Culture, Cognition, and Evaluation of STEM Higher Education Reform (CCHER)

The Culture, Cognition and Evaluation of STEM Higher Education Reform (CCHER) Project, concluded in 2012, was a mixed-methods longitudinal study designed to examine and describe the factors that shape faculty teaching practices in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines. This is important because widespread investments in altering instruction in Institutions of Higher Education (IHE) from a singular reliance on traditional lecturing (i.e., the proverbial sage on the stage) to an inquiry-based approach grounded in the learning sciences have been slow to bear fruit. Research on reform implementation in K-12 schools, public health and the diffusion of innovations all point to the need to first develop a systematic understanding of how practice is situated within local contexts prior to attempting behavioral change interventions. Without such a nuanced understanding of teaching and its various determinants, singular and over-simplified explanations of the slow rate of change such as recalcitrant faculty or the lack of incentives do not provide change agents with adequate information for program design and implementation. 

Yet the field lacks the conceptual and methodological tools to adequately explore (a) complexities of the teaching practice itself, and (b) the multi-faceted factors that influence teaching practice (i.e., psychological, cultural and contextual factors). This study’s primary aim is to develop an approach that examines practice in complex organizations while taking into account these factors that influence teaching.  Our approach conceptually and methodologically integrates cognition, culture, context and practice into a unified field of activity, as opposed to viewing each factor as an isolated phenomenon. Such a complex dynamic calls for a diverse set of data (i.e., survey, interview, and observations) and analytic techniques (e.g., thematic analysis, multi-dimensional scaling, structural equation modeling).  In doing so we also draw upon theoretical frameworks from embodied cognition, cognitive anthropology and naturalistic decision-making to examine these complex phenomena as they operate at the individual, group and organizational levels. These multi-dimensional accounts can be used by policymakers, faculty developers and other change agents to improve their understanding of the factors that support or inhibit particular pedagogical practices, and by program evaluators and administrators to develop situation analyses or baseline accounts of teaching practice and its local determinants.

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UW-MadisonNational Science Foundation CCHER is housed within the Wisconsin Center for Education Research at the School of Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison. Copyright ©2009, The Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System

The CCHER project is funded by the National Science Foundation under Award # DRL-0814724