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How to Use the EP3 Guide

The EP3 philosophy for effective departmental change can be summed up in two words: be intentional. Successful physics departments:

  • Engage in cyclic self-reflection on their processes and outcomes to guide decisions and actions
  • Embrace shared action and ownership and engage appropriate stakeholders
  • Use data and a clear sense of departmental mission and identity to formulate plans
  • Put plans into action
  • Reflect on the effectiveness of those actions to guide next steps

The EP3 Guide is designed to support physics departments on this journey.

The EP3 Guide contains a vast quantity of information and advice from across the physics community. No department should attempt to implement everything in it. The Guide is not a set of benchmarks or checklists that define “successful” departments. Instead, the Guide should be regarded as a highly structured resource for physics departments and programs to draw from as they address challenges and make changes and improvements.

Effective Use of the EP3 Guide – Executive Summary for the Impatient

The EP3 Guide is designed to support departments to engage in intentional reflection and action in order to effectively serve their communities and implement change. The Guide contains several “How-to” guides on major undertakings most departments will face such as program review, strategic planning, and program-level assessment of student learning, as well as numerous “Effective practices guides” which provide advice on a wide range of topics relevant to the operation of a vital physics department. (The How-to guides and Effective practices guides will be generically referred to as Guide “sections”.) To use this Guide effectively

  1. Familiarize your team with a big picture of what’s in the EP3 Guide by spending a few minutes perusing the visual overview of the Guide (TOC).
  2. Explore how the Guide can help your department address its challenges by selecting some of the “I want to…” choices offered on the Solve a problem page. These may reveal possibly unexpected interconnections in Guide content relevant to your problem.
  3. Engage with the questions in the cycle of reflection and action to help your department ask the right questions and direct you to the appropriate Guide content. Be prepared to discover that the appropriate response(s) to your department’s challenges may be different and/or more complex than your team initially anticipated.
  4. Once your team has a good idea which parts of the Guide are going to be useful to address your current challenges, dip into some of the individual Guide sections relevant to your department’s current situation. Read the description and benefits of a section to understand what’s in it and why it might be relevant to your department. Each section of the Guide contains tons of information about effective practices appropriate for that section. They might at first appear to be checklists, but they are not. Instead they are a structured set of brief summaries of effective practices useful for achieving particular outcomes. The sections are organized into themes which contain numerous actionable practices relevant to those themes and implementation strategies to help put those practices into action. Peruse the themes and practices in each section and identify those that appear to be of most immediate importance to your current situation. Use the information contained in them to begin to formulate your department’s plan for change.
  5. Return to the questions in the cycle of reflection and action to help your department form a suitable team, develop and implement a plan, assess the results, and direct your team to the appropriate Guide content for each step along the way.
  6. When you’re ready for a more in-depth understanding of the EP3 Guide and how it can be useful to your department,
  • Learn about the philosophy underlying the EP3 Guide here.
  • Have a look at How to use a Guide section for more about how to use the information in each Guide section most effectively, including some discussion of using the cycle of reflection and action to guide your department’s planning for change.
  • Read a more extensive discussion of how to think about using this Guide below to implement change in your department.
  • If you’re interested in a deeper understanding of how to create and sustain changes in your department and programs effectively, read the chapter on How to create and sustain change.

What’s in the EP3 Guide and How it is Structured

To use the EP3 Guide effectively it is helpful to understand its components.

Getting to Know the Guide

The EP3 Guide comprises three main categories of resources: visual and textual navigation of Guide content; effective practices; and supporting materials.

Guide Navigation

In order to help understand and navigate the large quantity of information in the EP3 Guide, we have provided several ways to view and navigate the Guide’s content. These include a visual overview of Guide content, in addition to a traditional text-based table of contents. It is a good idea to study the visual or textual overview of the Guide before diving into individual Guide sections in order to develop a sense of the scope of information available.

A more novel means of exploring the contents of the Guide is provided by clicking the Solve a problem navigation button at the top of every page. Here your team will find maps of Guide content organized around content relevant to common challenges departments face. While for most such problems there will be a Guide section dedicated to that specific challenge (for example, student Recruiting of Undergraduate Physics Majors and Retention of Undergraduate Physics Majors), such challenges are typically multi-faceted. Meeting these challenges successfully will often involve addressing a range of issues within your department; the relevance of some of these issues to the original problem may not be immediately obvious. These goal maps provide a global, visual representation of the web of interconnections relevant to some common departmental challenges, direct teams to appropriate Guide content, and enable discovery of possibly unanticipated connections among departmental operations and issues. Before tackling a major departmental initiative spend some time reviewing the pertinent goal map and exploring the relevant content.

