INSTITUTIONALIZING ENGINEERING EDUCATION INNOVATIONS
Dean of Engineering and Technology
Old Dominion University
This workshop examined ways in which engineering departments could solidify and make permanent the innovations they had introduced. The innovations discussed ranged from the addition of a single course to a complete overhaul of the engineering curriculum. Participants included engineering deans and faculty, along with a number of education specialists.
Change, as defined by the workshop participants, is something that creates a new future. Resistance to change is natural -- and often inevitable. Successful change, therefore, requires that resistance be overcome. Institutionalization of change further requires that the stakeholders -- most often individuals from the faculty and administration -- accept the change. Stakeholder buy-in is so important that it was mentioned by almost every breakout group (see discussion below).
Strategies for institutionalization vary. In some instances, change is best introduced one element at a time, either alone or as a coordinated part of an overall vision. In other cases, it works best to present the entire package all at once. In either case, the creation of a change-ready environment at the university is essential in order to have an atmosphere conducive to change.
As part of this environment, a system of rewards should be in place to recognize those who promote successful innovation. Even more importantly, a change-ready environment empowers innovators to move ahead.
Communication with the stakeholders is another key element to institutionalizing change. "Stakeholders" should, under these circumstances, be defined broadly to include all levels within the faculty, from the university to the college to the department to individuals. Stakeholders within the administration should include the chair, dean, and provost. Ultimately, institutionalization of an innovation can be considered a success when the change is no longer being called an experiment and when it is off special funding. With the focus of the workshop being on how to get innovation accepted, there was an emphasis on using lessons learned, either in the institution or elsewhere, as an important complement to defining best practices.
The morning and afternoon sessions of the workshop together had a total of ten breakout groups, each of which developed a number of suggestions for best practices in institutionalizing engineering education innovations. These suggestions are summarized below by group, with associated discussion. One of the breakout groups developed a group motto: "Arrogance breeds isolation among innovators." If there was a theme for this workshop as a whole, the motto captured it. Breakout groups almost uniformly focused on reaching out to others, broadening support, and communicating the need for change.
This group suggested four best practices:
The first of these includes encouragement and reward for participation in faculty development programs. Specific rewards for promoting innovation included the offer of faculty release time, salary increases, and the incorporation of educational scholarship criteria in faculty review procedures.
The second best practice stemmed from a discussion of industry needs. By learning what engineering specialties are required in the ever-changing workplace, innovators can bolster their plans with support from the outside. Industry can be drawn into a position of partnering with the engineering department when the department shows sensitivity to emerging markets -- the need for training in the area of bioengineering was given as an example.
In discussing the third practice, which had to do with evaluating the innovation, the group noted the need to agree on criteria for determining effectiveness. It is important that the evaluation be based on realistic data and expectations. Among the expectations should be that of cost-effectiveness. As far as the final recommendation, the group determined that an environment of change would, by definition, include educational innovation as part of the strategic planning process in the university. This would orient not just the individual departments but also the administration to reward innovators.
Recommendations of the second breakout group had some overlap with those of the first. Its best practices include the following:
The third breakout group produced three best practices:
In the discussion of the first point, the group noted the importance of documenting the consequences of failure to change. In some cases, they emphasized, change is a requirement in order to stay current. By projecting future outcomes, innovators can make a stronger case. Broad input from both internal and external sources can enhance the case for change. Flexibility, the second recommendation, involves addressing all concerns -- even the trivial -- from all stakeholders. The group advised that innovators articulate the value added by the change and be willing to communicate continuously with all concerned. This led to the final recommendation, that innovators communicate through all possible, reasonable means. Suggestions for this included World Wide Web pages, university catalogs, and other mechanisms.
Like the other groups, the fourth breakout group noted the role of the stakeholders. This group recommended the following practices:
Regarding the second recommendation, the group noted that different stakeholders will think differently from each other. Part of working with a constituency is understanding how that constituency thinks. Some stakeholders will base their decisions on financial factors; others will be concerned with the curriculum, the processes used in the classroom, and other factors. In the third practice, the group emphasized that a timeline based on carefully thought-out implementation schedules will keep the action going and determine who does what, when -- critical considerations when multiple parties are involved.
This group identified the following as best practices:
The group explained the first practice in terms of the need to develop data to support an innovation. Often, it is possible to rely on previous research and experience to buttress the case for change. It also helps to be able to match a specific innovation with the mission and long-term educational objectives of the institution. In its second recommendation, the group made reference to the key role of stakeholders. Among the stakeholders identified as important were professional organizations, political players (who might be involved in university budgeting or management), and various funding sources.
This group framed the issue of institutionalizing innovation in what might be considered "private sector" terms, as follows:
By contrast, this group focused on vision -- especially the need to have a distinct vision when first implementing change. Their recommendations include the following:
The group suggested that the internal champion might be a single individual from the faculty, or a group of well-respected advocates. The external champion could come from the administration of the institution, or from industry, state, or national sources. In terms of reporting to constituents of the innovation, the group advised periodic and frequent updates, along with the publication of reasonable timelines.
Other recommendations that did not fall into the group's three main suggestions include: achieve visible support, build a broad consensus, and evaluate continually.
This group suggested the following three best practices:
The members of the group felt strongly that change would be easier to implement if the university valued innovation and embraced it as part of the university mission. The recommendation to communicate urgency dealt with ensuring that others understand the need for change and innovate to meet that need.
The ninth breakout group concentrated primarily on reaching out to the various constituencies for specific purposes:
Members of this group had had some success in acquiring external funding and seemed sensitive to industry as a constituency. Not only did they want to see industry representatives on campus to discuss what was needed from the schools, they also deemed industry as a good source for benchmarking and evaluation, in terms of where graduates went to work. Benchmarking against an outside institution as well as evaluation were both seen as on-going, including periodically after the innovation was well-established. In developing broad-based support, this group agreed with others that intellectually committed advocates were more effective than tepid support from all quarters. The final recommendation was to reward innovators, regardless of which type of stakeholder they might be; faculty might prefer released time, administrators could be rewarded with money, and industry partners would in all likelihood appreciate some form of public recognition, for example.
Beyond these primary recommendations for best practices, the group discussed: the use of capitol investment and dedicated space as leverage; working outside the traditional approval structure; and facing long-term financial issues to ensure continuation of the innovation.
The last breakout group selected the following as key best practices:
This group also recommended sidestepping the bureaucracy, where possible, by using independent study courses for interdisciplinary work. They advised gaining support of different stakeholders in ways that were significant to the stakeholder groups. Faculty who innovate or promote change might be rewarded with a decreased teaching load, salary increases, more favorable tenure criteria, or additional lab space.
Lab space was deemed a factor in attracting industry support and extending resources, where possible.
Consensus on Best Practices
Collectively, the ten breakout groups included the following several times among their recommended best practices:
Two breakout groups also identified some worst practices, activities that almost ensure that an innovation will get derailed. These caveats, or "don'ts" include the following:
For the plenary session of the conference, the workshop chair, Dr. Swart, summarized the best practices and lessons learned regarding institutionalization of education innovations.