need to keep the equipment current. In order to be able to minimize loss and be able upgrade their systems at modest cost, the IMPULSE faculty chose to use desktop, rather than laptop, modelsd.
If managing the application and operating system installation is cost efficient, keeping the application software current is not, and it is not easy to find the resources to purchase upgrades. As Nick explained, upgrading AutoCAD alone requires a substantial financial commitment--"$4,000 or $5,000 a year, or every time they do a major upgrade." Nick was worried about how to cover these costs, especially when the concept of the program itself was one he was still selling to the administration. The technicians working in IMPULSE also were concerned. They knew of no plans to cover future costs for updating the hardware and software, and for providing sufficient staff support were not adequate. Given the heavy reliance on experimental and computer-based equipment of this program, this could jeopardize long-term sustainabilitye.
The implementation of IMPULSE at UMD entailed not only a fairly drastic shift in instruction processes, but also involved integration across different disciplines. Such an effort carries many challenges at organizational and cultural levels. Here we consider "culture change" challenges and opportunities that the IMPULSE faculty encountered, and how they responded to them. In particular, we present the challenges/opportunities associated with (1) territoriality and resistance to change, (2) rewards, and (3) adapting to team- and assessment-based teaching. For a more in-depth understanding of these issues, see Discussion 6. Changes in the instructor role.
The IMPULSE program at UMD has the support of the majority of the College of Engineering and Mathematics Department faculty and relevant members of the administration. As expected, however, the attention and publicity generated by the program brought with it resistance and resentment on the part of some faculty. Political situations of this type frequently are encountered when implementing significant changes, and often pose major obstacles. As one IMPULSE faculty member explained:
Indeed, while the program has achieved an impressive close collaboration among some engineering, physics and mathematics faculty, adoption of IMPULSE reform methods is not unanimous. For example, within the College of Engineering, the Department of Civil Engineering has elected not to participate in IMPULSE. We did not have an opportunity to talk with a civil engineering faculty representative, and the faculty and administrators with whom we talked carefully chose their words when asked about the civil engineering position on IMPULSE. For example, one faculty member said: "Civil has its own intro course. They like their course and see no reasons to put their majors in IMPULSE." When asked if he would consider the civil engineering faculty "passive participants" in IMPULSE, this faculty member answered in a manner that suggested emotional tension was involved in adopting the program. He said, "Yes. And that gets into a whole set of the problems of trying to get one of these things going. That part was truly amazing; I still have a few emotional scars from that experience."
A potential adapter of IMPULSE methods may ask how to proceed in a way that minimizes conflicts among colleagues. While fundamental reforms like IMPULSE will likely generate friction stemming from a departure from the institution's established processes, Nick Pendergrass identified the ability to quickly move IMPULSE out of the experiment stage into a more permanent format as the one crucial factor leading to its success. Based on his observations at other institutions, he stated that prolonged stay in the pilot stage is likely to lead to polarization of the facultyg.
2. Tenure and other Rewards
The workload involved in teaching in the program presents an on-going challenge. The participating faculty with whom we spoke all reported a significant increase in workload. Bob Kowakczyk said:
At UMD, the effects on tenure and promotion associated with participation in a reform program like IMPULSE depend on the department. In the math department, participating in the program is considered a sign of creative pedagogy and is generally supportedh. In engineering, the ability to become heavily involved in teaching-related activities seems dependent upon first achieving tenurei. Renate Crawford, an untenured assistant professor in physics at the time of our interview, was unsure of how her department would view her participation in IMPULSE when reviewing her for tenure.
Another type of reward is release time to develop or improve courses. Renate Crawford's department gave her small amounts of "assigned time units" to work in the IMPULSE program. However, the amount of assigned teaching units is less than the actual time spent on the courses, as faculty are constantly being asked to evaluate, review and make changes to the curriculumj.
3. Adapting the Team-based Studio Approach
The IMPULSE faculty faced another challenge when implementing collaborative methods in the classroom. They initially felt that they were not prepared to help students work effectively in teamsk. In order to learn how to use a team-based computer-dependent studio approach to teaching, the IMPULSE faculty had to:
Once they made these adjustments, the IMPULSE faculty found that using collaborative methods definitely resulted in richer and more frequent interactions among students and between students and instructorsl. The instructors also noted that the close working relationships among all parties in the IMPULSE program lead to much better advising of students. As one of the technical support people explained, because they are working together with a cohort of 48 students, the professors are able to identify problems with groups or individuals at an earlier stage than with the traditional lecture arrangement. Thus they are more able to intervene in real time and provide options, like tutoring, for students experiencing difficulty with the contentm.
