Archive for June, 2006

Young Faculty Encouragement

Monday, June 19th, 2006

Audience Member: I am Chuck Pezeshki. I am the Associate Director of the School of MME at Washington State University, and I am a simple engineer. I want you to know that. There has been a lot of analysis and not a lot of synthesis in the panel and I will tell you what I am going to do about this problem because one of the big things is incentives. We have three faculty that we are hiring this year, it is great.

We are a Research 1 university, which means that we have a research mission. We are hiring them for the various research things; I am going to make a performance contract with my young faculty on a team level to integrate various new pedagogical new techniques that this group has suggested because I respect everyone here as an engineer and education researcher.

However, I also believe that our Research 1 mission on things like nanotechnology and stuff is really important. So we are going to focus on dissemination of those modern techniques with the notion of a performance contract that guarantees a reward for a certain percentage of time put into teaching. So we take the uncertainty out of the young faculty’s worry thing, and we actually use the teams that we talk about that we are supposed to be building all the time instead of worrying about the individual.

Moderator: Thank you, it sounds like Washington State has solved the problem.


Moderator: Sheri, comments?

Sheri Sheppard: Well I actually appreciate that you mentioned the issue time. We talk about doing more but you know people only have 24 hours in a day and so your acknowledging that putting it on the table in terms of time is important. I also appreciate that you mentioned “team,” you know, that teaching is not a private thing it is a community thing.

I would hope that maybe the teams are not just the junior faculty but get some of the senior faculty too, because that dialogue is incredibly important both ways.

Moderator: OK, Elaine was next.

Elaine Seymour: I was pleased to hear enthusiasm in what you just said because one of the things that we will have to see if we are going to answer the question of what at the end of the year is going to change, are more radicalized seniors. Radicalized seniors are very, very important to change because without leadership from the chairs, deans, provosts, and the senior members of the faculty it was hard for young faculty to take the challenge seriously.

The more radicalized seniors we see the happier I would be.

Moderator: Jim?

Jim Pellegrino: I would add one thing to the team concept and that is, think about the preparation of future engineering educators. One of the most successful ways that I have found to get faculty to change was to pair them up with graduate assistants that were given to them as extra bonuses to help them with changing some of the pedagogy. One of the things it did was a very interesting thing.

It got the faculty to articulate philosophies and epistemologies of teaching and learning, and the teaching assistants got to delve inside the heads of faculty in ways that they typically do not do in normal TA experience. Think about also the preparation of the next generation of faculty and using team concepts that involve senior faculty, junior faculty, and graduate students.

Moderator: Gary?

Gary Gabriele: The only other thing I would add is that just because a newer area such as nanotechnology biotech is appearing in engineering does not mean it is immune to engineering education research. We need to understand what are the barriers to students understanding these new areas and I think there is an opportunity to have these young folks work on those as well.

Moderator: Elaine?

Elaine Seymour: One thing that we have not done in this country is educate our TAs and we will perpetuate problems if we do not grapple with that problem very, very soon.

Sheri Sheppard: In talking about nanotechnology and other traditional research areas I think there is actually increasing pressure from NSF to say how do those reach out into the community, so there is an embedded teaching element more and more even in those more traditional grant areas.

What are the qualities we look for in good engineering education research?

Monday, June 19th, 2006

Moderator: If you’re a young engineering faculty and you are putting your dossier together and you are doing education engineering research, what are the kinds things you are going to have to emphasis in that dossier. What are the kinds of things that you think are going to get you through that process? Any thoughts on that? What are the qualities we look for in a good engineering education research? I guess that’s a better way to ask the question.

David Radcliffe: Good research questions, appropriate methods, development of conclusions from the results that come in and with what happens in any sort of research — same rules apply.

Moderator: No difference. Maybe different.

David Radcliffe: Same thing.

Moderator: Sounds exactly like technical research.

David Radcliffe: Absolutely!

Moderator: It’s no different. So what we talked about earlier it is basically the same.

Jeremy Noonan: Well, when you say “exactly like technical research” what do you mean “exactly like technical research”?

David Radcliffe: Fundamentally the same.

Jeremy Noonan: There’s a research mind-set that’s similar but the nature of the phenomena that you are studying differs hence the need for different methodologies, even different rules of inference.

