Reflective Waves: The Office Hours Podcast: Sharing SEISMIC Stories and Successes

By Ashley Atkinson

Edited by Nita Tarchinski

The Office Hours Podcast Series, created and hosted by Sabrina Solanki and Anna James, explores SEISMIC and SEISMIC-related work to help both members and broader audiences learn more about the work being done in STEM higher education. The five episodes of the podcast were filmed in 2021, and I had the opportunity to edit each one in 2022. The episodes are now available on our MiVideo channel, which also hosts videos from our previous events, including annual meetings and the Weeks of SEISMIC. As part of the Reflective Waves series, I asked co-host Solanki if she had time to chat about her experience working on the Office Hours Podcast.

In 2021, Solanki, currently the Research and Program Director for the Postsecondary Education Research & Implementation Institution (PERI²) at the University of California Irvine, was a lecturer within UCI’s School of Education. Being inspired by podcasts she listened to herself, she wondered if there was a way to create her own podcast, featuring experts that discussed topics she taught to her students. “I wanted to provide my students with content that they would find engaging,” Solanki says. In addition to this, her idea was to introduce different perspectives on topics she covered so her students could better understand them. “It gives [students] a chance to hear information from another individual.”

Office Hours Podcast Co-Host

Sabrina Solanki

Office Hours Podcast Co-Host

Anna James

Solanki’s pilot podcast was a hit, and she was motivated by this success. She wanted to create a second podcast, hosting episodes focused on efforts SEISMIC members were engaging with. Solanki invited Anna James, currently Teaching Professor within the Marine Science Institute at the University of California Santa Barbara, to be a co-host on the podcast. At the time, James was a postdoctoral scholar within the Marine Biodiversity Observation Network at UCSB. Additionally, James and Solanki had volunteered to be SEISMIC’s Theme Leaders, who work to develop themes that tie together knowledge gained through projects and encourage collaboration across working groups. Establishing the podcast as an official Theme, the two decided that the aim of the episodes should be to increase the exposure of ongoing efforts within the collaboration.

Together, Solanki and James thought about the current SEISMIC projects and how they could inform members about what their colleagues are doing. At the same time, they also wanted to make the podcast accessible to a broader audience. “We also wanted to have a diverse group,” Solanki says. “Not only asking folks that many members [already] know, but also reaching out to folks that maybe are not as known within the community.”

Filming the podcast episodes themselves was a breeze, Solanki recalls. She enjoyed interviewing guests and having the opportunity to help share research with listeners. “Everyone was so gracious with their time and excited to talk about their research and share their experience with us.” It was also useful to have a co-host to bounce ideas off, and go back-and-forth with during interviews. Additionally, having someone to share hosting responsibilities helped with the overall workload.

The Office Hours Podcast consists of five episodes. Below is a table summarizing each episode:

Episode

Description

1: Undergraduate Research

Katelyn Cooper and Nikeetha Farfan D’Souza share their work related to undergraduate research. Cooper discusses persistence in undergraduate research and D’Souza discusses cultural and educational disparities in undergraduate student experiences and research.

2: Mentorship

Mike Wilton and Vanessa Woods provide their perspectives on the significant impact of mentorship in STEM education, emphasizing its role in fostering equity and inclusion.

3: Leadership

Natasha Turman and Brian Sato highlight the value of interdisciplinary collaboration and shared leadership in STEM education. They discuss their insights on building successful teams.

4: Institutional Change

Linda Adler-Kassner discusses her work and shares insights on the role of innovative teaching methods and collaborative efforts in fostering more effective learning environments.

5: Technology in the Classroom

Perry Samson describes two of his projects (LectureTools and Backchannels) that are aimed at enhancing student engagement in large lecture halls.

In addition to learning about the work of many SEISMIC members, Solanki also learned more about the process of creating a podcast. “[The episodes] require a lot of effort on the host, you know, to read about the person and read their material,” Solanki says. While she enjoyed the process and was enthusiastic throughout, she acknowledges that not having a production team increased the workload significantly.

If SEISMIC 2.0 were to have a podcast of its own, Solanki believes it’s important to feature experts from a variety of fields, and keep the content accessible and interesting for a broad audience. However, she acknowledges that this pursuit isn’t without challenges: “What’s hard is finding topics that are enjoyable and interesting to a broad audience.” Still, she believes that by asking members what they’re interested in hearing about and who they’d like to hear from, plenty of suitable interview candidates can be found. “The podcast is less about dissemination of one specific intervention and more about being another way to talk to experts,” Solanki says. As SEISMIC has a diverse community filled with experts in various topics, there are plenty of members to highlight, and I’m hopeful that the opportunity to do that through a podcast comes in SEISMIC 2.0.

