3.1 Using social network analysis to inform education reform efforts in atmospheric science departments

Tuesday, 8 January 2013: 8:30 AM
Room 13AB (Austin Convention Center)
Kathleen Quardokus, Western Michigan Univ., Kalamazoo, MI; and C. Henderson

Atmospheric science faculty have developed useful tools for actively involving students in the classroom. These innovations vary from individual lessons to full curricula. However, the sustained use of such innovations by other faculty is not a common occurrence. When the responsibility of teaching a course changes hands from one faculty member to another, creative innovations developed by the first faculty member may not by utilized or may be modified significantly at the expense of their initial objectives. Furthermore, atmospheric science programs are becoming more interested in partnering with innovators in other science departments to benefit from cross-disciplinary best-practices. Rather than disseminating previously developed curriculum to individual faculty members, research suggests that successful change strategies balance prescribed and emergent outcomes and that the department as a whole is likely the most productive unit of change. This type of change relies on faculty within a department working together to develop and implement a shared vision of what good teaching should look like. In order to promote this type of departmental change, a change agent must understand the social structure of the department. Thus, this study presents one of the first examples of the use of social network analysis to understand the hidden social structure of science departments with respect to conversations about teaching and its effect on education reform efforts that balance prescribed and emergent outcomes. Data will be presented from a study of five science departments at a research university. Social network analysis tools will be used to characterize departments (e.g., To what extent are there cohesive cliques within the department with respect to teaching discussions? How frequent are discussions about teaching within the department, as compared to other departments?) and individuals (e.g., Who are the hubs of information in the department? Who are the connectors that span the different subgroups?) Figure 1 shows a visualization of the social network of teaching-related discussions within a science department and how the department is broken into four subgroups that likely each have their own shared set of norms, behaviors, and language related to teaching.

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