Moderator: This session always goes too quickly. We are almost halfway through, so what I want to do is, before we go out into the audience — and I see a lot of scrunched up faces there and some of the comments that I’ve heard so I know we are going to get deluged with [chuckles] questions — but what I want to do is ask you the final question now — give you some time to think about it so that when we come to the end of the session I’ll go around and ask each of you, in 30 seconds or less, to answer a really important question. And the question is going to be this: This is the beginning of the year of dialogue for ASEE. And if you were going to advise ASEE on the potential outcomes at the end of the year, what kinds of things should you be looking for to say that this has been a successful year of dialogue? What should ASEE be looking for? We’re going to help the committee here with some of your advice, so think about that for the rest of the session.

Are faculty hurting themselves in the Promotion and Tenure process by being involved in education research and engineering schools?

Monday, June 19th, 2006

Moderator: Point blank: Are faculty hurting themselves in the P&T process by being involved in education research and engineering schools?

David Radcliffe: It’s a delicate world. [Laughter] You can make it, if you make the right choices.

Moderator: Who’s brave enough to give me a direct answer here? Norman, what do you think? Are we going in the right direction at least?

Norman Fortenberry: I think we’re going in the right direction, but I think part of what makes the path less perilous is by setting out rigorous pathways, rigorous standards. So that if I compare traditional research to research on engineering education, I can say this has a level of rigor, it is meeting the standards that David talked about earlier, so I have fundamentally two comparable things. And if we can continue to demonstrate the comparability and the quality and the rigor of the research that’s conducted, then I think it’s a less perilous path.

Moderator: We need to define rigorous engineering education research, since you brought the topic up. Jim, you want to take it?

Jim Pellegrino: I’m not going to define that. I wanted to point out that the problem that you’re talking about isn’t just unique to engineering education research. The same thing exists in the disciplinary departments. If you look at individuals who are interested in physics education research, in the teaching and learning of physics at the university level or mathematics or another, they face exactly the same sets of challenges. And oftentimes the disciplinary departments of arts and sciences are not hospitable homes for them with respect to promotion and tenure process. And so, many of the same issues about reward, regardless of even the issues of the rigor of the work – there’s very rigorous work that’s been done in the world of physics education research and other areas, and much of that is seen as second-class work within the traditional disciplinary departments. There’s change there, but it’s slow.

David Radcliffe: Can I bring in something else to this? Sorry.

Moderator: Go ahead, David. You can go.

David Radcliffe: I work with anthropologists, and I have the same problem. They study engineers as the particular culture [Laughter] as opposed to a First Nations people. And they get pilloried and they have great difficulties having their work because the group, they’re doing industrial anthropology, but that’s not traditional anthropology. So it cuts both ways when you collaborate across the water.

Moderator: Elaine?

Elaine Seymour: I can’t speak for anthropologists. I agree with Jim that this problem, and it is an issue, is nested in a much wider issue, and the issue is national and maybe international. And it’s this: we have lost the value of teaching, we have lost our respect for teaching and learning. And it used to be there, and it’s not so long ago that it used to be there. But somehow, the dominance of research in our universities has obliterated that sense of respect for the good teacher and good teaching and curiosity about how that can be done well. And so I think we are reduced sometimes to a philosophy of teaching which can be encapsulated by what one of the students said to me thus: “I’m telling you this; why aren’t you getting it?” [Laughter]

Moderator: Good question.

Elaine Seymour: Another student who said, “It’s like drinking from a fire hose, ” talking about the volume and the pace. So this is what we’ve come down to. I think we have lost the respect for teaching, and it’s serious because it shows up in our K-12 system, which is in crisis at the moment. We cannot supply the math and science teachers that we need to bring children through to us as young engineers sitting in our freshmen classes. We’ve lost that also because we have this diminished respect for teaching.

Moderator: Jeremy?

Jeremy Noonan: I wonder if that’s not a consequence of a distorted view of prestige we were discussing last night, of glory. Do professors regard themselves as making themselves great through making others great? Like making their students great? Indeed, the institutions regard themselves as being great through making their students great. Or is greatness pursued in this kind of selfish way?

Moderator: That’s a tough question, Jeremy. Sherry?