For more on how the IMPULSE faculty met the challenges of learning to use a team-based computer-dependent studio approach to teaching, see Discussion 7. Learning how to use a team-based computer-dependent studio approach to teaching.
4. Ensuring Sustainability
We asked the IMPULSE faculty to tell us what things would have made the implementation process easier "if only we had known that at the outset." Here we present several of their valuable "lessons learned" in bullet form.
For a discussion of these lessons, see Discussion 8. Tips for ensuring sustainability.
a. Nick explained how he took advantage of both his faculty and administrative positions to get things done for IMPULSE: "I found that using the title of Associate Dean for Undergraduate Programs outside of the College of Engineering was important to get things done because the organization is sensitive to who's asking. There is, whether we like it or not, a kind of caste system. And so, outside the organization, I needed a title. But inside the organization, I don't use the title much. I've found that being a faculty member is very important in trying to make changes within the university. I would rather be one of the troops, to try to get things done and only on occasion did I choose to use the Dean title to write a letter or provoke an action that would encourage people to take the program seriously."
b. An example of an instructor who was already using active learning methods is John Dowd (physics), who explained:"I taught freshman physics on and off for quite a while, so I was aware of a lot of the problems. And I had been interested in interactive learning, just from reading literature in physics. In fact, before the IMPULSE program, I started to give the freshman in my class and some other freshman lecture classes that other professors agreed to, entrance and exit exams, like the Force Concept Inventory, to establish a baseline to see how well we were doing with the lecture model, as a department, versus other places. And of course, we were doing just as well, or as poorly as everybody else."
c. An example of this type of problem that the IMPULSE program encountered is small parts that are defective and not covered under the manufacturer's warranty:"Support for on-going problems is almost nonexistent...On the new group of computers that we got, these beautiful P3500s, they have new graphics cards in them, 3DFX cards, because that's what they're shipping with Gateways now. We don't need that, but that's what they're shipping. Well, they run very hot. I've had at least eight burned out during the last semester, which means that the computer is not usable. So I take the computer out of the classroom, I send it down to the technician, who services all the computers. I know the fix for this. The fix is to buy these video coolants. They cost $18 a piece. $18 times 25 isn't an unreasonable sum, but when I asked to have that purchased, the answer is, 'sorry, we don't have any funds.'"
d. Nick explained: "We did not buy laptops. There was a reason. You go to Texas A&M, you pick up a laptop that's been in one of those classrooms for a year, and things rattle around inside it. Probably the display won't stay up by itself anymore. When one of those breaks and they are going to break--you sort of throw it away and go get another one. And we have discovered that if we have a really ugly cabinet and it doesn't look new, nobody steals it. They don't know that it's a 600 Megahertz Pentium inside there. So in the oldest room, which is now about four years old, we have older machines. We can bring them up within one step of the latest generation and put a 20Meg hard drive in there for $500. So it costs us $500 for the equipment plus the technician time, which isn't technician time since it's a work-study team, which is trained by our technician, and we're not even paying for it. So it's not expensive to keep these up, but it depends upon on how you set up the process."
e. A technician commented: "As for the computer hardware, I don't know what the long-term plan is. People don't tend to adequately estimate the costs of computers. Take a look at a company like Boeing at Boeing they estimate it $4,000/ year to put a P.C. on somebody's desk. Microsoft estimates $6000-7,000/ year. The reason is they keep up with the latest hardware, and they factor in the cost of the hardware, the software, and the professionals that keep those computers running on a daily basis. We sort of use a group approach on a lot of the problems that we have associated with computers. I don't try to fix individual computers. We create a backup on the server of what the ideal computer looks like. If something is wrong with a computer, we just Ghost it and bring the image back on. So I wipe out everything on the machine, restore it, give it back its TCP/IP identity, and it's set and ready to run again. But if we want to update from AutoCAD 3.0 to AutoCAD 4.0, or from MathCAD 3.0 to MathCAD 4.0, then I need to do the work on individual computers. I need to move it up onto the server, and then I need to move the image down from the server onto all of the individual computers. That's very difficult and very time consuming. They've booked the lab very, very tightly, to get the maximum utilization out of the lab, but it's gotten better as we've put additional labs up. But as far as cost is concerned, how long are we going to be able to run the latest version of AutoCAD? Maybe another year, maybe two? I don't know where we'll get the money for future updates."
