Educational systems are grounded in the assumption that students will use what they learn in future contexts, whether those contexts are future classrooms, future workplace settings, or future community or civic activities. General education curricula in the United States (sometimes called General Studies programs) often are built on the premise that students will apply what they learn from courses across the arts and sciences to act as informed citizens and to be more well-rounded in their careers. Within disciplines, coursework often is structured hierarchically so that subsequent courses allow students to build on prior learning. Yet what do we know about how students use prior knowledge, how can we study this transfer of learning, and how might we design our courses to facilitate successful transfer?
Elon University is pleased to announce the 2014-2016 Center for Engaged Learning Seminar on Mentoring Undergraduate Research, a two-year research seminar that supports individuals interested in pursuing research that advances excellence in mentoring undergraduate research. We invite interested scholars from across the disciplines to submit applications to join a cohort of researchers collaborating on the study of evidenced-based, high-quality undergraduate research mentoring practices in diverse academic ecologies.
Many of the good practices faculty use to gather insights from students, such as asking for mid-semester feedback, are helpful, but they typically do not lead to authentic partnership between students and faculty. In most of these cases, faculty frame the questions, students provide answers, and then faculty alone decide whether, and how, to use to that information. This process often resembles a customer-service relationship. How satisfied are you with the teaching in this course? What do you like best, and least, about the class?
Partnership, on the other hand, is a collaborative, reciprocal process. In a partnership, all participants have the opportunity to contribute meaningfully, although not necessarily in the same ways.
For the last five years, I have been researching and adapting Agile management philosophies and one specific framework, Scrum, to (1) better teach students to collaborate and manage their project work and (2) visually manage my own research projects studying student collaboration.
Agile is an umbrella term for a set of principles and practices that promote planned incremental progress toward larger goals by highly reflective cross-functional teams who self-organize their work. Agile frameworks are grounded in and call for respect for individuals, a team mentality, and accountability to each other and their collective goals.
Because Scrum values careful task articulation and visualization of work, it offers not only a way to improve student learning but also to collect data about that learning in action.
Undergraduate research is well established as a high-impact practice. It helps students participate in knowledge creation, transition to the workplace, and develop their ability to think critically (Johnson, 2006). Faculty who mentor undergraduate research report benefits related to teaching, career productivity, and renewed energy (Noe et al., 2002). The student and faculty benefits of participating in a mentored undergraduate research program coalesce for institutions leading to increased faculty retention, enhanced alumni loyalty, and overall institutional commitment (Clark et al., 2000). However, with the growth of mentored undergraduate research at the disciplinary and the institutional levels, the demand for faculty mentors has also grown resulting in added complexity to faculty expectations. Despite extensive research on the practice’s value to students, faculty and institutions, there is still much to learn about mentoring undergraduate research and the most effective ways to support faculty in their development of mentoring skills and abilities.
Educators have long appreciated the power of writing to enhance learning. In the United States and Canada, this knowledge has underwritten the forty-year growth of writing-across-the-curriculum (WAC) and writing-in-the-discipline (WID) programs. More recently, it has supported the expansion of writing-for-academic-purposes programs in Europe and elsewhere.
Results of a new study will reorient the focus of these programs and inspire new ways of using writing to advance the goals of higher education.
Last month, we featured a few highlights from the Center for Engaged Learning’s research seminar on Critical Transitions: Writing and the Question of Transfer. Multi-institutional research by seminar participants suggests that:
- In first-year writing courses, content matters;
- Students need reiterative opportunities for reflection throughout their education;
- When considering students’ ability to transfer or adapt writing strategies, personal identities matter; and
- Across the university, expectations for student writing often are misaligned.
The first three findings offer hope that it is possible to teach in support of transfer, reaffirming an underlying assumption in university curricula that students can transfer what they learn in one course to future university, workplace, and community contexts. The fourth finding reminds faculty and administrators not to take that underlying assumption for granted; as last month’s preview hinted, writing transfer is not guaranteed for every student at every critical transition point.
by Tim Peeples
Finding time, space, and resources to conduct and manage one’s own research, honing effective research questions and methodologies, and reporting results are all difficult enough. Why complicate this intellectual work by pursuing multi-institutional collaborations? And if one chooses to pursue such collaborations, how can they be best organized, managed, and resourced to succeed?
Multi-institutional research is not at all new. The numbers engaged in this kind of research grew after World War II, with the rise of “big science” and the support of national and international agencies and institutes, primarily in the sciences. The numbers have grown even more, increasingly crossing educational and cooperate lines, supported by enhanced computational and communications technologies.
Still, much remains to be learned about the benefits, costs, and best practices of multi-institutional research. And even today, very few are engaged in multi-institutional research outside of the sciences. What do we know, what do we need to know, how can we enhance this work, and is it worth pursuing, specifically in fields outside the sciences and around questions of engaged learning, broadly writ?
If writing-intensive courses are a high-impact practice, as George Kuh and others have suggested, what can universities do to help students transition from these high-impact experiences into other contexts and apply what they’ve learned about writing? What bridging strategies (as Perkins and Salomon call them) can faculty employ in their classes to facilitate mindful abstraction? How might course designs foster what King Beach calls critical transitions? And how can colleges prepare students to be boundary crossers when it comes to their writing? From 2011 to 2013, the Center for Engaged Learning sponsored a two-year, multi-institutional research seminar to explore these and other questions about writing transfer, and we’re featuring some of the resulting research this week in Critical Transitions Online.
Here are some of the highlights:
- In first-year writing courses, content matters.
- Students need reiterative opportunities for reflection throughout their education.
- When considering students’ ability to transfer or adapt writing strategies, personal identities matter.
- Across the university, expectations for student writing often are misaligned.
This week the Center for Engaged Learning launches Critical Transitions Online, a free online seminar focusing on the common curricular assumption that students will take writing knowledge and strategies gained in one context (for instance, a first-year writing course) and apply them (or “transfer” them) to other contexts (for instance, a course in a major, or a future workplace). This three-week online event leads into the Critical Transitions Conference at Elon University, June 24-26, which is the culmination of a two-year, multi-institutional Elon Research Seminar (ERS) on writing transfer.
Join week one of CEL’s Critical Transitions Online to learn how ERS participants have adapted learning and transfer theories as borrowed legends for understanding transfer (broadly) in their own research on writing transfer (specifically).