Service: My Statement for Promotion


In the same way that Flow Vis and educational research changed my research and teaching, it has given me a focus in my service activities. After that first AAPT conference (please see teaching statement) I began attending our local Physics Education Research (PER) and Discipline Based Education Research (DBER) group meetings. I admired the student-centered values and how the inclusive camaraderie supported rather than eroded the rigor of the research. However, I noticed that I was usually the only participant from engineering, and certainly the only fluids educator. I wanted to bring this type of community and the application of scholarship to teaching practices home to my department, my college and my fluids professional society, the American Physical Society Division of Fluid Dynamics (APS DFD).

Service to the Mechanical Engineering Department

From 2001 to 2011 I led our department’s Undergraduate Committee, overseeing our program’s curriculum, student affairs and accreditation. By 2004 our undergraduate enrollment nearly doubled, without commensurate increase in resources. Our class sizes ballooned, leading some of our faculty to threaten to reduce enrollment by flunking out large numbers of students; instead I argued for raising entrance requirements based on grades. This addressed our immediate need, but most unfortunately led to a drop in student diversity. Eventually the college adopted a more equitable enrollment strategy and resources became more balanced; data and research on equitable practices won, thanks to Brian Argrow, Associate Dean at the time.

I was also the ABET accreditation coordinator through two review cycles. Beyond assembling the gargantuan reports required by the process, I learned a great deal about program assessment and I tried to make the ABET process value added. For example, from the PER community I had learned about measuring learning gains using pre and post course concept inventories; this innovation had sparked a revolution in physics teaching and gave rise to PER itself. Concept inventories had then been developed for a majority of our required engineering courses by an NSF initiative. I introduced the idea of using those concept inventories as data for our ABET process during the first ABET cycle that I led. Our faculty was intrigued by the idea of a nationally-normed objective assessment available for each course each semester, and readily agreed to implementing them. The data was indeed helpful in our program reviews, but more importantly the inventories introduced our faculty to an important data acquisition tool: the concept question, which later evolved into a form of active learning via clicker questions. Now, 20 years later, using concept inventories and clicker questions are routine in our department. This is an example of how evidence-based teaching methods can become part of a department culture.

Teaching Quality Framework (TQF)

Another example of the application of scholarship to teaching practices that I have been working on is in the assessment of teaching.  I believe that poor assessment of faculty teaching can stifle innovation and enable bias. In 2013 I began participating in the Teaching Quality Framework (TQF), a campus initiative led by Noah Finkelstein and the Center for STEM Learning and supported by NSF and the AAU. Based on existing scholarship, the TQF is a rubric of seven categories of teaching including the alignment of course content with course goals and the preparation of the instructor for teaching. In each category, evaluation is based on data collected from three voices: student, instructor and the instructor’s peers. The goal is to improve summative and formative evaluations of teaching.

I volunteered to form and lead an ad hoc department committee to implement the TQF in Mechanical Engineering as an overload to my regular department service obligations. One question that came up early in our work was whether summative assessment was the goal, or whether improved teaching was?  The idea that accurate assessment (i.e. a grade or a merit rating) will lead to better performance is deeply ingrained in our culture: punish the poor teachers or students to inspire better performance, and reward the best. A truly Skinnerian approach. In practice, however, research has shown that this approach is generally ineffective, or even counterproductive. Negative feedback has been shown to be a useful goad only for the very worst performers. I find I am much less interested in assessment for assessment’s sake, and much more in improving our teaching.  Nevertheless, within our current system summative evaluation is required for promotion and tenure and annual merit evaluations.

As a committee, we decided that a gradual approach was best. My model of institutional change is that new ideas are always rejected until they become old and familiar. We elected to first focus on measures used for promotion and tenure, reasoning that they could be introduced piecemeal over time. We reviewed the types of data collected and found metrics that could be relatively easily improved: low hanging fruit. The TQF initiative has provided resources in the form of post docs that facilitate our meetings and do the background research and synthesis while our committee shapes the product to fit our department culture. To date we have developed four tools for use in assessing teaching for promotion and tenure: a peer observation protocol, a template for a request for letters from students, a guide to writing teaching statements and a set of guidelines for mentorship. Efforts to institutionalize these tools in our department procedures is ongoing. The peer observation protocol has been the most popular so far. At the same time the TQF initiative and the need for better evaluations of teaching have gained strength in our college and campus. The tools we have developed have positioned our department as a leader in this arena.

