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Insights into the Nature of Change and Sustainability in an Ongoing Faculty Development Effort

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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


Jill K. Nelson George Mason University

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Jill Nelson is an associate professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at George Mason University. She earned a BS in Electrical Engineering and a BA in Economics from Rice University in 1998. She attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for graduate study, earning an MS and PhD in Electrical Engineering in 2001 and 2005, respectively. Dr. Nelson's research focus is in statistical signal processing, specifically detection and estimation for applications in target tracking and physical layer communications. Her work on target detection and tracking is funded by the Office of Naval Research. Dr. Nelson is a 2010 recipient of the NSF CAREER Award. She is a member of Phi Beta Kappa, Tau Beta Pi, Eta Kappa Nu, and the IEEE Signal Processing, Communications, and Education Societies.

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Margret Hjalmarson George Mason University

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Margret Hjalmarson is a Professor in the Graduate School of Education at George Mason University. Her research interests include engineering education, mathematics education, faculty development and mathematics teacher leadership.

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This panel paper describes an example of connecting theory to practice in a faculty teaching development effort and describes lessons learned through this change project. We share insights gained from the application of Rogers’ Diffusion of Innovations framework to study STEM faculty's adoption of evidence-based teaching practices in their courses. The aim of this NSF-funded project was to study the use of ongoing teaching development groups as a mechanism for broadening the adoption of student-centered teaching strategies in university STEM courses. Discipline-focused teaching development groups operated in six different STEM departments within a single university. Groups met regularly over the course of at least one academic year. During group meetings, participants learned about evidence-based teaching strategies, shared their own challenges and ideas for their classrooms, and received feedback on strategies they were developing and/or implementing. The ongoing teaching development group model implemented in this project was motivated by existing work in K-12 professional development that shows the value of continuing, collaborative teaching development that connects to instructors' classroom experiences. Following the diffusion of innovations framework, the teaching development groups were led by innovators or early adopters, and participation was voluntary, drawing from those in each department who were open to adopting new practices. Participants were encouraged to undertake small changes, and the researchers hypothesized that, over time, incremental change would lead to larger sustainable changes in teaching. A primary insight gained from this study was the speed of change. Even for willing and engaged faculty, change from entrenched methods of teaching to new evidence-based practices was a slow process. The study also provided interesting insights into motivations for late (or less willing) adopters. The teaching development groups in this study were people-driven; participants were asked to bring their own challenges and identify changes that addressed their needs, rather than being asked to adopt a prescribed strategy. Moving beyond early adopters was challenging, as expected, and we found that later adopters who did participate in the groups were motivated by specific challenges. For example, one participant was a veteran instructor who had recently inherited a very large course and was motivated to learn about strategies for teaching in that environment. The teaching development group project also provided insights about the sustainability of the discipline-based groups. First, groups evolve over time, particularly if they continue for more than a year. The needs of the participants change, and group structures and activities must evolve to meet changing needs. Second, the people-driven aspect of the teaching development groups was critical to their sustainability. Participants must collaboratively develop an agenda for the group and for themselves; when a set agenda is presented that doesn't match their own needs, participants are driven away from the group. This paper will further describe the structure, goals, and activities of the teaching development groups; recruitment and participation; and lessons learned about the nature of teaching change in a voluntary faculty teaching development effort. We propose to present this work as part of a panel session in which brief remarks by each panelist are followed by time for questions and discussion.

Nelson, J. K., & Hjalmarson, M. (2019, June), Insights into the Nature of Change and Sustainability in an Ongoing Faculty Development Effort Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--32968

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