In addition, the Guide enables registered users to tag relevant content for later use. (Feature coming soon!)

Effective Practices

These sections comprise the primary content of the Guide. They are broadly divided into two categories: “How-to” guides on major undertakings most departments will face such as program review, strategic planning, and program-level assessment of student learning, as well as numerous “Effective practices guides” which provide advice on a wide range of topics relevant to the operation of a vital physics department. The How-to guides and Effective practices guides will be generically referred to as Guide “sections”.

The elements of a Guide section are described in How to use the EP3 effective practices guides.

Supporting Materials

The Guide also contains assorted supporting materials tools to help use the Guide and implement its practices such as descriptions of common assessment instruments, examples of materials useful in program-level assessment of student learning, materials to support a departmental review, descriptions of standard foundational documents, and more.

The EP3 Project Principles

In order to make effective use of the EP3 Guide, it is helpful to understand the principles underlying the EP3 Project and Guide. Familiarity with the EP3 Principles should bring into focus the design of the Guide and how to use it well to make changes in your department.

A core aspect of the EP3 philosophy is that successful physics departments engage in cyclic self-reflection on their own processes and outcomes to guide their decisions and actions. We believe that effective change efforts in a department are:

  1. Deliberately designed: driven by a clear understanding of the problem to be solved and current priorities.
  2. Context-dependent: driven by local goals, challenges, and contexts, rather than external mandates.
  3. Driven by a sense of ownership by department members of the process and outcomes, including a sense of collective responsibility for the health of the department.
  4. Driven by broad engagement, so that a range of stakeholders are involved, actions (even if driven by a champion) involve a collaborative process, and work is grounded in a commitment to equity and inclusion.
  5. Grounded in evidence, including an accurate understanding of the available evidence about the problem and decision-making based on appropriate interpretation of the evidence.
  6. Ongoing: change is not considered to be a one and done activity, but instead change processes include opportunities to revisit outcomes and decisions on a regular basis.

Additionally, we see successful change efforts as drivers of positive improvements to departmental culture. We propose that positive department culture:

  1. Embraces assessment as a driver of change, through collecting data from a broad range of sources and using the results to make decisions.
  2. Embraces experimentation by encouraging risk-taking and innovation and learning from failures and successes.
  3. Supports collective action and ownership by distributing power over decision-making in meaningful and equitable ways, supporting many stakeholders to work in partnership, and engendering good communication and trust.
  4. Includes shared stewardship, the understanding that everyone has a shared responsibility for supporting the well-being of the department as a whole.
  5. Includes a shared mission, including a shared understanding of what the department does and for whom, what it wants to achieve over time, and what it should do to achieve desired improvement.

For more about how to make use of the principles underlying the EP3 Project, see Creating and sustaining change.

How to Use the EP3 Guide to Implement Departmental Change Through Reflection and Action

As noted above, the EP3 Guide contains a vast quantity of information and advice. No department should contemplate attempting to implement everything in it. The Guide is not a set of benchmarks or checklists that define “successful” departments. Instead, the Guide should be regarded as a highly structured resource for physics departments and programs to address challenges and make changes and improvements using the tools provided here.

The essence of an effective change process using the EP3 Guide is a cycle of data-driven reflection and action rooted in a clear understanding of the departmental mission, priorities, and context. Successful change efforts maintain focus on the desired outcome while being grounded in concrete information about the current state of the department, opportunities, and constraints. Departments must be collectively willing to embrace change, recognizing that change often entails making potentially uncomfortable choices, by definition prioritizing different things and doing things differently than you have in the past. Change involves continual assessment of how things are going and adaptability to inevitable changes in conditions.

Perhaps most importantly, healthy change processes are driven by shared conversations about the desired global outcomes for the department over time, consistent with the department and institution’s mission, vision, and strategic plans. Sustainable change results from processes which embrace shared ownership of responsibility for the health of the department and engage a broad range of stakeholders. Change leaders should be prepared for conversations with stakeholders to lead to a different vision for change (possibly very different) than was initially envisioned. For example, a department struggling with enrollment may initially plan to introduce new programs to attract more students. Information gathered from students, faculty, alumni, and other stakeholders that informs departmental conversations about needed change may lead to a recognition that the department should instead focus on improving pedagogy, departmental climate, and student preparation for non-academic careers before embarking on developing new programs. The goal maps provide a global view of the interconnections among many of the common challenges departments face, and should be considered carefully as part of your department’s planning for change.

