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Faculty Autonomy in Teaching Development Groups

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Faculty Development II

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

26.763.1 - 26.763.10



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Paper Authors

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Jill K Nelson George Mason University


Margret Hjalmarson George Mason University

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Margret Hjalmarson is an Associate Professor in the Graduate School of Education at George Mason University and currently a Program Officer in the Division of Research on Learning in Formal and Informal Settings at the National Science Foundation. Her research interests include engineering education, mathematics education, faculty development and mathematics teacher leadership.

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Faculty Autonomy in Teaching Development GroupsBackgroundA variety of efforts have been made to broaden the use of evidence-based practices inengineering classrooms. In the majority of cases, these efforts are focused on particularinterventions, e.g. encouraging instructors to incorporate in-class group problem solvingor to use a particular technology tool. While the particular intervention may prove usefulfor some instructors and some courses, it is not chosen with the needs or challenges of theinstructor in mind. We argue that efforts to broaden use of innovative instructionaltechniques can be more successful when faculty are given ownership of how change isimplemented in their classes. We examine how Rogers’ Diffusion of Innovationsframework (2003) can be used to structure teaching development groups that focus onfaculty autonomy in decision-making about their teaching.Rogers states that five factors influence the adoption of an innovation. Among thesefactors is the relative advantage of the innovation, i.e., the improvement over what iscurrently in use. When instructors use challenges in their classroom as motivation toinnovate, opportunity for improvement is clear to them. A second factor is compatibilityof the innovation, or its ease of integration. When instructors identify their own problems,they select or adapt interventions that fit well within their course and minimize additionaloverhead. A third element in Rogers’ framework is trialability, or the user’s ability toapply the innovation in their own setting, a factor clearly supported by instructor-selectedmotivations.MethodologyGroups of instructors met regularly over an academic year to discuss implementation ofevidence-based teaching practices in their classes. Learning about such practices wasscaffolded by texts or videos on the topic (e.g., Ambrose, Bridges, DiPietro, Lovett, &Norman, 2010). Each instructor chose an intervention to implement in their course andshared their experience with the group. Meeting notes from group leader meetings andsurvey data were collected to study participants’ experience and the evolution of thegroups.ResultsThe faculty survey results pointed to the participants finding value in the groups’interactions and in their chosen changes in their courses. The groups have provided asetting that is rich in conversation about evidence-based instruction and allows faculty toselect from a menu of options. We have recently expanded from our original study to alarger number of groups at our university. In this expansion, leaders have the freedom torecruit participants in a targeted fashion, providing a second level of autonomy in thefaculty development process. A study of these groups is ongoing, but the faculty whohave been recruited come from a variety of STEM department settings and response toparticipation has been positive.Ambrose, S., Bridges, M. W., DiPietro, M., Lovett, M. C., & Norman, M. K. (2010). How learning works: Seven research-based principles for smart teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.Rogers, E. (2003). Diffusion of Innovations (5th ed.). New York, NY: Free Press.

Nelson, J. K., & Hjalmarson, M. (2015, June), Faculty Autonomy in Teaching Development Groups Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24100

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