Enhancing research capacity for systemic change in undergraduate STEM education by analyzing, organizing, and synthesizing theories of change

Thursday 8:00am - 9:30am Fountainview
Thematic Symposium

Tessa Andrews, University of Georgia
Daniel Reinholz, San Diego State University
Widespread calls and national funding for improving the diversity and preparation of STEM undergraduates have rapidly expanded the number of people investigating change in this context. This creates great potential for generating and refining knowledge about transforming undergraduate teaching and learning in STEM. However, important barriers exist to building robust and foundational knowledge about transforming undergraduate STEM education. First, there are numerous theories of change potentially relevant to the transformation of undergraduate STEM education, but determining what theoretical framework(s) best inform a project is challenging. Relevant theories come from diverse areas, including organizational psychology, higher education, health sciences, and business management. The complexity and breadth of this literature makes identifying and understanding relevant theories challenging. Thus, there is an urgent need for a rigorous, analytical synthesis of relevant theories of change. Meeting this need will enable researchers and practitioners to choose productive theories to guide their work, ultimately improving the educational impact of change initiatives. Second, most investigations of change in undergraduate STEM education focus on a single initiative. Consequently, many investigations must be compared to make generalizations about what promotes change. These comparisons would be facilitated if researchers investigated common factors and used compatible theoretical perspectives. Our team is beginning to address these challenges by bringing together emerging scholars studying systemic change in undergraduate education across STEM disciplines. We will convene a working meeting to compare, organize, and synthesize relevant theoretical frameworks in early February 2019. A key outcome of this meeting will be an organizing framework of change theories designed for researchers. In this 90-minute thematic symposium, participants of this working meeting will present the organizing framework. We will engage the audience in making sense of and refining the organizing framework to maximize its relevance and utility.


The format of this 90-minute symposium will be approximately 30 minutes of presentation, 30 minutes of small-group discussion, and 30-minutes of whole group discussion. The presentation will provide audience members with necessary background on the diversity of theories of change relevant to investigations of systemic change in order to make it accessible to administrators and policy makers, as well as researchers. We will present the organizing framework that emerged from the working meeting, drawing on the perspectives of multiple working meeting participants. The rest of the symposium will engage the audience in making sense of the organizing framework and considering its relevance and utility to their work. We will organize the audience into small groups and provide specific guiding questions. We will ask audience members to start by recording their own thoughts in preparation for small-group discussion. We will ask groups to record the diverse perspectives and new ideas that emerge from their discussion. The final 30 minutes of the symposium will involve groups sharing their insights and perspectives with the full group and wrap-up from the symposium authors.