Friday, April 15, 2016

IBL Workshop Model and Real-World Results (Wonkish)

This post is about professional development, and is intended for those interested in faculty professional development.  There may be some applicability to K-12 PD, but I'm not promising that. Presented here is a model that I argue can be used outside of Mathematics in higher ed. My experience in K-12 PD tells me that changes can be made for K-12, but that there are other aspects (such as working with school districts, parents, testing, etc.) that add more layers that need to be carefully and thoughtfully handled (that may require much more resources).

This post is also from the perspective of people on the front lines. Our team works with teachers, and we are teachers.  Our work is grounded in the hard efforts of teachers who have thought carefully about the issues.

The evaluators for the project I've been working on are Dr. Sandra Laursen and Chuck Hayward, at Ethnography and Evaluation Research, CU Boulder.   We have run a set of IBL workshops (funded by NSF SPIGOT) in 2013-2015, and have some results to share.

The main results:
  • Total number of participants is 138
  • ~ 75% implementation rate
  • 61% of the participants are in the first 5 years of their teaching careers.
  • In just the first year after the workshop, participants taught 180+ classes to 4600+ students (in the real world)!
  • Ongoing support via Email mentoring is a critical feature
  • An inclusive or "Big Tent" definition of IBL is critical for allowing participants to find their own way, suitable for their situation.
The short version is that uptake is happening at a high rate!  This is an encouraging sign, as it provides evidence that effective PD can make a difference.

How we got to these results is a very, very large undertaking spread over about a decade of work by a team of people.  I'll briefly highlight the main facets in the rest of this post.  An embedded slideshow appears farther down this post with more details and diagrams.

First, we identified major obstacles that faculty face when learning to implement IBL methods.   If an instructor has not had much or any firsthand experience with IBL, it is hard to convey through discussions what an IBL class is like and how to pull it off. Additionally, there are skills, practices, curricula, and assessment to consider, all of which are different or changes.   Hence the need for a highly specialized professional development experience that directly addresses the challenges and needs new IBL instructors deal with.

Obstacles or challenges include lack of experience with IBL,  the need for instructors to learn IBL teaching skills, the Math Ed Knowledge Gap, IBL course materials, assessment in IBL courses, and organizing the structure (i.e. syllabus) of an IBL course. With a list of obstacles in hand, much effort went into designing workshop components to direct address and reduce the identified barriers.

It it emphasized that the workshop is designed as a single composition, where all the parts of the workshop are interconnected and the main goal is getting participants to a point where they can teach an IBL class successfully.  It is definitely NOT about trotting out our favorite activities.  Indeed, teaching is a system, and teaching is a cultural activity. Hence, the workshop is about providing a broad IBL framework that participants can adapt to their situation. The main focal points are (a) IBL teaching skills and practices, (b) understanding the evidence for IBL and how students learn, (c) linked teaching choices (assessment, problem posing, and content), and (d) building a practically feasible (to the participant) course.

Another important feature of our work is data driven decision making. The staff used evaluation data and research to inform decisions about all aspects of running and designing workshops, from recruitment, building workshops materials, adapting sessions to better meet participant needs, and also to main components that are successful.  It's through this iterative, self-assessment process that the workshop model has improved over time.  Sandra Laursen and Chuck Hayward head up the evaluation and research efforts for our projects, and their regular insights helps use make small and longer-term positive changes.

Our current NSF funded project, PRODUCT, has the main goal of expanding the profession's capacity to offer a version of the 4-Day IBL Workshop and developing short workshops that can be "sent" around the country and increase awareness of IBL.  The goal is to build the PD network up to a point where a much larger capacity PD exists and a larger variety of workshops (weeklong and short workshops).

More details are in the slides below.

OR click this link to Slides About the IBL Workshop Model

Edit: Click here to link to the evaluation report.