The main unit of instructional change in higher ed? The academic department.

A lot to chew on with this article!

Here’s a few choice quotes:

“Instead of steady-state interactions, a change agent may encourage the development of new ideas (emergent change) by connecting faculty members that do not usually interact and thus may have diverse perspectives…”

“Because of these periphery nodes, this department may require prolonged support before the entire network is reached. Change agents should also be aware of the isolated individuals. New ideas may reach these individuals through means other than informal social connections (by formal meetings or indirectly through department culture).”

“To spread emergent ideas through policy changes, the change agent will need to ensure the new ideas are reaching the formal leadership. Studies have found that the department chair plays a crucial role in connecting the innovations created by the individual faculty with the administration of the university…”

And finally:

“When subgroups exist, the change agent must be aware that opinions and norms may vary across subgroups. Targeting individuals in different subgroups can increase the reach of prescribed change initiatives. The potential variety of opinions can also be valuable to encourage the emergence of new ideas.”

 

Via Teach Better Podcast Episode 25: Changing the Culture of Teaching With Noah Finkelstein

Side note: this all maps cleanly onto the work in the 2003 collected volume Group Creativity: Innovation through Collaboration DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195147308.001.0001

Full citation and abstract:

“Promoting instructional change: using social network analysis to understand the informal structure of academic departments,” Higher Education , Volume 70, Issue 3, pp 315-335
DOI: 10.1007/s10734-014-9831-0

Abstract: Calls for improvement of undergraduate science education have resulted in numerous initiatives that seek to improve student learning outcomes by promoting changes in faculty teaching practices. Although many of these initiatives focus on individual faculty, researchers consider the academic department to be a highly productive focus for creating change. In this paper, we argue that it is important for change agents to understand the informal social structure of the academic department and introduce social network analysis techniques to uncover this social structure. Examples are given from data collected in five academic departments. A short sociometric web survey was used to ask instructors to identify colleagues with whom they discuss teaching and the frequency of their discussions. Techniques of social network analysis are used to determine the current state of the department, target participants for a change initiative, and anticipate the spread of new teaching ideas. Results suggest that these techniques identify informal structures that would otherwise be hidden and that may be important for planning change initiatives.

 

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