A Grounded Theory of Instructional Innovation in Higher Education

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  • A Grounded Theory of Instructional Innovation in Higher EducationAuthor(s): Robert B. KozmaSource: The Journal of Higher Education, Vol. 56, No. 3 (May - Jun., 1985), pp. 300-319Published by: Ohio State University PressStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1981736 .Accessed: 19/05/2014 10:47

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  • t-E Robert B. Kozma

    A Grounded Theory of Instructional Innovation in Higher Education

    Institutions of higher education have come under increasing pressure to change their instructional practices. The social background of college students has become more heterogeneous [13], as has their academic preparation [10], and these changes challenge traditional teaching methods in postsecondary education [11]. Various new instructional technologies, ranging from computer-based simula- tions to behaviorally based systems, have been developed and refined, thus bringing their own press for change. And there has been less money, as shown by a steady, real-dollar annual decrease in expen- ditures per student [7], making change both more important and more difficult. Nevertheless, private foundations and federal agencies have made millions of dollars available to colleges and universities for in- structional change. National centers and associations were formed to disseminate information and promote the use of particular instruc- tional innovations such as the personalized system of instruction [25] and audio-tutorial instruction [37]. Many institutions established their own offices or centers for instructional improvement [8, 18].

    This article extends a previous study on the impact of these pro- grams [29] to an examination of the process of instructional innova- tion in higher education. My purpose is to propose a grounded theory

    The author gratefully acknowledges the support of the Exxon Education Founda- tion, the cooperation of participating faculty members, and the comments of Robert Blackburn, Wilbert McKeachie, Joan Stark, Rudolph Schmerl, and an anonymous reviewer.

    Robert B. Kozma is an associate professor of education at the School of Educa- tion and an associate research scientist at the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching at the University of Michigan.

    Journal of Higher Education, Vol. 56, No. 3 (May/June 1985) Copyright ? 1985 by the Ohio State University Press

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  • Instructional Innovation 301

    of instructional innovation in higher education, to describe the pro- cess through which faculty become aware of new ideas in teaching, adopt them, reject them, or modify them, and then institutionalize them, discontinue them, or disseminate them to colleagues. Condi- tions that facilitate, alter, or inhibit the course of innovation will be identified, and some principles for improved practice and prescrip- tions for instructional change may result from these considerations.

    In earlier work [29], faculty were surveyed in order to compare the impact of four instructional improvement programs. Of particular interest were differences in outcomes between two programs, the IMPACT (Implementation of Materials and Programs that Affect Col- lege Teaching) program of the Exxon Education Foundation and the LOCI (Local Course Improvement) program of the National Science Foundation. Both had been designed to promote instructional inno- vation, and both supported individualized, computer-based, and inquiry-based approaches to instruction, while LOCI supported audio- visual innovations as well. Both programs funded faculty from major research universities, comprehensive state colleges, and private liberal arts colleges and supported faculty in a variety of disciplines, although LOCI did not solicit projects in the humanities. The programs dif- fered in that the IMPACT programs provided participants with tech- nical information and workshops and made grants promoting the adop- tion of four previously specified target innovations, while LOCI was primarily reactive, providing only money for those innovations sub- mitted from the field that were judged to be sound and workable. The intent of the IMPACT program was to disseminate innovations pre- viously identified as successful, while the intent of the LOCI program was to encourage the development of local improvements.

    The programs also differed in some of their outcomes. Three years after beginning the project, IMPACT directors were more innovative than LOCI project directors in using a greater variety of instructional technologies and techniques. LOCI directors, on the other hand, were more likely to judge their projects a success, to report that the project was considered a success by their colleagues, and to have disseminated their project to others. They were also more likely to have continued their projects when interviewed five years after the award of their grant.

    These differences could not be accounted for by any of the syste- matic differences between the faculty, institutions, or innovations that the programs supported. Nor does there seem to be any direct connec- tion between the differences in services provided by the programs and the outcomes of the projects they supported. Rather, there are indi-

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  • 302 Journal of Higher Education

    cations of differences in the process of innovation and in the syste- matic variation of some of these differences between the two programs. For example, the involvement of others in the original decision to adopt an innovation correlates with project success, as reported by project directors, and with the dissemination of the innovation. More such group decisions seem to have been made in LOCI programs. These patterns indicated a need to examine the innovation process in more depth than was possible from survey data, so a second study was initiated to collect more detailed field data from a sample of the project directors and to apply the constant comparative method to build a grounded theory of the process of instructional innovation in higher education.

    Review of the Literature on Innovation

    Although grounded theory emerges from an analysis of the data and is not based on a preconceived hypothesis, there is a role for pre- viously established research results and logically derived theory [19, 20]. Extant propositions or categories are considered along with those that are empirically derived and are modified and refined to fit the data as analysis proceeds. "Other theories are neither proved or dis- proved, they are placed, extended and broadened" [19, p. 38]. Much theory and research has been published on the theme of innovation. The literature comprises various orientations from a number of disci- plines and methodological perspectives. Dill and Friedman [14] cite Gamson's description of four frameworks that can be used to examine change in higher education and to organize the literature on this topic.

    The complex organization framework [22, 45, 46] views innovation as a decision made by groups or individuals in positions of authority in response to pressures external to the system. The process is influ- enced by characteristics of the organization such as complexity, formalization, and centralization. Initiation of the innovation process is facilitated by organizational complexity, but implementation is facili- tated by formalization and centrality.

    The conflict framework [1] describes change as a confrontational process between groups or individuals resulting from different effects of the social structure and environment. The articulation of contrary interests by groups within the system leads to pressure for change. The resolution of a conflict affects people differently and serves, in turn, as the basis for subsequent conflict and change.

    The diffusion model [40] assumes that an innovation is a given; that

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  • Instructional Innovation 303

    is, the introduction of something new into a system creates its own press for change. The rate at which the innovation diffuses through the system is associated with characteristics of the adopters (such as cosmopolitanism, level of education, innovativeness) and characteris- tics of the innovation (such as relative advantage, complexity, com- patibility). Also central to the framework are "opinion leaders," who because of their access to informatio