Asee peer logo

Examining Diffusion Networks and Identifying Opinion Leaders: A Case Study of the AIChE Concept Warehouse

Download Paper |


2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

Curriculum Development and Assessment in Chemical Engineering

Tagged Division

Chemical Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.556.1 - 24.556.15



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Debra M. Gilbuena Oregon State University

visit author page

Debra Gilbuena is a postdoctoral scholar in the School of Chemical, Biological, and Environmental Engineering at Oregon State University. Debra has an M.BA, an M.S, and four years of industrial experience including a position in sensor development. Sensor development is also an area in which she holds a patent. She currently has research focused on student learning in virtual laboratories and the diffusion of educational interventions and practices.

visit author page


Christina Smith Oregon State University

visit author page

Christina Smith is a graduate student in the School of Chemical, Biological, and Environmental Engineering at Oregon State University. She received her B.S. from the University of Utah in chemical engineering and is pursuing her PhD also in chemical engineering with an emphasis on engineering education. Her research interests include diffusion of innovations and student personal epistemology.

visit author page


Bill Jay Brooks Oregon State University

visit author page

Bill Brooks is a postdoctoral scholar in the School of Chemical, Biological, and Environmental Engineering at Oregon State University. His Ph.D used written explanations to concept questions to investigate technology mediated active learning in the undergraduate chemical engineering classroom. He current interests involve using technology to enhance educational practices in promoting conceptual understanding. He is the primary programmer of the AIChE Concept Warehouse and his current focus is on its continued development, specifically creating and integrating Interactive Virtual Labs.

visit author page


Milo Koretsky Oregon State University

visit author page

Milo Koretsky is a Professor of Chemical Engineering at Oregon State University. He received his B.S. and M.S. degrees from UC San Diego and his Ph.D. from UC Berkeley, all in Chemical Engineering. He currently has research activity in areas related engineering education and is interested in integrating technology into effective educational practices and in promoting the use of higher-level cognitive skills in engineering problem solving. His research interests particularly focus on what prevents students from being able to integrate and extend the knowledge developed in specific courses in the core curriculum to the more complex, authentic problems and projects they face as professionals. Dr. Koretsky is one of the founding members of the Center for Lifelong STEM Education Research at OSU.

visit author page

Download Paper |


Examining Diffusion Networks and Identifying Opinion Leaders: A Case Study of the AIChE Concept WarehousePropagation is a widespread goal of educational innovations. If an innovation is effective in oneenvironment, developers usually desire to share it with other instructors and institutions to have alarger impact and improve education more broadly. Additionally, funding agencies like theNational Science Foundation require a “broader impact” component in all grant proposals. Oneaspect commonly missing when an innovation is shared is a reflective, evidence-baseddescription of the process as the innovation moves from the home institution to other institutionswith different faculty, different students and a different culture. In analogy to moleculardiffusion, E.M. Rogers put forth a theory, Diffusion of Innovations, that offers one frameworkwith which to examine this process. In this context, Rogers describes diffusion as “the process inwhich an innovation is communicated through certain channels over time among the members ofa social system.”We report on the first two years of propagation of the AIChE Concept Warehouse, a cyber-enabled website to support the chemical engineering education community’s use of conceptuallearning. It contains large sets of concept-based clicker questions (or ConcepTests) and ConceptInventories for core chemical engineering classes. We focus on diffusion networks, particularlyopinion leaders who play a key role in the innovation’s propagation. Our purpose is to highlightaspects of diffusion that other innovators may want to consider, provide an example of how theseaspects can be examined in the early stages of an innovation’s life, and learn how we can furthersupport propagation of this innovation. We ask the following research questions: Through whichdiffusion networks has the Concept Warehouse been propagated? Who are the opinion leadersinfluencing its propagation? Why have these opinion leaders supported this tool and how can wefurther support them?AIChE Concept Warehouse instructor applicants (n>300) were asked, “How did you hear aboutus?” Network analysis was performed using sociograms representing different points in time asvisual representations of the network connections and how they changed. Further analysis of themost recent sociogram was used to identify instructors who referred this tool to four or moreother users. These instructors are termed opinion leaders and were invited to participate furtherin the study as interviewees. In the semi-structured interviews, we asked opinion leaders abouttheir perceptions and use of the AIChE Concept Warehouse. We also asked them to identify howthey promoted propagation of the tool and how the tool affords or constrains their propagationefforts. Interviews were transcribed and an emergent coding process was used to identify themes.Different groups of apparent opinion leaders included researchers with complementary tools,individuals in powerful positions in different parts of the social system (e.g. leaders of virtualcommunities of practice), and instructors that heavily use the tool themselves. For example,many of the opinion leaders have incorporated their own innovations into the AIChE ConceptWarehouse. They support and promote the tool because it facilitates propagation of theirinnovations and provides a convenient data collection method.

Gilbuena, D. M., & Smith, C., & Brooks, B. J., & Koretsky, M. (2014, June), Examining Diffusion Networks and Identifying Opinion Leaders: A Case Study of the AIChE Concept Warehouse Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--20447

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: © 2014 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