Indiana University Week of SEISMIC

By Ashley Atkinson, edited by Nita Tarchinski

Immersive Ideas in Indiana

Indiana University Week of SEISMIC, October 18-20, 2022

Indiana University’s Week of SEISMIC was jam-packed with action and excitement! From the Indiana Memorial Union to Cedar Hall, our schedule was filled with great people, fantastic presentations, and yummy food. All three days were filled with activities and everyone was exhausted by the end of Thursday’s presentations.

Martha Oakley, the Associate Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education and a Professor of Chemistry at Indiana University, kicked Tuesday morning’s session off with a warm welcome to both Zoom and in-person participants. Over 35 people attended total! After Martha spoke, Chantal Levesque-Bristol, Executive Director of the Center for Instructional Excellence at Purdue University, gave a fantastic talk on her book Student-Centered Pedagogy and Course Transformation at Scale: Facilitating Faculty Agency to IMPACT Institutional Change. During her presentation, she described the Purdue University IMPACT Program and how it has grown over time.

Book Cover

With the IMPACT Program launching in 2011, this project has been going for a long time. However, the theoretical framework guiding faculty development and course redesign has been around since 1985. Self-Determination Theory (or SDT) asserts that all humans – including both students and faculty – have three basic psychological needs: autonomy, which is comprised of having choice, options, and agency; competence, encompassing mastery of skills and knowledge, feedback, and structure; and relatedness, which embraces connection, belonging, and care. Using this framework as a launching point, IMPACT’s aim became to support instructors in bettering their teaching practices in order to create student-centered, autonomy-supportive, and inclusive learning environments to foster student success. With continuous efforts and education, the rate of students receiving a D, F, or W (withdrawal) in the courses fell by an average of 5%, but some of the 2000 courses involved saw up to a 30% reduction. Generating such positive results has led to institutional change, including the creation of a learning center.

Even though there is great progress being made to address the issues within higher education, Tim McKay’s talk on the next steps for addressing systemic inequities in higher education reminded us there’s still work to be done. Tim, the Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education at the University of Michigan, reminded us that systemic inequities persist when they favor the privileged and we educate with rules established in the past and enforced by those who benefit from the current system. We continue to rely on standardized test scores and utilize ‘weed-out’ courses. Changing these structures requires collective action. Collective action can only be achieved when institutions and disciplines collaborate, and SEISMIC exists to create a space for collaboration and support new research projects. Throughout the past few years, we as an organization have produced papers, presentations, and – most importantly – change within classrooms. So what’s next?

flyer by Ashley Atkinson

Enter our new National Science Foundation awarded project: STEM Equity Learning Communities, or SELCs. The goal is to establish SELCs in universities across the U.S. that will foster impactful approaches for engaging people in equity-minded discussions of their STEM courses. We believe that when SELCs use course equity measures, co-develop interpretations of the data and action plans, and present their findings to campus leadership, they will develop equity-mindedness and be well-positioned to promote this mindset in their departments. The SELC project begins at the start of the 2023-2024 academic year and we are excited to see its progress!

Tuesday morning’s session concluded with a fantastic talk from Mary Murphy, a Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Indiana University. Mary spoke on creating cultures of inclusion in STEM, prompting all of us to reflect on what we were doing within our own classrooms to create a welcoming environment.

The afternoon began with talks from our Measurement Working Group  after introductory remarks from Sabrina Andrews and Martha Oakley. One interesting talk was Kameryn Denaro’s presentation on opportunity gaps present across biology students. Kameryn – a Research Specialist within the Postsecondary Education Research and Implementation Institute at UC Irvine – and her team were able to gain access to five different institutions’ data on biology student demographics and performance. To assess for opportunity gaps, students were grouped by race, first-generation status, low-income status, and sex. Kameryn’s team found that opportunity gaps differed by institution, with some institutions having much larger student performance differences than others. The team’s next goal is to investigate what is causing those gaps.

Following the Measurement Group, Corrin Clarkson, Montserrat Valdivia, and Gipsi Sera shared their story and research on assessment quality in large undergraduate classes. They explained how some assessment questions can be inequitable for students. For example, a physics question involving a baseball game may seem like a fair question for all, but the question becomes unnecessarily difficult if a student is not familiar with how baseball works. By sorting questions by accuracy based on student demographics, inequitable questions can reveal themselves.

Madeleine Gonin and Nikeetha Farfan D’Souza spoke about designing and building equitable classes using student feedback and the session closed with Emily Bonem encouraging us all to think about what the future of SEISMIC should look like. What questions should we ask next? Where should we focus our efforts?

Tuesday evening ended with a reception, where many were able to catch up with old friends and make new ones. Afterwards, some headed to Taste of India for great food and more discussions. It was a fantastic way to end the first day of our week.

After a grant preparation meeting for the Bright Spots proposal team, Wednesday morning’s presentations were focused on fostering equity in STEM classrooms. The first presentation by Carmen Henne-Ochaoa was all about the Kovener Teaching Fellows Program and the ideas behind its goals. Carmen challenged us to look inwards and question why we find it uncomfortable to see and treat students as “people who have memories, families, religions, feelings, languages, and cultures that give them a distinct voice.” More importantly, why are we uncomfortable sharing all of that about ourselves with students? The key concept is vulnerability. Without vulnerability on both sides, faculty and students are unable to learn about each other outside of surface-level interactions. By thinking about who we are as people, or who we are as teachers, we can begin to explore sharing experiences with students and incorporating who we are into our lessons.

