The launch of NSF’s program “Revolutionizing Engineering and Computer Science Departments” (RED) provided an unparalleled opportunity to examine change in action from its inception. This program charges grantees to achieve “significant sustainable changes necessary to overcome longstanding issues in their undergraduate programs and educate inclusive communities of engineering and computer science students prepared to solve 21st-century challenges” with the goal of creating “coherent professional and technical threads... to ensure that students develop deep knowledge in their discipline more effectively and meaningfully” (NSF Solicitation). To date, thirteen teams have commenced their projects, which range in scale and scope from re-visioning curriculum units to coordinated change across aggregated departments to experimental co-curricular opportunities. The faculty teams enacting this change represent intentionally interdisciplinary groups, with disciplinary experts working with social scientists and engineering education researchers. Their work is supported by our project - RED Participatory Action Research - in that we coordinate activities across awardees and also create cross-institution analyses to develop larger lessons to share with the engineering education community. The work described here explores the initial conceptions of team members with respect to readiness to enact change, captured via focus group interviews and informal discussions conducted within six months of their award being granted.
We found that the teams reported significant negotiation at the onset of the project. First, teams reported the need to re-situate their collective understanding of the project itself, including how the project fit into the current vision of the operations of their institution, since almost nine months had passed following final submission. Second, teams negotiated communication strategies and key messaging to outside parties (e.g. the remainder of the department members). The roll-out of large scale projects like the ones funded in this program hinges on an effective communication approach; developing an effective approach required significant discussion among team members. Finally, teams experienced challenges relating to how they implemented their guiding theories of change (inclusion of which was mandated in the proposal process). For each point, we illustrate with narrative taken from team discussions and connect these points to larger issues of faculty development as change agents and team members. Given the repeated calls for increasing the rate and scale of change in engineering education, this paper contributes actionable recommendations for change agents and team coordinators.
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