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A Final Case Study of SCALE Activities at UW-Madison: The Influence of Institutional Context on a K-20 STEM Education Change Initiative


"This report of the NSF-funded SCALE Institutions of Higher Education (IHE) Case Studies line of work provides findings about SCALE activities at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-Madison) between May 2003 and August 2007. Our methodological approach is to analyze the SCALE project through the lens of institutional culture, which enables us to situate the intervention within its local cultural context and thus to systematically observe the "black box" of reform implementation. This qualitative case study used a repeated cross-sectional design, and data included interviews, official university and SCALE documents, and observations of SCALE meetings. Non-random sampling procedures were used to identify 42 interview respondents, with whom 47 semi-structured interviews were conducted in early 2006 and late 2007. The interviews were analyzed using an inductive approach based on coding each transcript with a structured coding paradigm comprised of key elements of the cultural context of an IHE. Preliminary findings were constantly compared to other sources of data, and additional analytic procedures included causal network analyses, and an exploratory analysis of cultural models. The SCALE project at UW-Madison was comprised of 9 primary activities, involving 25 STEM faculty, 8 education faculty, 15 graduate students, and 14 academic staff as designers and implementers, and 867 K-12 math and science teachers as participants in professional development activities. Without measurable objectives with which to evaluate the SCALE project it is difficult to make a definitive statement about the relative success or failure of the project, but in light of the size and complexity of UW-Madison, the effects of the SCALE project must be considered modest. However, the SCALE project was successful in creating a small but noticeable shift in participant cultural models for teaching and learning, and the technical and social milieu in which they operate. Other outcomes include improving local K-12 teacher STEM pedagogical content knowledge, creating and reinvigorating inter-disciplinary committees focused on reforming pre-service curricula, and further developing a cohort of faculty and staff committed to STEM education. Limitations to this evaluation include a relatively small sample size and the lack of a longitudinal cohort due to respondent attrition, and rival explanations for the findings may include other non-SCALE factors that led to observed changes."