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Preliminary Case Study of SCALE Activities at the California State University, Northridge

Abstract

This report of the NSF-funded SCALE Institutions of Higher Education (IHE) Case Studies line of work provides preliminary findings about SCALE activities at the California State University, Northridge (CSUN). This interview-based study focuses on the structural and behavioral dynamics influencing the implementation of the four core SCALE strategies for effecting change in IHEs: (1) improve science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) undergraduate education; (2) improve collaborations between STEM and education faculty regarding pre-service programs; (3) improve collaborations between IHE faculty and K-12 districts regarding in-service training; and (4) improve institutional policies and practices at the IHE level that support faculty engaged in pre- and in-service activities. The case study methodology used attends closely to the diverse contexts that influence individual faculty practice within an IHE and analyzes observed program effects and outcomes in light of these contexts. Preliminary findings indicate that through summer professional development institutes that are co-constructed and co-facilitated by IHE faculty and K-12 personnel, SCALE is expanding upon and enhancing existing reform efforts underway at CSUN. Through the science immersion institutes and the math institutes for LAUSD teachers, SCALE is engaging STEM faculty in both learning and modeling inquiry-based pedagogy. Moreover, by actively training STEM faculty in these pedagogical methods, SCALE is beginning to influence participating faculty's conception of their own teaching and of K-12 issues. Another preliminary effect of SCALE was to further develop and foster a cohort of STEM disciplinary faculty who are engaged in pedagogical reform and K-12 education. The effects of a cohort of like-minded colleagues also include providing faculty with the benefits of professional networks and resources. While these changes cannot be attributed to policy change, both respondent testimony and related research findings indicate that the presence of collegial support and professional communities is a crucial aspect of institutionalizing a "culture" of reform. Despite the reform-ready atmosphere at CSUN, there remain significant institutional barriers to improving STEM instruction that may limit the ultimate efficacy of SCALE and similar efforts. The high teaching load at CSUN and an increasing pressure to conduct research and publish scholarly articles make participation in "service" activities such as SCALE challenging. Other factors that may inhibit the long-term efficacy of SCALE include the limited number of STEM majors, a complex regulatory atmosphere regarding teacher certification and professional development in California, and contentious faculty relations within and between some CSUN departments.

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