Research Article: A qualitative analysis to identify the elements that support department level change in the life sciences: The PULSE Vision & Change Recognition Program

Date Published: May 30, 2019

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Marcy Peteroy-Kelly, Loretta Brancaccio-Taras, Judy Awong-Taylor, Teresa Balser, Thomas Jack, Sara Lindsay, Kate Marley, Sandra Romano, J. Akif Uzman, Pamela Pape-Lindstrom, Terry L. Derting.


The 2011 report, Vision and Change in Undergraduate Biology Education: A Call to Action, provided the impetus to mobilize the undergraduate life sciences education community to affect change in order to enhance the educational experiences of life sciences majors. The work of the appointed Partnership for Undergraduate Life Sciences Education (PULSE) Vision and Change (V&C) Leadership Fellows has focused on the development of programs and resources to support departmental change. In this report, we present a qualitative assessment of several documents generated from the PULSE V&C Leadership Fellow Recognition Team. The Recognition Team developed two initiatives to provide departments with feedback on their change process. The first initiative, the validated PULSE V&C Rubrics, enables departments to collaboratively self-assess their progress in enacting change. The second initiative, the PULSE Recognition Program, involves completion of the aforementioned Rubrics and a site-visit by two Recognition Team members to provide external insights and suggestions to foster a department’s change process. Eight departments participated in the Recognition Program in 2014. An evaluation of the documents yielded from the Recognition Program review of seven of the eight departments and a comparison of Rubric scores from before and three years following the site-visits uncovered several common elements required for successful department level change. These elements include an institutional culture that values and supports excellence in teaching and learning with resources and infrastructure, a departmental emphasis on program and course level assessment, and, most importantly, a departmental champion who actively supports endeavors that enhance teaching excellence.

Partial Text

Multiple change efforts are underway to improve the success of students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). In addition, the body of knowledge regarding how people learn is expanding and high impact practices to support enhanced learning have been identified [1–3]. These practices are often incorporated into individual courses and learning is measured at the course level. However, to promote a unified and sustained impact on student learning and STEM student success, a more systematic and departmental level approach may lead to a greater impact over a shorter period of time.

Based on our findings, a department positioned for sustained change would be strong in the three areas we have identified as broad characteristics that support change: support systems, departmental practices that support teaching and learning, and adoption of best practices in education (Tables 1–3). However, our data suggest that it is possible for a department to change even with weaknesses in some of these areas.




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