Sheri Sheppard: You know, you were asking is this a perilous path for a junior faculty member to embark on. I guess I would say that any research endeavor a junior faculty member undertakes, because you’ve got six or seven years to prove yourself, and first of all you have to figure out in your own institution what does proving yourself mean. And sometimes that’s not written down clearly, so you have to kind of read it in the tea leaves. And then after getting a sense of what that means, really having a well-defined strategy of how you’re going to get there. And the strategy may not be cast in concrete, but you have to have a plan, and I would say that embarking on engineering education research means you have to maybe do a little more planning than you would in a traditional field where your colleagues can mentor you. Your mentors may have to come from a broader network of folks because you are entering into a new discipline or research area that’s not well established. It is work that’s inherently interdisciplinary; the tribes are us, if you will, you were saying in the anthropologist…

Host: Elaine, is she oversimplifying this?

Elaine Seymour: I think we have to face the reality that innovation is dangerous for young faculty. It depends on the context, but if someone who is pre-tenured asked me, “Should I become engaged in the scholarship of engineering or science education?” I would say, “Tell me about your department first. Is your department supportive? How many other people in your department are doing these kinds of things? Can you find someone who will mentor you in this regard? Do you know what the rules of tenure are?” Because often, as you say, Sherry, they are quite arcane and shifting, mysteriously shifting. And so I think it can be dangerous for young people, and this is so sad because it is amongst young people that you see enthusiasm to bring something different to their teaching, and who are not so far away from their undergraduate and their graduate years, that they have forgotten the painful things, the sad things, the disheartening things about that education.

Moderator: What advice do we give Jeremy? He’s about to get his Ph.D. in engineering education at Purdue. And he’s going to apply for a job, hopefully at an engineering school.

Elaine Seymour: Well if you say Purdue, I wouldn’t worry too much.

Moderator: What? [Laughter]

Elaine Seymour: Purdue. I wouldn’t worry quite so much. But I think it depends on the context. But I’m sorry to have to say that.

Moderator: If he’s at Purdue or Virginia Tech or some of the other schools that are involved in engineering education research, but a predominant number of schools don’t have such programs.

Elaine Seymour: Well you have to be careful.

Moderator: You have to be very careful. Have you thought about this Jeremy? Is this something that concerns you? [Laughter]

Jeremy Noonan: Well I’m banking on the success of this movement to bring about change ahead of me. [Laughter]

Moderator: The eternal optimism of youth. [Applause]

Jeremy Noonan: It really is a faith journey.

Moderator: Norman, give him some advice.

Norman Fortenberry: Well more than advice, I think part of the issue whether it’s done by engineers or anthropologists or sociologists, the number of the issues laid out by Elaine are researchable issues. And so to the extent that we can encourage research to be done in analyzing and characterizing educational systems, then we can begin to answer these questions so that Jeremy doesn’t have to flounder around on his own and hope to find the right answer. We will have a well-characterized body of knowledge to answer the questions about can we characterize various departments.

Gary Gabriele: I think, let me go back to things Sherry and Elaine said, what’s important eventually, fundamentally to get through this process in a P&T way, you really do need a community to support you. If you look at how other researchers get P&T, at most universities they’re going to go out for an external assessment of the work. And they’re going to go to a community that they can find, typically, very easily by asking either somebody in the department looking up journals or what have you. And so that’s why it’s really important for us to start building a community and that community needs to support the good work that people are doing through these kinds of avenues as well to get them forward.

Norman Fortenberry: That actually raises another challenge in terms of the issues Sherry raises about the scholarship of teaching and learning. It’s one thing if I’m doing discovery work, whether it’s on again, applied materials or whether it’s on engineering education. If I’m doing the scholarship of teaching and learning, the body of work, the documentation tends to be somewhat different. It’s one thing to stack papers and we can argue about the quality of the journals, if I have to stack portfolios and say, “Do I like this particular reflection versus this essay written by somebody who was in the classroom”, it becomes much more difficult. And so the metrics by which we judge the scholarship of teaching and learning is also an area that requires further development.

Moderator: Jim, is that right, do you think?

