Does this sound familiar? You have just completed your PhD and landed your first academic job. You are the newest member of a department that hasn’t hired a fresh PhD in several years. Your department head tells you that one of your first tasks as a new professor is to revise and update the department’s core required course, the course that students historically hate and that senior members of the department have taught in the same way for 20 years. Welcome to your real new job title: change agent!
Emerging engineering educators like you are often expected to design and implement academic change in the form of new curricula, programs, and pedagogies. The category of “emerging engineering educator,” or E3, includes graduate students close to completion of their degrees and assistant professors who are just entering their first jobs. And often E3 typically don’t have the mindset or the toolset necessary to implement a successful change project. Think about it: did your graduate program include seminars on the academic environments and resulting cultures, value systems and constraints that will be the core of your first job? If not, then you may not feel empowered or capable of implementing academic change. Additionally, emerging educators often lack the skills that are necessary for change agents, like, for example, ability to think strategically, obtaining buy-in, and creating partnerships.
Emerging engineering educators have always been an important part of the Making Academic Change Happen (MACH) workshops and community since we first offered the workshop in 2012 on the campus of Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, Indiana. In 2017, we performed a review of our MACH curriculum and conducted a series of interviews with past participants. From those data, we learned that E3 lack experiential preparation to link MACH to a tangible change project. They also have a limited and biased exposure to different institutional contexts and academic value systems; for instance, they know their current context and system rather well, but they don’t have much experience with the wide variety of contexts where they might ultimately be hired. Additionally, many of them understand change as something that happens as a result of external forces, and not as a skilled process that is initiated and implemented by individuals.
As a result of our findings, on January 19-20 2019, MACH will host a new immersive workshop, Emerging Engineering Educators Making Academic Change Happen (E3 MACH), open exclusively to emerging engineering educators. With support from the National Science Foundation (NSF 1830177), we will fully fund 12 emerging engineering educators from across the U.S. These individuals will come to the Rose-Hulman campus for an intensive two-day workshop which will focus on three main themes: Knowing Yourself, Cultivating an Allied Community of Colleagues, and Making Change Happen on Campus.
The workshop will place special emphasis on helping emerging engineering educators discover their professional identities, different types of academic institutional contexts and value systems, and the interplay of cultural contexts and the change-making process. The ultimate goal of the E3 MACH is to empower young and future engineering faculty to create academic change by understanding that change does not simply occur, that it is, in fact, a skilled process that they can excel in.
So how will MACH 2019 be different from our previous incarnations of MACH? We believe that emerging educators often do not have a deep understanding of the challenges they are trying to solve, because of limited exposure to real problems. Our E3 MACH workshop will be built around role-based simulations and case studies which will allow us to introduce the contextual integrity that participants might otherwise lack to appropriately think about and deal with proposed change projects.
In addition, E3 MACH workshop participants will be introduced to techniques and mindsets necessary to identify problems at their institutions that could benefit from change, rather than waiting for a change opportunity to present itself. They will also have an opportunity to practice problem identification and iterative solution design in a safe environment. Workshop participants will reflect on their own values and personal and professional identities. Based on what we know from the research literature on change, MACH 2019 will help them understand how individuals create assumptions about underlying problems and proposed solutions, and how they might adjust their own change approaches to respect existing value systems.
Finally, workshop participants will practice how to identify key elements of micro-cultures present in academic institutions. Understanding cultures is about perceiving and reacting to the micro-cultures within groups of people that affect how change occurs. That understanding includes unpacking elements of micro-cultures, situating them within larger cultural groups, and identifying cultural artifacts. Doing so will enable emerging educators to better identify areas of potential conflict or support when working to create change. In addition to understanding various academic micro cultures, emerging educators need to understand how broader institutional contexts may impact a change project’s success. This will allow them to identify how different resources, micro-cultures, identities, and roles interact, and to explore implicit relationships that can be used to plan strategies for project success.
So is MACH 2019 right for you? Ask yourself a question: how does academic change happen? We believe that it occurs by, with, and through people. This fact is not necessarily obvious to emerging educators who have a very limited view of the professoriate and the related roles, responsibilities, and challenges. Practicing with structured examples in a safe environment where every participant has the same level of experience and exposure will allow participants to more freely share frustrations and ideas, and to more deeply and safely explore the unseen elements of the change making process, thus making the implicit explicit.
We look forward to seeing you on the campus of Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology for MACH 2019!