Evaluating Faculty Adoption of Digital Case Studies: Lessons Learned from a Federally-Funded Faculty Development Project

Concurrent Session 1

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Attendees will learn how to improve the adoption of digital teaching and eLearning instructional technologies in higher education by applying Rogers’ (2003) theory of the diffusion of innovations. A faculty development academy’s digital case studies will be used to illustrate how the theory can be applied to improve practice.


Dr. Strong is an Associate Professor in the Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communications (ALEC) Department at Texas A &M University. Dr. Strong's research focuses on technology-enhanced learning and cyber learning technology delivery applications.
Dr. Nicole Stedman –Dr. Stedman is a professor of leadership in the Department of Agricultural Education and Communication at the University of Florida, where she currently serves as the Associate Department Chair and Undergraduate Coordinator. Her PhD is in agricultural education and communication from UF with a specialization in leadership development teaching courses at the undergraduate and graduate levels. She has served as the University of Florida’s Faculty Senate Chair and as a Board of Trustee member. She is an active scholar publishing and presenting her work and has partnered for $2.2 million in funded grants. She has been recognized for her teaching with awards from the University of Florida (2010, 2013), the American Association for Agricultural Education Southern Region (2013), NACTA Teaching Fellow (2011) and Scholar (2015) and the APLU Regional Excellence in College and University Teaching (2016). She is active in her international work with professional trips to Ireland, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Dominican Republic, Belize, England, Czech Republic, Spain, Portugal, and the Netherlands. While her research is grounded in critical thinking pedagogy, she has worked to collaborate on a model of Emotionally Engaged Thinking (EET), a model which promotes the use of emotion as a catalyst for decision-making. EET is being studied for its impact on student learning, complex and contentious decision-making, and leadership development.

Extended Abstract

Attendees will learn how to improve the adoption of digital teaching and eLearning instructional technologies in higher education by applying Rogers’ (2003) theory of the diffusion of innovations (DOI). Case studies based on a faculty development academy will be used to illustrate how the theory can be applied to improve practice. The presenters will share findings from a faculty survey of the perceptions of digital case studies and detail how those findings influenced their approach to improving teaching and learning through professional development programming.


The Preparing Organizational Leaders in Agriculture (POLA) project used innovative eLearning approaches to enhance curricula in higher education. The prevalence of severe weather events has been increasing and tomorrow’s college graduates in agriculture and natural resources will be on the front lines dealing with outcomes of these disasters. Disaster response and recovery for agriculture and natural resource organizations requires both technical and social solutions. However, most college majors in agriculture and natural resources focus exclusively on technical subject matter.


The POLA project was designed to address this deficiency by teaching technical faculty about leadership concepts necessary to lead organizations. Bolman and Deal’s (2017) leadership model was used as a framework to develop faculty capacity to identify and teach students how to address leadership, change management, and team building as recognized by Crawford et al. (2011). Bolman and Deal’s model served as a tool to identify: (a) structural and strategic opportunities, (b) human resources needs, (c) political impacts, and (d) the symbolic markers associated with the leadership, change management, and team building. POLA included: (a) an online faculty development academy for agricultural and natural resources social sciences faculty, (b) a field experience to an area impacted by a natural disaster, and (c) the creation of digital case studies to use in classes.


Digital case studies are an innovation that assist instructors to contextualize content, deliver content to students, and have the capability to improve student outcomes (Antonietti et al., 2022). Bozkurt et al. (2015) found digital case studies offered innovative strategies for open accessibility and increased reflection opportunities for student learning.


Project objectives included that faculty participants would: (a) increase their knowledge of Bolman and Deal’s (2017) leadership frames; (b) increase their knowledge of creating and teaching with case studies; (c) demonstrate the ability to develop case studies that integrate leadership frames with technical content; and (d) adopt digital case studies as an instructional tool for integrating leadership frames with technical content. Data presented here focuses on the last objective.


The presentation team utilized Rogers (2003) diffusion of innovations to identify ways to improve adoption of the case studies. Rogers (2003) proposed diffusion of innovations as the process in which an innovation is communicated across specified channels over time among members of a social structure. Rogers (2003) described the adoption-innovation decision process as the approach an individual undergoes when deciding to adopt or reject an innovation. The process involves five factors that lead to adoption or rejection of the innovation: (a) relative advantage, (b) compatibility, (c) complexity, (d) trialability, and (e) observability.


