Experiences in Managing Large, Multi-Institution Research Projects

Edward Berger
Associate Vice Provost for Learning Innovation
Purdue University

Need. The future of research is about transdisciplinary collaboration that explores how intersected disciplinary perspectives can effectively address important problems. Within the context of engineering education research, this means integrating perspectives from the social sciences, humanities, and systems theory to solve vexing problems related to student achievement. This poster describes the challenges around managing large, multi-institution research projects than span technical and humanist domains and involve large teams of researchers and practitioners.

Guiding Questions. This research is framed by three research questions: RQ1. What cultural factors are the best predictors of innovation adoption, and what is the minimum instantiation of cultural characterization? RQ2. To what extent do innovations propagated to new settings resemble the original innovations, and what cultural features of the new setting dictate adaptations of the innovation? RQ3. What are the best predictors of student academic outcomes, and in what ways do the predictions vary by educational setting? These guiding questions are themselves derived from two previous NSF-funded antecedent projects about academic organizational culture (grant no. 1519412) and active, blended, and collaborative (ABC) learning (grant no. 1525671).

Outcomes. This research project has so far yielded valuable lessons about how to manage a five-institution collaboration including engineering education researchers, anthropologists, practitioners, an external evaluator, and a project coordinator – all within the context of COVID. The lessons learned span communication and personnel management, IRB protocols, site visitation logistics, remote delivery of survey instruments, and general relationship management with partners at each institution. These lessons may add value to other investigators considering large-scale, multi-institution research projects.

Broader Impacts. This research project helps the community understand the propagation dynamics of educational innovations through explicit consideration of institutional culture. Moreover, the research reveals new, culture-based ways of thinking about change management and educational innovation. Finally, the lessons learned about managing large, multi-institution collaborations help the community of researchers avoid pitfalls and efficiently use both financial and personnel resources to support students and realize important research outcomes.


Jeffrey Rhoads, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN; Jennifer DeBoer, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN; Ruth Rothstein, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN