Belmont University’s Department of General Education was recently awarded a $288,000 grant from the Teagle Foundation to assess the impact of experiential learning in the core curriculum. Over the course of the three-year project, titled “Learning by Doing: Assessing the Relationship Between Liberal Learning and Experiential Education,” Belmont will collaborate with Wagner College in New York to seek ways to better assess how experiential learning improves student engagement and enhances important skills such as critical thinking. The project builds from a one-year, $25,000 planning grant obtained in 2007.
The BELL Core, Belmont’s innovative and nationally-recognized general education program, features courses that encourage students to engage in “active learning”—service learning, community-based research and field studies, problem-based learning and other experiences in which students are challenged to move beyond the classroom and develop knowledge and skills that are rooted in real-world experiences.
Dr. Jeff Coker, associate professor of history and director of Belmont’s General Education program, served as project leader for the planning grant and will serve in that capacity again for the three-year study. He noted, “The Teagle Foundation grant will allow us to learn a great deal more about what faculty at Belmont already sense—that active, ‘hands-on’ learning leads to a high level of engagement and promotes an array of skills that better prepare our students to succeed. This long-term project will spell out the benefits of experiential education, and even more importantly, it will provide us with strategies for improvement. The study also will place Belmont on the cutting-edge of innovative assessment strategies and will be of great interest for colleges and universities nationwide.”
Belmont Provost Dr. Dan McAlexander added, “Belmont University is nationally recognized for its innovative, interdisciplinary general education program which emphasizes learning both in and out of the classroom. The awarding of this highly competitive grant gives us the opportunity to assess the impact of this kind of learning and to share our findings with the nation’s higher education community.”
Over the past year, a team of faculty at Belmont worked with Dr. Coker and faculty at Wagner College to develop a plan for the project. Team members at Belmont included Dr. Kim Boggs, associate professor of chemistry and director of the Teaching Center; Dr. Lonnie Yandell, professor of psychology; Dr. Linda Holt, associate professor of English and assessment coordinator for General Education and Reference Librarian Jenny Rushing. The project will recruit a group of faculty members at Belmont and Wagner to teach a course with an emphasis on experiential learning each fall semester over the next three years. Assessment measures designed during the planning year will be applied to student work with a goal of developing models for improvement following each semester. Faculty also will be meeting regularly to discuss their experiences and will be encouraged to report their findings at academic conferences. Funds from the Teagle Foundation will provide stipends to participating faculty, allow for workshops and meetings to take place among the faculty, fund collaborations with experts in the field of assessment and provide support for participants to attend conferences related to student learning.
The Teagle Foundation, headquartered in New York City, is a private foundation with the mission of “providing the intellectual and financial resources necessary to ensure that today’s students have access to challenging, wide-ranging, and enriching college educations, and that they succeed at this highest possible level. To learn more about the Teagle Foundation, visit www.teaglefoundation.org.