This study reports on a follow-up administration of a multi-wave Social Network Analysis (SNA) of faculty engaged in teaching courses in the first two years of undergraduate engineering programs at a major research university. The research question under investigation was: How can a university exploit the social networks of faculty teaching first-year engineers to create impactful professional development program?
In an earlier paper (author reference) we reported on the results of a large scale SNA involving 81 faculty participants from Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics, and Teacher Education departments, and from six other departments in the College of Engineering. That study showed that number of connections a particular faculty member had (in particular indegree, the extent to which faculty members are seen as sources of information and support) was positively related to more positive learner-centered attitudes, and practices as measured by the Attitudes Toward Engineering scale and the Reformed Teaching Observation Protocol, respectively. There were significant differences in the extent and connectedness of faculty across departments, reflecting departmental instructional climate. In this follow-up, we examine the social networks of faculty, many of whom were not included in the original sample, who were recruited to participate in a 1-year series of workshops on learner-centered pedagogy, active learning methods, and use of advanced instructional technology and assessment. Twenty faculty were recruited participated in eight professional development workshops (approximately one every two weeks). In between workshops, faculty were asked to implement one or two new teaching practices and reflect on their efficacy. Faculty were provided time to reflect with each other, share their experiences, and get assistance from experienced educators.
Results show that, like the original sample, faculty were very isolated. Both in-degree and out-degree averaged less than 3 connections, though there was departmental variability. In particular, new faculty, on the tenure-track showed extreme isolation with respect to colleagues to whom they interacted with significantly regarding improving their instruction. Current data show that the social networks for faculty, when the University incentivizes and structures professional development, grow both within and across departments. Moreover, the participation in professional development, and reflection with colleagues positively influenced faculty implement learner-centered pedagogy resulting in higher scores on the ATI and RTOP.
We discuss these results in light of recent information showing that developing communities of practice in early engineering programs is critical for professional development to result in sustained practical change.
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