 

Ashley Atkinson

Ashley Atkinson is a Program Assistant for SEISMIC Central, ensuring that SEISMIC initiatives have the help they need to run smoothly. Her primary responsibilities include maintaining the SEISMIC website, managing the Newsletter, and supporting projects. As an alumnus of Michigan State University, Ashley is passionate about equity and inclusion in STEM alongside science communication. She is currently pursuing an MA in Science Writing and Johns Hopkins University.

 

 

 

 

Reflective Waves: Integrating Equity-Minded Frameworks with the Constructs Working Group

By Ashley Atkinson

Edited by Nita Tarchinski

The Constructs Working Group (also known as WG4) was created in 2020, around a year after the first three working groups. Members of SEISMIC realized that much of their work, while concerned with DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion), was lacking critical frameworks. A construct is the abstract idea, underlying theme, or subject that one wishes to measure. Constructs, such as equity, inclusion, race, gender, and student participation, need to be defined to be measured effectively. How we define these constructs impacts how we use them in policy, practice, and research. They also anchor us in our principles and determine our goals. To better understand how differing definitions and uses of constructs impact DEI in introductory STEM courses, as well as integrate critical frameworks and histories into STEM education research, Sara Brownell (Arizona State University), W. Carson Byrd (University of Michigan), Susan Cheng (University of Michigan), J.W. Hammond (University of Michigan), and Nita Tarchinski (University of Michigan), formed the fourth working group.

One of WG4’s first acts was developing the SEISMIC Statement on Antiracism, outlining how SEISMIC will continue to promote antiracism in policy, representation, research, and teaching and mentorship. Additionally, members focused on exploring understandings of constructs such as “diversity”, “equity”, and “inclusion” in STEM education. The project “Content Analysis of Constructs in STEM Education Literature” systematically surveyed existing scholarship on DEI constructs in STEM education work, documenting the ways these terms are characterized. Participants were also able to publish an article on why “JEDI” is a problematic term to use when promoting equity, diversity, inclusion, and justice.

Recently, I had the chance to talk with the current co-chairs of WG4: Nikeetha Farfan D’Souza, Associate Director of Bias Response and Student Support at Indiana University Bloomington, and Natasha Turman, Director for the Women in Science and Engineering Residence Program at the University of Michigan. D’Souza and Turman, both already involved in WG4 projects of their own, were perfect working group co-chair candidates. Turman is both a leadership educator and a critical scholar whose work involves regularly exploring the constructs that SEISMIC was interested in incorporating. D’Souza has experience exploring critical frameworks in the context of science education. “The previous leadership said they were stepping down and asked if we would be interested in leading and then also having the opportunity to showcase our skills… And hopefully use that to inform the direction of the group,” D’Souza explained. Together, in 2022, Turman and D’Souza became co-chairs of WG4.

WG 4 Co-Chair Natasha Turman

WG 4 Co-Chair Nikeetha Farfan D’Souza

D’Souza began her involvement with WG4 by forming the Mapping Institutional Frameworks project, designed to develop an inventory that identifies and catalogs the different resources, programs, projects, and offices related to increasing DEI at SEISMIC institutions. D’Souza says she began mapping resources to accomplish two objectives: “One is just seeing what’s out there when we talk about DEI and what supports students in introductory STEM courses, but the other was to try new, different methods.” Mapping resources is one of many visual research methods, a term which encompasses approaches that make use of non-verbal modes of representation. This work led to the SEISMIC Open-Access Research (SOAR) Project, where D’Souza and I have been working to develop short primers to explain theories and frameworks often used in social sciences to STEM educators and researchers. A large component of bringing social science mindsets to STEM work is introducing them to practitioners and explaining why they’re needed. “I’m hoping to get smaller resources out for faculty and researchers around thinking critically and culturally, and orienting them to then start using the theories that [Turman]’s group is using.”

Turman is a lead for the Framework Analysis project that aims to compare the ways that constructs related to diversity, equity, and inclusion are defined and used in and across disciplines outside of STEM education. “The primary focus was to think about how we can compare principles in non-STEM disciplines like gender studies, disability studies, and Critical Race Theory that could be useful and applicable within STEM contexts,” Turman says. The goal was to create tangible resources or tools, such as literature highlights and presentations that explain non-STEM frameworks, for instructors and researchers within the STEM world. This work directly inspired the SOAR Project, which aims to put much of this content into primer form. Beyond developing resources, this project also had a reading group that read through Braiding Sweetgrass.

