Challenges to the Dissemination and Diffusion of Educational Innovations


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by Norman L. Fortenberry, National Academy of Engineering. Presented at the Workshop on Disseminating CCLI Innovations: Arlington, VA, February 18-19, 2010. Workshop organized by Joe Tront, Flora McMartin and Brandon Muramatsu.

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Challenges to the Dissemination and Diffusion of Educational Innovations

  1. 1. Challenges to the Dissemination and Diffusion of Educational Innovations Norman L. Fortenberry Director, NAE CASEE February 16, 2010 Arlington, Virginia
  2. 2. Workshop held 3/06 with ASA <ul><li>Motivation: </li></ul><ul><li>From the perspective of many engineering educators, the lack of change is a based on individual failure. In Menges’ (2000) words, “ Why do faculty fail to use demonstrably effective teaching methods and other data-based information about teaching, and how can the situation be changed?” . </li></ul><ul><li>Rather than blaming individuals, the field would benefit from analysis of the impact of structural and cultural contexts that can shape individual, departmental, and administrative choices. </li></ul><ul><li>Although engineering educators speak of engineering culture, there is limited systematic analysis of the cultural tensions that occur with the modern university, within and between engineering disciplines, and between professional norms and curricular pedagogy. </li></ul>
  3. 3. Workshop held 3/06 with ASA <ul><li>Key Questions: </li></ul><ul><li>How do new knowledge, curriculum, and pedagogical practice gain legitimacy and spread? </li></ul><ul><li>What are the impediments and facilitators of individual and institutional diffusion and change that can be modeled? </li></ul><ul><li>What do we know from research and practice, and what do we need to know to answer these questions? </li></ul><ul><li>What hypotheses need to be tested? </li></ul>
  4. 4. Workshop held 3/06 with ASA <ul><li>Process: </li></ul><ul><li>NAE/CASEE and ASA held a 2-day workshop with 9 engineering educators and 10 sociologists. </li></ul><ul><li>3 groups summarized known and needed research in 3 topic areas with the aim of fostering joint research. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Organizational context and faculty behavior, </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Faculty rewards, and </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Diffusion of innovations </li></ul></ul>
  5. 5. Organizational Context and Faculty Behavior <ul><li>This group focused on the relationship between the adoption of innovations and organizational context and institutional prestige. They proposed a study to examine the adoption of integrated, first-year engineering curricula by first doing comparative case studies of several institutions and then by collecting and analyzing data on all institutions with accredited engineering programs. </li></ul>
  6. 6. Organizational Context and Faculty Behavior <ul><li>Hypotheses: </li></ul><ul><li>Faculty behavior and organizational contexts cannot be separated. Faculty members respond to cues, rewards, trends, fads within their specific institution. This is especially true in engineering which is highly dependent on resources and teamwork. </li></ul><ul><li>Outside social movements and social pressures can push for new curricula (professional associations, organized employers, civil rights movements, state legislators). They may be the agents of change in bringing about dissemination and use. </li></ul><ul><li>Increases in institutional and faculty resources lead to increases in diffusion, which, in turn, leads to broader acceptance of innovations. </li></ul><ul><li>“ Greedy”  institutions place contradictory demands on faculty. </li></ul><ul><li>The division of labor in teaching affects use of new engineering pedagogy. Large required courses tend to be taught by senior faculty who do not do research but tend to uphold traditional methods of teaching and traditional curriculum. </li></ul>
  7. 7. Faculty Rewards <ul><li>This group was interested in the relationship between faculty rewards for innovation and the innovativeness of the engineering department. They proposed two studies. The first is a correlational study that addresses the question, Do teaching grants matter? It would assess the relationship between a list of specific faculty rewards and the hallmarks of an innovative engineering department. The second study asks, Does faculty rank matter? It examines the link between self-reported faculty data on departmental attitudes and culture and the degree to which they use innovative practices in three targeted gatekeeper courses. </li></ul>
  8. 8. Faculty Rewards <ul><li>Hypotheses: </li></ul><ul><li>Those faculty members who get pleasure from doing a good job teaching, from developing colleagues with the same interests in teaching will be more likely to use new engineering pedagogy. </li></ul><ul><li>Increases in salaries and awards will increase diffusion. </li></ul><ul><li>There is collective resistance to adoption of new curricula and pedgogy based on fear of loss of turf and loss of control. </li></ul><ul><li>New pedagogy will be disseminated and used to the extent it fits with norms of what is good engineering, and what makes a good engineer. </li></ul><ul><li>Collective rather than individual mentoring can be used to bring about curricular and pedagogical transformation as well as decrease homophily. </li></ul><ul><li>Especially in research universities, faculty members are still evaluated by grants and publications, even though teaching has become an area for evaluation. </li></ul>
  9. 9. Diffusion of Innovations <ul><li>This group focused on networks and the flow of innovations within and across them. They also proposed two studies. The first examines the flow of a given innovation, such as senior capstone design courses or first year design courses, across engineering colleges. The second focuses on developing a network map for Ph.D. exchanges between institutions for several engineering disciplines and comparing the maps to each other in terms of structure and willingness to innovate. </li></ul>
  10. 10. Diffusion of Innovations <ul><li>Hypotheses: </li></ul><ul><li>Endorsement by those in higher administration (Presidents and Provosts) and other strong players increase the likelihood of acceptance and diffusion. If the new pedagogy is strongly supported by high level administration than it is more likely to be accepted. </li></ul><ul><li>Those in the middle of organizational hierarchies will have the most practical power in implementing technology. Support by Department Chairs and Deans will increase the use of new engineering pedagogy. </li></ul><ul><li>The pattern of network ties will affect diffusion. For example, structural equivalence may be the most important network factor in explaining dissemination of new engineering instructional technologies </li></ul><ul><li>A combination of strong and weak ties is needed to diffuse innovations (to create a “small world.”) because those with strong ties tend to resist change and those with weak ties are isolated. </li></ul><ul><li>Dissemination is most likely to occur between similarly placed, central actors in networks. </li></ul><ul><li>Access to multiple paths increases dissemination. </li></ul><ul><li>Greater acceptance by opinion leaders (usually those at the center of networks) will result in greater dissemination. </li></ul><ul><li>The most usual response to new engineering curricula is neither acceptance nor rejection, but other responses such as assimilation, parallel structures, or decoupling . </li></ul>
  11. 11. Areas of Agreement <ul><li>There are structural and cultural contexts that are part of all organizational and individual decision processes in accepting innovations. Studies of best practices frequently do not examine these contexts. </li></ul><ul><li>Measuring the scope and rate of acceptance of innovations requires studying a variety of units of analysis, including individuals, departments, and schools of engineering. </li></ul><ul><li>Multi-method studies provide the highest level of rigor, richness, and understanding. </li></ul><ul><li>Engineering faculty need to work with sociologists and other social scientists to conduct these studies. </li></ul><ul><li>The more rigorous the study, the more likely the findings are to be accepted, if disseminated through mixed networks. </li></ul>
  12. 12. Questions?