Jim Pellegrino: I think that you’ve hit on a very important problem. I think there’s an issue of defining the scholarship of teaching. We tend to conflate somebody being a good teacher with the scholarship of teaching. And I think what Ernie Boyer meant was really that the scholarship of teaching is really a scholarly act in designing your courses, and designing your materials and designing your pedagogy. You draw upon a wide array of knowledge and you actually put that together in important, interesting new novel ways. And the product then is something that is available for public inspection in the form of scholarship. And so I think people sometimes believe that they are engaging in part of the scholarship of teaching but not going the full way. And going the full way really is then having products that are artifacts that can be evaluated by an external community. And when we do that, which is a very difficult thing to do, because the standards are sometimes difficult to identify. Then I think it would be easier for individuals to at least have that as a part of their portfolio of materials for scholarship for promotion and tenure. But it’s going to be very difficult if your sole source of credibility, at least at the early years, is the scholarship of teaching.

Sheri Sheppard: So Jim are you kind of suggesting… Most universities, I think, have three bins where they put faculty life in. There’s the service bin. There’s this research bin. And there’s this teaching bin. And I tend to think of what Norman was talking about discovery research, whether it be on how people learn engineering or composite materials, that kind of goes into the traditional research bin. Where would you see putting this scholarship of teaching and learning stuff? Do we need another bin?

Jim Pellegrino: The way I was trying to define it, I would put that in the bin of research and scholarship, not as just simply teaching. It certainly contributes towards an evaluation of teaching, but if done rigorously, if subjected to review and critique analysis, if there’s a rationale provided for it, which is what we do with our other research, then I think it qualifies just in the same way as scholarship. And I think that’s what Ernie meant to some extent because in a university, part of our responsibility is to make sure that the knowledge that we produce goes beyond our own individual courses or our offices. So we are engaged in a public activity, which is very easy for us to see what the scholarship of discovery, but it’s much harder for people to understand this with respect to the scholarship of teaching.

David Radcliffe: Can I comment on that? I think that’s the missing piece. The bit that’s been lost out of Boyer is that we need to get rid of that traditional three bins, and there are four bins, and they’re all equal bins, and the bins are connected – the areas of discovery, teaching, application and integration. And they’re all interconnected largely by the reflexive piece, and it’s not just understanding the stuff but it’s reflecting on it and integrating out of it. And so we should be looking at faculty in terms of their ability to locate, not their discovery piece, whether that’s in a discipline area within their teaching, within the application area, within the other integration. I come from a country where we do 2% of the world’s research. So my argument is you should be able to get promoted by taking account of the 98%. I mean who’s taking care of that? If you don’t integrate that in what’s going on? So somehow we don’t count that. So there’s missing pieces that it’s about: reflection and integration and pulling the pieces together rather than them in the separate bins.

Moderator: Why have engineering schools been so reluctant to adapt this, then? It sounds so simple the way you described it, David, but still if you go to most engineering schools, engineering education is not an equal bin as we said earlier. Why has that been?

David Radcliffe: Why? I cannot answer why. I guess it’s tradition — people have invested so much in it. In a sense we are at the end of a paradigm which I guess started in the mid 50’s with the engineering science paradigm away from the practice paradigm and we’re on the edge of the next paradigm shift. I don’t know when it’s going to come but I think we are getting close. And then this will flip.

Moderator: Juan, why hasn’t industry put more pressure on engineering schools in this direction?

Juan Rivera: Because we are engineers! [Laughter] We are the product of these processes and I think we recognize it — that’s why we are having this dialogue. I agree that we’ve got to break out of these paradigms and think in the broader sense. I like your idea of having this product where you take knowledge and research and put it together in a package. I would expect that that product would serve to motivate, to inspire others to, again, break those boundaries and get away from this industrial academia process that we have now.

Moderator: Jim?

Jim Pellegrino: I just want to go back to some realities. I was in the dean’s role for six and a half years. While I encouraged junior faculty to engage in innovative teaching practice and do things like try to hold them not accountable if their teacher ratings dropped for trying something new. The advice I would always give them is don’t put all your eggs in that basket as well. So, I mean, I think we have to realize that part of this work of doing work in engineering education whether it’s the scholarship of teaching or discovery in this field, it’s also a messy field. Education research in general is a messy field and I think one of the dilemmas we have to face is that often times you don’t come out with the generalizations and the conclusions you’d like. There’s a lot of “what ifs” or hedging. In social science we always hedge, and so I think that may be an issue as well for individuals whose training is in the hard sciences, is in other fields where they want more definitive answers and they don’t want all of the cautionary notes that come with the issues of generalization are problems that we have in social science.

