Asee peer logo

Examining a Novel Theory-to-practice Effort in Engineering Education through Multiple Theoretical Lenses of Systems and Change

Download Paper |


2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 23, 2018

Start Date

June 23, 2018

End Date

July 27, 2018

Conference Session

Institutional Change

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count




Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Stephen Secules University of Georgia Orcid 16x16

visit author page

Stephen received a PhD in education at the University of Maryland researching engineering education. He has a prior academic and professional background in engineering, having worked professionally as an acoustical engineer. He has taught an introduction to engineering to undergraduate engineers and to practicing K-12 teachers. Stephen's research interests include equity, culture, and the sociocultural dimensions of engineering education.

visit author page

author page

James John Bale Jr. University of Georgia


Nicola W. Sochacka University of Georgia

visit author page

Nicola W. Sochacka is the Associate Director of the Engineering Education Transformations Institute (EETI) in the College of Engineering at the University of Georgia. Dr. Sochacka’s research interests span interpretive research methods, STEAM (STEM + Art) education, empathy, diversity, and reflection. She holds a Ph.D. in Engineering Epistemologies and a Bachelor of Environmental Engineering from the University of Queensland.

visit author page


Joachim Walther University of Georgia

visit author page

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.

visit author page

Download Paper |


Background: In the past, the engineering education community has focused primarily on developing evidence-based best practices and fundamental theories of teaching and learning. An emerging focus, embodied in initiatives like the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Revolutionizing Engineering Departments (RED) program, is on achieving systemic, sustainable, and scalable change, that is, the translation of theory to impact practice. Current models for engineering education units within universities have achieved goals to develop fundamental theory, making engineering education into a viable discipline. Alternative institutional models for engineering education are beginning to emerge that explore new avenues for achieving widespread, transformational impacts on educational practice . This paper describes a novel, next generation approach to translating theory to practice, and transforming an institutional culture through an integrated focus on building community and shared capacity around the scholarship of teaching and learning (SOTL) and educational research in a college of engineering.

Paper approach: When organizing a departmental or programmatic effort, logistical decisions can dominate and obscure the underlying organizing theory for the effort. Consistent with NSF’s calls for a greater understanding of theories of change, we connect the explicit and implicit organizing philosophies underpinning the innovative approach to enacted institutional plans and approaches.

Guiding Theories: We draw on Henderson’s theoretical models of Institutional Change in higher education to clarify the chosen approach to transformation. We also draw on a complex systems perspective as a guiding philosophy to conceptualize change in the interconnected human, institutional, and social structures of our engineering college, and on boundary spanning to address the ways that communication across knowledge domains can be enacted and supported.

Methodology: The anthropologically inspired methodology explores institutional artifacts, structure, and guiding philosophies for their explicitly stated or implicitly enacted theories. As a collaboration between insiders (founders and long time participants) and relative outsiders (a new participant), the innovative approach could be both described from experience and examined anew, and could explore both planned intentions and enacted realities.

Empirical Results: Guiding principles, made explicit in PROGRAM_NAME founding documents and written reflections of organizers, include “plant a lot of seeds” and “people are the drivers of change.” An organizing structure includes administrative and faculty roles with dual focuses on developing research and translating to practice. Several opportunities for engagement between researchers and practitioners are structured as regular events and forums.

Discussion: We connect the guiding theories to specific aspects of PROGRAM_NAME to clarify the purpose and implicit assumptions embedded inside institutional practices. For example, the events and forums can be understood as a form of boundary spanning, while the underlying goal of investing in people is consistent with Henderson’s “developing reflective practitioners” model for institutional change.

Conclusions: We highlight PROGRAM_NAME’s approach to engineering educational transformation, substantiated by guiding theories. In so doing, we hope to provide greater insight into one approach, show contrasts with other approaches, and suggest a parallel theoretical clarification as a generative activity for other efforts at institutional change.

Secules, S., & Bale, J. J., & Sochacka, N. W., & Walther, J. (2018, June), Examining a Novel Theory-to-practice Effort in Engineering Education through Multiple Theoretical Lenses of Systems and Change Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--30464

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2018 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015