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Academic Change from Theory to Practice: Examples from an Engineering Faculty Development Institution

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

October 19, 2019

Conference Session

Connecting Theory and Practice in a Change Project - And What I Wish I Knew Before I Started

Tagged Division

Faculty Development Constituent Committee

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Paper Authors


John Ray Morelock University of Georgia Orcid 16x16

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Dr. John Morelock recently graduated from Engineering Education at Virginia Tech as a recipient of the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship. His dissertation studied the teaching practices of engineering instructors during game-based learning activities, and how these practices affected student motivation. His research interests include engineering faculty development, student motivation, game-based teaching and learning, gamified classrooms, and engineering faculty collaborations around the scholarship of teaching and learning. He is currently the Associate Director for Educational Innovation and Impact at the University of Georgia's Engineering Education Transformations Institute.

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Joachim Walther University of Georgia

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Dr. Joachim Walther is an Associate Professor of engineering education research at the University of Georgia and the Founding Director of the Engineering Education Transformations Institute (EETI) in the College of Engineering. The Engineering Education Transformations Institute at UGA is an innovative approach that fuses high quality engineering education research with systematic educational innovation to transform the educational practices and cultures of engineering. Dr. Walther’s research group, the Collaborative Lounge for Understanding Society and Technology through Educational Research (CLUSTER), is a dynamic interdisciplinary team that brings together professors, graduate, and undergraduate students from engineering, art, educational psychology, and social work in the context of fundamental educational research. Dr. Walther’s research program spans interpretive research methodologies in engineering education, the professional formation of engineers, the role of empathy and reflection in engineering learning, and student development in interdisciplinary and interprofessional spaces.

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Nicola W. Sochacka University of Georgia

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Dr. Nicola Sochacka is the Associate Director for Research Initiation and Enablement in the Engineering Education Transformations Institute (EETI) in the College of Engineering at the University of Georgia. Her research interests include interpretive research quality, systems thinking, diversity, STEAM (STEM + Art) education, and the role of empathy in engineering education and practice. Her work has been recognized through multiple best paper awards and keynote presentations at international and national conferences and workshops.

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This panel paper describes examples of connecting academic change theories to practice in the formation and operation of [Engineering Faculty Development Institute] (EFDI) at [University], and the lessons learned in change project spearheaded by EFDI. Particularly, since its inception in early 2017, EFDI built its foundation on complex systems theories of change. Throughout EFDI’s development and growth, the leadership team has leveraged theory for three distinct purposes: (1) generative use of theory to draft the Institute’s strategic goals, (2) pragmatic use of theory to guide EFDI’s operations in practice, and (3) reflective use of theory to more cohesively tell EFDI’s story to-date. Generatively, in order to foster a positive culture around teaching and learning in [University]’s College of Engineering, EFDI has built its strategic mission and objectives in alignment with systems thinking principles outlined by Donella Meadows (2001). Pragmatically, in adapting this theory to practice, the authors and their colleagues at EFDI host faculty learning communities at several levels (from bimonthly, college-wide gathering, to individual project team meetings) to learn about engineering faculty interests and provide faculty the resources and support they need to pursue teaching and learning projects of interest to them. In accordance with complex systems theories of change, EFDI’s leadership does not expect cultural change and shared vision to materialize overnight, but rather posit that valuing diverse faculty member contributions to a college-wide learning community and planting seeds that lead to repeated opportunities for collaboration will eventually lead the pursuit of teaching and learning projects to become a regular part of the College’s culture. Reflectively, EDFI leadership has found that ecological design--an engineering design framework rooted in integrating designs with complex ecological systems--provides a powerful analogy to explain EDFI’s mission and position within the College of Engineering, with the related idea of permaculture (Holmgren, 2002) offering a particularly salient metaphor.

During the panel, the authors will provide an overview of how EFDI’s theoretical foundations have informed its change projects, and the results of these activities have manifested in relation to those theoretical foundations. The authors will also discuss lessons learned to-date, including challenges in pragmatically adapting theory to practice and in the use of system feedback for formative assessment.

Holmgren, D. (2002). Permaculture: Principles & Pathways Beyond Sustainability: Holmgren Design Services.

Meadows, D. (2008). Thinking in Systems: A Primer (D. Wright Ed.). White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing.

Morelock, J. R., & Walther, J., & Sochacka, N. W. (2019, June), Academic Change from Theory to Practice: Examples from an Engineering Faculty Development Institution Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--32022

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