Jeremy Noonan: That makes me think of it as a epistemological problem. When I was a student in this dialoguing with professors about education, the attitude that I perceived was, well that education was about making private, personal subjective judgements about how you teach in the classroom. It doesn’t have knowledge status, in other words. It’s seen as just a matter of opinion. And so if you think about this fact/value dichotomy that exists in our culture where you have facts which come from science and you have values which are personal and private, then people don’t know how to talk about this and they don’t see them as being a legitimate area of inquiry.

David Radcliffe: The whole myth that engineering is value free. It always amuses me that somehow we can separate out all the values and we can just do the hard math. Point is we’ve separated out the easy problems that are solvable by the math. We have to get on with the really interesting and difficult problems that involve people and process. [Laughter/applause]

Juan Rivera: We were commenting last night that this is such a difficult problem that you are dealing with human nature and you have to be ready to change as the thinking of individuals changes as well. And so how do you have facts? How do you get your arms around that and come up with a well-respected process that’s based on sound scientific research.

Is the climate for engineering education considerably warmer in engineering schools than it used to be? Or is the climate the same?

Monday, June 19th, 2006

Moderator: Are we there, yet? Is the climate for engineering education, as Richard Felder has said, considerably warmer in engineering schools than it used to be? Or is the climate the same?

Juan Rivera: It’s changing in industry. I talked to the technology manager at Google Incorporated. They have a program where they require all of their technical staff to spend 20% of their time on any technical issue that they want, it does not have to be associated with their market area. All they’re asking for is for people to sit down and innovate on their own and come up with broader solutions to the general problems they are trying to solve.

David Radcliffe: If you’re on the faculty reward side, I’d say the easiest way to describe it is the rhetoric is probably still leading the reality. There’s certainly movement, and people in my part of the world are certainly being recognized and part of their promotion and so forth, but the rhetoric still well leads the way.

Is the effect of having more and more input from learning scientists into engineering education research something that any of the engineers on the panel are worried about? Are we relinquishing control of this whole area?

Monday, June 19th, 2006

Moderator: Elaine, you’re bringing up a topic which I want to get in to also, an issue which I’m concerned about and I think others are a little concerned, about the increasing input that engineers are getting from learning scientists in this area. You’re talking about things that engineers usually don’t talk about, and that, I think, is the effect of having more and more input from learning scientists in to engineering education research. Is that something that any of the engineers on the panel are worried about? Are we relinquishing control of this whole area?

Juan Rivera: I think we have to change. I see too much of linear thinking, what I call stratified thinking processes, in solving problems. It’s almost as if when the individuals come into industry they set artificial boundaries on how they approach problems. They like a cookbook sort of approach: Step One, Step Two, down to Step N, and at the end you find a solution. But, what I think is needed is to give the individuals and the students broader thinking skills. They need the ability to learn on their own and expand beyond those processes and those focus problems that they’re searching for and then ask grander questions.

Moderator: As someone from industry, are we doing a good enough job in that area, in our engineers?

Juan Rivera: We’re making progress, but I think we could do better so that when they come in with an undergraduate degree or a bachelor’s degree they can have some of the foundation for those skills already.

Moderator: Gary, are you afraid to insult some of the learning scientists in the group? What do you think of their creeping input here? [Laughter]

Gary Gabriele: I think it’s going to be very beneficial to get to the issues that Juan’s talking about, we’re probably the wrong group to ask. So I’ll answer in the sense that one of the things that engineering faculty can benefit from is working with and discussing problems with people far outside their domain, outside Science and into the Social Sciences because that’s the kind of skills that essentially we want our students to have as well. To get to the issues Juan’s talking about is to understand that there are different ways to approach problems than to layout what the problem definition is, what are the knowns, what are the unknowns, the kind of things we make them do in most of our engineering science courses. We have to get the students thinking more broadly. That will happen when the faculty start to see the value of that as well and that will happen when they start working with these other domains.

Moderator: And that will happen when they start getting recognized and rewarded for it too.

Gary Gabriele: Absolutely.

If you have a Ph.D. in engineering, must you be able to teach it?

Monday, June 19th, 2006

Moderator: Karl Smith is in the audience. This is a good time to quote Karl of the University of Minnesota. Karl said this, “We’ve assumed for too long that if you’re an expert engineer — i.e. you have a Ph.D. in engineering — that you can teach it.” Research in other disciplines, however, indicate that there is specific disciplinary pedagogical knowledge that is needed for teaching. It seems to me that the engineering community lags far behind, for example, the learning scientists and in other areas, humanities and so forth, in applying this pedagogical knowledge. How are we going to get to the point where we’re ready to make use of our skills and technical research as applied to educational research? Is Karl right? If you have a Ph.D., you must be able to teach it.