While the two co-chairs worked to move their own projects along, their jobs as co-chairs were far from easy. D’Souza and Turman both noticed less engagement and interest from members as time went on, especially as the end of SEISMIC 1.0 grew closer. “The whole culture and dynamic just shifted,” Turman says. “We don’t know what else to do to make people stay engaged.”

“By 2022, even [our] reading group was super small,” D’Souza adds. With the post-pandemic era bringing anti-DEI efforts, it’s possible that motivations and capacity to participate have changed. “I wonder if people’s time to give to equity work was reduced,” D’Souza says. At the same time, with some of the original WG4 projects wrapping up, momentum had slowed down. Participants had less time to give. “It was just hard to get going,” D’Souza recalls.

Turman and D’Souza also felt they were lacking guidance at times: “I think we were left to our own devices from a SEISMIC perspective… There was not a person or persons for us to talk to as co-chairs to say, ‘Hey, we’re navigating challenges, what are your recommendations?’” Turman says. “Who do we have to go to to find support?”

“There’s a lot of emphasis in SEISMIC on publications, but the background administration and support seems to be missing. And that was, I think, where we struggled,” D’Souza says. “If you have co-chairs and we have these responsibilities, then what is the responsibility of members to engage back and what is the responsibility for leadership to support the co-chairs?”

“Despite the challenges in SEISMIC, I have found a place to do my work,” D’Souza says. Throughout her time in WG4, no matter how challenging things have been, people are always open to new ideas. The SEISMIC Open-Access Resources project is experimental, but having the resources to experiment in this way has been encouraging to D’Souza. “SEISMIC lets me experiment in the true way. You try it and you fail and you try it again and you fail… and maybe on the 10th time you get something going.” In addition, D’Souza has been working with students in non-traditional spaces and creating better research experiments for them. When I was completing my undergraduate degree, I was one of the first students D’Souza mentored, and together we explored how to map institutional resources. More recently, D’Souza has been a mentor in both the 2022 and 2023 cohorts of SEISMIC Scholars.

As we work toward designing a future iteration of SEISMIC, many of these challenges can be addressed by having structured roles with position descriptions as well as commitment forms to guide volunteers. “Making sure that communication is clearly articulated and delineated so people know what they’re actually participating in and what they’re working towards, I think, is really going to be important for the future,” Turman says.

D’Souza and Turman also advocate for prioritizing support for participants’ professional development and well-being. Another recommendation they have for a future version of SEISMIC is to have more check-ins for co-chairs, ensuring they have the resources they need to work toward project goals.

With the voluntary nature of SEISMIC, it can be difficult to assign responsibilities and ensure commitment. Additionally, we want to make sure that members can participate in work that is meaningful for their own professional development goals, and are able to engage in the way they want to. Oftentimes, this manifests in a focus on publications. However, we can still work toward designing a future iteration of SEISMIC that provides more support for all of its members’ interests and is more cognizant of the well-being of its participants.

One of WG4’s publications highlighted how SEISMIC, by undergoing infrastructural revision, was able to (re)shape which people they include, whose voices they elevate, and what data they collect and use. Building equity and inclusion into multi-institutional collaborations is an ongoing, collaborative process. As we encounter challenges, we can evaluate the structures they arise from and revise them. Going forward, we will use the challenges WG4 has faced to inform our design for the next iteration of SEISMIC, continuing to work toward equity and inclusion in our collaboration.

 

Ashley Atkinson

Ashley Atkinson is a Program Assistant for SEISMIC Central, ensuring that SEISMIC initiatives have the help they need to run smoothly. Her primary responsibilities include maintaining the SEISMIC website, managing the Newsletter, and supporting projects. As an alumnus of Michigan State University, Ashley is passionate about equity and inclusion in STEM alongside science communication. She is currently pursuing an MA in Science Writing and Johns Hopkins University.

 

 

 

 

Reflective Waves: Raising Awareness with the Implementing Change Working Group

By Ashley Atkinson

Edited by Nita Tarchinski

For the fourth article in our Reflective Waves series, we are aiming the spotlight at our third Working Group, Implementing Change. Established alongside the Measurements and Experiments Working Groups, the participants in Implementing Change work to understand how data is used at the administrative level and how that data can be presented to influence institutional systems. Over the past five years, 50 members of SEISMIC have contributed to the efforts of the Implementing Change Working Group, helping to share how administrative and institutional structures, tools, and data enhance programs, initiatives, and efforts focused on undergraduate STEM success.

