NSF EEC-RAPID: Using SenseMakerĀ® to Investigate Complex Dynamics in Social Systems to Inform Agile, Real-Time Policy-Responses in Times of Crisis (NSF #2028452)

Project’s NSF Page


Nicola Sochacka, Ph.D. - Former EETI Associate Director for Research Initiation and Enablement
John Morelock, Ph.D. - EETI Associate Director for Educational Innovation and Impact
Racheida Lewis, Ph.D. - Assistant Professor of Engineering Education
Joachim Walther, Ph.D. - EETI Founding Director, Professor of Engineering Education

Grant Details

Funder: Division of Engineering Education and Centers, National Science Foundation
Amount: $110,000
Award number: 2028452
Start and End date: April 2020 – April 2022


The COVID-19 pandemic has had a sudden and significant impact on almost all aspects of daily life in the United States. In higher education, college teachers and students have had limited time to adapt to the new normal of online learning, while observing increasingly stringent shelter in place ordinances and coping with the stress and grief that comes with a worldwide health crisis. This project will investigate how the pandemic has impacted faculty, staff, and students in STEM education, with a particular focus on engineering. The opportunity to collect this data right now, as the crisis unfolds, underscores the need for RAPID funding. The research team will use an online data collection platform, called SenseMaker, to collect short stories from faculty, staff, and students that describe how they are experiencing the COVID-19 crisis and transition to online learning. These stories will be used to help administrators respond to challenges in real time. Data from the study will also be used as the basis for future work, which will focus on what organizational and cultural aspects of STEM higher education can help universities better prepare for future disruptions. This RAPID project will be the first time that the SenseMaker approach has been used to investigate how university programs cope in times of crisis. SenseMaker has previously been used to investigate community experiences in other crisis contexts, such as how different stakeholder groups adapted to the damage caused by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico (see NSF award: 1832678).

This project will use a novel research method, SenseMaker, to capture systems-level dynamics in a College of Engineering as they emerge in response to the COVID-19 crisis. Three research questions will be investigated: i) How are students, faculty, and staff in a College of Engineering experiencing the COVID-19 crisis and associated transition to online learning? ii) What aspects of thriving (e.g., autonomy, flexibility, accountability etc.) are particularly salient to engineering faculty, staff, and student experiences? And iii) What actions can be taken to respond, in real-time, based on the SenseMaker findings, to improve the teaching and learning experiences, and general well-being of students, faculty, and staff in a college of engineering? This RAPID project will continue until 1-month after the return to face-to-face classes. Data will entail the continuous collection of micro-narratives of participantsā€™ experiences (qualitative data) and responses to a series of survey questions that will prompt participants to make sense of their experiences (quantitative data). These data will be analyzed for patterns to inform immediate actions to improve the experiences of faculty, staff, and students in a college of engineering. These data will also inform future work that will focus on what organizational structures and cultures contribute to resilient educational ecosystems. The outcomes of this project will include: a) A rich data set of real-time micro-narratives that capture how faculty, staff, and students in a college of engineering experienced the COVID-19 crisis and associated transition to online learning; b) a theoretically-grounded, tested, and validated methodological approach and instrument that can be deployed in times of crisis in STEM programs across the nation to collect real-time data on faculty, staff, and student experiences; and c) a preliminary understanding of what organizational structures and cultures contribute to resilient educational ecosystems and how these structures and cultures can be fostered outside of times of crisis to better prepare STEM programs for future disruption.

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Morelock, J. R., Sochacka, N. W., Lewis, R. S., Walther, J., Culloty, C. M., Hopkins, J. S., Vedanarayanan, S., Ofunne, C. K. (2020). Using a Novel Research Methodology to Study and Respond to Faculty and Student Experiences with COVID-19 in Real Time. Advances in Engineering Education, 8(4), 1ā€“14. Retrieved from https://advances.asee.org/wp-content/uploads/Covid 19 Issue/Text/AEE-COVID-19-Morelock.pdf


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