My dissertation proposal as a 2-act play

January 25, 2013 – 1:06 pm

Subject says it all. Disclaimer: there are lots of oversimplifications here, and terms I probably need to define. I’m playing with ideas here, and ways to express them.

Prologue: There have been lots of calls for transformation of undergraduate engineering education — but engineering faculty aren’t usually trained in “curriculum revision,” so how do they learn that — especially when they don’t have much time to talk with each other (so faculty who have gone through curriculum revisions can mentor faculty who are in the middle of theirs), let alone reflect on the curricular change work they are doing or have done? I plan on using realtime transparency techniques to share curriculum change stories across institutions in an attempt to get this conversation started across time and space.

My research questions at the moment:

  • How do STEM faculty make sense of their experiences during a curricular change process?
  • How does engaging in cross-institutional mentorship impact their sense-making?
  • How do practices of transparency support this sense-making mentorship?

CHARACTERS:

DRS. ANDREW AND ANNA — faculty at College A, who revised their curriculum about 10 years ago
DRS. BETTY AND BOB — faculty at College B, who are about to revise theirs
FUTURE DR. MEL — a PhD student working on her dissertation.

ACT 1: THE CURRENT SITUATION

ACT 1, SCENE 1: CAMPUS OF COLLEGE B

DR. BETTY: So, we’re going to overhaul our curriculum!
DR. BOB: Yeah! [beat] How do we do that?
DR. BETTY: I’m not sure. I brought some notes from various other programs I’ve come across. Let’s try poking at things and see what happens. [They poke.]
DR. BOB: Haven’t other people done this before? Let me see if I can go talk with them…

ACT 1, SCENE 2: CAMPUS OF COLLEGE A

DR. BOB: Hey, Dr. Andrew — I heard you redid your engineering curriculum 10 years ago. It seems to be working great, and you all seem to know what you’re doing! Can you tell us what you did?
DR. ANDREW: Um…

FLASHBACK — COLLEGE A, 10 YEARS AGO

YOUNGER DR. ANDREW: So, we’re going to overhaul our curriculum!
YOUNGER DR. ANNA: Yeah! [beat] How do we do that?
YOUNGER DR. ANDREW: I’m not sure. I brought some notes from various other programs I’ve come across. Let’s try poking at things and see what happens. [They poke.]

BACK TO CAMPUS OF COLLEGE A

DR. ANDREW: …and I haven’t had time to think about it since then, we’ve been so busy keeping up with the students.
DR. ANNA: You’re welcome to borrow our syllabi, but we’re at such different institutions that I’m not sure how much of our materials would transfer to your faculty and students. Anyway, we have to run to class…
DR. ANDREW: If only plane tickets didn’t cost so much! Then we could visit each other and talk and share stories, and maybe Anna and I could have time to reflect on what we’ve done. Alas, no time! Goodbye!

ACT 1, SCENE 3: CAMPUS OF COLLEGE B

DR. BOB: …and that’s what happened.
DR. BETTY: Darn. I guess we’ll just need to keep reinventing our curriculum in a silo. And the next college to do this is going to have to do it all over again, because we don’t have a good way to share what we’re learning; it takes too much time and effort to write journal papers, and they’ve been shown to be poor ways to disseminate teaching practices anyway.
DR. BOB: That reminds me. Our industry partners also asked about helping with the curriculum revision. Do we have time to keep them in the loop?
DR. BETTY: Our alumni were asking the same thing! Alas, no… these department meetings are already tightly scheduled as-is, we can’t invite even more people to them. We’ll just have to keep on going. [They poke at the curriculum. Things change for the better, eventually -- because Betty and Bob are great educators who care a great deal about their students and teaching. But the state of sharing faculty knowledge about curricular change remains the same.]

ACT 2: MY DISSERTATION PROPOSES AN INTERVENTION

The same scenario as Act 1, but now there’s an intervention being brought in by a grad student…

ACT 2, SCENE 1: CAMPUS OF COLLEGE B

FUTURE DR. MEL: So, Dr. Betty — tell me about how this curriculum revision of yours is going. This screen beside me is a realtime transcript of our conversation, so we’ll check it over right after we finish talking, and once you approve it I’ll publish an open-licensed version on the web that other people can see and annotate. What’s something that came up this week?
DR. BETTY: Grading! Oh, we had such a huge debate on grading… Bob wants to get rid of letter grades and go with a transcript based on competencies and faculty comments, but I worry about our students who apply to grad school…[she continues, and we cut to...]

ACT 2, SCENE 2: CAMPUS OF COLLEGE A

[...where Dr. Andrew is reading Dr. Betty's narrative as Future Dr. Mel records him].
DR. ANDREW: Whoa. That reminds me of our own discussions about grading. Anna and I were the ones who pushed for competencies, you know — and we tried implementing them, but didn’t realize it would take over 100 man-hours to just set up a computer system to collect them — we were only set up for letter grades! In hindsight, now I see why that that ended up… [he continues, and we zoom out to see that people are reading Dr. Andrew's story, passing it around, emailing it to their colleagues, commenting on it...]

ACT 2, SCENE 3: CAMPUS OF COLLEGE B

[...where Dr. Betty is reading Dr. Andrew's narrative while Future Dr. Mel waits].
DR. BETTY: Yeah, I think that’s what we’re finding too… I’ll have to show this to Bob, we’re going to discuss the topic again at the department meeting next week.
FUTURE DR. MEL: Also, a professor from Argentina saw your transcript and sent in a paper from the Journal of Curriculum Theorizing with case studies of schools that implemented competency systems.
DR. BETTY: Thanks! That might be useful. So, you asked about what Dr. Andrew’s story reminded me of about our own current discussions? What he mentioned about computers actually seems like what one of my students suggested last week… [fade out]

THE END

Know someone who'd appreciate this post?
  • Print
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • email
  • Identi.ca
  1. 3 Responses to “My dissertation proposal as a 2-act play”

  2. that sounds so awesome that I am kind of tearing up

    By Sumana Harihareswara on Jan 25, 2013

  3. are there taxonomies of teaching methodologies, teaching styles and grading types and the affordances that these bring? Like a sourceforge/search engine that had video/curriculum/teaching notes of examples of these classes that people could search for ideas of what they looked-like and the results? I was looking at Sparkfun’s blog and they talked about doing inventory by isolating small areas of their shop vs the other ways of stopping the whole business. Is this idea of isolated changes possible for this? they called it ‘counting cycle’(http://www.sparkfun.com/news/1052). Or A/B testing with 2 teachers with slightly different materials, styles, etc.

    By kevix on Jan 25, 2013

  1. 1 Trackback(s)

  2. Feb 17, 2013: MEL CHUA « enepersonoftheweek

What do you think?