Karen Frair
Foundation Coalition
University of Alabama

Jack Elzinga
Professor and Chairman
Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering
University of Florida

Jack Marr
Psychology Department
Georgia Institute of Technology

Two sessions of this workshop, in the morning and the afternoon, examined the topic of dissemination from two different points of view. Participants in the morning session discussed the topic from the standpoint of different audiences to whom engineering education innovations are disseminated. The afternoon group examined the topic according to various questions about processes and problems in dissemination.


Four audiences for the dissemination of engineering education innovations are: colleagues on local campus; other campuses in the same NSF program; campuses outside NSF programs; and non-university stakeholders, such as precollege educators, the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET), industry, and NSF.

Morning workshop participants formed groups for each of these four audiences and developed responses to three questions about successful dissemination efforts:

1.     What process have you used (or are you familiar with) that was successful for disseminating an engineering education innovation to your audience?

2a.     How do you define success in the dissemination process?

2b.     How do you measure success?

2c.     What evidence do you have regarding the success of the dissemination process?

3.     How do you think the dissemination process could be improved?

Dissemination at the Local Campus (i.e., the campus where the innovation was developed)

1)     Successful Avenues for Dissemination

Participants reported positive experiences with the following:

2)     Definition, Measures, and Evidence of Success

Success is the achievement of desired goals. Areas to measure as evidence include:

Regarding Internet dissemination, it is possible to gauge the quality of Web site hits, in addition to the number, by looking at such things as the duration of the hit and the amount of material that is downloaded. (Of course, it is not possible to infer from this data whether the material is actually used.)

The Web site as a tool for dissemination is more appropriate for students than for deans and university administrators, for whom multimedia presentations are probably more effective.

Evaluation of learning effectiveness is an important aspect of dissemination. The results of such evaluations are central to identifying which innovations work.

3)     Improvements Needed at Campus Level

Dissemination to Other Institutions Participating in the Same NSF Program

1)     Successful Avenues for Dissemination

2)     Definitions, Evidence, and Measures of Success

Success here is a matter of getting out the information effectively. Evidence of success can be measured in terms of:

3)     Ways to Improve Dissemination Between Campuses

An Engineering Education Coalition is an ideal structure to develop surveys and assess and disseminate innovations.

Non-NSF Programs

What was intended here are all academic institutions outside the particular NSF programs -- i.e., the engineering education community generally, not only nationally but also worldwide. This includes two-year as well as four-year institutions with engineering programs.

1)     Successful Avenues for Dissemination

The group identified two kinds of dissemination processes: passive and active. Priorities are indicated by asterisks (three asterisks is highest priority; no asterisk is lowest).



2)     Definition, Measures, and Evidence of Success



Perhaps the best evidence of success is the adoption, adaptation, and continued use of the innovation at other campuses. Institutional "buy-in" is another strong indicator that the innovation has succeeded.

3)     Improvements Needed for Dissemination on Other (Non-participating) Campuses

Cost-effectiveness is a significant issue. An innovation may be effective in terms of learning but not cost-effective. For example, a high faculty-to-student ratio is effective, but is usually not feasible in terms of cost. Also, initial development and implementation requires a big investment in start-up costs. The payoffs -- reaching cost-effectiveness -- come later.

A question that should be asked is whether funding for dissemination and adaptation of an innovation takes money away from the development of innovation.

Non-University Stakeholders (e.g., industry, ABET, K-12)

1)     Successful Avenues for Dissemination

2)     Definition, Measures, and Evidence of Success




3)     Improvements Needed for Dissemination of Innovations to Non-university Stakeholders

It is important to recognize that industry is also a source, not just a recipient, of innovations in education and training.

Common Points for All Morning Groups

The following points were common to all four of these groups addressing different audiences:

1)     Successful Avenues for Dissemination

2a)     Definition of Success

2b)     Things to Measure

2c)     Evidence

3)     Improvements Needed


In the afternoon session of the dissemination workshop, subgroups were organized according to the three questions that had been the focus of each the morning groups:

1)     Processes/Mechanisms for Dissemination

2)     Definitions and Measures of Success

3)     Issues, Needs, Problems, and Solutions

Each group presented a list of ideas, which are given below.

Processes/Mechanisms for Dissemination

Definitions/Measures of Success

Dissemination involves two things: process and content. Broadly defined, successful dissemination is an awareness within the relevant professional community of the goals, status, and outcomes of a particular project. It is important to define the target audience and what they require in terms of process and content. Innovations must be distributed to appropriate audiences in a form acceptable to those audiences.

The dissemination process must include goals that can serve as indicators against which success can be measured. The information being disseminated must have value, both positive and negative. If something doesn't work, people should know about it. The innovation must be readily usable and credible.

Measures include the following:

Adoption of an innovation as a whole is unlikely. Adapting different components is more common. It was noted that, compared to five years ago, there is less resistance among faculty to hearing about and learning about innovations developed elsewhere.

Dissemination should not be contingent on acceptance at the home institution. Dissemination of work in progress is important. This allows feedback that is useful during the formative stages, and it also promotes later acceptance of innovation.


In disseminating innovations, the following questions need to be addressed:

Participants noted that the system currently does not provide obvious incentives for dissemination of engineering education innovations. Deans will ask, "Why should I pay for this when it won't help my institution?" Indeed, what incentives do they have to provide matching funds for dissemination that will benefit other campuses? Deans should recognize that, within multi-institution partnerships such as an engineering education coalition, for example, there can be mutual exchanges and benefits; therefore, they have an incentive to commit up-front to coalition efforts. Other possible incentives: ABET criteria, which also will prompt funding for these activities; possible competitive and marketing advantages; and the availability of matching funds from other institutions or from NSF.

There are procedural barriers to introducing new courses into the curriculum. For example, a course can be sidetracked in the approval process if an individual faculty member objects. One solution is the modular approach, which allows adoption of pieces.

Concepts Learned

Participants were asked to indicate the single most important concept learned during this workshop. The response was as follows:


Several broad, common themes emerged from the workshop. First, dissemination of innovations should be planned up-front, as part of the design. It is crucial to identify the audience first. Personal interactions between users and developers (through workshops, conferences, etc.) are very important for ensuring effective subsequent dissemination. Innovations should be developed in modules, so that users can choose all or part of the innovation; this facilitates dissemination. The World Wide Web is a major avenue for dissemination of innovations (although there is a wide range of quality in educational tools on the Web). There needs to be better documentation of the processes through which innovations are developed.

Finally, there is a need to change the faculty culture and faculty reward system to increase the recognition of the value of innovation. Motivation for innovation and dissemination of innovations is weak at present; marketing is not in the "game plan" of academic engineering. The motivation can be improved by NSF insisting on solid, innovative dissemination plans for educational developments -- i.e., creativity in dissemination as well as in the product. Additionally, faculty could be rewarded for adapting innovations made elsewhere.