How Grassroots Leaders Create Change in Undergraduate STEM Education

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Julie Shank, George Mason University
Kathryn Fernández, George Mason University
Jaime Lester, George Mason University

The current study investigates grassroots leadership in teaching communities striving to implement active and inquiry-based learning throughout their departments. Though evidence abounds to support use of active and inquiry-based learning to support students' mastery, achievement, and persistence in STEM fields, especially for women and underrepresented minorities, faculty may still choose to use old teaching methods (Austin, 2011). Departmental communities (Apkarian & Rasmussen, 2020) that involve most faculty (Wieman et al., 2010), including contingent faculty for foundational courses (Laursen, 2019) are social networks of resources for change (Hora & Hunter, 2014; Shadle et al., 2018) and can evolve to support growing community (Shadle et al., 2018). With grass roots efforts, local control by faculty, such as local leaders and internal change agents with vision, especially at the department level (Laursen, 2019; Wood, 2017), is important (Hora & Hunter, 2014) and builds trust resulting in informal coordination (Apkarian & Rasmussen, 2020). Reformers need to understand context and culture to effect sustainable change (Apkarian et al., 2019), but some contextual factors may need to be changed (Hora & Hunter, 2014), such as tasks, norms, practices and infrastructure to support the innovation (Laursen, 2019) at departmental or institutional levels (Englund et al., 2018). For the current study, it is important to understand the ways in which different department contexts and cultures influence how leaders tackle implementing the pedagogical change. The following questions will address this gap in knowledge. What grass roots tactics do team leaders use to create sustainable course-level and department-level changes toward the use of inquiry-based learning and how do these differ between departments? What obstacles arise for teams and how do leaders help their teams overcome challenges and barriers in their contexts? Focusing on communities of practice and grassroots theory provides a framework to answer these questions.

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