Mapping change: How do faculty workplace interactions and social networks influence their teaching practices?

Brian Couch
Associate Professor
University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Need: Over the past several decades, national organizations have called for undergraduate STEM instructors to implement evidence-based instructional practices (EBIPs) in their courses. EBIPs are teaching strategies that have a demonstrated record of supporting student outcomes, and they include practices such as active learning, just-in-time teaching, process oriented guided inquiry learning, think-pair-share, cooperative learning, peer instruction, service learning, and many others. Despite significant efforts to promote EBIP adoption, traditional lecture-based teaching approaches still predominate in undergraduate STEM courses. Thus, there remains a pressing need to understand factors that limit or support EBIP adoption. Guiding Question: Recent studies have highlighted the central role of the academic department in creating policies, procedures, and environments that shape teaching practices. Within this context, faculty workplace interactions potentially play an important role in mediating the change process, since they help establish broader cultural norms around teaching and provide a means for knowledge sharing related to innovative practices. Our research took a mixed methods approach to addressing a variety of research questions regarding the relationship between faculty social networks and associated teaching practices: (1) Do peer conversations influence an instructor’s teaching practices, (2) To what extent do high and low EBIP users talk to each other about teaching, (3) What knowledge sharing occurs during teaching-related conversations, and (4) How do change initiatives position change agents to facilitate local transformation?Outcomes: Surveying faculty from different STEM departments across three research institutions, we found that faculty often have strong connections with other faculty, on the basis that they have reciprocated teaching discussion ties and they interact in multiple domains (i.e., teaching, research, service). We uncovered statistical evidence for a peer influence model by which faculty social networks shape associated teaching practices, and we discovered that teaching conversations occur most frequently between high EBIP users. Through qualitative interviews with high EBIP users, we characterized the context, content, and perceived impact of teaching discussions with their peers as a means to understand how knowledge sharing occurs between faculty. Finally, qualitative analysis of annual reports from three change initiatives revealed that change agents often implement multiple change strategies that draw on local strengths and respond to local needs.Broader Impacts: Building on prior studies, our research helps establish the ways in which faculty social networks can influence associated teaching practices. We highlight the need to develop new mechanisms to integrate low EBIP users into more regular conversations with high EBIP users, potentially through greater instructional coordination (e.g., co-teaching, team-teaching). Furthermore, we shed light on the multifaceted strategies enacted by change projects and provide insights on how social networks might be more fully leveraged to promote EBIP adoption.


Couch BA, Lane AK, Earl B, Feola S, Lewis JE, McAlpin JD, Mertens K, Prevost LB, Shadle SE, Skvoretz J, Stains M, Whitt BA, Ziker JP