Changing Education to Reflect Changes in Science: Using Innovation Diffusion Theory to Transform How and What We Teach

By Mary Searcy and Jill Thomley.

Published by The International Journal of Science in Society

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

As the world’s scientific knowledge base expands, so does the way we explore, represent, and understand science. In particular, computational methods are increasingly necessary to model phenomena that are too small, too large, too fast, too slow, too complex, or too dangerous to be studied in most laboratories. The field in which these methods are used is computational science: the multidisciplinary overlap of computer science, mathematics, and applications from other disciplines. Computational science endeavors often require collaboration since it is rare to find one person who is knowledgeable enough in all of the areas to complete such a project on his or her own. These changes in scientific arenas are now requiring changes in what and how instructors teach at all levels. However, the interdisciplinary and collaborative nature of computational science can create barriers that slow and sometimes halt educational reform.
Over the last five years, we have worked as external evaluators for several computational science education initiatives. We have been using Innovation Diffusion Theory to examine how new ideas (innovations) are communicated (diffused) through various channels over time among members of given social systems. By focusing on the separate components of this process (the innovation, communication channels, time, and social systems) and their interactions, this framework has helped us analyze situations and identify potential problems before they create barriers within these projects. We will share various aspects of Innovation Diffusion Theory, our experiences using it as a lens in evaluation, and make recommendations as to how educators can use this theory to improve the processes and products of science education reform.

Keywords: Innovation Diffusion Theory, Computational Science, Education, Interdisciplinary, Collaboration, Teaching, Reform

The International Journal of Science in Society, Volume 1, Issue 3, pp.153-166. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.683MB).

Dr. Mary Searcy

Associate Professor, Department of Mathematical Sciences, Appalachian State University, Boone, North Carolina, USA

Mary E. Searcy’s education and employment has all been within the United States of America. She earned her B.S. in Mathematics at Garner Webb College in Boiling Springs, North Carolina, and her M.S. in Mathematics at Clemson University in Clemson, South Carolina. She went on to complete a Ph.D. in Mathematics Education at the University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia. For three years, she was an Assistant Professor at Central Michigan University in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan, where she taught Mathematics and Mathematics Education courses and worked with graduate students in Mathematics Education research. Dr. Searcy continues these responsibilities as an Associate Professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina. Over the last 15 years she has worked as an external evaluator for mathematics and computational science education projects funded by both national and state agencies.

Dr. Jill Thomley

Associate Professor, Department of Mathematical Sciences, Appalachian State University, Boone, North Carolina, USA

Jill Thomley received a B.A. in Psychology from Harvard University in 1990 and went on to earn a M.S. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY, USA. After working on a research project for the Veteran’s Administration for three years, where she extensively used the statistics training she received in her B.A. and M.S. programs, she returned to Rensselaer to get a Ph.D. in Decision Sciences with an emphasis in Statistics. At Appalachian State University in Boone, NC, USA, where she is currently employed as an Associate Professor of Statistics, Dr. Thomley is involved with a number of research and consulting projects in several areas of mathematics and science. She has served as an evaluator for several projects funded by the United States Government’s National Science Foundation. Most of these projects are related to science or computational science education.