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

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.

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