The Implementing Change Working Group is led by two co-chairs: Marco Molinaro, Executive Director for Educational Effectiveness and Analytics at the University of Maryland, and Martha Oakley, a professor in the Department of Chemistry at Indiana University. To learn more about the efforts of Implementing Change, I spoke with Molinaro about his experiences with the Working Group. Molinaro recalls conversations with SEISMIC Director Tim McKay early on in the collaboration, regarding uses for equity data and involving administrators in SEISMIC. While the Measurements Working Group is focused on the “nitty-gritty” data work, Implementing Change was designed to be more big picture, raising awareness of findings from data analysis, Molinaro says. He has helped lead the group in highlighting inequities in higher education STEM courses and urging institutional leaders to take action.

WG 3 Co-Chair Marco Molinaro

WG 3 Co-Chair Martha Oakley

Molinaro leads Implementing Change’s “Building Awareness and Empathy” project, which aims to demonstrate the ubiquity of inequitable outcomes for students of different races and socioeconomic statuses in introductory STEM courses. Five of SEISMIC’s member institutions–UC Irvine, Indiana University, University of Michigan, UC Davis, and UC Santa Barbara–contributed data to explore the intersection of identities, experiences, and opportunities and the impacts these factors have on college outcomes. They found that students with these factors, such as being a first-generation college student, a racial minority, and/or being low-income, were more likely to experience inequities and thus disparities in course performance and college success as a whole. Additionally, the disparity was worse for Black and Hispanic students.

“It’s often a shock to people as to how much [this data] true,” says Molinaro, who presented the findings alongside Sehoya Cotner, Michael Dennin, Dennis Groth, Becky Matz, and Tim McKay at the 2020 AAU STEM Network Conference. The group also emphasized that there was more work to be done: educational researchers must investigate if these patterns hold across systems, what learning environments and course structures lead to fewer equity gaps, and how we can craft stories to inspire change. SEISMIC Scholar Michael Johnson III investigated some of these questions with his poster “Exploring and Supporting Equitable Policies from the Campus to the Classroom”, where he looked at general university policies, placement exam policies, and supporting faculty with implementing equitable practices. He worked to develop one-pagers to be distributed to instructors with recommendations for more equitable grading policies such as “What Does Extra Credit Measure?” and “What is Minimum Grading?” All of these efforts are critical to creating change at the institutional level. “We’ve created a system that perpetuates prior opportunity, even while we make the argument that our systems are here to equalize opportunity for people,” says Molinaro.

“Tools that Influence Introductory STEM Structures and Beyond” is another one of the Implementing Change projects, investigating campus tools that support a system of change. Available tools often shape both instruction and the student experience, as they influence methods of evaluation, communication, and student support. One tool project members looked at was the Know Your Students tool at UC Davis, which allows instructors to better understand their student population and foster discussion. Additionally, members analyzed at ECoach, a student-directed, personalized coaching tool and research platform founded at the University of Michigan that allows tailored communication and interventions for students. Many also ended up adopting ECoach for their own classrooms, as research shows that ECoach’s psychosocial profiles and personalized messaging is effective at improving course performance (Matz et al., 2021). SEISMIC Scholar Anna Rickabaugh also gave a poster presentation on the tools project, giving an overview of the tools that the project is looking at.

Despite the group’s progress toward sharing equity data to catalyze change, the journey has not been without challenges. “Higher education is incredibly stable. And with what we’re trying to do, that’s not a good thing,” Molinaro says. While Implementing Change has created a more welcoming environment for equity discussions, identifying who can create change at the departmental or institutional level is a separate challenge. There are curriculum committees, program review systems, and even state legislatures that all must be convinced that change is needed. Still, it’s a fight that Molinaro, Oakley, and many others have taken on. With the important work that Implementing Change has, critical data and effective presentations can accelerate administrative buy-in and amplify insights from the other Working Groups

 

Reference

Matz, R., Schulz, K., Hanley, E., Derry, H., Hayward, B., Koester, B., Hayward, C., & McKay, T. (2021). Analyzing the Efficacy of ECoach in Supporting Gateway Course Success Through Tailored Support. LAK21: 11th International Learning Analytics and Knowledge Conference, 216–225. https://doi.org/10.1145/3448139.3448160

 

Ashley Atkinson

Ashley Atkinson is a Program Assistant for SEISMIC Central, ensuring that SEISMIC initiatives have the help they need to run smoothly. Her primary responsibilities include maintaining the SEISMIC website, managing the Newsletter, and supporting projects. As an alumnus of Michigan State University, Ashley is passionate about equity and inclusion in STEM alongside science communication. She is currently pursuing an MA in Science Writing and Johns Hopkins University.

