Navigating the bridge between theory and action: Validating the Partnership for Undergraduate Life Science Education (PULSE) Theory of Change

Thursday 10:00am - 10:30am Fountainview
Oral Presentation

Heather Seitz, Johnson County Community College
Erika Offerdahl, Washington State University- Pullman
Carol Colbeck, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
The Partnership for Undergraduate Life Science Education (PULSE), a non-profit organization, provides life sciences departments at all types of US higher education institutions with training and resources to implement best educational practices for undergraduates. PULSE Fellows, who are faculty and administrators, have helped more than 200 departments diagnose their current conditions, enhance communication effectiveness, develop action plans, and access resources to support change since 2012. PULSE recognized the need in 2017 to articulate explicitly the implicit theory of change (ToC) underlying its work in order to document PULSE impact and expand its reach.
During a 3-day retreat, a small team immersed itself in ToC and organizational change literature, re-examined PULSE assumptions, goals, activities, and outcomes, and articulated a first draft of a PULSE ToC derived from the Annie E. Casey Foundation model1 (core capacities, impact and influence strategies, and outcomes) and grounded in Positive Organizational Scholarship2. The draft has since been reviewed by PULSE Fellows and iteratively revised to reflect insights gained from prior work with departments. A penultimate version of the ToC was approved in Fall 2018. Since then, efforts to validate the ToC have commenced using assessment data from one major PULSE activity (2-day workshops with whole departments). Once validated, the ToC will be used to reanalyze PULSE assessment data to determine impact of PULSE programs and to inform ongoing PULSE efforts to help academic departments improve undergraduate biology education.
In this session, we will describe the ToC development process, theories and key components of the PULSE ToC, how it informs PULSE change efforts, and how PULSE uses assessment data to empirically validate and refine the ToC. We will demonstrate how assessment data from PULSE activities can be used to validate and iteratively revise a ToC. This session is related to ASCN Working Groups 1 and 4 and will interest those who wish to learn from an actual experience of developing a ToC and applying a ToC to demonstrate the impact of change.

1 Organization Research Services (ORS) (2004). Theory of Change: A practical tool for action, results and learning. Prepared for the Annie E. Case Foundation. Retrieved from:
2 Cameron, K. S. & Spreitzer, G.M. (2012). Introduction: What is positive abouty positive organizational Scholarship? In Cameron, . S., & Spreitzer, G.M. (eds). The Oxford handbook of positive organizational scholarship, pp. 1-15. New York: Oxford University Press.