November 26, 2019

NSF grant to support educational innovations in multiple settings, role of institutional culture


WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — The National Science Foundation has awarded a $2.5 million grant to the Mechanical Engineering Education Research Center at Purdue (MEERCat Purdue). The center is a joint venture between Purdue University’s schools of Engineering Education and Mechanical Engineering to study the underlying culture of collaborators who implement Freeform, a pedagogical system developed at Purdue.

Investigators at Purdue are Jeffrey Rhoads, professor of mechanical engineering and overall project principal investigator, and Jennifer DeBoer, assistant professor of engineering education and project co-PI. The project is the convergence of two previous efforts, both funded by the NSF – Freeform and RED.

“As a result of those research projects, our multidisciplinary research team now has the tools to understand, in a very deep way, how innovations are propagated, changed, updated, and deployed in new environments,” said Edward Berger, MEERCat executive director and professor of engineering education and mechanical engineering. An introductory video of Freeform is available here.

Purdue will collaborate with four universities. Trine University, who has implemented Freeform in its sophomore dynamics class since 2015, will onboard this fall with the additional cultural study components of the grant.

“In the Freeform grant, we were able to gather a huge amount of detailed data to understand the multiple learning supports that align together in what we call an active, blended and collaborative, or ‘ABC’ environment,” DeBoer said. “This level of research was really only possible because of the cooperative and productive partnerships we have, both with internal partners like OIRAE and CIE, as well as with external university partners in Indiana like Trine and around the world.” 

Other partnering universities include Campbell University, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and the Georgia Institute of Technology.

“We are really excited to partner with our collaborators to explore, in unprecedented detail, the ways in which pedagogical innovations are adapted and adopted in new environments and benefits students in their settings,” Berger said. “Further, they can now work closely with partners to focus on understanding what ABC learning looks like and how it is adopted and adapted in other environments. This will help advance MEERCat’s mission of enabling the holistic formation of engineers, as they deeply study how the learning needs of diverse students in different institutional contexts can be met by a pedagogical system that enacts research-based practices.”

Purdue’s Davidson School of Chemical Engineering also will participate in the grant. Bryan Boudouris, the Robert and Sally Weist Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering, and Allison Godwin, an assistant professor of engineering education, will team-teach and create Freeform-style course material for CHE 205, a sophomore course for the major. Rhoads says this project is a great example of the type of work that can be done at the intersection of engineering education and the more traditional disciplines of mechanical and chemical engineering and by tearing down the walls that often exist between educational research and practice. More information about RED is available here.

 “Specifically, we will unabashedly merge the state-of-the-art understanding of active, blended and collaborative learning with what we have recently learned about the role of departmental and institutional culture to positively impact students, not only here at Purdue, but across the nation. Simply put, it is another great example of Purdue trying to have educational impact at scale,” Rhoads said.

This project has the potential to expand understanding about how pedagogical innovations are adopted, adapted, and implemented for diverse students in multiple settings. Further, it will help the community understand the conditions under which educational innovations can propagate and the conditions under which innovations succeed when scaled or adapted to other settings. 

Contacts: Jeff Rhoads, jfrhoads@purdue.edu

Jennifer DeBoer, deboerj@purdue.edu

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