Geoffrey Herman

Research and Reform: Creating change in engineering and computer science education

Innovation in Engineering and STEM Education

Strategic Instructional Innovations Program

The Strategic Instructional Innovations Program (SIIP) is sponsored by the College of Engineering as the flagship effort for improving the quality of curriculum and instruction in the college. At the core of the effort is the belief that change is brokered by social networks and the creation of shared vision and beliefs.

The project promises to yield sustainable change by organizing faculty into collaborative communities of practice (CoPs) that progress through three stages of transformation. First, faculty shift from teaching courses individually to teaching courses collaboratively. Second, within these CoPs faculty commit to implement-evaluate development cycles supported by education researchers like myself and senior faculty with long term commitments to improving engineering education. Third, these first two transformations lead to the eventual adoption of research-based instructional strategies as faculty discover for themselves that these instructional strategies are needed.


The project is catalyzing reform efforts in nine engineering departments: Mechanical Science and Engineering, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Computer Science, Materials Science and Engineering, Physics, Bioengineering, Aerospace Engineering, and Industrial and Enterprise Systems Engineering.

SIIP is being expanded beyond the College of Engineering to include math and science departments across campus through NSF WIDER (DUE 1347722): Geology, Chemistry, Integrative Biology, Molecular and Cellular Biology, and Mathematics. This effort is expanding the focus from implementing change to studying and understanding change processes in STEM education.


Documenting Barriers to Changing the Engineering-Mathematics Curriculum

Project Overview

NSF Funded – Grant Number: DUE 1544388

Successful experiences in mathematics courses during the first two years of college are critical to students’ persistence and learning in their engineering studies. Many core engineering courses require long prerequisite chains of up to five courses, delaying students’ deeper engagement in engineering topics and providing many deterrents for student persistence in engineering even before students take their engineering courses. The disconnect between the mathematics sequence and engineering courses makes it harder for students to perceive how their mathematics knowledge supports their engineering learning and for students to transfer and apply their mathematics knowledge to their engineering coursework. Further, with the lack of engagement with engineering tasks and learning early in the curriculum, students fail to develop identities as engineers that support students’ persistence when learning becomes more challenging. The negative effects of these disconnects are amplified for at-risk populations such as women, minorities, and students from low socio-economic status in engineering, increasing attrition of these populations even though they may perform better.

Integrated mathematics and Engineering (IME) courses have proven successful at addressing these myriad challenges for students in their first two years of study. In particular, the work of Klingbeil et al. has demonstrated that these types of integrated courses improve persistence and performance of all students and especially underrepresented populations. Developed at Wright State University, the IME course has been adopted at similar institutions, but despite interest from research intensive (R1) and community colleges the spread of the innovation has been stymied by a variety of faculty-belief, institutional, and broader structural barriers. The difficulty of adopting the IME course is due in part because translating it requires a prescriptive “develop-disseminate” change effort.

The goal of this proposed effort is to explore a new research-based method for executing develop-disseminate-based changes in teaching practice and document whether the new change strategy is  successful or not. Critically, our proposed project is the first time anyone has proposed to study a prescriptive develop-disseminate change effort (i.e., implement an IME course in a resistant environment) to rigorously understand the mechanisms that can lead to successful change. This project will be significant because it will provide a new perspective into how we can effectively disseminate evidence-based educational practices to new contexts.

Investigation Team

PI: Geoffrey L. Herman (Illinois Foundry for Innovation in Engineering Education)
Jennifer Amos (Bioengineering)
Zoi Rapti (Mathematics)

Graduate Students:
Brian Faulkner (Electrical and Computer Engineering)
Raghida Abdallah (Human Resources and Development)

NSF Proposal Text

Intellectual Merit: The intellectual merit of this project is based in its interdisciplinary collaboration. The project proposes to address a widely acknowledged challenge (leading successful change in STEM education). The project will make contributions to research methods and theories of change and is grounded in organizational change literature. The intervention that we propose to implement has ample evidence supporting its effectiveness, yet is sufficiently complicated to implement, providing an excellent case study for understanding change.

Broader Impacts: Prior research has developed a wealth of theory and evidence-based practices to improve STEM education, yet few of these practices are ever translated from the contexts in which they were conceived. This proposed effort will provide a new base for understanding change processes and provide deeper insights into the barriers and opportunities associated with change, creating new knowledge that can improve the impact of all education innovations. The proposal team also plans to collaborate deeply with local community colleges and high schools to create new avenues for recruitment and impact of IME courses.



Innovation in Engineering and STEM Education
SIIP_WIDER network
How Students Learn Engineering and Computer Science
Designing Educational Assessment Tools
Intrinsic Motivation Course Conversions