Purdue University Graduate School
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posted on 2020-12-18, 20:11 authored by David A EvenhouseDavid A Evenhouse

In this dissertation, I argue that there is value in treating students as implementors during processes of educational innovation. I lay the groundwork for this argument through a review of literature comparing best practices in the implementation of innovations in higher education with best practices from active learning, blended learning, and collaborative learning research. This is followed by a phenomenographic and narrative analysis: a deliberate combination of phenomenography and narrative analysis methods for the interpretation of data and representation of findings, leveraging the strengths of each approach to account for the other’s shortcomings. The result of this work is an outcome space containing a hierarchical framework typical of phenomenography describing the various ways in which the participating students experienced implementation within the context of a blended learning environment called Freeform. The presentation of this framework is followed by a series of constructed narratives which contextualize how the hierarchical framework may be evidenced in student experiences of implementation in higher education.

The hierarchical framework contains six categories of description: Circumstantial Non-Adoptive, Circumstantial Adoptive, Preferential Non-Adoptive, Preferential Adoptive, Adaptive, and Transformative. Proceeding from Circumstantial Non-Adoptive and Circumstantial Adoptive to Transformative, each subsequent category of the model characterizes implementation experiences that are increasingly impacted by students’ own self-awareness of their personal learning needs and subsequent self-directed learning behavior. This represents a departure from previous implementation research in engineering education for a number of reasons. First, it demonstrates that there is value in considering students’ roles as implementors of educational innovations, rather than tacitly treating them as subjects to be implemented upon. Second, the use of the word “circumstantial” intentionally acknowledges that the external (environmental) factors that influence implementation can be distinct to individual implementors while remaining contextual in nature. Third, it demonstrates that the processes of implementation which students undergo can lead to concrete changes in learning behavior that extend beyond the scope of the implementation itself.

Narrative analysis is used to develop a series of narratives that embody the implementation experiences communicated by student participants. These narratives are constructed using disparate ideas, reflections, and tales from a variety of participants, emplotting representative characters within constructed stories in a way that retains the student perspective without adhering too closely to any individual participant’s reported experience. This approach serves two goals: to encourage readers to reflect on how the categories of the hierarchical framework can be demonstrated in students’ experiences, and to reinforce the fact that individual students can exhibit implementation experiences and behaviors that are characteristic of multiple categories of the framework simultaneously. It is important to remember that the categories included in the framework are not meant to characterize students themselves, but rather to characterize their interactions with specific pedagogical innovations.

The study concludes by interpreting these results in light of literature on implementation and change, proposing new models and making suggestions to faculty to inform the future implementation of educational innovations. Faculty are encouraged to treat students as implementors, and to exercise best practices from implementation literature when employing educational innovations in the classroom. This includes adopting practices that inform, empower, and listen to students, intentionally employing strategies that allow students to exercise their own agency by understanding and utilizing innovations effectively. Prescribing specific innovations and forcing students to use them can be detrimental, but so can freely releasing innovations into the learning environment without preparing students in advance and scaffolding their resource-usage behaviors. Instructors and researchers alike are encouraged to consider implementation from a new perspective, students as implementors, and faculty as facilitators of change.


IUSE: Understanding and Supporting Mechanical Engineering Undergraduate Student and Faculty Engagement with an Active, Blended and Collaborative (ABC) Learning Environment

Directorate for Education & Human Resources

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Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • Engineering Education

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Dr. Edward Berger

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee co-chair

Dr. Jennifer DeBoer

Additional Committee Member 2

Dr. Robin Adams

Additional Committee Member 3

Dr. Jeffrey F. Rhoads

Additional Committee Member 4

Dr. Charles Krousgrill