 

 

 

 

Reflective Waves: Creating and Applying Classroom Interventions with the Experiments Working Group

By Ashley Atkinson

Edited by Nita Tarchinski

Continuing with our Reflective Waves series, where we showcase important SEISMIC efforts and initiatives that have taken place over the past five years, Working Group 2 (WG2) takes the spotlight. Also known as the Experiments Working Group, WG2 focuses on classroom interventions that seek to understand disparities and foster equity across multiple disciplines and universities. Throughout the duration of SEISMIC, over 70 members have been involved with WG2, supporting multiple projects and giving workshops, poster presentations, and talks at both SEISMIC and external events.

Co-chairs Vanessa Woods and Mike Wilton both joined WG2 because they were interested in applying interventions to their own classrooms. Woods and Wilton are associate teaching professors at the University of California Santa Barbara, with Woods working within the Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences and Wilton working within the Department of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology. I recently had the chance to catch up with Woods and Wilton, reflecting on WG2’s progress over the past few years and their perspectives as co-chairs. WG2, like Working Groups 1 and 3, was established at the 2019 SEISMIC Summer Meeting to help organize and encourage collaborative efforts. “We were perceived to be those that were gonna go in and tinker something in their classroom and see the impacts on student outcomes,” Wilton says.

WG 2 Co-Chair Mike Wilton

WG 2 Co-Chair Vanessa Woods

In addition to establishing the Experiments Working Group at the Summer Meeting in 2019, four project ideas were proposed and taken on by participants. One of these was the Access to Practice (AtP) project, originally coordinated by Maggie Safronova and Linda Adler-Kassner. AtP involves faculty designing low-stakes writing assignments that students will peer-review in order to improve their learning in the course. “Instructors, as experts, have ways that they think and talk and they don’t actually explain those ways very well,” Woods says. “Students […] don’t really have those same structures and understanding of all of those norms. That’s why we call it Access to Practice – how do you give students access to how the discipline talks?” As many say, practice makes perfect.

Access to Practice also capitalizes on how the process of writing, reviewing, and revising improves students’ understanding of concepts and conventions. “It allows students to engage with knowledge in a way that helps them to tackle hard concepts,” Wilton says. He gives the example of his students being tasked with explaining a child’s genetic abnormality to their parents: “They have to write their answer in around 400 words, and that gets reviewed by two of their peers.” This communal learning exercise, which has both prompts and rubrics designed by faculty and project leadership together, has had a surprising finding: students seem to learn more by reviewing others than by being reviewed themselves.

In addition to the structured peer review exercises improving student learning and success, preliminary data shows that participation in the written exercises can increase feelings of disciplinary belonging in students. Faculty at UCSB have the opportunity to participate in the intervention, and the AtP leadership team has worked hard to share the impactfulness of their peer review exercises through publications (e.g., Woods et al., 2021) and presentations. “We’ve done lots of workshop presentations for instructors about how to create structured peer reviews,” Woods says. Outside of local UCSB meetings, Woods and Safronova presented at SABER West 2023, where their theme was Supporting Equitable Transitions in STEM Education.

Office Hours Project Leader Lalo Gonzalez

Another one of WG2’s core projects is the Office Hours Project, led by Lalo Gonzalez, also an associate teaching professor at UCSB. Those within the project have worked hard to identify best practices associated with office hours and collect data through faculty surveys, student surveys, and an “office hours tracker” that documents the characteristics of students attending office hours. Characteristics include categories such as race, ethnicity, gender, first-generation status, and academic standing.

STEM instructors can investigate what is happening in their own classroom by collecting data and working with Office Hours leadership to interpret their findings. Wilton recalls that Gonzalez and a few others acted as mentors, helping instructors develop their education research skills by qualitatively coding survey responses and identifying themes. One trend they observed: first-generation and racially minoritized students were not (or rarely) attending office hours.

