Understanding Uptake: Making Educational Innovations Spread and Stick in University Classrooms

May 2013

The current scholarship on teaching and learning is clear: student success in college and university classrooms is not what it should be, regardless of discipline. Too few college students are graduating with the conceptual knowledge and skills they need to contribute in a global knowledge economy (Arum and Roksa 2011, Bok 2007). More than a quarter century worth of empirical research suggests that one way to maximize student success in college classrooms is to use interactive teaching methods rather than more traditional, passive approaches (e.g., pure lecture). Despite this evidence, the large majority of instructors rely on conventional, less effective techniques in university classrooms. How can we ensure the spread and uptake of innovative pedagogy so that it “sticks” with instructors and achieves lasting change in higher education? The very nature of the problem makes it intractable when attempted by experts within only one research field.

We will bring together a small, diverse team of education researchers; public policy, communication, and social movement researchers; change-theory experts; college teaching and learning scholars; innovative Harvard teachers; and potential classroom implementers to address how to make successful teaching innovations spread and stick. With this interdisciplinary team of thinkers, we should achieve the following outcomes:

1) analysis of current communication strategies among faculty, pedagogy innovators, education researchers, and college teaching and learning scholars,

2) identification of public policy and change theory-motivated pedagogical change interventions targeting traditional instructors, and

3) initiation of novel research directions that will address the concerns of potential implementers.