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Mapping the Spread of Collaborative Learning Methods in Gateway STEM Courses via Communities of Practice

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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

Diffusion and Adoption of Teaching Practices

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

26.1132.1 - 26.1132.11



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Paper Authors


Matthew West University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

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Matthew West is an Associate Professor in the Department of Mechanical Science and Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Prior to joining Illinois he was on the faculties of the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics at Stanford University and the Department of Mathematics at the University of California, Davis. Prof. West holds a Ph.D. in Control and Dynamical Systems from the California Institute of Technology and a B.Sc. in Pure and Applied Mathematics from the University of Western Australia. His research is in the field of scientific computing and numerical analysis, where he works on computational algorithms for simulating complex stochastic systems such as atmospheric aerosols and feedback control. Prof. West is the recipient of the NSF CAREER award and is a University of Illinois Distinguished Teacher-Scholar and College of Engineering Education Innovation Fellow.

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Geoffrey L Herman University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

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Dr. Geoffrey L. Herman is a visiting assistant professor with the Illinois Foundry for Innovation in Engineering Education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a research assistant professor with the Department of Curriculum & Instruction. He earned his Ph.D. in Electrical and Computer Engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign as a Mavis Future Faculty Fellow and conducted postdoctoral research with Ruth Streveler in the School of Engineering Education at Purdue University. His research interests include creating systems for sustainable improvement in engineering education, promoting intrinsic motivation in the classroom, conceptual change and development in engineering students, and change in faculty beliefs about teaching and learning. He serves as the webmaster for the ASEE Educational Research and Methods Division.

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Mapping the Spread of Collaborative Learning Methods in Gateway STEM Courses via Communities of PracticeThe recent literature reviews and studies of Henderson and colleagues have highlightedanew the critical difficulties of creating large scale, sustainable change in Science,Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) instruction. They have shown that,while faculty are often aware of Research-Based Instructional Strategies (RBIS), theyrarely try, or maintain their use of, these RBIS. Borrego and colleagues have furtherrevealed that maintaining the fidelity of the implementation of these RBIS providesanother critical challenge in the successful adoption and translation of RBIS acrossinstructors and courses. In summary, there are two key challenges for educationalreforms: spreading innovations and sustaining adoption.Under a campus-wide NSF-funded WIDER (Widening Implementation & Demonstrationof Evidence Based Reforms) project, we are addressing these two challenges by formingseveral Communities of Practice (CoPs) of faculty and lecturers. These CoPs are creatingcollaborative joint ownership of sets of gateway STEM courses so that communities offaculty rather than individual faculty are responsible for implementing RBIS andsustaining their use. Additionally, these CoPs are interconnected by embedding facultyand observers across departments to cross-pollinate RBIS between CoPs.In this paper, we present part of an evaluation of this CoP-based approach to institutionalchange by tracing the spread and adoption of one RBIS through the WIDER effort:collaborative, context-rich problem solving. The use of this RBIS originated inCalculus 2 and spread to other STEM courses as shown in Figure 1. We summarize thepath and history of this spread, and identify the two key factors that enabled efficientdissemination and sustainability: (1) the use of CoPs as “concentrators”, and (2) theembedding of faculty across departments. Comp Arch Calculus 2 ECE CoP Intro to EE CS CoP Data Struct Dynamics TAM CoP Disc Math MatSE Mech Statics CS1 non-major   Solids MatSE CoP Thermal & Mech Figure 1: Spread sequence of the RBIS innovation from the source in Math 231E (top left) to ten other courses, via four Communities of Practice (CoPs) in TAM (Theoretical and Applied Mechanics), MatSE (Materials Science and Engineering), ECE (Electrical and Computer Engineering) and CS (Computer Science).

West, M., & Herman, G. L. (2015, June), Mapping the Spread of Collaborative Learning Methods in Gateway STEM Courses via Communities of Practice Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24469

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