Wilton shared that to address these results, he and other instructors modified course syllabi to detail how their courses are designed to support students with learning, and how this support includes office hours. The syllabi also include an explanation of office hours norms, which, for Wilton and his colleagues, have shifted from one-on-one conversations in offices to open rooms with tables where students can work in groups. Finally, those who participate in the Office Hours Project normalize struggling and assure students that it’s a part of learning. Because office hours can seem scary and intimidating, these instructors have taken steps to make it a friendlier environment and lower potential barriers to attending.

Perry Samson, an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Atmospheric Science at the University of Michigan, has led two different projects within WG2. The Backchannel Project seeks to evaluate if a backchannel – a way for students to ask questions anonymously during class and receive answers in real time – increases students’ sense of belonging. As being called on in a classroom or visiting office hours can be intimidating, oftentimes students will resign to having their questions unvoiced or seek the answers elsewhere. This can lead to lower academic success for students who are unable to receive clarification. To address this, Samson’s backchannel allows students to ask questions through their phone or laptop anonymously during lectures and graduate teaching assistants address the question online. Not only does this allow students to get their questions answered, but students can also see they’re not alone in having questions. Woods reports the project has found that underrepresented students utilize backchannels more than raising their hand, or other non-anonymous forms of communication.

Backchannel and CLUE Project Leader Perry Samson

Samson’s second project, Contextual Linkaging for Undergraduate Education (CLUE), uses Artificial Intelligence to transcribe, annotate, index, and take notes on recorded lectures from instructors. “It’s almost like having bookmarks,” Wilton says. Students who miss class or want to review a lecture’s content can re-watch the recording entirely but also use the added indexes, notes, keywords, and additional resources to enhance their studying process. Both of Samson’s projects received NSF funding (NSF2013316, NSF2016421) and have been featured in several articles (Koenig, 2019 & Priebe, 2022), extending the impact of these projects to wider contexts and ultimately impacting more students.

Both Wilton and Woods are thrilled with the work of WG2. “A strength of Working Group 2 is that you see the direct impacts of the work you’re doing,” Wilton says. “It’s like looking under the microscope.” In addition to the successes of WG2’s projects, the co-chairs have come away with important lessons for managing multi-institutional, collaborative work. First, regular communication is critical and must occur throughout the working group: between participants in the same project, between leadership in different projects, between project leadership and co-chairs, and between co-chairs and SEISMIC Central – SEISMIC’s administrative team. Keeping folks in the loop, alongside having people hold organizational roles, ensures that projects stay on track and deadlines are met. On a similar note, meeting in person (like at writing retreats, summer meetings, or the Weeks of SEISMIC), was incredibly helpful for re-energizing project groups and making large pushes toward goals.

This last year of SEISMIC is bittersweet for WG2: some projects are winding down, and others are growing to become self-sustainable, no longer needing as much support from SEISMIC. However, we are immensely proud of the many important interventions developed and implemented throughout the years. “I really do hope that the working groups stay as a collaborative project that keeps going,” Woods says, thinking about a potential SEISMIC 2.0. Indeed, there is still plenty of work to be done and interventions to be assessed when looking at equity and inclusion in STEM courses. However, regardless of what the collaboration looks like in the future, SEISMIC has given multiple experiments the push they need to hit the ground running.

 

Ashley Atkinson

Ashley Atkinson is a Program Assistant for SEISMIC Central, ensuring that SEISMIC initiatives have the help they need to run smoothly. Her primary responsibilities include maintaining the SEISMIC website, managing the Newsletter, and supporting projects. As an alumnus of Michigan State University, Ashley is passionate about equity and inclusion in STEM alongside science communication. She is currently pursuing an MA in Science Writing and Johns Hopkins University.

 

 

 

 

Reflective Waves: Investigating and Identifying Inequities in STEM Courses with the Measurement Working Group

By Ashley Atkinson

Early on, SEISMIC established four Working Groups to promote collaborative work across member institutions and encourage participants to apply their expertise to topics of interest to them. In this issue of Reflective Waves, we will be highlighting the work and successes of Working Group 1: Measurement (WG1). WG1 was founded with the primary goals of establishing metrics for measuring equity and inclusion in introductory STEM courses, conducting measurements, and identifying actionable data to promote change.

Throughout the past five years, over 70 people have been involved with the Measurement Working Group. This has resulted in the publication of six papers, with four more on the way. In addition, WG1 members have given several presentations on their measurement work at a variety of events such as The Weeks of SEISMIC, our Summer Meetings, and academic conferences such as the American Educational Research Association events.