Jim Pellegrino: Well, you’ve opened up the pedagogical content knowledge can of worms, and on purpose. Actually, I think it’s a very good one. I think people are confused as to what we show and measure and what this really involves. The distinction is, I think, a very important one and it’s captured in the fact that knowing a discipline extremely well does not mean that you have an appreciation. In fact, you may have had an appreciation, but you may have lost that appreciation of what it takes for a learner to get to that level of expert knowledge and understanding, and the ways in which you can facilitate them and the stumbling blocks they’re going to hit along the way.

So pedagogical content knowledge is an appreciation of the ways in which you can present the material that takes into account both what it is you want people to learn and the course of learning that is going to be optimal for them. The techniques, the approaches, the way to get somebody from a novice to a highly expert level of understanding, and the simple fact that you can’t take a novice and turn them into an expert just by simply telling them what an expert knows.

Moderator: David?

David Radcliffe: I’d take that even further. I think one of the real things we can do here is to really understand engineering for the first time. I believe it’s a discipline we really haven’t inquired into ourselves. We tend to see ourselves as problem solvers and as a collection of technical knowledge. This sort of research leads us into understanding philosophically what engineering is about. How do we acquire our knowledge? What’s the basis? In every other discipline, their fundamental education is around how do you acquire knowledge in that discipline and what’s that knowledge that’s being collected. We tend to just deliver the knowledge instead of delivering the means by which we acquired that. So I think the engineering education enterprise, beyond and in addition to learning about how best to educate and help engineers at all stages of their development and formation, we can actually get to much deeper, more fundamental things that really puts engineering on a philosophical basis which I don’t believe it has at the moment. It’s an exciting opportunity.

Moderator: Elaine?

Elaine Seymour: I’m very impressed with some of the research that’s coming out of engineering education scholarship at the moment, which may address the points made by David and Jim somewhat. A piece being done at Colorado School of Mines, for instance, is studying the issue of the hardness of certain conceptual matters. A serious thing in any discipline to understand is why students find certain things particularly difficult to get their minds around. If you can understand such a thing, then it is incredibly practical and useful to know because then you can think about how to portion out your time and energy in a course, to make sure that people walk out of that course understanding those things.

So I think this is an intensely practical endeavor. I’m very encouraged by what I see, not only with the quality of the research that’s starting to come, but also in the development of faculty, our scholar teachers. From almost a standing start when I began the work we do, 15 or so years ago, when nobody was discussing this, I at least now see a national dialogue. So many associations in the sciences and engineering have built education sections to their conferences and those discussions are there which did not happen before. I see workshops everywhere, people teaching each other how to use this pedagogical knowledge. I’m very encouraged. I think we have a groundswell coming.

Moderator: Jeremy, do you have a comment?

Jeremy Noonan: I want to respond to what David said about the importance of understanding the philosophy of engineering. When I was an engineering student I remember asking myself philosophical questions about what I was learning. Where does this knowledge come from? What is this knowledge? What’s the nature of the phenomenon that we’re studying? I felt like, without a philosophical understanding of engineering, that my mind was limited in my ability to make judgments about it.

Moderator: Sheri?

Sheri Sheppard: I actually have two questions for Elaine. One is do you distinguish between the scholar-teacher, which is a nice phrase, and the engineering education researcher? is that a different person than the engineering education researcher?

Elaine Seymour: I’vm seeing people who are discovering this research and theoretical world for the first time and I find this very impressive. This is because, although our moderator mentions things are going on in the social sciences, I don’t see it. I have seen all the action happening on the science, engineering and mathematics side of campuses. This is where people are bothering to read books and papers and attend conferences that address learning issues and are teaching themselves to how to use the pedagogy that comes out of this kind of research and they’re teaching each other. So, that’s what I mean by the scholar-teacher, the people who are using and sharing this knowledge.

Sheri Sheppard: So hopefully, that would be all engineering faculty?

