Johnson, H. L., Olson, G., McClintock, E., Mesa, V., & Rasmussen, C. (2021). Theorizing departmental change in early undergraduate math courses: Leveraging digital resources to influence practice. Transforming Institutions 2021 Virtual Conference,


I’m Heather Johnson.

I’m an associate professor in the School of Education and Human Development at the University of Colorado Denver.

In this lightning talk, I give a brief glimpse into how we are theorizing departmental change in early undergraduate mathematics, focusing on college algebra in particular.

The image in the upper left is our project logo, and the QR code will take you to the website for our project, which is funded by the National Science Foundation.

The problem we’re working on is this:

How to expand a successful intervention in a single department at a single institution, to multiple departments across multiple institutions, of different sizes and scope.

The theoretical approach we employ is Kezar and colleagues’ Communities of Transformation.

Communities of transformations have three aspects:

  1. An idea that can challenge the status quo
  2. A space to carry out practices that embody the new idea
  3. A group to sustain those practices.

What’s our idea?

Reasoning is more important than answer finding.

What’s our space to carry out practices embodying this idea?

Digital Activities developed in a freely available online math platform called Desmos, then embedded into College Algebra courses.

How will we sustain those practices?

We’re forming faculty groups within and across institutions, to create online and in-person opportunities to address three interrelated aspects: content, reasoning, and power. We want to transform what gets counted in college algebra, with a focus not only on procedures and techniques, but also on big ideas of function, which are worthy in and of themselves, not only preparations for some future course. These groups can generate opportunities for faculty to consider how a focus on reasoning can impact students’ interactions, and to reflect on their power as instructors to determine which student voices get amplified, or marginalized.

In conclusion, we leverage the “whats” to impact the “why.”

Thank you.


Kezar, A., Gehrke, S., & Bernstein-Sierra, S. (2018). Communities of transformation: Creating changes to deeply entrenched issues. The Journal of Higher Education, 89(6), 832–864.

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