About Project Kaleidoscope

Project Kaleidoscope (PKAL) is one of the leading advocates in the United States for what works in building and sustaining strong undergraduate programs in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). PKAL is an informal alliance taking responsibility for shaping undergraduate STEM learning environments that attract undergraduate students to STEM fields, inspiring them to persist and succeed by giving them personal experience with the joy of discovery and an awareness of the influence of science and technology in their world. From the work of the extensive PKAL community, resources are available that can be adapted by leaders on campuses across the country working to ensure robust STEM learning of all their students. Such efforts are a collective response to recent urgent calls to action that address their visions of a nation of learners and a nation of innovators.

Our Conviction
PKAL leaders are convinced that the work of transforming the undergraduate STEM learning environment is a responsibility of great urgency:

  • strengthening programs in mathematics and the various fields of science and engineering must be a national priority. America must meet the challenge of preparing well-equipped citizens, K-12 teachers, academic and research scientists, and members of the high-tech workforce to maintain our competitiveness in a world in which science and technology have growing influence
  • the undergraduate community is the vital link in an educational continuum that serves the national interest
  • the next decade (2007 - 2017) provides a significant opportunity to 'get it right' in achieving the systemic transformation of undergraduate STEM which is needed by our society.

Resources from PKAL
As an intelligence-broker within the undergraduate STEM community, PKAL disseminates resources that advance the work of academic leaders tackling the challenging work of ensuring that the undergraduate STEM learning environment that serves 21st century students, science and society most effectively, efficiently, and creatively. PKAL presents these resources under seven umbrella themes:

  • institutional transformation (exploring what works in engaging the people, policies and practices that make it happen)
  • the human infrastructure (exploring what works in nurturing STEM leaders, at all career stages)
  • the physical infrastructure (exploring what works in shaping spaces that support 21st century STEM learning)
  • the academic program (exploring what works in undergraduate STEM courses, from the very first courses for all students through capstone courses for majors)
  • the pedagogical tools (exploring what works in designing, implementing and assessing teaching approaches that have an impact on student learning)
  • the national context (exploring the societal context for attending to the quality of undergraduate learning in STEM fields)
  • the 21st century student (exploring the nature of current and emerging generations of students).

PKAL's Kaleidoscope Perspective
These themes represent PKAL’s kaleidoscopic approach, which has been the foundation of our work since 1989.

A kaleidoscope is an instrument that reveals "what works" in undergraduate STEM education. For PKAL, the metaphor works on several levels:

  • to display the pieces that must be accounted for in the process of institutional transformation
  • to exhibit how these pieces connect
  • to show that patterns will differ, given different institutional context and circumstances.

As a kaleidoscope creates a multitude of patterns in response to the need for change, so the agenda of PKAL encompasses a multiplicity of approaches that can be adapted by leaders with a vision of what robust learning looks like for the students on their campuses.

The Plan for the Future
In 2004, the PKAL community undertook a strategic planning initiative to explore and determine the future of Project Kaleidoscope. From provocative and visionary white papers prepared in 2004 - 2005 by PKAL leaders, a compelling statement of mission, vision and goals emerged. Under the guidance of a newly established Board of Directors, PKAL is building on its past experience and the expertise of a national volunteer cadre of leading agents of change to continue to focus on institutional transformation through:

  • a coordinated series of meetings- workshops, summer institutes, seminars, and roundtables in which participants have hands-on experience with contemporary pedagogies and for intense, in-depth conversations about how to set and assess student learning goals, develop courses, identify pedagogies and technologies, and make decisions about policies, budgets, and spaces that serve those goals: here PKAL serves as convenor
  • a coordinated series of electronic and print publications that support and extend discussions at PKAL meetings, and that capture best ideas and lessons learned from the broader community of stakeholders: here PKAL serves as intelligence broker
  • a network of communities of practice that brings local, regional and national networks together to share best ideas, lessons learned, and what works in developing leaders and leadership for undergraduate STEM: here PKAL serves as facilitator.

PKAL & What Works
Among lessons learned from the years of institutional involvement with PKAL are that what works in the process of seeking sustainable and systemic transformation of the undergraduate learning environment is when responsible leaders:

  • understand the context, internally and externally
  • identify and pursue the right questions, iteratively and persistently
  • have a compelling vision that drives the planning, implementing and assessing of their efforts
  • focus on what works, on solutions rather than problems, learning from and adapting and extending the work of colleagues and peers
  • take the kaleidoscopic perspective
  • dream big and are prepared for the long haul.

PKAL & The Changing Context
As the context for PKAL has changed over the years, we have moved toward a more intentional and explicit emphasis on transformation at the institutional level. In tackling this issue we recognize that:

  • given advances in research on how people learn, as well as the experiences of at least two generations of pedagogical pioneers, and the increasing call of accountability, asking the right questions about student learning is more critical and challenging than before
  • visions of academic leaders and those of corporate, civic and political leaders, are more in sync
  • a much wider range of experience and expertise needs to be at the table colleagues from humanities and other non-STEM fields, administrative officers responsible for decisions about budgets, admissions, facilities, assessment and the like, representatives of constituencies served by the campus community, including from the K-12 sector and the business community
  • there is a greater number of programs that work, in institutions in all sectors of higher education, that need to be identified, analyzed, and used as models for adaptation by others
  • taking the kaleidoscopic perspective and engaging for the long-haul to achieve sustainable and systemic transformation of the undergraduate STEM learning environment is of increasing urgency at the national level.