EER in the College of Engineering and Applied Science

At the college level, I began working to build community by co-organizing a series of education retreats from Spring 2009 to Spring 2011. I met wonderful educators who share my passion for the application of scholarship to teaching practices; i.e. for professionalizing our teaching practices. However, this initiative has been a tougher sell. I was told explicitly some years ago that the First Level Review Committee in our college did not look favorably on education research as an appropriate scholarly activity for engineering faculty. I am hoping that attitude has changed. In any case, I’ve been happy to participate in as many educational initiatives in our college as I could. Most recently I helped (at least a little) get Engineering Educational Research supported by the college as part of an Interdisciplinary Research Thrust, along with Artificial Intelligence (EER-AI IRT). At first I was hesitant to propose my own research in this area, but the partnership has worked; as I learned more about how AI can help EER while serving as a Lead in the EER-AI IRT program, my research has begun to move that way. Another example of overlap between research, teaching and service.

CIRTL

Also at the campus level, in 2012 I was invited to take over as Institutional Leader of our CIRTL program. CIRTL (Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching and Learning) is an NSF supported consortium of over 40 mostly R1 institutions; CU was an early member. The idea is to improve undergraduate education by training STEM graduate students and post docs in evidence-based teaching methods via the scholarship of teaching and learning (SOTL) so that they are prepared when they become faculty. In other words, get them young before they become invested in traditional but less effective teaching methods. I could see that our Graduate Teacher Program was doing an excellent job with grad students under my co- (Administrative) Leader, Laura Border; CIRTL and our Grad School supported it well. I could also see that post docs were underserved and administratively invisible on our campus. This led me to develop a workshop aimed specifically at post docs and young faculty: EBIT, the Evidence Based Introduction to Teaching (see my teaching statement for a description of content). As Institutional Leader, I represented CU at CIRTL meetings twice a year, and again found a supportive community as I learned more of SOTL approaches to bring back home. I offered EBIT seven times to post docs from across the country as well as small group and individual mentoring of new faculty in ME. The pandemic and a shift in campus funding priorities has at least temporarily ended the workshop and CU’s participation in CIRTL.

In 2008 I began serving as a Faculty Associate in the Faculty Teaching Excellence Program (FTEP). Faculty wanting to improve their teaching would request a service from a short list: 1) a simple consultation/discussion with an Associate about their teaching, 2) a video consult, where they would be recorded giving a lecture, followed by a review with an Associate or 3) a classroom interview, where the Associate would facilitate small groups of students to come to consensus on strengths and improvements of the course and instructor, and also vote individually their agreement or not with each specific item on all the groups’ lists. Over the years, until FTEP was dissolved in 2020 I interacted with faculty and students from all over campus, broadening my perspectives and proselytizing for evidence-based methods. I also availed myself of the services on several occasions. My favorite technique is the classroom interview. It is open-ended but provides a quantified, consensus view from students. It generates more useful, actionable suggestions than any of the other techniques.

Service to the American Physical Society Division of Fluid Dynamics (DFD)

I began work on building community and scholarship around teaching fluid dynamics at the annual DFD meeting in 2006. Prior to this there was no discussion of education at DFD meetings; they were all focused entirely on fluid physics research. I proposed and organized a minisymposium on teaching fluid mechanics, and co-organized more minisymposia over the next three years. At the same time I started the Fluids Education Google group, now at 252 members. I began meeting others who shared my focus on education whom I now count as dear colleagues. Eventually, with their help and participation the special minisymposia evolved into regular meeting sessions focused on education topics which have continued to this day. In 2008 I got funding from NSF for a dinner workshop focused on active learning with clickers. These workshops have also continued, and have now evolved into a regular well- attended lunch at the DFD meeting, supported by the DFD itself. I helped found and chair the Education and Career Outreach Committee in 2010, which is now part of the standing committee structure. The whole education initiative is now self-sustaining and I have retreated to being a delighted mere participant. 

As a side note, the acceptance of education as an appropriate topic for our annual meeting has inspired me to give additional service to the DFD. I was elected to the Executive Committee for a three year term in 2007, and eventually co-hosted with Peter Hamlington the annual meeting in Denver in 2017, with over 3000 participants.

Art is Engineering

One final service activity I’d like to mention relates back to my focus on aesthetics as a valid motivation for science and engineering. Prior to 1999 ABET requirements forbade fine arts classes from counting towards an engineering degree. This stricture has been softened since then, but the attitude of engineering faculty that participatory fine arts and performance classes are ‘basket weaving’ and undeserving of a student’s time persists. This attitude has always enraged me. I see it as dehumanizing our students and damaging to our profession. Driving away people who value creating art themselves has led to a less diverse, less creative population of engineers. We can be so much more than paid solvers of other people’s problems. In response to a call for efforts to improve diversity in the college in 2017, Elizabeth Stade and I began offering “Art is Engineering” participatory art activities in the Engineering Center lobby. Students and passersby are invited to spend a few minutes creating collages, drawings, sculptures etc. Some students end up spending hours. I look forward to resuming these activities as the pandemic eases.

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