Motivators and Inhibitors to Change: Why and How Geoscience Faculty Modify Their Course Content and Teaching Methods

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The call to improve undergraduate science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education can be answered by undergraduate faculty modifying their course content and teaching methods to generate better student outcomes. The National Geoscience Faculty Survey—administered in 2004, 2009, 2012, and 2016—provides evidence that the vast majority of geoscience faculty recently modified their course content in a variety of ways, and about half recently adjusted their teaching methods toward more student-centered approaches. Respondents from across many different subgroups (e.g., institution type, position, and class type) are equally likely to modify content, perhaps reflecting the importance of current events, societal issues, and recent research findings to undergraduate geoscience education. In contrast, whether a respondent modified his or her teaching methods in the last two years varies strongly across subgroups. Two predictors of whether respondents modified their teaching methods is whether they also modified content, with respondents who changed their course content almost twice as likely to have also changed their teaching methods and how frequently they speak to colleagues about teaching, with more frequent discussion correlated with a higher percentage of faculty changing teaching methods. A major inhibitor to making course modifications is time constraints, and the promotion and tenure process may play a role in inhibiting change. The results indicate that the geoscience community approach of embedding discussions of teaching methods within workshops, webinars, and modules that primarily focus on teaching specific content may be an effective means of improving STEM education more broadly.