What Influences Computer Science Faculty to Adopt Teaching Practices? Results of the Qualitative Phase

Project No.
PI Name
Lecia Barker
University of Texas at Austin

Abstract 1

What Influences Computer Science Faculty to Adopt Teaching Practices? Results of the Qualitative Phase

Presentation Type
Lecia Barker, Christopher Lynnly Hovey, Jane Gruning, University of Texas at Austin


Despite widespread development, research, and dissemination of teaching practices that improve student retention and learning, faculty often do not adopt them. Knowledge of practices that retain women in CS is relatively strong, but the gender imbalance is more severe than in nearly every other STEM discipline. This is a public concern, affecting the availability of a competent and stable computing workforce; national economic competitiveness, defense, and security; and womenメs wages and health.


This study seeks deep understanding of how faculty become aware of, decide to try out, and come to routinely use innovative teaching practices. Although focused in CS, the results may be usefully applied by a people in a wide range of disciplines, who seek to increase the uptake of teaching approaches. Ultimately, retention of underrepresented students will be improved.


The study is guided by theories of adoption and the influences of higher education organizational structure, individual beliefs and characteristics, and professional networks. Phase 1 of the study included interviews and classroom observation. Subjects included 66 CS faculty members in 36 institutions, which varied by geographic location, institution type, and faculty rank to gather diverse viewpoints.


Faculty become aware of practices either because a problem leads them to intentionally seek them out, or they hear about them through funded initiatives, conferences and journals, or colleagues. Experimentation depends on institutional expectations and policies, perceived costs and benefits for themselves and students, and role models. Faculty tend to trust other faculty whose research, teaching content, and institutional context are more like their own. Experimentation competes with the need to �cover� material and with classroom layouts. Positive student feedback is taken as strong evidence that faculty should continue a practice. Funded initiatives designed to get buy-in within the department are more likely to become routine. PIs, designers, and developers of educational innovations might use this information to inform dissemination that results in widespread adoption. Conference talks and demos can help to reach potential adopters, but equipping them to communicate to colleagues at home can reach further. Developers can explicitly address faculty concerns in their messaging, highlighting a problem to be solved, time needed for implementation, expected outcomes, and how to evaluate outcomes. They can: demonstrate understanding of the tension between �covering� content and student learning; circumvent biases about information source by using trusted sources and demonstrating shared values; and use funds as a lever to influence adoption, provided faculty gain buy-in and integrate beyond the single course. Phase 2 includes a national survey of faculty to obtain a more generalized understanding and predict which factors are most influential.

Broader Impacts

This project is intended to increase widespread adoption of effective teaching practices. In turn, students who are underrepresented in various STEM disciplines, especially CS, will be more likely to be retained through graduation. Three papers have been presented at conferences relevant to CS faculty. Also, an NCWIT Promising Practice has been broadly disseminated in print and online.

Unexpected Challenges

Weメve had a number of personal issues that have slowed down progress, from cancer to parentsメ deaths to parentsメ serious illnesses. But no challenges with the research itself, so far.


Barker, L., Hovey, C. L. & Gruning, J. (2015). What influences CS faculty to adopt teaching practices? Proceedings of the 46th ACM Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education (pp. 604-609). doi:10.1145/2676723.2677282.

Barker, L. J., Hovey, C. L., & OメNeill, M. (2015) How do you retain women through inclusive pedagogy? Framing a supportive classroom climate. (NCWIT Promising Practices.) Available: https://bit.ly/1GZl37q

Barker, L. & Gruning, J. (2014). The student prompt: Student feedback and change in teaching practices in postsecondary computer science. Proceedings of the 44th Annual Frontiers in Education Conference (pp. 2873-2880). doi:10.1109/FIE.2014.7044464 Winner of the 2014 FIE Best Paper Award.

Barker, L., OメNeill, M., & Kazim, N. (2014). Framing classroom climate for student learning and retention in computer science. Proceedings of the 45th ACM Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education (pp. 319ヨ324). doi:10.1145/2538862.2538959