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What makes faculty adopt or resist change in engineering education?

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

Institutional Perspectives and Boundary Work

Tagged Division

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.1367.1 - 23.1367.20

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Paper Authors


Donna M Riley Smith College

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Donna Riley is Associate Professor of Engineering at Smith College.

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Victoria Henry Smith College

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Lucia C Leighton Smith College

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What makes faculty adopt or resist change in engineering education?Since the reification of engineering education as a rigorous research discipline, a gulf haswidened between “researchers,” who often do not teach technical core courses, and “practitioners”who do. Recently the National Science Foundation has expressed interest in bridging the gapbetween research and practice. One pertinent question in addressing this issue is what factorsinfluence engineering educators’ decisions to adopt or resist particular changes in engineeringeducation, particularly those based on results of rigorous research.Our approach to answering this question involved surveying thermodynamics instructors atABET-accredited institutions. A database of 340 instructors was developed from publiclyavailable information. Respondents rated their agreement or disagreement with a number ofstatements intended to characterize their attitudes, motivation, and experience with engineeringeducation research as well as their home institution’s support for engineering education researchand creative teaching practices. Instructors then participated in a ranking exercise identifying therelative importance of nine factors (derived from the literature) influencing faculty decisions toincorporate engineering education research in their practice.In the ranking exercise, the highest ranked factor was “Adopting innovations does not helpfaculty achieve tenure, promotion, or merit raises.” 94% of respondents rated this response intheir top five. The second highest ranked factor was that “faculty are not monetarilycompensated for time spent adapting materials or changing courses,” with 78% ranking thisfactor in the top five. This emphasis on institutional factors pervaded responses regardless of theparticipants’ level of involvement with or exposure to the engineering education researchcommunity, or assessment of the value of engineering education research. 56% placed lowawareness of engineering education research in the top five ranked factors; here those lessfamiliar with engineering education research tended to rank this factor more highly.These results suggest that the most effective routes to supporting change in engineeringeducation would come from a focus on institutional factors, particularly reward systems forfaculty.

Riley, D. M., & Henry, V., & Leighton, L. C. (2013, June), What makes faculty adopt or resist change in engineering education? Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia.

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