Elaine Seymour: Given time and the river running, I suppose so. [Laughter]

Sheri Sheppard: My second question, Elaine, is: You’ve done some very influential work on the theory of change and how does scholarship research get into the community. It’s a hard problem and I think we were flirting with that earlier. I’d like you to share some of your insight in to that issue.

Elaine Seymour: Gary and I were discussing this last night and he was somewhat dismal about the slowness of the progress that we have made nationally. I think perhaps not just in engineering, I think he was thinking more broadly about that and I guess the gist of my answer was “what do you expect?” Change is hard and it is slow and basically, we don’t like it. We don’t like to be changed, it’s risky. It is comfortable to stay as we are, and our best mode is mainly inertia, just to keep going, keep our nose in the same furrow. It takes quite a lot to jolt us out of that mode so (and I include myself in this most heartily) it is difficult to do. Earlier on, somebody mentioned clients, and I think you used the word “marketing.” I think we are in a time when we have to think about the students as our customers, as our clients in a way we have not done before and make them front and center. And I think we have to look at our colleagues with an eye not to proving that we do good or at least no harm, but with an eye to selling, we are in the marketing business I think when it comes to the upshot of the research. It’s clearly not the case that by my telling you what I do or what a colleague does works and here is the evidence. It’s not the case that my colleague is going to take that on board just because I offer some data. There is selling involved. And that is what makes it so slow.

Will the engineering community accept education research as real research and not just another form of teaching?

Monday, June 19th, 2006

Moderator: There’s an issue here that we’re not getting to, I want to do it quickly. Will the engineering community accept education reseach as real research and not just another form of teaching?

Gary Gabriele: I think our hope is: eventually. So the question is how long will that take and what will be required to get there? And I think it creates a challenge any new research field has is getting off the ground. And I think that’s where we are. We’ve been through probably, roughly, twenty or so years of trying to build the community, build an infrastructure, build a sense that this is an important area. And I think we’re at, at least our feeling is at the National Science Foundation, is we’re kind of at a stepping off point to make that happen. And so now we really need the community to step up and do that. We recognize, I think we all recognize that there are a lot of hurdles involved in making it an accepted research area in engineering education. Maybe we can list off some of those easily ourselves from our own experiences, in what we’ve seen and maybe what we’ve seen in other areas as well, of trying to make research in education a qualified research topic. But I think our hope is that eventually that will happen and I hope it happens soon because I think there are some very important issues that engineering education is facing that we need to get to.

David Radcliffe: I think the real thing there is to see it as a discipline so that it has all the characteristics of any other discipline: has a body of knowledge, a mode of inquiry, a way of finding out, asking questions. And I think that’s the way you have to start looking at it rather than just a piece of research, to see it in that discipline sense, just as there’s mechanical, electrical. That’s the way I think to characterize it and move on to the next level so it’s not just some research over here, it’s a discipline that has all those characteristics.

Jim Pellegrino: And one of the things I would hope is that for that field to be recognized, that it doesn’t get caught up in some of the debates that we are seeing right now, which I think are very unproductive, in the general area of educational research, where people have begun to engage in debates as to what constitutes research, particularly qualitative versus qualitative methodologies. The National Research Council has put out a very nice report on scientific research in education which lays out what constitutes the elements of any scientific inquiry. And so there’s a body of work that can be then connected to the content issues in engineering so that we don’t end up replicating debates in the engineering education profession that have proved to be somewhat counterproductive within the broader field of educational research.

Sheri Sheppard: I would say an interesting challenge for the community is that, in fact, our customers for this research are the people in the offices next door to us. And so I would say, unlike traditional research in engineering where your customer might be Northrop Grumman where you’ve got a partnership or the broader engineering community, the people you want to convince that the knowledge you’re generating is relevant to what they do every day in the classroom is the person next door. And I think that does provide some marketing challenges, that what you’re doing is distinct from scholarship of teaching if we would agree that we would hope that is what every faculty member is doing in their work, that you have something to offer. So I think we do have some marketing issues.

Norman Fortenberry: But on Sheri’s point, it also raises an interesting paradox, or challenge. In most fields of research the researcher is not held to an immediate return on investment, in terms of practical application of that basic research knowledge. In this field of research we’re held to, “Well, what can I do with that in the classroom next week?” And that’s a new twist, and I understand why that’s true, but we have to recognize that its not like its normally done.

Moderator: So are you saying that the methodologies used in technical research are different than the methodologies used in education research?

