Papers in the Biological Sciences


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Couch BA, Prevost LB, Stains M, Whitt B, Marcy AE, Apkarian N, Dancy MH, Henderson C, Johnson E, Raker JR, Yik BJ, Earl B, Shadle SE, Skvoretz J and Ziker JP (2023) Examining whether and how instructional coordination occurs within introductory undergraduate STEM courses. Front. Educ. 8:1156781. doi: 10.3389/feduc.2023.1156781


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Instructors’ interactions can foster knowledge sharing around teaching and the use of research-based instructional strategies (RBIS). Coordinated teaching presents an impetus for instructors’ interactions and creates opportunities for instructional improvement but also potentially limits an instructor’s autonomy. In this study, we sought to characterize the extent of coordination present in introductory undergraduate courses and to understand how departments and instructors implement and experience course coordination. We examined survey data from 3,641 chemistry, mathematics, and physics instructors at three institution types and conducted follow-up interviews with a subset of 24 survey respondents to determine what types of coordination existed, what factors led to coordination, how coordination constrained instruction, and how instructors maintained autonomy within coordinated contexts. We classified three approaches to coordination at both the overall course and course component levels: independent (i.e., not coordinated), collaborative (decisionmaking by instructor and others), controlled (decision-making by others, not instructor). Two course components, content coverage and textbooks, were highly coordinated. These curricular components were often decided through formal or informal committees, but these decisions were seldom revisited. This limited the ability for instructors to participate in the decision-making process, the level of interactions between instructors, and the pedagogical growth that could have occurred through these conversations. Decision-making around the other two course components, instructional methods and exams, was more likely to be independently determined by the instructors, who valued this autonomy. Participants in the study identified various ways in which collaborative coordination of courses can promote but also inhibit pedagogical growth. Our findings indicate that the benefits of collaborative course coordination can be realized when departments develop coordinated approaches that value each instructor’s autonomy, incorporate shared and ongoing decision-making, and facilitate collaborative interactions and knowledge sharing among instructors.

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