Introduction: Change Across Scales
Gabriela Weaver and Linda Slakey
The introduction to this volume outlined a progression that has taken place over about a 20-year period in the types of change efforts that have been funded—from innovations for an individual course that were dependent on a specific instructor’s efforts to more sustained, institutional, or multi-institutional, change efforts. This evolution reveals an underlying shift in the field of educational research overall. It is in the midst of testing the hypothesis that the odds of institutionalization go up if the work is carried out in a peer network—either within an institution or across them. The hypothesis is intrinsic in the theory of change for networked improvement communities (NICs) (Bryk, Gomez & Grunow, 2011).
In the final reflection in the preceding volume of this series, Slakey and Gobstein (2016) observed that the implementation of frameworks for change within networks has added visibility and credibility to efforts for reform. Desmarais et al. (2017) further highlight that intentional networks have now come to occupy a central role in the effort to transform approaches to STEM undergraduate pedagogy. Their report presents an analysis of the network structures, kinds of goals, and modes of action that were discussed in an Association of Public and Land-grant Universities-hosted workshop for leaders of networks concerned with bringing about widespread use of evidence-based STEM pedagogy. The analysis draws on constructs in the work of Plastrik et al. (2014) and Kezar and Gehrke (2015) among others. One such construct is shown in Table 1, following Plastrik (2014).
|Type||Focus of activity|
|Connectivity||Link individuals to facilitate flow of information|
|Alignment||Connect people to share and spread a collective value proposition, so as to solve a problem|
|Production||Foster collective action, create products, to advance a shared goal|
In addressing change across scales, the chapters that comprise this section of the volume exemplify different ways in which change efforts utilize networks and different scales for those networks—from departmental to national. As the scale of the change effort shifts, the network takes on a different role in propelling the effort forward. We also note that the use of networks in these projects reflect different levels of intentionality—in some cases emerging as a result of the work and in other cases being established in order to engage in the work in the first place. Plastrik et al.’s (2014) types weave across these scales.
To motivate willingness to explore new approaches to teaching, Marbach-Ad and her colleagues invite faculty to report the value they place on particular learning outcomes and what they perceive their students value, and compare their responses with what students report in a parallel survey. The work is done in meetings of the faculty by departments within a College of Computer, Mathematical and Natural Sciences. While the scale is small, the discussion among colleagues is of the essence of the intervention; that is, the study is structured to draw on connectivity in an established community of colleagues and seeks to achieve a degree of alignment.
Kezar and Miller report on activities within the STEM Education Network established among member institutions of the Association of American Universities. The chapter describes outcomes that resulted at multiple scales, from the level of the department to federal legislation. Within the member campuses, there are multiple instances of production networks, but the larger network focuses on connectivity.
Funding sources can be a catalyst for the formation of networks, as is evident in the chapter by Gardner and colleagues describing a program supported by the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Research Coordination Networks initiative. This multi-institutional program takes on educational change by focusing on future faculty through professional development for graduate student teaching assistants. Because it is based in a discipline, it promotes change at the department level but also across institutions, and thus serves as both an alignment and production network.
A different example of funding-catalyzed network formation is described in the chapter by Wojdak et al., in which four institutions who separately were awarded Howard Hughes Medical Institute Inclusive Excellence grants were organized into clusters of institutions by the agency and prompted to use that network to further their individual or a collective effort. In uncovering the common themes and using these in their work, this network has functioned in a connectivity capacity.
The chapter by Margherio and colleagues reports on research on the process of cultivating strategic partnerships. The study subjects are Engineering Departments or Colleges, funded by the NSF to undertake various new approaches to undergraduate education, including changes in course structure, assessment of student learning, and infusion of social justice in the curriculum. The focus of their work presumed prior development of working relationships within each subject group, and examined their discovery of their need for partners outside their departments in order to achieve their goals, for example with departments teaching gateway courses, or industrial groups that hired their students. The anecdotes they share provide interesting examples of the development of alignment.
The last two chapters in this section are both connected to the multi-institutional Teaching Evaluation (TEval) project. TEval emerged as a deliberate network to strengthen the work of the individual campuses on developing and implementing new forms of teaching evaluation. Andrews and colleagues describe the details of the TEval effort on one campus, with particular emphasis on working with departments as the unit of change. The following chapter by Finkelstein and colleagues describes the project as a whole, including the ways in which the multi-institutional nature of the project has been critical in its scaling and linking with other existing national networks.