f. The stress on the computer support staff was evident in talking with the individual whose job is to support the faculty in the physics department. He told us, "Now, when a faculty comes to me with a request, I'm much slower in servicing my own department because of all the computers I'm taking care of the IMPULSE labs. That's a great disservice to the department and I feel very badly about it. I'm constantly being hounded by the IMPULSE professors. I keep going back and forth, that I have to ignore IMPULSE for a while because a faculty member needs his computer rebuilt, or I ignore a faculty who might have a minor computer problem because I'm servicing IMPULSE. So, from my standpoint, it's a net loss to the department because they didn't hire anyone in addition, they just sort of said, 'Oh, well, you can do all of this, and then they kept adding on to it and on to it."
g. Nick explained, "We had to move to adopt the program or potentially stay in the experiment stage forever. In other innovative programs what often happened was that you could watch the program start to polarize the faculty. As data started to come in, you could hear people say, `I don't think that program is any darn good. You know, I talked to this student who said it's no darn good.' Other faculty would find something good about the program and you could see it polarizing. At some point in time, the middle ground where compromise could have been found disappears. I think that would probably be sometime in the middle of the second year of the experiment. I think that happened at the University of Alabama and at Rose-Hulman. Karen Watson kept it from polarizing so much at Texas A&M. So if one of these programs goes for two or three years as a pilot, the evidence seems to indicate that it is going to continue to polarize and lock. Then it is very likely to stay an experiment."
h. Bob Kowalcyzk explained, "For a new colleague, participation would be positive, because they would be trying to do something innovative-new pedagogical ideas, integrating technology- and that seems to be pretty heavily weighted now in instruction. The math department considers the use of technology in teaching a good thing. It's pretty progressive. There are a few people in the background that might not use technology as much or still think that every theorem in the book needs to be proved, but in general our department is pretty supportive of innovative pedagogy."
i. When asked if he would worry about participating in a program like IMPULSE if he were not tenured, or were new to the institution, an engineer said, "Oh, you bet... I would not participate unless I had the blessing of the department."
j. A technician commented: "As far as the actual professors are concerned, I hear a lot of grumbling from individual physics professors because they have to redo their entire curriculum, okay. This is a totally new way of teaching and they don't necessarily get a lot of release time to develop this whole new curriculum. Once you've run through once, you don't need as much release time, but it still isn't like a course that they've taught many times, that they can just have an hour of preparation and then they're fine for it. They have to revise the things that didn't go right the first time. So it's difficult for the professors."
k. Bob Kowalczyk elaborated as follows: "The teaming part, I'm still working on. As an instructor I'm finding that it is the most difficult part of this program. You'd expect if you had four students sitting across from each other like this and you give them a project or problem, they'd automatically start talking to each other, solving it. In calculus you give them a problem, and everybody goes off and tries to solve the problem by him or herself. So you are thinking that there's not that much collaboration but then if one student is not getting it and another student is getting it, they'll start talking and I think that's where teaming comes in; there's more of a tutoring going on in the teams, where they are sort of helping each other out to try to understand the problem. But I'd like to see even more, more teaming work with the students, more working together."
l. Bob Kowalczyk (mathematics) observed: "Students are much more active in this class. In the traditional class, you go there and everyone is sitting in their own chair and maybe they'll talk to their neighbor or whatever. If you ask a question, you may get some responses. But here people are used to talking to each other, so if you ask questions, it's nothing new for them to answer your question, or for them to ask questions themselves. I see that there's a lot more dialogue between the professor and the student. In that sense for me it's a lot more exciting."
m. This technician elaborated on this point as follows: "Well, it's a totally different atmosphere when you have 48 students and you see them through multiple courses... In the traditional lecture style, a lot of the professors do not take attendance; it's almost pointless. So the only time they realize that a student may be having problems is after one or two exams, and that student might just be a social security number, a name, and a bunch of grades in a grade book. So, in that sense, faculty in the traditional class are totally removed from students. And yeah, the professor can say, `Listen, you're having trouble, you can take advantage of the science and engineering tutoring center,' or when the exams are passed back, talk individually with the student, saying,`I'd like you to come to my office to meet with me about that;' and then tell them the advantages of going over to participate in the peer-to-peer tutoring through the science and engineering tutoring center. But this is much more readily done when they're in the classes, doing this collaborative learning, and you can simply pull them aside or say you want to meet with the entire group. It's much, much easier."
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