Right This Way to the Faculty Fail Fest!

Julia Williams


Earlier this week I received a notice about the upcoming Fail Fest Wabash Valley 2018, sponsored by our local economic development organization.  During a one-day event, college students can brainstorm new ideas for marketable products, test those ideas, perhaps fail, but then try again.  The premise of the Fail Fest is expressed well in the advertising flyer:  failure leads to insight, understanding, and innovation.

As I considered the allure of Fail Fest for undergraduate students, I was suddenly struck by a thought:  where is the Fail Fest for college professors?  Where is the safe, supportive environment that encourages creative, unconventional ideas?  Where is the place where failure to accomplish a goal results in insight and understanding?   Where is the place where failure results in moving a career forward?

It isn’t easy to envision where the Faculty Fail Fest would take place, since many of us in academic positions understand that failure in our workplace doesn’t usually result in positive outcomes like insight and understanding.

Try a new pedagogy?  If it fails and students record their dissatisfaction in their end of term course evaluations, you may be tempted to turn away from innovation and return to the standard teaching approach.

Explore an innovative research path?  The tenure committee may not recognize or understand the work, or a journal editor may send your manuscript back unread.

Put yourself forward for a new position in your department, college, or university?  As it happened in my case, you may find that the new position goes to another candidate, or disappears entirely because of budget cuts and constraints.  Continue reading “Right This Way to the Faculty Fail Fest!”

Workshop announcement: Emerging Engineering Educators Making Academic Change Happen

Eva Andrijcic


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. Continue reading “Workshop announcement: Emerging Engineering Educators Making Academic Change Happen”

Acting for Computer Scientists and Engineers

Julia Williams


Recently, I attended the National Science Foundation’s REvolutionizing engineering and computer science Departments (NSF RED) Principal Investigators Meeting, sponsored by the NSF and organized by the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE).  At the meeting, engineering and computer science faculty, engineering education researchers, sociologists, organizational change experts, graduate students, and many others (roughly 120 individuals) shared their work on transformational change projects that target engineering and computer science students’ second year.  These projects vary widely—from curriculum changes, to co-curricular activities, to wholesale reorganizations of entire colleges—but one thing the projects hold in common is their focus on improving diversity, equity, and inclusion(DEI) in STEM.

There are many strategies the RED teams are employing to improve DEI at their institutions, and the sessions at the meeting were their opportunity to share this work with other attendees.  I selected “Theater of the Oppressed and Other Social Justice Stimuli for Organizational Transformations,” as one of the many excellent sessions I attended.  “Theater” was presented by Sarah Provencal, adjunct professor of theater at Winthrop University and Celine Latulipe, professor of software and information systems at the University of North Carolina Charlotte.  But this was no ordinary conference session, where academics stand on stage and lecture attendees on the benefits of active learning while they subject us to PowerPoints and minimal interaction.

Instead Provencal and Latulipe invited us to engage in their subject using acting exercises that they are introducing to their students.  These exercises are based on the work of Brazilian theater director Augusto Boal.  Theater of the Oppressed (TotO) has a long and influential history in theater circles.  Using the work of educator Paolo Friere as a base, Boal developed theatrical forms and techniques as a “means of promoting social and political change. In the Theater of the Oppressed, the audience becomes active, such that as spect-actors’ they explore, show, analyze and transform the reality in which they are living” (Wikipedia),

For the RED meeting TotO session, our leaders offered this explanation of the work we would do: Continue reading “Acting for Computer Scientists and Engineers”

We’re Gonna Need a Bigger Lever

Julia M. Williams,
Interim Dean of Cross-Cutting Programs and Emerging Opportunities & Professor of English, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology

leversOn May 7 and 8, I joined a group of STEM educators for the inaugural “Levers for Change” meeting, sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).  The goals for the meeting were clear:

  • To capture a snapshot of the current state of research-based reform in undergraduate STEM instruction within six clusters of STEM disciplines: biological sciences, chemistry & biochemistry, engineering & computer science, geosciences, mathematical sciences, physics & astronomy.
  • To identify key levers of change that are seen to have been effective in reaching this state, and to identify additional levers—less-tapped or untapped—that may be useful for fostering further change in the next decade.
  • To convene a group of leaders with experience in research and practice on STEM instructional change in higher education, to learn from, inspire and connect with each other.

In advance of the meeting, certain individuals were asked to write a white paper in each of the six cluster areas, a paper that attempted to demonstrate the current use of research-based reforms, particularly the use of RBIs, or Research-Based Instruction practices, in STEM classrooms.  As the meeting commenced, “Faculty Focus” published a report on the work of one of the Levers attendees [3].  Dr. Marilyne Stains (University of Nebraska) and colleagues had just published the most comprehensive study of the use of RBIs in STEM education, in the journal Science (March 29, 2018).  In that study, “the largest-ever observational study of undergraduate STEM education,” researchers monitored “nearly 550 faculty as they taught more than 700 courses at 25 institutions across the United States and Canada.”  The results of the study were not promising:

55 percent of STEM classroom interactions consisted mostly of conventional lecturing, a style that prior research has identified as among the least effective at teaching and engaging students.  Another 27 percent featured interactive lectures that had students participating in some group activities or answering multiple-choice questions with handheld clickers. Just 18 percent emphasized a student-centered style heavy on group work and discussions. The predominance of lecturing observed in the study persists despite many years of federal and state educational agencies advocating for more student-centered learning, the researchers said. [3]

Continue reading “We’re Gonna Need a Bigger Lever”