Professional and Institutional Accreditation (ASPB View)

From the Executive Director
American Society of Plant Biologists

Hi again Gary.

I always enjoy learning more about topics that are unfamiliar to me, and accreditation is definitely one such topic! Clearly we could spend considerably more time in dialog (and I hope that we will!), but to directly answer your question, “What accountability bodies (or just pressures) are plant scientists responding to, if any?” I think the answer currently is ‘none.’

That said, you may be familiar with the (NSF-sponsored) -Vision and Change- exercise (see, which is one of the approaches to re-envisioning undergraduate biology education with which ASPB has been closely involved. Although it’s still somewhat fuzzy, it does seem to me to be coming into focus, and SoTL is definitely a major emphasis.

Although I am not aware that the NSF is actively pursuing accreditation metrics as (sort of) one end of an educational/research continuum, it is unusual among science research agencies in that it does have programs that focus on SoTL (in the Education and Human Resources Directorate), as well as the (perhaps better know) research programs (in the Biology, Geosciences, Math, etc. directorates). It is also clear to me that the NSF is making large strides, where appropriate, in interdigitating these programs. Which is to say that program officers are actively encouraged to work together across the directorates.

It is also pertinent, I think, that the NSF instigated a requirement four or five years ago that has had a profound impact on the way in which funded researchers approach the dissemination of their science. Known as “Criterion 2” or “broader impacts”, it obliges grantees to (in a nutshell) demonstrate to the NSF the ways in which they have engaged the public and/or educators and students around the objectives of the funded research project. This (of course) is not directly related to accreditation; my point, though, is that should the NSF so chose, it might be able to find ways to — er — induce more effective teaching among its grantees. (There’s a disconnect here, as I’m sure you appreciate. Organizationally, the role of a grantee as a teacher at his or her institution is largely distinct from their role as an NSF-funded researcher and governed by different structures. But just because it’s a tough nut doesn’t mean there won’t be people or organizations willing to have a go at cracking it.)

Getting back to ASPB — and recognizing that we are currently operating in an ill-defined ‘space’ and with (one) immediate goal of improving our members’ understanding and application of SoTL in their teaching — there is a raft of resources to which I could point you. I’ll start with just a couple, though, and copy in my colleague Katie Engen. Katie is a) more immediately familiar with ASPB’s efforts in this area, and b) in closer touch with our Education Committee (, which tends to pay closer attention to formal K-16 education, and with members of our Education Foundation board (, which focuses more on informal, public education. I’m sure that she will be able to offer additional thoughts and links to resources, and she’ll be a good conduit –should such be needed– to members and leaders who are directly engaged in these efforts.

Speaking of, we are encouraging members to become both more literate about SoTL and more willing to properly study the efficacy of their own teaching (see, e.g.,; please let Katie know if you can’t access this page and she’ll send you a pdf). We’re encouraging direct engagement by the society’s members in K-12 education (not necessarily your immediate interest, but the caliber of primary and secondary education has an obvious and direct impact on tertiary education); see for an article on this topic published recently in our top-notch research journal and for a statement on this topic that was ratified by the Society’s executive committee a couple of months ago.

We have also articulated some fundamental principles relating to knowledge of plants (see, and a project funded by ASPB’s Education Foundation is developing SoTL-informed hands-on modules around each of these principles.

I’ll stop there and invite both you and Katie to weigh in with any additional thoughts and comments.


From: Brown, Gary []
Sent: Wednesday, September 02, 2009 5:30 PM
To: Crispin Taylor
Subject: RE: accreditation


Thanks for the quick response!

You have very acutely inferred the heart of my question (though I agree it was a bit muddled).

I’m looking at the way CHEA and almost every other regional and professional accrediting agency is in the process of revising standards, essentially raising the bar and requiring assessment to focus on outcomes (rather than coverage,) and encouraging educators to establish systematic assessment (rather than the fire drill events we are so adept at).  The goal of this across the USA has been to put a renewed focus on making changes in teaching and curricula based upon evidence.

I know that sciences are often without specific accreditors, though not without influencing agencies like NSF, NIH, and, presumably, ASPB.  At the same time, professional accreditation organizations like ABET (Engineering), AACSB (Business), NCATE (Education) etc. are also revising their standards to better align with regional accreditors.

So the question was what accountability bodies (or just pressures) are plant scientists responding to, if any.  I appreciate your answer.  Your response also raises the follow up question:  When you say you are ‘actively engaged with,’  I wonder how you (or I in my role in the office of Academic Effectiveness at WSU) can do more to engage and leverage the important influence of professional peers to encourage attention to the scholarship of teaching and learning.  As you can imagine, the challenge I face in my role is to keep the discussion focused on enriching the student learning experience rather than on perfunctory compliance with an annoying bureaucracy.

I am currently embarking upon a very exciting project with a group of plant scientists here at WSU, so any leads you might provide will be more than welcome by our team as we endeavor to expand and deepen our effort.  And, needless to say, as I anticipate a potentially terrific model of integrated research and assessment, done transparently online with what will be available tools, you and ASBP will certainly be welcome to join us.


From: Crispin Taylor []
Sent: Wednesday, September 02, 2009 12:18 PM
To: Brown, Gary
Subject: RE: accreditation

Hi Gary:

Apologies for being dense, but I’m not quite sure what your question is driving at. ASPB is well aware of — indeed, is actively engaged with — various efforts to re-envision the undergraduate biology curriculum, and we assuredly recognize the value of applying what is being learned through research on teaching and learning to improve pedagogy and instructional outcomes. We’re also investing in various online mechanisms and tools aimed at teaching content and/or process. I presume that many of these threads will come together in more formal accreditation programs/efforts, but at this point I do not believe that ASPB is promoting or participating in any such programs.

Having said all that, I am still concerned that I may be missing the point of your question. I think it’d help me do a better job answering that question (or referring you to someone who can) if you could provide me with some examples of the kinds of things you are referring to (e.g., examples from other disciplines), as well as some additional information regarding the context in which you are working.

Thanks for contacting me; I hope I will be able to help out, either directly or indirectly.

Crispin Taylor, Ph.D.
Executive Director
American Society of Plant Biologists
15501 Monona Drive
Rockville, MD 20855-2768
Direct: 301-296-0900
Main: 301-251-0560
Fax: 301-251-6740

It’s not too soon to save the dates…
Montréal, Canada
Jul. 31 — Aug. 4, 2010

From: Brown, Gary []
Sent: Wednesday, September 02, 2009 12:08 PM
To: Crispin Taylor
Subject: accreditation

Hi Crispin,
I’m working with our plant biology programs here at Washington State, and I’m interested in learning more about various educational accreditation influences that may be looming relative to ASPB.  Do you know or do you know somebody I might contact to learn about where the profession may be heading.


Dr. Gary R. Brown, Director
The Office of Academic Innovation & Effectiveness
Washington State University
509 335-1352
509 335-1362 (fax)


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