WG 1 Co-Chair Becky Matz

Co-chairs Becky Matz and Stefano Fiorini have worked hard to organize and support the group’s efforts. “I would say that WG1’s greatest success is the new relationships among staff researchers, faculty, postdocs, and students across SEISMIC’s institutions,” says Matz. “There exists now a bigger and stronger network of folks who can do cross-institutional quantitative work with student records data, and I think each of us in that network has a good sense of the motivations, capabilities, and strengths of the others.” Both co-chairs attribute much of WG1’s success to the involvement of key members and are proud of how WG1 as a whole has contributed to the SEISMIC community. Moreover, Matz and Fiorini are confident WG1 has made important progress toward addressing inequities and structural issues that exist on SEISMIC campuses through the variety of studies conducted.

In 2021, WG1 developed a Fellowship program that allowed graduate students to participate in SEISMIC research during the summer, providing them with funding to support their work. Outside of supporting the Collaboration’s goals of improving diversity, equity, and inclusion in STEM courses, the Fellowship program gave WG1 the opportunity to build and expand the pool of future academics with an understanding of the issues that were at play. “That was extremely exciting because we could bring in students and give them an experience that contributed to their career prospects,” Fiorini recalls.

WG 1 Co-Chair Stefano Fiorini

Working Group 1 has nurtured multiple projects to work towards its mission of identifying and evaluating measurements of inequities in STEM courses. One of the working group’s efforts explores the effects of student demographics in introductory STEM courses. By conducting parallel data analyses across the SEISMIC institutions, participants worked to characterize how the complex identities of students interact with STEM learning environments. The group formalized the Systemic Advantage Index, a scale that indicates the advantages that characterize students within institutions according to race, gender, socioeconomic status, and first-generation status. Using this, Sarah Castle and other members of WG1 explored multi-institutional practices for mapping systemic advantages within STEM courses (Castle et al., 2021). Another paper concerning the impact of systemic advantage on student outcomes is currently in review, and will hopefully be published soon. 

Another WG1 project focused on the impact that Advanced Placement (AP) course credit has on student success in introductory science courses. Christian Fischer and other members of WG1 identified that institutional and departmental policies concerning AP credit varied widely. Additionally, the group found that there was variety in the way students approached using AP credit to skip courses (Fischer et al., 2023).

Working Group 1’s progress was not without challenges, however. Often, the data they were primarily working with was institutional data, meaning information about the courses and their students was collected by the universities themselves. This frequently left many unknown elements when looking at data, such as specific student identities and other unique student experiences, leading WG1 members to wonder, “How can we describe inequities in an effective, meaningful, and actionable way?” 

To address this in part, WG1 consulted with members of Working Group 4: Constructs (WG4), who were familiar with applying new frameworks and perspectives to STEM education research. “They provided us with food for thought [and] and ways of moving this work forward while accounting for the limitations of our data,” Fiorini explains. WG4 assisted WG1 with integrating critical approaches into quantitative STEM equity working, investigating systemic inequities present in higher education and their historical roots. Pearson et al. (2022) is a great example of the two working groups collaborating to inform future analyses concerning systemic inequity in STEM fields.

Matz and Fiorini are hopeful that WG1 will continue to develop the knowledge and skills needed to work towards changing inequitable practices and adverse structural elements, even after the end of SEISMIC 1.0. The two also have future topics they’d like for the group to explore, including analyzing data generated from learning management systems and using WG1’s strong relationships to do research that impacts an even broader audience of researchers, administrators, and faculty.

Because of the efforts of dedicated co-chairs and motivated members, Working Group 1 has advanced the understanding of equity issues in STEM introductory courses, identifying and developing metrics alongside analyzing available data. They are continuing to apply pressure to the higher education system, pursuing new projects and sharing what they’ve learned. The fire they’ve lit under all of us involved in higher education will continue to burn, even beyond the conclusion of SEISMIC.

 

Ashley Atkinson

Ashley Atkinson is a Program Assistant for SEISMIC Central, ensuring that SEISMIC initiatives have the help they need to run smoothly. Her primary responsibilities include maintaining the SEISMIC website, managing the Newsletter, and supporting projects. As an alum from Michigan State University, Ashley is passionate about equity and inclusion in STEM alongside science communication. She is currently pursuing an MA in Science Writing and Johns Hopkins University.