The EP3 Guide provides a set of tools to support effective departmental change processes. Using it well requires using it strategically. The Executive summary for the impatient above is a reasonable place to begin. Once your team is broadly familiar with the scope of the content available in the Guide, the department should begin a conversation about priorities and objectives and then gather the data necessary to formulate a concrete plan of action using the extensive resources provided in the Guide. We’ve provided a cycle of self-reflection questions as one way to structure such a conversation. Visit that page to learn more about using the Guide as part of a cycle of reflection and action.

A more extensive discussion of effective change processes can be found in Creating and sustaining change.

How to Use the EP3 Effective Practices Guides

Each section of the Guide contains tons of information. These might at first appear to be checklists, but they are not. Instead they are a structured set of brief summaries of effective practices useful for achieving particular outcomes a department has agreed are important for it to achieve in light of its mission, vision, priorities, and local context. Only in very rare cases would it make sense for a department to attempt to implement all of the recommendations in a section. In order to use the information in a section effectively it is helpful to understand the structure of a Guide section.

The Structure of a Guide Section

Guide sections typically contain certain common elements: a description of the kind of information that can be found in that section; a summary of the benefits to be had from implementing the practices described in the section; a set of effective practices relevant to the topic of the section; relevant programmatic assessments that will help your department evaluate where it stands and whether the practices implemented are leading to the desired outcomes; and a brief summary of evidence for the practices described in the section and resources to help your department implement them.

The effective practices described in each section are organized into themes which contain numerous actionable practices relevant to those themes and implementation strategies to help put those practices into action. It is up to the department to assess which themes and practices in a section are relevant to your particular challenges and context using tools and information such as the cycle of self-reflection questions noted above.

The “How-to” guides may also contain more narrative than the Effective practices guides and possibly additional elements appropriate to their subject to provide further context and tools for implementation of the relevant practices.

In some sections, the themes are at least somewhat independent of one another. In others, the themes are organized almost chronologically, beginning with the first steps in understanding and establishing the programmatic elements described in the section and then implementing them successfully. (The section on implementing a teacher preparation program is a good example.) In these cases different physics programs may find themselves at different stages of implementation of those themes, and will therefore be likely to engage with the section part-way through the themes. In these cases we nonetheless encourage departments to review the “earlier” themes because the actionable practices in those themes may inspire new ideas and improvements to their current implementation of the subject of the section.

The Evidence provided in each section is intended to be a set of high-level references that are the most important documents to review for someone approaching the topic of the section for the first time, and an entre into the relevant literature. The Resources similarly are top-level “101”-type materials which support the effective practices within the section and provide access to more in-depth materials where appropriate.

How to Use a Guide Section

Before embarking on the implementation of the practices in a Guide section it is important to make sure that the topic of the section truly is the best way to address the challenge the department faces. Begin by reviewing the tools described above such as the goal maps and the cycle of reflection and action. Once your team is confident about its course of action it’s time to explore the effective practices guide in depth. Note that the cycle of reflection and action can apply at both large and small scales – to a large-scale change effort within the department, and also to implementation of particular parts of a plan or specific themes or practices within a section.

As noted, the Effective practices guides are organized into themes which contain numerous actionable practices relevant to those themes and implementation strategies to help put those practices into action.

Once you’ve identified a Guide section that may help your department with your current situation,

  1. Read the description and benefits of the section to understand what’s in it and why it might be relevant to your department’s challenges.
  2. Peruse the themes to become more familiar with the overall content of the section.
  3. Study the programmatic assessments to help your department understand what information it needs to gather to better understand its current situation, and to help identify which themes in the section might be most applicable.
  4. Study the themes in each section and identify those that are of most immediate importance to your current situation. Tag them and use the information contained in them to help formulate your plan for change as part of the cycle of reflection and action.
  5. Within each theme, identify and tag actionable practices and/or implementation strategies that are most easily in reach or of greatest importance to your current situation, and use the information contained in them to begin to implement your department’s plan for change.
  6. Use the programmatic assessments to track progress on how the practices and strategies are working.
  7. As part of your department’s plan for change, periodically review the success of the implementation of the themes and practices in this section, and review whether pursuing additional practices within the section is now appropriate to your department’s plans, goals, and current situation.