Navigating the tension between the master narrative of the academy and the counter-narrative of reform: personal case studies from within an engineering education coalition
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This qualitative study inquired into the personal experience of three engineering professors and one associate dean who participated in an engineering education coalitionÂthe Foundation CoalitionÂa National Science Foundation-funded project which attempted to reform undergraduate engineering curricula at six U.S. institutions of higher education. Through analysis of occupational life histories, and data from a larger study of curricular change processes, two dominant social narratives emerged. Cultural attributes of academia were conceptualized as a master narrative. The reform effort emerged as a counter-narrative by calling for a Âculture changeÂ in engineering education. I describe five areas where the counter-narrative challenged the master narrative: the rationale and need for educational change, the nature of faculty work, disciplinary relationships, relationships among faculty, and the incentive and reward system. The counter-narrative of reform promoted curricular and pedagogical change, more interdisciplinary and integrated foundations for engineering education, and encouraged partnerships and community over faculty isolation and autonomy. The counter-narrative challenged faculty complicity with the master narrative and offered alternative ways of viewing their role as faculty in higher education. The master and counter-narratives clashed over the nature of faculty work in research universities, fueling the ongoing debate about the relative value of research and teaching and the associated reward system. This study found that the four participants used different strategies to navigate the conflict between the two social narratives. One participant was informed by an ideal vision of engineering education, and never relinquished the quest for an opportunity to realize that vision. Another professor, energized by the collaborative environment created by the Coalition, continued to find creative avenues to partner with others to improve engineering education. A third participant worked, through compromise and accommodation, to craft an improved curriculum that worked within the local institutional culture. And finally, an associate dean, who rejected the duality of the master/counter-narrative worldview, reframed the reform effort by encouraging faculty working in educational change to view their work as scholarship. The findings from this study support faculty engagement in the scholarship of teaching and learning and encourage faculty developers to find ways of supporting faculty in that effort.
Merton, Prudence (2005). Navigating the tension between the master narrative of the academy and the counter-narrative of reform: personal case studies from within an engineering education coalition. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A&M University. Texas A&M University. Available electronically from