Stories of Innovation: Minnesota State REFLECT

Minnesota State REFLECT: Research Experiences For Learning, Engaging, Connecting, and Teaching

Author: Dr. Catherine Ford, Program Director of Educational Development, Minnesota State
Note: Minnesota State REFLECT was formerly known as “MN REFLECT.”

What do you do when you have a program that you believe can add value across Minnesota State and you want to shout this from the mountain tops? You condense your shouts into a 7 minute Shark Tank Open presentation and hope that others see the value and potential too.

In 2016, Dr. Deidra Peaslee, then Anoka Ramsey Community College (ARCC) Vice President of Academic and Student Affairs and Dr. Catherine Ford, then Faculty Coordinator of the ARCC Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) Scholars program, developed an institutionally sustained SoTL Scholars program that supports faculty in the engagement of scholarly research to enhance the teaching and student learning experiences with intent to publish study results and contribute literature. This program provides a structure and process to engage in SoTL while mitigating barriers that might deter faculty from formally engaging in this evidence based and reflective approach to their teaching.

In the first year of the SoTL Scholars program, four faculty members initiated research projects on topics including:

  • assessing the impact of iterative scaffolding on student achievement of course learning objectives and
  • whether using videotaped skills testing can improve professional behaviors during clinical experiences in an occupational program.

The feedback from participating faculty was encouraging, the results from the individual studies was promising, and the anecdotal evidence about increased research confidence, creation of a sense of community, and reflection on teaching was inspiring. At the same time, we realized that an institutionally supported SoTL program at the two-year college let alone across a system as large as Minnesota State was rare. It is in this space that we saw great potential!

Even as the SoTL Scholars program began, the potential for scale-up was already making itself known. In a 2015 ASA conference presentation about innovative strategies to support faculty research and projects, many attending institutions expressed enthusiasm about the concept, but did not have the on-campus expertise or available bandwidth to create an institutionally supported SoTL program from scratch.

Furthermore, this initiative is at the forefront of national conversations about the role of effective teaching in improving college student success. In 2017, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation convened a group of educators to discuss how the success of low-income students can be improved through effective teaching. This group discussed what prevents faculty from improving their teaching culminating in five themes. One of the themes is using communities of practice to support faculty members as they reflect on their teaching and make pedagogical changes.

In 2018, the Shark Tank Open provided an opportunity to explore the viability of a scale-up of the ARCC SoTL Scholars program. We felt that we had the prospect to be atop the wave of innovation in a body of SoTL work. After application and practice, we presented our pitch of the Minnesota State branded version of the ARCC SoTL Scholars program Minnesota State REFLECT: Research Experiences For Learning, Engaging, Connecting, and Teaching. To our delight, our project was funded at $25,000!

Dr. Deidra Peaslee and Dr. Catherine Ford pitching the MN REFLECT Program at the 2018 Shark Tank Open.

The structure and process includes a 4 semester commitment with corresponding benchmarks that align with the scholarly research process: generating a question, developing methodology, collecting data, analyzing data, and publishing or presenting data. According to Dr. Megan Breit-Goodwin, ARCC math faculty, “The two-year time frame was perfect. It allowed me to slow down and allow the inquiry to progress at a comfortable pace. It was never overwhelming, but always moving forward.” Additionally, each faculty participant is guided through an introspective process to identify a research question rooted in their experiences teaching our diverse students.

In their first semester of Minnesota State REFLECT, faculty developed research questions and methodology in order to submit applications to the Institutional Review Board (IRB). Faculty studies in this cohort include instructional strategies that best meet the needs of ESOL students, the impact of rapport building practices such as conferencing on student success, the impact of course content on implicit bias and the application of growth mindset instructional strategies on student perception of self as learner.

The Minnesota State mission leads with the acknowledgement and pride of distinct and collaborative institutions. This project capitalizes on and highlights the collaborative nature of Minnesota State by providing an opportunity for faculty from institutions across the state to come together as a community of practice to research and share pedagogical components that can significantly impact student-learning.

Minnesota State REFLECT

To our excitement, conversations during the 2018 Speed Meet and follow up conference calls also indicated that institutions are interested in joining a collaboration that is already working rather than trying to create their own initiative.

We once again applied for additional funding to propel the Minnesota State REFLECT even further across Minnesota State campuses. This innovation in collaboration was recognized again with the award of a large collaboration grant in 2019 that funded an additional 2 cohorts (5 faculty each) to engage in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. With no intent to stop here, the Minnesota State REFLECT program also received a Pay it Forward grant to bring an iteration of the program to another campus with a tailored focus.

Supporting faculty in the pursuit of scholarly research reflective teaching practices is a meaningful approach to continually providing the best education possible for students. The underlying tenets of this innovative project support student success, equity, and diversity. Additionally, faculty members gaining research skills allows them to continue innovating and assessing effective classroom practices beyond the scope of completing an initial study.

This program is not one institution’s singular faculty development program; this innovative program is a collaborative effort to support a systemwide culture change that embraces collaborative, reflective teaching practice as a strategy to impact student success from the inside-out at multiple institutions around the state.

Minnesota State REFLECT Cohort Members 2018-2020

• Kurt Burch – Normandale Community College
• Jason Burrows – Hennepin Technical College
• Kathleen Coate – Normandale Community College
• Amy Fladeboe – Century Community College
• Amanda Hakemian – Normandale Community College
• Carla-Elaine Johnson – Saint Paul College
• Carrie Ketel-Opheim – Normandale Community College
• Jamie Kleinendorst – Itasca Community College
• Delissa Madden – St. Cloud Technical and Community College
• Susan Parry – Hennepin Technical College
• Caitlin Skellett – St. Cloud Technical and Community College
• Kristyn VanderWaal Mills – Saint Paul College
• Gus Vettleson – Northwest Technical College

Visit to learn more about MN REFLECT. To learn more about the Shark Tank Open, visit the Shark Tank Open page.

Questions? Contact Dr. Catherine Ford.

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