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Building Communities of Engineering Faculty, Staff, and Students Engaged in Educational Research: The approach of UGA’s Engineering Education Transformations Institute

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


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Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

Faculty Development Evidence-based Practices!

Tagged Division

Faculty Development Division

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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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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 UGA. Supported by over 1.5M in funding, Dr. Sochacka’s research interests include 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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Joachim Walther University of Georgia

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Dr. Joachim Walther is a 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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This evidence-based practice paper responds to a growing interest in engineering education to engage research and instructional faculty in educational research, stemming from the introduction of educational research funding opportunities oriented toward technical STEM faculty such as PFE: RIEF and ECR: BCSER. In this paper, we summarize the work and results of the Engineering Education Transformations Institute (EETI)—a recently founded faculty development center at University of Georgia grounded in a complex systems theory of institutional change—in cultivating a growing community of technical engineering faculty, staff, and graduate students engaged in educational research. EETI’s support for educational research includes a financial component (in the form of research initiation grants) and a community-building component (in the form of a weekly gathering of interested faculty, staff, and graduate students to develop research ideas and methodologies). This paper focuses on the latter.

In designing its community-building component, EETI leadership drew upon Donella Meadows’ 14 principles for engineering change from within a system (Meadows, 2008) and industry-vetted practices for establishing collective intelligence in teams (Woolley, Chabris, Pentland, Hashmi, & Malone, 2010) to create four key conditions that have led to successful, enduring, and diverse communities of engineering faculty who generate educational research ideas and projects. These four conditions are (1) careful use of language to communicate the value of engineering education research and our excitement to work with the community; (2) Relationship-building that actively includes faculty of all roles in addition to staff and students, and extra accommodations to include new participants; (3) development of collective intelligence through conversational turn-taking and modeling of socially sensitive responses; and (4) establishment of process-oriented expectations that prioritize the development of ideas and projects rather than the creation of products and publications. In doing so, we have created communities of educational researchers where participants from a variety of academic levels (students; staff; pre-tenure, tenured, instructional, and professional-track faculty) develop ideas and projects together in a collaborative process.

In this paper, we discuss in greater detail the theoretical and conceptual foundations that informed our four key conditions, and elaborate on the nature and benefits of the communities we have cultivated, particularly benefits related to engagement of tenured faculty members and retention of instructional and professional-track faculty. EETI leadership believes EETI’s model of community-building is transferable to other engineering institutions, and we discuss the implications of EETI’s approach and results for other engineering faculty development units.

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

Woolley, A. W., Chabris, C. F., Pentland, A., Hashmi, N., & Malone, T. W. (2010). Evidence for a collective intelligence factor in the performance of human groups. Science, 330(6004), 686-688. doi:10.1126/science.119314t

Morelock, J. R., & Sochacka, N. W., & Walther, J. (2020, June), Building Communities of Engineering Faculty, Staff, and Students Engaged in Educational Research: The approach of UGA’s Engineering Education Transformations Institute Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--34237

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