This evidence-based paper reports the results 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: To what extent is the degree of social connectedness among faculty within and among departments related to faculty attitudes about learner-centered instruction, and to their subsequent practice?
Participants were recruited from Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics, and Teacher Education departments, and from six other departments in the College of Engineering. The sample began with 21 randomly-selected faculty from each department engaged in the STEM instruction of first and second year engineering students. The second level consisted of 81 additional colleagues identified by the first level as people they utilize as resources for improving their instruction. Faculty were presented with the names of each colleague, and asked to state their relationship with each, pertaining to three critical facets of instruction: instructional strategies, assessment practices, and instructional technology. Attitudes were measured using the Approaches to Teaching Inventory. The Reformed Teaching Observation Protocol was used to measure implementation of Learner-Centered practices.
Results show that both indegree (the extent to which faculty members are seen as sources of information and support) and outdegree (the extent to which faculty members were seen by their peers as seeking out information and support) were positively related to more positive Learner-Centered attitudes and practices. In particular, faculty who had higher outdegree in the network showed highest Learner-Centered/Student Focused attitudes, lowest Teacher-Centered/Information Transmission attitudes, and highest implementation of Learner-Centered practices. However, big differences were found regarding degree of connectedness within departments and across departments. Mathematics, for example, had a mean indegree among its faculty of 0.45 connections. First Year Engineering faculty showed the highest mean indegree of all departments at 4.25. As a community, First Year Engineering faculty meet regularly, sharing tasks, strategies, assessments, and technological tools. This is not true among most other departments.
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. Since few faculty across the studied University had many connections at all (mean indegree = 1.2 connections, SD = 1.2; mean outdegree = 1.8 connections, SD = 1.9), a prime strategy for increasing Learner-Centered attitudes and behaviors would be to promote communities of practice within and among departments.
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