Understanding Context: Propagation of a Concept-Based Technology Tool in Diverse Settings

Milo Koretsky
McDonnell Family Bridge Professor
Tufts University

Need: Concept-based learning is a form of active learning which is the use of activity-based pedagogies whose primary objectives are to make students value deep conceptual understanding (instead of only factual knowledge) and then to facilitate their development of that understanding. Despite the evidence supporting concept-based instruction, many faculty continue to stress algorithmic problem solving. In fact, the biggest challenge to improving STEM education is to find ways to get faculty to adopt the evidence-based pedagogies that already exist.Guiding Question: Our project aims to propagate the Concept Warehouse (CW), an online instructional tool that was developed in the Chemical Engineering community into Mechanical Engineering (ME) and other disciplines. Our guiding question is how do students and instructors in diverse contexts within the mechanics community take up use of the CW. Our team has developed over 600 statics and dynamics concept questions and is in the process of creating instructional tools for the use in these mechanics courses.Outcomes: We take a sociocultural perspective and use an ecosystems model to describe how people interact with their environments as active agents. From this lens, adoption of this type of instructional tool occurs along a trajectory of within a complex instructional context. In undergraduate instruction, entry points for adoption depend on understanding of the tool’s affordances and the instructor’s goals. These trajectories depend, in part, on how tool use fits within the context of an instructor’s existing teaching practice. To date, we have interviewed 24 different instructors who have had some type of experience with the Concept Warehouse. twelve of these participants have participated in our Community of Practice and have been interviewed twice. We have also have collected data of the different ways these instructors have used the CW. Interviews were video recorded, transcribed, and then coded collaboratively by four researchers. Data analysis involved iteratively refining codes to describe instructors’ ongoing trajectories of practice with the CW within specific contexts. Findings include pedagogical reasoning and dynamic decision-making along a trajectory of practice induced by the tool’s initial perceived affordances in relation to their existing practice and instructional goals. Practice, and thus the instructional context, changed along the trajectory, responding to the ongoing interactions among students, instructors, and tool. Multilayered contexts included institution, enrollment, and the global COVID-19 pandemic. Broader impacts: We have focused on community building through workshops, our Action Research Scholars Program, and a robust Community of Practice. Our initial interviews of users and potential users indicated that additional faculty support was needed to provide guidance on both concept-based instruction and on use of the CW. We held a workshop at the 2020 Virtual ASEE conference that attracted over 50 participants. A set of two 5-hour synchronous summer workshops in 2020 attracted over 270 applicants, with 64 participants in the first workshop and 76 participants in the second. We have had 4 peer reviewed journal articles and 10 peer reviewed conference proceedings published.


Milo Koretsky, Tufts University, Medford, MA; Brian Self, California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, CA, Michael Prince, Bucknell University, ; Susan Nolen, University of Washington, Seattle, WA; Christopher Papadopoulos, University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, Dominic J Dal Bello, Allan Hancock College; James M Widmann, California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, CA