As a group, the chapters of this section provide multiple perspectives into the ways in which scaling and networking can be synergistic. Moving from one scale to another requires that new groups become part of the project or process, and that means that heterogeneity will increase with scale. This, in turn, leads to the need to work together across and with differences. A network can assist this process by providing diverse views on the process being studied or implemented. Indeed, both scaling and networking are intertwined with explicitly paying attention to inclusion as part of the change effort. As multiple voices become engaged in the effort, the ability of the project to serve a more diverse audience also has the potential to increase.
Andrews, S. E., Keating, J., Corbo, J. C., Gammon, M., Reinholz, D. L., & Finkelstein, N. (this volume). “Transforming teaching evaluation in disciplines: A model and case study of departmental change.” In K. White, A. Beach, N. Finkelstein, C. Henderson, S. Simkins, L. Slakey, M. Stains, G. Weaver, & L. Whitehead (Eds.), Transforming Institutions: Accelerating Systemic Change in Higher Education (ch. 13). Pressbooks.
Bryk, A., Gomez, L., & Grunow, A. (2011). Getting Ideas Into Action:Building Networked Improvement Communities in Education. Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Education. Available at https://www.carnegiefoundation.org/resources/publications/getting-ideas-action-building-networked-improvement-communities-education/
Desmarais, M., Redd, K., Finkelstein, N., and Goldstein, B. (2017, June 22). Guidance for Network Leaders [Presentation]. Networks of STEM Education Centers’ Network Leaders Workshop, New Orleans, LA. https://osf.io/w4uxp
Finkelstein, N., Greenhoot, A.F., Weaver, G., & Austin, A. E. (this volume). “A department-level cultural change project: Transforming the evaluation of teaching.” In K. White, A. Beach, N. Finkelstein, C. Henderson, S. Simkins, L. Slakey, M. Stains, G. Weaver, & L. Whitehead (Eds.), Transforming Institutions: Accelerating Systemic Change in Higher Education (ch. 14). Pressbooks.
Gardner, G., Ridgway, J., Schussler, E., Miller, K., & Marbach-Ad, G. (this volume). “Research coordination networks to promote cross-institutional change: A case study of graduate student teaching professional development.” In K. White, A. Beach, N. Finkelstein, C. Henderson, S. Simkins, L. Slakey, M. Stains, G. Weaver, & L. Whitehead (Eds.), Transforming Institutions: Accelerating Systemic Change in Higher Education (ch. 10). Pressbooks.
Kezar, A., & Gehrke, S. (2015). Communities of transformation and their work scaling STEM reform. Pullias Center for Higher Education. https://pullias.usc.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/communities-of-trans.pdf
Kezar, A., & Miller, E. R. (this volume). “Using a systems approach to change: Examining the AAU Undergraduate STEM Education Initiative.” In K. White, A. Beach, N. Finkelstein, C. Henderson, S. Simkins, L. Slakey, M. Stains, G. Weaver, & L. Whitehead (Eds.), Transforming Institutions: Accelerating Systemic Change in Higher Education (ch. 9). Pressbooks.
Marbach-Ad., G., Hunt, C., & Thompson, K.V. (this volume). “Using data on student values and experiences to engage faculty members in discussions on improving teaching.” In K. White, A. Beach, N. Finkelstein, C. Henderson, S. Simkins, L. Slakey, M. Stains, G. Weaver, & L. Whitehead (Eds.), Transforming Institutions: Accelerating Systemic Change in Higher Education (ch. 8). Pressbooks.
Margherio, C., Doten-Snitker, K., Williams, J., Litzler, E., Andrijcic, E., & Mohan, S. (this volume). “Cultivating strategic partnerships to transform STEM education.” In K. White, A. Beach, N. Finkelstein, C. Henderson, S. Simkins, L. Slakey, M. Stains, G. Weaver, & L. Whitehead (Eds.), Transforming Institutions: Accelerating Systemic Change in Higher Education (ch. 12). Pressbooks.
Plastrik, P., Taylor, M., & Cleveland, J. (2014). Connecting to change the world. Island Press
Slakey, L. & Gobstein, H. (2016). “Toward a New Normal.” In G. C. Weaver, W. D. Burgess, A. L. Childress, & L. L. Slakey (Eds.), Transforming Institutions: Undergraduate STEM Education for the 21st Century (pp. 485–496). Purdue University Press.
Wojdak, J., Phelps-Durr, T., Gough, L., Atuobi, T., DeBoy, C., Moss, P., Sible, J., & Mouchrek, N. (this volume). “Learning together: Four institutions’ collective approach to building sustained inclusive excellence programs in STEM.” In K. White, A. Beach, N. Finkelstein, C. Henderson, S. Simkins, L. Slakey, M. Stains, G. Weaver, & L. Whitehead (Eds.), Transforming Institutions: Accelerating Systemic Change in Higher Education (ch. 11). Pressbooks.