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Cracking the ‘how’ in changing engineering education

Cracking the ‘how’ in changing engineering education

We’ve been quiet, but hard at work, and are now ready to unveil something big: the first of what will be several articles mining the experience of the Pathways  project, with which we worked in 2013-2016 (when the NSF funding ended).

If you’re at the ASEE conference, make time for our presentation Wednesday morning as well as the Entrepreneurship division reception Tuesday evening. Scott Hutcheson will be presenting some of the findings of our research with the universities involved in Pathways. A program of the National Center for Engineering Pathways to Innovation (Epicenter), Pathways was an effort to create a “tipping point” for the inclusion of innovation and entrepreneurship (I&E) in undergraduate engineering education. 50 schools participated (although a somewhat informal “community of practice” persists). In addition to opportunities to learn about effective approaches to I&E, teams from each institution received training and coaching in Strategic Doing as a way to organize their work together.

We invited the schools to be part of follow-up research, and 33 accepted. The research explores questions around team composition, leadership structure, environmental factors, and the use of agile strategy. To tease out the factors that are most critical to this kind of work, 24 of the schools (those that were in the initiative for at least two years) were divided into quartiles according to the number of new collaborations they had completed (eg, a new course, a makerspace, a student IP policy). The research team then compared the highest quartile with the lowest to see if any patterns emerged.

We’ll discuss several of the findings in coming posts, but we’ll start with what we think is one of the biggest findings:

The consistent use of Strategic Doing stood out as one of the strongest predictors of team productivity. The teams in the highest quartile about 8 of the 10 Rules of Strategic Doing consistently, while the teams in the lowest quartile used 2.

You can read a summary of the paper here (the full paper will be available to the public soon).

Photo credit: EpicenterUSA (Flickr)

Hack of the Week: “Crediting” Students’ Informal Learning

This week’s Hack is from the Pathways team at the University of South Florida. USF is launching a series of “pop-up classes” – short-duration learning opportunities (see here for Stanford’s pop-ups for inspiration). Students still want some documentation of their experience, and USF came up with an ingenious way to do that – creating a “zero-credit” course for each pop-up so that they will show up on students’ official transcripts. Email team leader Sanjukta Bhanja to learn more.

Do you have a Hack to share? Hacks are bite-sized ideas that help transform engineering education. Email us with yours.

Hack of the Week: Orientation Scavenger Hunt

This week’s hack is from Florida Tech’s Pathways team: they re-designed their freshman orientation activities with a scavenger hunt for new students. The hunt took students around campus to show them where to find makerspaces and other opportunities for innovation. Check out the video below. Want to know more? Email team co-leader Beshoy Morkos.

What’s your Hack? Hacks are bite-sized, practical resources for transforming engineering education. Email us to submit an idea.

Colorado School of Mines Leading the World

QS Education, which connects students from all over the world with university programs, just added “mineral and mining engineering” to their categories for rankings.  The top school – beating out those famous schools everyone thinks of right away – is Colorado School of Mines (full ranking list here). The site uses academic and employer reputation and several research-oriented metrics.

Not content to rest on their laurels, Mines – which is a Pathways to Innovation school – has plenty of new initiatives going on to transform their students’ learning experiences. We’re hoping to feature their work in a longer blog post and a Hack of the Week soon – but for now, congratulations!



Hack of the Week: Re-thinking Advisory Boards

This week’s Hack is from Pathways school University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez, which was tired of advisory boards that gathered a few times a year to “share information.” They’ve launched the Fellowship of External Doers (click the link to read the group’s motto, if nothing else), complete with a Slack account to enable frequent communication. Email UPRM’s Ubaldo Cordova-Figueroa to learn more.

Have a Hack to share? Email us.

What’s the weather like where you are?

A few weeks ago we were in Phoenix with the 14 new teams in the Pathways program that’s part of the National Center for Engineering Pathways to Innovation. This was our third time around with this part of the program, and we have the benefit of having watched 36 teams already go through the arduous task of designing a strategy for change on their campus.

All the teams reached the finish line – after about 5 hours of work over two days, they could present their strategy in 60 seconds or less, complete with the metrics they’ll use to determine success and an action plan for the next 90 days. It seemed easier compared to our experience with the first groups – maybe this group of teams was more focused, or maybe we’re getting better at guiding them.

Still, it wasn’t smooth sailing for all the teams. A few had trouble at one point or another, either agreeing or getting to specifics. Why was that? It would be easy to point at an obstructionist team member or the sometimes-glacial pace of academic change.

The cause is more fundamental – every team has a moment in which success seems elusive, and that’s a good thing. It’s part of what Bruce Tuckman put forward as a model of group development, in which every group has to go through four stages:

  • Forming: the group is just gathering and sizing up the task ahead; many haven’t worked together before and are just getting to know one another.
  • Storming: familiarity breeds contempt – or at least, differences in workstyle or opinion arise. It’s uncomfortable for everyone. Good leadership can keep the group focused on the desired strategic outcome(s), while still acknowledging each member’s feelings.
  • Norming: in this stage, the group accepts one another’s differences – and welcomes all points of view – but agrees that the work overrides personal preferences. In Strategic Doing, there’s a suggested set of “Rules of Civility” that groups can agree on as a set of norms for working together.
  • Performing: the group knows how to conduct itself and resolve any differences and can focus on the challenge of plotting a course for change.

Some teams get from forming to performing quickly, others take more time. The teams in Phoenix that struggled aren’t necessarily in danger of disintegrating – in fact, they were in just the right place to get help working through the “storming phase” – so they can move on to high performance.
Where is your team, and how can you move to performing?

What we are learning in Pathways

One of the projects we’re involved with at Purdue is the Pathways initiative that is part of the larger Epicenter effort. Epicenter is a five-year, NSF-funded project that’s aimed specifically at undergraduate engineering and incorporating content on innovation and entrepreneurship (I&E) for those students.

Pathways engages teams of faculty and administrators from 50 institutions from all over the country. Teams are exposed to a vast range of programming options for embedding I&E into their curricular and co-curricular offerings and receive coaching and support as they design and implement new efforts. We’re helping teams use Strategic Doing as their methodology for change. The first 12 schools have been at work for two years now, with another 24 coming on last January – and this week we’re in Phoenix working with the last 14 schools (the NSF funding for Epicenter will end this June).

The results from the 36 teams already in the program have been outstanding. We can identify more than 300 different “projects” undertaken by the teams so far and are continuing to track their work over the next several months. We’re working with the staff at VentureWell (which is managing Epicenter along with Stanford University) and the project’s external evaluator to learn more about teams’ experiences, but some findings are already very clear.

One of the cornerstones of strategic doing is the idea of “linking and leveraging” assets. Those assets can take many shapes, including physical, financial, and social resources that can be accessed by the effort to create progress toward one or more strategic outcomes.

A corollary to this idea of leveraging assets is that the activities undertaken will depend almost entirely on what assets are available to the group. The schools in Pathways are an astonishingly varied lot – public & private, large & small, urban, rural & suburban, minority-serving institutions and others serving a predominately white student body. Thus, while the overall goal of Epicenter and Pathways is a unified one – increasing access to programming in innovation and entrepreneurship – the 36 schools already in the program are taking 36 different routes to get there. We expect to see the same thing with the 14 schools we’ll be working with this week.

If you’re looking at other schools for a model you can implement, think carefully. While those schools can be great sources of ideas, don’t move forward until you understand how you can link and leverage your own assets in your version of that model.