E-Net News

Teagle Foundation awards Elon & Wofford grant for joint project

A New York-based nonprofit has awarded a $200,000 grant to Elon University and Wofford College for a joint project to assist departments at both schools in better measuring how students learn and to help assess efforts by both institutions to strengthen diversity and global engagement.

The Teagle Foundation, an organization that serves as a voice and catalyst for change in higher education to improve undergraduate student learning in the arts and sciences, announced the grant this winter. The money is earmarked for universities to use existing data – whether student surveys, admissions data, or from other sources – to address questions of significance for the university and individual departments.

The program assumes grant recipients have existing data that can be analyzed in new ways, said Peter Felten, Elon’s assistant provost and director of the Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning.

Felten said Elon plans to explore results collected in recent years from sources including the National Survey of Student Engagement, the most comprehensive assessment of effective practices in American higher education. A total of 1,165 Elon freshmen and seniors participated in the NSSE survey in 2010.

NSSE data (and other common student surveys like CIRP) includes unique identifiers for each student respondent, so a department can explore NSSE scores from all of its senior majors and can compare those scores to responses those same students provided on NSSE as freshmen. Few institutions have analyzed NSSE data in this way, Felten said, and fewer still have linked this kind of survey results to other institutional information such as student grades, enrollment patterns and admissions profiles.

“Teagle wants institutions to use existing data to make decisions at a department level,” Felten said. “How a department is going to want to look at data, and what questions a department may have, will vary based on the department’s assessment plan.

In the first year of the two-year grant, five departments and programs at Elon will receive assistance with using existing institutional data to assess student learning outcomes as well as curriculum and teaching practices. The questions that departments seek to answer – levels of student engagement, interaction with others of diverse background, or time spent studying, to name just a few examples – will be decided by faculty in those department.

“We aim to develop sustainable practices for using data to answer questions that we care about,” Felten said. “We also plan to develop a better understanding across campus of what data are available so that as new questions come up, we can begin to answer them.”

Maurice Levesque, associate dean of Elon College, the College of Arts and Sciences, Rob Springer, director of institutional research, and a host of faculty and staff from across campus worked with Felten to help secure the grant for Elon and Wofford.

For more information about the grant and how academic departments can take part in the project, contact Peter Felten at pfelten@elon.edu or (336) 278-5100.

Eric Townsend,
3/1/2011 8:23 AM