Identifying features of engineering academic units that influence teaching and learning improvement Conference

Fisher, KQ, Smith, C, Sitomer, A et al. (2016). Identifying features of engineering academic units that influence teaching and learning improvement . 2016-June

cited authors

  • Fisher, KQ; Smith, C; Sitomer, A; Ivanovitch, J; Bouwma-Gearhart, J; Koretsky, M


  • In this research paper, we use case study analysis to identify the features of three academic engineering departments at a research-doctoral university that influence the improvement of teaching and learning. Calls for improvement in engineering education, and broader STEM education, have identified the teaching practices of many faculty members as a weakness in higher education that leads to poor student achievement. Despite the evidence of the effectiveness of certain teaching practices (e.g., active learning), many faculty members rely heavily on didactic lecturing and rote memorization assessment. Faculty choice of teaching practices is influenced by individual characteristics, such as personal commitment to improving teaching, as well as the institutional characteristics of academic departments. Academic departments influence teaching choices because they provide (or withhold) external incentives and support for change in teaching practices, including resources, rewards, social acceptance, and job descriptions. Thus, change initiatives should assess these features prior to commencing. This assessment should lead to the development of change strategies to support individual and institutional characteristics that promote the use of evidence-based instructional practices. Prior to the start of a university-wide change initiative, we focus on identifying the features of three engineering academic departments that are likely to influence improvement in teaching practices. This research was guided by two questions: (a) Within a doctoral-research institution, what are the characteristics of three engineering academic departments and of individuals within an academic department that influence the improvement of teaching and learning? (b) Using a conceptual framework that attends to the contextual and individual factors, what strategies do these identified features suggest a change agent should privilege when designing change initiative activities for these departments? This study is part of a larger case study of the engineering departments. The data sources included in the case study are a survey of department members, interviews with administrators and educators, and classroom observations. This study focuses on the analysis of the survey of department members. In this survey, respondents were asked to identify expectations and practices at different levels of perspective (individual, classroom, and department), which influence teaching and learning improvement. This study describes these expectations and practices, and identifies change strategies according to these findings. Results indicate that both potentially positive and negative features for promoting change are present in the departments. For example, at the individual level, while educators report being dedicated to improving their practice, few educators report regularly enacting research-confirmed practices in their classroom. In this context, an appropriate change strategy might inform instructors about what type of activities could fulfill their commitment to improving their teaching, rather than trying to demonstrate the need for constant improvement. These results highlight the need to connect change strategies to the context of a department, classroom, and individual.

publication date

  • June 26, 2016


  • 2016-June