Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Science Education

First Advisor

Dr. Charles Henderson

Second Advisor

Dr. Megan Grunert

Third Advisor

Dr. Heather Petcovic


Higher education


Numerous reports demand changes in college and university teaching practices. This is especially true for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines. STEM stakeholders are concerned about student retention within STEM majors, as well as the lack of sufficient graduates with the knowledge to advance these fields. A common conclusion of these reports is that teaching practices must change. Although these calls for change have occurred for decades, STEM fields have yet to experience widespread change. Thus, there is a need for more effective change strategies. Recently, researchers have suggested that effective change strategies should focus on changing the environments of academic departments. This is in contrast to most commonly-used change strategies that focus on individual instructors. Environment-focused change strategies have two main varieties: those that have a goal of implementing prescribed outcomes, and those that expect the outcomes to emerge from the change process. Yet, little is known about how to enact environment-focused change strategies. The goal of this research is to provide guidance for change agents and researchers by analyzing a large-scale change initiative from the perspective of two environment-focused change strategies: Kotter’s eight-stage leadership process (prescribed) and complexity leadership theory (emergent). This analysis was guided by two research questions. 1. Within the context of a higher education change initiative, how is the change process described from the perspectives of two distinct leadership theories? 2. How do these descriptions frame problems and solutions associated with change? Each change strategy identified different activities as contributing to change as well as different missed opportunities. For example, when the change vision was not communicated effectively, the eight-stage leadership process indicated that the involvement of the department chair was needed, while complexity leadership theory indicated that more collaboration among individuals was needed. Often the missed leadership opportunities had been used effectively by one of the other departments. In addition to providing researchers and change agents with clear articulation of two ways of thinking about the change process, the results of this project identify four common problems that arose in the case studies and propose solutions from the perspective of each change strategy.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access