Rebecca Itow, David Pace, and William Robison spoke about the barrier between high school and college and how we can break down the transition to college. They informed us on the differing expectations between high school counselors and college admissions representatives.

Another insightful talk was Nikeetha Farfan D’Souza’s presentation on equitable STEM classrooms. Nikeetha, Associate Director for Student Support and Bias Responses at Indiana University, walked us through how our identity as an individual isn’t our whole story – we are also influenced by our culture, the people in power, and history. She went on to explain that equity is like gardening – you don’t punish a plant for not growing, you change the environment it’s growing in. It’s the same for students – if they are not succeeding, there are problems with the system they exist in, not problems within the student.

At lunch Nita Tarchinski, SEISMIC’s Project Manager, and Ashley Atkinson, one of our Program Assistants in SEISMIC Central, entertained participants with an exciting game of SEISMIC-themed Jeopardy! We tested our audience’s knowledge of our collaboration and we certainly had some superstars. Plenty of swag was won and we had a great time.

Wednesday afternoon brought the first part of our session focused on student-centered approaches. Amy Berndtson’s talk on using peer instruction to enhance student engagement and success in a biology course was quite engaging, especially with former undergraduate learning assistants in the audience. She explained that her undergraduate teaching assistants (UTAs) were selected by hand and thoroughly trained on providing engaging and helpful instruction. Moreover, she provided them with tools to use while educating. Not only has this led to meaningful mentorship, but student success in the course has risen as UTAs have continued to be utilized.

Other presentations included Paul Graf and Gerhard Glomm speaking on the fundamentals of economics for a diverse student body, Gavin LaRose giving a talk on mastery grading in pre-calculus and how the calculus curriculum was reformed at the University of Michigan, and George Rehrey sharing about the TRESTLE Project and supporting communities around evidence-based teaching in STEM. We wrapped up the formal Wednesday activities with another meeting for the Bright Spots grant-writing team.

We had the pleasure of visiting Pottery House Studio and painting pottery pieces of our own. We highly recommend giving Pottery House Studio a visit if you are nearby!

Thursday morning began with another Bright Spots grant meeting. The team made progress outlining the needs of the grant and how individuals will be involved. Our final session of talks – the second part of our student-centered approaches theme – took place right after. So many fantastic presentations were given, including Jill Robinson’s talk on multiple assessment opportunities in a large general chemistry course. Typical chemistry courses tend to evaluate a student’s success based on a few large exams and maybe a number of quizzes. However, this leads to a high rate of students dropping or failing after one or two assessments. It was found that at Indiana University, combining flipped learning, second attempts at exams, and group exams increased the pass rate of the course.


Laura Brown, a senior lecturer at Indiana University, also discussed course modifications, although hers were within organic chemistry II. Combined with new assessments such as peer review assignments and weekly group discussion quizzes, Laura utilized modules that showcased the world of chemistry, created scientist spotlights that highlighted diversity in the field, and informed students what a chemistry degree could be used for. All of these efforts combined led to an overall decrease in “grade anomalies,” a phenomenon where a student receives a grade in a course that differs from their GPA. While some groups saw improvement (such as female and out-of-state students), other groups like first-generation students and Pell-eligible students saw an increase in grade penalty. Laura and her team are working to figure out why that is.

Other spectacular folks that presented include Martha Oakley discussing mastery-based grading in general chemistry, Akesha Horton with three approaches for supporting STEM pedagogical practices, and Renée Link with a thoughtful presentation on specifications grading.

Our final scheduled event of the day was the Student Panel and it was interesting to hear from students at Indiana University describe their experience with equity and inclusion in STEM introductory courses. The consensus was that while classrooms are not where they need to be in terms of equity, more and more people are beginning to try. We were left with the impression that we need to keep fighting for what we believe in and fight for the students that are living in the system we help to maintain.

Overall, the IU Week of SEISMIC was a success. The event sparked so many new ideas and discussions and many were able to form new connections. In fact, many began to wonder what SEISMIC 2.0 should look like, especially after Emily asked us to consider what we would envision if we had unlimited resources. We are looking forward to reconnecting at future Weeks of SEISMIC and our 2023 SEISMIC Summer Meeting in Ann Arbor, MI.



Ashley Atkinson

Ashley Atkinson is a Program Assistant for SEISMIC Central, lending a hand to whichever projects need support. Her primary projects include the SEISMIC website, making graphics for various efforts, and editing a podcast. As an alum from Michigan State University, Ashley is passionate about equity and inclusion in STEM alongside science communication.


Nita Tarchinski

Nita Tarchinski is the Project Manager for the Sloan Equity and Inclusion in STEM Introductory Courses (SEISMIC) Collaboration, coordinating multi-institutional and multidisciplinary research and teaching projects focused on making introductory STEM courses more equitable and inclusive.