Diffusion of Engineering Education Innovations: A Survey of Awareness and Adoption Rates in U.S. Engineering Departments


  • Maura Borrego,

    Corresponding author
    1. Virginia Tech
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    • Maura Borrego is an associate professor and director of the graduate program in the Department of Engineering Education at Virginia Tech. She holds U.S. NSF CAREER and Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) awards for her engineering education research. Her research interests include research and scholarship communities in engineering education and interdisciplinary graduate education. She teaches graduate level courses in engineering education research methods and assessment. All of Dr. Borrego's degrees are in Materials Science and Engineering, M.S. and Ph.D. from Stanford University, and B.S. from University of Wisconsin-Madison.

  • Jeffrey E. Froyd,

    Corresponding author
    1. Texas A&M University
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    • Jeffrey E. Froyd is the director of Faculty Climate and Development in the Office of the Dean of Faculties and associate provost at Texas A&M University. He had served as project director for the Foundation Coalition, one of six Engineering Education Coalitions that were supported by NSF. Six partner institutions in the Coalition systematically renewed their undergraduate engineering curricula, institutionalized many of their innovations, and extensively shared their results with the engineering education community. He co-created the Integrated, First-Year Curriculum in Science, Engineering and Mathematics at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. The project was recognized with a Hesburgh Certificate of Excellence in 1997. He also served as project director for “Changing Faculty through Learning Communities,” which was intended to create compelling learning experiences for faculty members on gender equity. He has authored or co-authored over 50 papers on curriculum innovation, curriculum integration, assessment of curricular innovations, processes of curricular change, and faculty development. Dr. Froyd is a senior associate editor for the Journal of Engineering Education, has served for ten years as an ABET Program Evaluator for electrical and computer engineering, and has served as a program co-chair for the 2003 and 2004 Frontiers in Education Conferences and the general chair for the 2009 Frontiers in Education Conference.

  • T. Simin Hall

    Corresponding author
    1. Virginia Tech
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    • Simin Hall is a research assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering (ME) at Virginia Tech. Dr. Hall completed a postdoc in the Department of Engineering Education at Virginia Tech before joining the ME department. Her Academic experience includes designing and teaching online courses at Winston-Salem State University, research at University of North Carolina in Information Security, and in risk management and medical education at Wake Forest University School of Medicine. Her industry experience is in nuclear power generation with Westinghouse Electric Company in Pittsburgh, PA; Nuclear Technology Division at Babcock and Wilcox, System Design and Equipment Engineering in Lynchburg, VA; and risk management with B&C Associates, a Public Relations Company in Jamestown, NC. She holds degrees from Virginia Tech: BS in ME and minor in Mathematics, MS in Engineering Science and Mechanics. Her Ph.D. is in Education and Statistics from the University of North Carolina.

Engineering Education (0218), Blacksburg, VA 24061; telephone: (+1) 540.231.9536; e-mail: mborrego@vt.edu.

Office of the Dean of Faculties and Associate Provost, TAMU 1126, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX 77843-1126; telephone: (+1) 979.845.7574; e-mail: froyd@tamu.edu.

Department of Mechanical Engineering, 117 Randolph, College of Engineering (0238), Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, VA 24061; telephone: (+1) 540.231.7270; e-mail: simin.hall@vt.edu.



Despite decades of effort focused on improvement of engineering education, many recent advances have not resulted in systemic change. Diffusion of innovations theory is used to better understand this phenomenon.

Purpose (Hypothesis)

Research questions include: How widespread is awareness and adoption of established engineering education innovations? Are there differences by discipline or institutional type? How do engineering department chairs find out about engineering education innovations? What factors do engineering department chairs cite as important in adoption decisions?


U.S. engineering department chairs were surveyed regarding their awareness and department use of seven engineering education innovations. One hundred ninety-seven usable responses are presented primarily as categorical data with Chi square tests where relevant.


Overall, the awareness rate was 82 percent, while the adoption rate was 47 percent. Eighty-two percent of engineering departments employ student-active pedagogies (the highest). Mechanical and civil engineering had the highest rates, in part due to many design-related innovations in the survey. Few differences by institution type were evident. In the past, word of mouth and presentations were far more effective than publications in alerting department chairs to the innovations. Department chairs cited financial resources, faculty time and attitudes, and student satisfaction and learning as major considerations in adoption decisions.


The importance of disciplinary networks was evident during survey administration and in the results. Specific recommendations are offered to employ these networks and the engineering professional societies for future engineering education improvement efforts.