There is a significant need to design and test alternative models for faculty development around undergraduate science teaching. Existing models for helping faculty adopt evidence-based teaching strategies have generally been shown to be ineffective at promoting change in classroom practices. Additionally, the existing models do not scale well and often do not reflect the pedagogical strategies that they promote. Here we report early outcomes from the faculty development portion of the Quantitative Undergraduate Biology Education and Synthesis (QUBES) project. The interventions involved participation in Faculty Mentoring Networks (FMN). FMNs are unique in that participants interact over multiple weeks in an online community to customize and implement a particular high quality teaching strategy focused on quantitative biology. We report on two FMNs that each had 10-15 faculty participants and shared many structural features but focused on very different teaching strategies. One network focused on the use of agent based modeling in the classroom (ABM) while the other network focused on student use of research datasets associated with the Dryad data repository (DL). To assess the effectiveness of FMNs in faculty development, we collected data from faculty participation in the FMN activities and surveys conducted at the end of the interventions.
Overall, participants indicated that the FMN experience provided strong motivation, guidance, and support to create and/or adapt materials targeting students’ quantitative reasoning skills (Likert scale: 1 - 5; ABM (N = 10): 4.9 +/- 0.1; DL (N = 9): 5.0 +/- 0). In ABM, 50% of participants developed and shared a sketch for a student activity using BehaviorSpace simulations. In DL, 70% of participants produced and shared an adaptation of a data-driven curriculum module. Participants unanimously agreed that they would recommend FMNs to colleagues, and 95% indicated they would be interested in participating in another network. Qualitative analysis of free response survey questions suggests that peer interactions are a key element underlying the successful adoption of new teaching strategies in FMNs. Through the sharing of materials and experiences (i.e. “teacher talk”), faculty saw how others “put their own spin” on a topic. By comparing and contrasting different approaches, faculty could decide which strategies might work in their own classroom. Seven additional FMNs are running in spring 2016. We will refine our assessment for these networks to further identify the mechanisms that promote a positive and productive professional development experience for faculty and encourage implementation of quantitative biology in undergraduate classrooms.