This engineering education research project will support a workshop to create peer networks among pre-tenure faculty who are pursuing careers in engineering education research. Because many faculty who do research in engineering education are hired in departments where all or most of the faculty pursue discipline-specific engineering research, previous research has shown these faculty face several challenges in long-term career success. The peer and mentoring relationships that will be established by this workshop are anticipated to provide guidance on how to increase the success of faculty and thus retain them in engineering education research.

The broader significance and importance of this project will be to build peer mentoring networks among faculty engaged in engineering education research. By sharing success strategies, these networks can lead to greater success of engineering faculty members, particularly those at institutions without established engineering education programs or faculty and administrative expertise in engineering education. The PIs have addressed how the network established by this workshop can be sustained following termination of NSF funding.

Project Report

Workshop organized around peer mentoring and "unconference" format builds a community of scholars and collaborators. Project investigators: Alice L. Pawley, Nadia Kellam, ?enay Purzer Workshop organization. We held an NSF-funded, collaboratively designed peer mentoring workshop in August 2011 for tenure-track and recently tenured faculty members who consider themselves primarily evaluated based on engineering education research (EER) productivity. Twenty-four participants – including people from departments of engineering education, schools of engineering, of education, and of design – attended the workshop, and became part of the "PEER Collaborative" group. In contrast with usual professional development opportunities for faculty, where experts are asked to come speak with novices, near peers —that is, people at or just above the same professional level — provided insights and feedback to colleagues. Topics ranged from professional development for both tenure-track and tenured faculty, developing reading, writing and publication strategies, discussing the development of engineering education research as a field, mentoring students, and balancing work and family life. The schedule was structured around an "unconference" format, where the "law of two feet" governed interactions: if participants found themselves neither learning nor contributing to others’ learning, they were obliged to find somewhere else where they could learn or contribute. Participants were encouraged to leave the main topics and meet with people for smaller discussions if they liked, as long as they felt their time was being productively spent. As a result, the program was very fluid and changed over the course of the workshop. Ideas shared. Discussions were animated, and people took to heart the obligation to seek out opportunities to learn or help others learn. The types of ideas shared included specific resources, including books and papers, people who could help; strategies for success, including learning to be gentle with yourself, building community, figuring out your story, maintaining your focus, making time, staying organized, investing in setting up systems, and working the system; and specific problems to consider, including avoiding burnout, balancing work and the rest of life, new needs, reading research, managing too many responsibilities, and writing. Our external evaluator reported the major theme of tensions involved in junior faculty needing to push boundaries and forge paths in an evolving field like EER. The evaluator determined that the structure of the workshop and its participants exhibited these four characteristics of an intellectual community throughout the workshop: a shared purpose, diverse and multigenerational, flexible and forgiving, and respectful and generous. In conclusion, the evaluator recommended that the EER community explicitly see itself as a dynamic intellectual community and use the Carnegie framework as a guide in ongoing collaborative and professional development initiatives. At the end, many participants reported feeling rejuvenated when going back to their home institution. Attendees overall thought the time during the workshop was well spent, and were satisfied with the quality of mentoring they both received and provided. Survey results. Two months after the workshop, we conducted an online survey to assess longer-term benefits of the workshop. All 17 who completed the follow-up survey indicated benefiting from the workshop in diverse ways. Almost all who attended have had on-going conversations with "old" and "new" colleagues who attended the workshop. Almost all attended shared information gained from the workshop with someone who had not attended. Follow-up. Interest and attendance was high for a follow-up one-day workshop in Atlanta after the annual American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) conference in 2013. Nineteen participants attended this meeting, with 13 participants having also attended the 2011 conference. We began with a dinner meeting on Wednesday evening to build community and introduce new members of this group. The next day, participants discussed their strengths and weaknesses as faculty members, their perspectives of their job as faculty members conducting engineering education research, challenges they have faced and strategies for facing them, and visioning where they want to be in five years. In the afternoon, the group dispersed into smaller groups so that they could address these topics in more depth. The conversations included topics ranged from advice to earn a CAREER award, balance teaching and research, connect research with practice, and transition into administrative roles within the university. After these sessions, the group reconvened for a working dinner to discuss final reflections and next steps for this community. They developed a plan for a PEER Collaborative Network meeting to be held immediately before or after the 2014 ASEE conference and ways to fund this workshop. Conclusion. The PEER Collaborative Workshops have been a huge success, and have supported the development of a stable group of peer scholars and collaborators. These 30 participants from many different universities have successfully co-developed a culture and community that thrives on peer mentoring to help move them forward in their careers and to make a difference in their roles as faculty members conducting engineering education research.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Engineering Education and Centers (EEC)
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Richard N. Smith
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Purdue University
West Lafayette
United States
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