Norman Fortenberry: I’m saying, for example, with quantitative research they’re very similar if not the same. I’m say the expectation of payoff from the research is different. If I’m doing research in composite materials and I’m looking at how I’m going to align my substrate and my filaments, nobody is expecting me to put that into an aircraft next week. But if I’m doing research on education, they want to know what happens, how can I use that research.

Gary Gabriele: Well, I think I know what Norm’s saying, but I don’t know that I agree. I think maybe the fact that… I guess my perception of engineering research is that we’re often doing it for a purpose, for a customer. At least that’s the impression I get walking the halls at NSF, is that we have a purpose, we have a reason for what we want to do with that work. Not maybe immediately, but long range I think we’re seeing that there is a customer for what we want to do. I’m not sure I agree completely with what you’re saying. I think there’s an opportunity to say that there’s still some strong similarities in what we’re doing in engineering.

Jim Pellegrino: I guess one of the questions I have that I would pose for our group is: Can someone define for me, following your point, what exactly is the nature of the problem that we’re trying to solve with engineering education research? I think that in many other cases its very clear, the problem we are trying to solve, the issue we’re trying to address. And I think one of the concerns I have is trying to get clarity as to what those in the field of engineering education believe are the issues or problems to which this scholarly work can be addressed.

Moderator: Sheri, what problem are we trying to solve?

Sheri Sheppard: I guess I would summarize it: we’re hoping to make a better engineer, and in engineering terms, you’re usually trying to optimize “lighter, better, cheaper”. And usually you can to two of the three. And so I would say in general that’s my motivation, and a lot of others, is we have a system called the educational system and one of the inputs and outputs of that is the human being and so how do we do it “lighter, better, cheaper”?

How would you define the scholarship of engineering education? What elements in your definition make this an important activity for engineering faculty to pursue?

Monday, June 19th, 2006

Moderator: In his 1990 work, entitled “Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoria”, Ernest Boyer extended the definition of scholarship beyond research to include three other basic areas. Namely teaching, integration and application. Boyer further stated that these four areas of scholarship are equally important to the research mission of the university and thus are all important for faculty to use, to pursue. How would you define the scholarship of engineering education? And secondly, probably just as importantly, what elements in your definition make this an important activity for engineering faculty to pursue?

Norman Fortenberry: Two points, first I want to challenge the premise in the question. You indicated that Boyer defined scholarship as extending beyond research. I would say that Boyer broadened the definition of research to include looking at discovery, integration, application and teaching. Therefore, in my view, scholarship of engineering education is a directed inquiry into aspects of the system of engineering education. Not only looking particularly at interactions of instructors and learners, but also looking at the content of what is taught, how it is taught, and also looking at interactions of various other elements in the system of education. Now why that’s important is that as engineers we do more than simply characterize systems. We seek to improve their performance. And through a processes of directed inquiry we hope to better understand various aspects of engineering education so that we can improve the performance of students, of faculty, of administrators, of colleges, of performance on industrial worksites.

Moderator: Sheri, do you agree with that definition?

Sheri Sheppard: Well, I definitely agree that scholarship has a number of facets, and I think Ernie was saying it has four facets, certainly one is discovery which is most tied to traditional research methodologies. Then he had the one on teaching which I think now the community has broadened to say it’s teaching and learning, and application integration which Norman mentioned. I think a hard thing, one of the hard things for the community right now is what form does this scholarship of teaching and learning take? How is it different from what you typically do in the classroom every day? And so what distinguishes it from just good teaching? And I think the community is, to a certain extend is grappling with, that it isn’t the same thing. There’s an added dimension to how you’re thinking about your teaching and communicating it to a community. Because one of the other things that Ernie talked about is that scholarship requires a community that’s engaged in debate and publishing and building on each other’s work.

Jeremy Noonan: Sheri, how do you distinguish between the scholarship of teaching in engineering education and the scholarship of research in engineering education?

Sheri Sheppard: I would say those of us that are taking on engineering education research as the primary research we are doing, are dong it at a level where our method, you know, we are going to our IRB Boards, to get human subjects approval because we are looking at it as an experiment. I think scholarship of teaching is what most of my colleagues are hopefully doing in making their classes better every year, reading papers that are coming out. But they’re not necessarily publishing themselves on engineering education because they may be doing robotics work, they may be doing controls, other research endeavors.