Applying Scrum Project Management to SoTL Research

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.

How Do We Support Faculty to Develop as Mentors of Undergraduate Research?

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.

Using Standardized Patients in Healthcare Education

When you visit a healthcare practitioner, you put your well-being, and sometimes even your life, in their hands, and you rely on them to be both skilled and compassionate. The education process that brings healthcare professionals to this level of ability relies on effective opportunities for students to practice their skills along the way.

A particularly valuable means of engaging students in these interactions is through the use of standardized patients (SPs). Standardized patients are members of the community who are educated to portray real patients within a staged health setting. In Elon University’s School of Health Sciences, SPs work with students in both physical therapy (PT) and physician assistant (PA) studies to bring their education to life.

Mentoring Undergraduate Research: Student and Faculty Participation in Communities of Practice

George Kuh (2008) identified undergraduate research (UR) as a high-impact educational practice, one that has the potential to deepen students’ learning, strengthen self-awareness and broaden perspective-taking abilities, among many other benefits. Working closely with a faculty mentor is one of the defining characteristics of an undergraduate research experience (Lopatto, 2003), and faculty mentors are expected to guide students through the research process and be invested in the results or products (Osborne & Karukstis, 2009). Mentors often fulfill a psychosocial function as well (Johnson, 2006). Although mentoring is assumed to be a crucial component of successful student outcomes, surprisingly little empirical research has focused on mentoring in the context of UR.

Here are highlights of what we do know…

New Research Expands What We Know about How To Use Writing To Enhance Student Learning

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.

What Would a Focus on Learning Outcomes Do to Legal Education?

A lot has been written lately about the state of legal education, from applications to jobs and to what lies in between. By “between,” I mean the meaty center of the sandwich, the nature of the education itself. This post comments on that sandwich stuffing. In particular, what would happen if the proposed American Bar Association (ABA) Standard 302, Learning Outcomes, is adopted?

The current Standard is titled, “Curriculum,” and focuses on curricular content. The proposed standard provides a philosophical shift to revolve around learning outcomes. The new standard has the potential to be transformational.

Critical Transitions: Writing and the Question of Transfer – Research Highlights (Part 2)

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.

Examining Multi-Institutional Collaboration Structures for Engaged Learning Research

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?

Threshold Concepts: Student and Faculty Perspectives

by Peter Felten

This post is adapted from the introduction to a special issue of “Teaching and Learning Together In Higher Education (Issue 9, Spring 2013).

Meyer and Land developed the “threshold concepts” framework to help faculty focus their teaching on essential aspects of disciplinary knowledge (Meyer & Land, 2005). Threshold concepts act, by definition, like doorways; crossing a particular threshold enables significant new disciplinary learning, often learning that was impossible before. Mastering a threshold concept not only allows the learner to grasp important disciplinary material, but it also reshapes how the learner sees other aspects of the world. When a student understands the concept of opportunity cost in economics, for instance, she not only can apply her understanding to more advanced work in economics, but she thinks differently about how she spends her time when she is not studying economics.

While threshold concepts are transformative, Meyer and Land explain, they are not easy to learn because they involve “troublesome knowledge” (Perkins, 2006). Knowledge can be troublesome for a variety of reasons, but in all cases the crossing of a threshold involves a shift in epistemological understanding, provoking “learners to move on from their prevailing way of conceptualizing a particular phenomenon to new ways of seeing” (Land, 2011, p. 176). In addition, troublesome knowledge has an affective component that calls into question assumptions about or practices linked to identity: “Grasping a threshold concept is never just a cognitive shift; it might also involve a repositioning of self in relation to the subject” (Land et al., 2005, p.58). Precisely because of this difficulty, once crossed, thresholds are unlikely to be reversed; they cannot be unlearned.

Taken together, the special issue’s essays not only provide valuable insights into teaching and learning in the disciplines, but also raise three challenging questions about threshold concepts:

  1. Are threshold concepts inherently disciplinary?
  2. What tend to be the most troublesome aspects of threshold concepts?
  3. Is the metaphor of “threshold” appropriate to describe these concepts?

concept map of transfer theories

Critical Transitions: Writing and the Question of Transfer – Research Highlights (Part 1)

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.