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Work in Progress: An Ecosystems Metaphor for Propagation

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


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Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

Approaches to Assessment and Student Reflection

Tagged Divisions

Educational Research and Methods and Ocean and Marine

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Susan Bobbitt Nolen University of Washington Orcid 16x16

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Susan Bobbitt Nolen is Professor Emerita of Learning Sciences & Human Development at the University of Washington. She earned her PhD in Educational Psychology at Pudue University. Her current research interests focus on student engagement in engineering practices and social interaction during learning activity, and their relationship to engineering identity and opportunity to learn. She also studies organizational learning in higher education systems.

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Milo Koretsky Oregon State University

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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 and social 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.

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In the context of broadening participation in engineering, the engineering education community has recently been discussing the merits of shifting from a pipeline or pathways metaphor to an ecosystems metaphor. In this work-in-progress paper, we explore the merits of applying this metaphor to address the ways a technology-based tool propagates in diverse settings. This WIP serves as the theoretical basis for a larger project in which we seek to propagate the Concept Warehouse, a technological innovation designed to foster concept-based active learning, into Mechanical Engineering. The Concept Warehouse is a web-based instructional tool that was originally developed for Chemical Engineering faculty. It houses over 3,000 ConcepTests, which are short questions that can rapidly be deployed to engage students in concept-oriented thinking and/or to assess students’ conceptual knowledge, along with more extensive concept-based active learning tools and concept inventories. The Concept Warehouse has grown rapidly over the last five years (over 1,200 faculty accounts and 28,000 student users). While the the Concept Warehouse has demonstrably propagated in Chemical Engineering, the mechanisms for successful spread to diverse settings have not been studied. We start from the assumption that faculty choose instructional practices not in isolation, but in relation to the specific educational ecosystems in which they teach. Given the diversity of post-secondary institutions, it is likely that innovations like the Concept Warehouse are more readily taken up in some than in others. For example, in institutions that provide professional development opportunities for faculty, new users of Concept Warehouse may receive formal or informal support. Other institutions may emphasize other activities (i.e., research) and provide little support or encouragement for faculty to adopt new techniques. As the Concept Warehouse propagates into Mechanical Engineering, we seek to understand how the instructors’ use of the Concept Warehouse relates to dimensions of the educational ecosystems at five diverse institutions: a large research public university, a small private university, a 2-year college serving a large number of under-represented students, a large non-PhD granting public university, and a bilingual research university. Our goal is to understand how instructor decisions, motives and constraints are embedded in the contexts in which they work, and how the strategies adopted relate to student learning in those settings.

In this paper, we analyze initial interview data from around 14 faculty members together with institutional data to illustrate aspects of how educational ecosystems interact with propagation goals. For example, Instructors’ decisions whether and how to use the Concept Warehouse are contextually conditioned as are student learning outcomes. Instructors’ use of the Concept Warehouse is also influenced by their beliefs regarding the features of the innovation. These beliefs are socially constructed within institutional and community contexts, and informed by instructors’ diverse histories, by observations of student practices, student histories, and student learning outcomes. We argue that our findings will inform attempts to effectively transfer educational research into educational practice and expand participation of groups, institutions, and geographic regions that are underrepresented in STEM disciplines.

Nolen, S. B., & Koretsky, M. (2020, June), Work in Progress: An Ecosystems Metaphor for Propagation Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--35606

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