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Center for Engaged Learning seminar spurs conversations about friendship networks, college success

Center for Engaged Learning’s Student Seminars offer a chance for students to share their perspectives on engaged learning and to build relationships with faculty exploring learning experiences on campus.

Each year, the Center for Engaged Learning convenes a half-dozen Elon students for a noncredit seminar. These students meet with CEL staff for a series of discussions about recent scholarship on undergraduate education and engaged learning.

The Center’s two-fold purposes for the seminar are (1) to learn more about undergraduate students’ perspectives and experiences related to current engaged learning research, and (2) to provide a reflective experience for students to think about their own learning and education.

This year’s seminar included five‚Äč students, Peter Felten, CEL’s executive director, Jessie Moore, CEL’s director, and Jon Dooley, assistant vice president for student life/dean of campus life. The group met monthly to discuss Janice M. McCabe’s Connecting in College: How Friendship Networks Matter for Academic and Student Success (U of Chicago Press, 2016), focusing on relationships built in college and their impact on student success, academically and socially.

In line with this year’s topic, James Fariello ‘17 expressed appreciation for the chance to form new relationships with different students and administrators.

Students in the seminar are not asked to pretend to be experts on educational research; rather, they are invited to bring their own critical perspectives and their life experiences into conversation with the scholarly literature to illustrate, illuminate, and complicate our understandings of engaged learning. As Tobin Finizio ‘16 explained, “We drew directly off personal experiences and values, which created a much more engaged discussion and a deeper understanding of the subject matter.”

“While we do have assigned reading, I feel less constrained to quote or paraphrase the book and [I’m] better able to relate topics at hand to real world experiences,” said, Gabriela Alvarez ‘17, adding that “This is what college is all about, taking your ideas outside of the classroom for real experiences."

Additionally, Kelly Swaim ‘17 can already see ways this will impact her after graduation: “I gained a new perspective on university life and how much Elon's administration can affect student life and friendships.  I plan on applying this knowledge to my career as a high school teacher so that I can create an environment that helps students develop friendships that support them academically, socially, and emotionally."  

The center has held two previous seminars. In 2014-15, the topic was integrative learning, and, in 2013-14, the first group discussed threshold concepts. While the student seminar is not designed to produce a particular outcome, it occasionally yields unexpected results including:

  • Elon's 14th annual Teaching and Learning Conference plenary session, Empowered Learning: The Impact of Asking Students, presented by CEL Student Seminar participants Greg Honan and Jared Allen (August, 2014).
  • Peter Felten, executive director of the Center, delivered a keynote at the 5 Biennial International Threshold Concepts Conference (July 9-11, 2014, in Durham, England) titled “On the Threshold with Students” based on the 2013-14 seminar’s discussions.
  • The 2014 keynote was turned into this chapter: Felten, Peter. “On the Threshold with Students.” In Threshold Concepts in Practice, ed. by R. Land, J. Meyer, & M. Flanagan. Rotterdam, Netherlands: Sense (2016), 3-9.

One other powerful outcome is the empowerment it brings students to impact campus. For example, Jack Doyle ‘17 said, "This experience is different from any course I've taken, because I'm able to discuss relevant social issues at Elon in a small, intimate group and my ideas are heard by the Elon administration.  In this group, I'm not striving for a grade, but working on developing ideas that could positively impact future Elon students and make the university a better experience for all."

The student seminar is an example of the Center for Engaged Learning’s efforts to bring students’ voices into our development and synthesis of rigorous research on central questions about student learning. The Center fosters investigations of engaged learning and high-impact educational practices; hosts multi-institutional research and practice-based initiatives, conferences, and seminars; and shares related resources for faculty and faculty developers on high-impact practices for engaged learning.

If you have any questions about the student seminars or the Center for Engaged Learning, please contact Peter Felten or Jessie L. Moore at centerforengagedlearning@elon.edu.


Sarah Williams,
5/4/2017 1:45 PM