 

 

 

 

Reflective Waves: Behind the Scenes of our Collaboration’s Newsletter

By Ashley Atkinson

With funding for The SEISMIC Collaboration being extended for another year, this is a great opportunity to reflect on past SEISMIC initiatives, synthesizing what we’ve learned and thinking about what we want both SEISMIC 2.0 and our last year of SEISMIC 1.0 to look like. To take advantage of this time, SEISMIC Central is beginning a “Reflective Waves” article series where previous SEISMIC efforts are revisited and explored. The goal is to interview members tied to these efforts to gain additional perspectives on projects. We are hopeful that this series will cover a variety of SEISMIC initiatives including the Working Groups, the Office Hours Podcast, SEISMIC Scholars, the Weeks of SEISMIC, and the Collaboration Council. The first and longest standing SEISMIC initiative we are reflecting on, however, is our Newsletter.

SEISMIC Project Manager Nita Tarchinski

Currently, the SEISMIC Newsletter has 726 subscribers and has released a total of 57 monthly issues. For almost five years, members of SEISMIC and other interested individuals have been receiving information about current Collaboration happenings including upcoming events, featured participants, and project updates. However, the SEISMIC Newsletter had humble beginnings: the first issue published in March of 2019 had just 64 recipients.

SEISMIC Project Manager Nita Tarchinski has been in charge of creating the monthly Newsletters since the beginning. She recalls that it was originally SEISMIC Director Tim McKay’s idea for a Newsletter in order to provide the collaboration with a regular communication mechanism. “No matter what, you were going to hear from us once a month, and that seemed like a good frequency to keep people engaged,” Nita explains. SEISMIC’s Newsletter is also open to those who are not at participating institutions but are interested in the type of work that SEISMIC does. Many of SEISMIC’s virtual talks are open to the public, welcoming those from outside the 10 member institutions.

 

Aside from regular updates related to the Collaboration itself, another regular component of the monthly Newsletters is the SEISMIC Voices series. Since the beginning, SEISMIC Voices has aimed to both help bring the community together and make members feel valued. “We were starting the community from zero. We were trying to make people feel seen,” Nita says. “Every month you’re seeing someone new and seeing another way that people have been involved.” Nita has been intentional about featuring a diverse set of voices, inviting people from different universities and disciplines, people who have held different institutional roles, and people who have been involved in SEISMIC in different ways. She has also tried to ensure that the Voices highlight SEISMIC’s gender and racial diversity.

In addition to showcasing SEISMIC’s members, Nita hopes that participating in SEISMIC Voices can act as a recommitment to the Collaboration: “It’s like this affirmation to them that we see them as a contributing member,” Nita explains. She hopes that by reflecting on their experiences, featured members are reminded of what they’ve enjoyed about the collaboration, and hopefully want to do more.

The SEISMIC Newsletter also has other uses, such as allowing members to share their own events and advertising swag created by SEISMIC Central. Moreover, the Newsletter has been used to gather feedback, both formally and informally. There have been times when members have replied to the Newsletters Nita sends out, cheering SEISMIC on and celebrating accomplishments that have been shared. “I’ve been so touched by that,” Nita says. Additionally, last month’s Newsletter featured a poll allowing members to vote for how SEISMIC should use its remaining funds. While the results didn’t show an immediate “winner”, members’ opinions will be considered when discussing plans for SEISMIC 2.0.

With many of SEISMIC’s projects winding down, Nita believes that next year could be a great opportunity to share lessons learned from SEISMIC 1.0, especially as SEISMIC Central and The Collaboration Council discuss what SEISMIC 2.0 will look like. This would involve a shift in the balance of content, involving less updating and more learning. While the Reflective Waves series supports this, Nita is also interested in sharing lessons directly from Working Groups and other teams.

Moving into our final year, the Newsletter continues to be a vital part of the SEISMIC community. Nita has done a fantastic job of managing and developing the Newsletter, and she has solidified its status as SEISMIC’s most popular way of sharing information. Going forward, SEISMIC Program Assistant Ashley Atkinson will be in charge of developing content for the Newsletter and hopes to continue the momentum that Nita has built. Ashley is welcoming new ideas for the Newsletter and can be reached at atkinash@umich.edu. She hopes that subscribers are excited for the Reflective Waves series!

 

 

Ashley Atkinson

Ashley Atkinson is a Program Assistant for SEISMIC Central, ensuring that SEISMIC initiatives have the help they need to run smoothly. Her primary responsibilities include maintaining the SEISMIC website, managing the Newsletter, and supporting projects. As an alum from Michigan State University, Ashley is passionate about equity and inclusion in STEM alongside science communication. She is currently pursuing an MA in Science Writing and Johns Hopkins University.