Guiding Theories Working Group

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Mission Statement

Change theories include theoretical and empirically-grounded knowledge about how change occurs. Change theory is important to change efforts because it represents generalized knowledge beyond any one project. Relevant theories come from diverse fields and it is a challenge for change agents and change researchers to identify and understand the complexity and breadth of this literature. This working group seeks to help people engaged in change efforts learn more about change theories and models that could profitably inform systemic change work. This working group also aims to support researchers studying systemic change by facilitating discussions and building resources related to change theory.

Ongoing Work

A long-term goal of this Working Group is to develop resources that help change agents and researchers learn about relevant change theories. The Working Group is developing 1-page summaries of change theories and how they are applied in the context of undergraduate STEM education reform. These summaries are available in the Change Theories resource. Join an upcoming WG1 meeting to contribute to and learn from these resources.

Working Group Resources

Community Building - One long-term goal of this Working Group is to build a community among change researchers across STEM disciplines. Daniel Reinholz and Tessa Andrews hosted an NSF-funded meeting in February 2019 that gathered early career researchers who study change in undergraduate STEM education. This conference, titled Breaking Down Silos, facilitated discussions about change theories relevant within and across disciplines. Emergent collaborations from this meeting are ongoing. You can learn more about it in the post Breaking Down Silos meeting contributes to the goals of Working Group 1 and in ameeting report published in CBE-Life Sciences Education.

Common Change Theory Language - Another long-term goal of this Working Group is to build a common language around theory. Discussions at the Breaking Down Silos conference and the 2019 Transforming Institutions Conference prompted an essay to propose clear distinctions between change theory (generalizable knowledge relevant to achieving change) and a theory of change (articulation of the underlying rationale of a specific project). You can read it here in the International Journal of STEM Education. Building on that work, a second publication was released in the International Journal of STEM Education that provides a systematic review of the use of change theory in STEM higher education.

A key resource developed by this group is one-page change summaries. These summaries are available in the Change Theories resource.

Knowledge Claims and Guiding Questions

  1. Using change theory to guide interventions and research enables projects to both leverage and contribute to our collective knowledge about how to achieve change. Therefore, we ask: 
    1. How can researchers contextualize theories from other fields (e.g., organizational change, higher education) to promote change specifically in STEM higher education?
    2. How can researchers use change theories in a way that better produces generalizable knowledge?
    3. How can change theories be used in a way that catalyzes widespread changes to STEM higher education?
  2. Change agents and researchers in STEM higher education have often not had formal opportunities to learn about change theory. Therefore, we ask:
    1. What resources and opportunities for learning about change (i.e., change education) can Working Group 1 create?

Group Leaders

  • Tessa Andrews, University of Georgia (tandrews [at] uga [dot] edu)
  • Daniel Reinholz, San Diego State University (daniel.reinholz [at] sdsu [dot] edu)

Group Members