Relative advantage refers to the extent an innovation is perceived as more advantageous than the previous method (Rogers, 2003). Compatibility is the extent an innovation is consistent with existing values and needs of budding adopters. The more compatible an innovation is perceived to be, the higher the likelihood of adoption because the innovation is less of a change in behavior than the previous approach (Rogers, 2003). Complexity is the extent an innovation is perceived difficult to comprehend and implement (Rogers, 2003). The complexity of an innovation is negatively correlated with rate of adoption. Trialability is the extent an innovation may be experimented with for a limited time. Individual trials assist potential adopters in learning how an innovation works through their respective environment (Rogers, 2003). Observability is the extent outcomes of an innovation are observable to others (Rogers, 2003). An innovation that is highly observable is more likely to be adopted than an innovation not easily observed from potential adopters (Rogers, 2003).


Two cohorts of POLA Fellows (N = 31) provided their perceptions of the characteristics of digital case studies as an instructional technology for undergraduate instruction. A 2022 Qualtrics survey was used to collect Fellows’ feedback; 18 Fellows (58.06%) responded and shared their perceptions of the relative advantage, compatibility, trialability, and complexity of teaching with digital case studies. Fellows also indicated in which stage of the adoption-innovation decision process they were and provided open-ended responses describing their intentions to use or not use digital case studies.


Overall, Fellows tended to somewhat agree that digital case studies offered a relative advantage when teaching; were compatible with their courses, teaching styles, and values; and exhibited trialability. For relative advantage, Fellows tended to have the most positive perceptions of the statement: “Digital case studies are better for developing my students’ critical thinking skills than other teaching methods.” For compatibility, Fellows tended to have the most positive perceptions of the statement: “I can adapt digital case studies to suit my style of teaching.” Finally, for trialability, Fellows tended to have the most positive perceptions of the statement: “I can use a digital case study once to see if I like it without having to commit to using them permanently.”


However, Fellows expressed mixed views of the complexity of digital case studies. While the mean score for the complexity construct aligned with the neither agree nor disagree scale point, very few respondents chose that response option. Instead, the mean reflects a divergence of the Fellows into two distinct groups wherein one group found digital case studies to be somewhat to very complex and the other group tended to view digital case studies as having low or no complexity. For example, seven respondents strongly agreed or somewhat agreed with the statement “Writing an instructor’s guide for a digital case study is complicated” while eight respondents somewhat disagreed or strongly disagreed.


The Fellows tended to be in the mid– to late-stages of the innovation-decision process. Nine Fellows indicated they had not taught with their digital case study yet but had plans to do so. Six Fellows reported they had taught with their digital case studies and intended to do so again in the future. There were no Fellows who taught with their case studies decided against doing so in the future, but two Fellows indicated they had no plans to ever teach with their case studies. In the latter cases, the reasons for Fellows not to teach their digital case studies were related to courses not being taught and not related to the innovation itself.


Our findings suggest digital case studies adoption was due to academy participants’ positive responses to relative advantage, compatibility, and trialability respective to Rogers’ (2003) adoption-innovation decision process. More inquiry is needed to determine why almost half of the Fellows believed the digital case studies were difficult to develop since that perception can negatively impact faculty adoption of the innovation (Rogers, 2003). Despite this, the vast majority reported their adoption or intention to adopt the digital case studies.


Instructional designers and curricula developers can improve adoption of digital case studies by using the diffusion of innovations to frame their communications with faculty. Effective points to discuss may include the beliefs that digital case studies are better for enhancing students’ critical thinking than other teaching methods (relative advantage) and that they are adaptable to many teaching styles (compatibility). The ability to use or test a digital case study prior to adoption is advantageous and should be communicated to encourage faculty adoption. The application of theory and data to inform new directions in teaching and learning are necessary to develop faculty, achieve student outcomes, and for faculty to remain well-versed of contemporary digital instructional technologies.


Our presentation’s relevance to the conference is attendees will examine digital case studies produced from a faculty development academy to illustrate how theory can be applied to improve digital teaching and learning practices.


The main focus of our topic is on faculty adoption of the digital case studies. The outcomes are for attendees to learn and apply how theory can be employed to improve digital teaching and learning practices.



To ensure audience appeal, session participants will learn how our federally-funded blended faculty development academy was created, the digital learning outcome of the academy, the adoption attributes of our digital case studies, and how this project can be replicated in other contexts.


Presenters will address participant interactivity through attendees onsite review of our published digital case studies and then presenters will facilitate an audience discussion of the positive and needs improvement attributes of the digital case studies. The session will include reflections and discussions to enhance engagement and provide an active learning environment for attendees.


Our presentation aligns with session specific criteria as an approach to professional development and support for faculty that help to improve teaching and learning, instructional strategies promoting engagement, and promoting broadly engaged participation and discussion. The presentation team will share practical applications of our work.