Committed to providing intellectual and financial leadership for the promotion and strengthening of the liberal arts, the New York City-based foundation recently awarded $2 million in new grants, $300,000 of which will fund the study by faculty at Wittenberg in partnership with Augustana College in Rock Island, Ill.; Alma College in Alma, Mich.; Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minn.; Illinois Wesleyan in Bloomington, Ill.; and Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. The grants are part of Teagle’s Outcomes and Assessment Initiative, which promotes institutional as well as faculty collaboration in order to strengthen teaching and learning to enrich students’ college education.
“Our times challenge us as institutions of higher learning to articulate the outcomes of the liberal arts education in persuasive and innovative ways,” said Wittenberg Provost Kenneth Bladh. “ Wittenberg and our consortium partners hope through this cooperative research, we can demonstrate that intellectual growth does indeed correlate with growth in civic engagement.”
Titled “Measuring Intellectual Development and Civic Engagement through Value-Added Assessment,” the study will examine students’ intellectual growth in terms of writing and critical thinking by reviewing representative student work from each campus using a series of rubrics designed by consortium faculty members. Researchers will also compare consortium results from the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA) exam, administered annually on hundreds of college campuses. Analogous to SAT, ACT, GRE and other standardized tests in format, the CLA measures students’ ability to do critical thinking, analytical reasoning and written communication.
“The focus is not on the individual but on the average change in the three measured areas for all students at an institution based on a random (representative) sample,” Bladh said.
In addition, study participants among the consortium colleges will identify curricular and co-curricular practices that best develop writing, critical thinking and civic engagement on their individual campuses. Researchers will then track indirect measures to determine if intellectual growth correlates with growth in civic engagement.
“This part of the project is still under development, but generally the consortium members will track indirect measures such as engagement in volunteer work and service learning, and students’ changing awareness of the ethical and social issues related to engagement during their college years as reflected in national surveys of student engagement,” Bladh explained. Post-college behaviors relative to civic engagement will also be measured.
“The challenge is to then correlate behaviors to institutional practices, educational approaches, curricular requirements, and extracurricular and co-curricular opportunities,” Bladh added.
Four faculty members will represent Wittenberg on the study. They include Steven Reynolds, professor of theatre and dance and director of General Education; Wendy Gradwohl, associate professor of management and a member of the Assessment on Student Academic Achievement committee; Matthew J. Smith, associate professor of communications and a member of the General Education committee; and Rick Incorvati, assistant professor of English and director of Writing Across the Curriculum.
— Karen Gerboth
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