Quick update for my readers

For the past month I have had the wonderful privilege of interning at the Times-News in Burlington, N.C.

I have learned so much from my experiences here, and it has been great to truly feel like part of the team. I cannot say thank you enough to the entire team in the news room for the laughs, the advice and the guidance as I continue to learn and grow as a writer.

If you would like to read some of the stories I worked on while at the Times-News click here.

For the remainder of this school year this blog will remain inactive, but I will still be writing for Elon’s student-run newspaper, The Pendulum, and you can read those stories here. (I will be back to posting here eventually, so don’t fret!)

Finally, follow me on Twitter to keep up to date with all of my journalistic adventures!

Wishing you all the best,

Kelsey E. Higgins

Continuously rising tuition costs have many students worrying about money

Multimedia journalism by Kelsey Higgins

The current average student loan debt at Elon University is $23,000, according to Greg Zaiser.

The current average student loan debt at Elon University is $23,000, according to Greg Zaiser.

“I’m very aware of my personal student loan debt. I am graduating early because of my student loan debt,” junior Mary Kate Brogan said.

According to a report from the Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS), the average student loan debt of the class of 2012 was $29,400, which is nearly a 10 percent increase from the previous estimate.

“I am graduating mainly because I will owe about $25,000, and I would much prefer to get done early and not have to deal with having another several thousand dollars of debt,” Brogan said.

Since 2008, according to TICAS, the average student loan debt amount has increased by an average of 6 percent each year.

The current average debt of graduates at Elon University is $23,000, said Greg Zaiser, vice president of admissions and financial planning, with 72 percent of the student population receiving some sort of financial aid.

low debt states

Information taken from a report from the Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS).

North Carolina is not listed as a high- or low-debt state in TICAS’ most recent report.

“I know all colleges are expensive to a degree, but private universities do have higher tuition, which then meant I needed a bigger loan. Had I attended public university maybe I would have had less to pay back,” John Mullen ’14 said.

Ten current students who were polled on Elon’s campus this morning said that they were already either relatively aware, or fully aware of their exact personal debt amount.

“I was aware before graduation, but probably not until the end of junior or senior year. I knew I had loans, it just wasn’t until then that I really started thinking about my personal debt and how it would affect me,” Mullen said.

The rising costs of colleges have more students worrying about debt, and it is also fueling rising frustration with the higher education system as many graduates struggle to make their monthly loan payments.

high debt states

Information taken from a report from the Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS).

“I was talking to another Elon graduate living out in L.A. right now just the other day about this. She has now had to start paying back her loans from undergrad and its sort of hampering her life out there. Its just another expense she has every month,” Erin Palmer ’14 said.

Zaiser assured though, Elon’s number one priority is keeping the costs of an education at the university as low as possible.

“I think what is going to happen in the short term is that colleges and universities are going to say, much like Elon has, ‘we’ve got to focus. We’ve got to spend more time thinking about how we do as much as we are doing without increasing the costs at the rate they have been increasing’,” Zaiser said.

With that being said though, in the forseeable future he does see continued increases.

This is why, “one of the main areas of emphasis for the university is to focus on impact and value,” he said, “This is an investment, not a cost.”

Elon has been named one of the most affordable colleges in the nation and offers loan counseling in order to better help students understand their student loans and how to go about paying them back.

According to Greg Zaiser about 72 percent of Elon students receive some sort of financial aid. (graphic by US News).

According to Greg Zaiser about 72 percent of Elon students receive some sort of financial aid. (graphic by US News).

“Elon has a relatively low default rate. The default rate for universities and colleges nationally is about 13 percent. Elon’s is less than 2 percent,” Zaiser said. “We have some one in the office of financial planning who works very closely with students on counseling to ensure they understand fully what it means to take out a fair amount of loans. I think that is the key to our success.”

Palmer said that as far as student loan debt goes, she has a lot of it. She is now a graduate student at Vanderbilt, and she “lives on student loans. Repaying them is just sort of a site in the future.”

“Now, as I am taking out loans to pay for my graduate studies I am very careful about budgeting,” Palmer said. “As an undergrad I took out what I had to take out, and I’ll be paying back student loans for a very long time.”

Mullen is also looking into graduate school, but for him it could pose a solution to the problem of repaying his loans.

“This might be ironic, but one of my plans to repay my student loans kind of comes through graduate school. If I can get an assistantship to help cover the expense, I can also extend my time before I have to start paying my loans back,” he said.

As far as any other plan goes though, “I guess just to start chipping away, making small monthly payments like they suggest,” Mullen said.

Cyber Monday: Deal or no deal?

Multimedia journalism by Kelsey Higgins

The term “Cyber Monday” made its debut on Nov. 28, 2005 in a Shop.org press release entitled “Cyber Monday Quickly Becoming One of the Biggest Online Shopping Days of the Year.”

Many students on Elon's campus checked online deals between classes throughout the day.

Many students on Elon’s campus checked online deals between classes throughout the day.

Today the term is used internationally as retailers market themselves online on a day that has quickly become as popular as Black Friday.

Naturally, the Elon University Bookstore is offering special deals today, which according to employee Rhonda Smith, includes free shipping and 25 percent off all fleece.

“Normally around this time we have four or five orders to process a day, but today we opened up with 108,” Smith said.

She said that although the Elon bookstore will see an increase in online shopping due to the holidays, the major spike will only last for today.

According to the Washington Post, sales on this shopping holiday have more than tripled in less than a decade. In 2012 Cyber Monday sales were upwards of $1.46 billion.

The real question is though, are people getting deals on Cyber Monday or are they being fooled?

“I think people get deals on Cyber Monday, but I think they also buy more than they need to because of it so they are losing money that way,” junior Brad Hinkle said. “I like shopping online, but I usually don’t plan my days around deals. I can usually find them no matter what because they are always there.”

Cyber Monday sales have more than tripled in less than a decade. (Graphic from the Washington Post)

Cyber Monday sales have more than tripled in less than a decade. (Graphic from the Washington Post)

First year Abbie Dalton said that she has not yet participated in Cyber Monday, but has found good deals on Black Friday before.

“I know I’m always hesitant to do online shopping because of the different sizes and the fact that items can be pictured differently than how they actually are,” she said. “I like to see things and hold them in my hands.”

She was not alone, four other students standing with her agreed that they find online shopping a little risky and prefer to do their shopping in the store.

“I think you need to be careful when you are shopping with any deal in mind, but especially one that is online,” Dalton said.

Whether or not they plan on actually purchasing any thing today, many students on Elon’s campus this morning were found checking their favorite shopping sites to see if there were any good deals.

“I think that Black Friday itself can be a con. There are a lot of stores that will purposefully raise prices to make it look like the sales are bigger than they actually are, so I am always wary of that,” senior Jason Puckett said. “Am I more likely to buy something if I can touch it? Probably.”

That being said, Puckett said that he did wake up this morning to check the deals online.

With all of this in mind remember that, “it’s not always clear whether Cyber Monday discounts are much greater than what retailers offer online during other sale events,” CNN reported.

Deal or no deal, many Americans are frantically clicking around the web today looking for the greatest deals on their holiday shopping.

Elon commercial ensembles put on joint concert in McCrary Theater

Multimedia journalism by Kelsey Higgins

Techtronica is a synth-based ensemble that was formed a year ago.

Techtronica is a synth-based ensemble that was formed a year ago.

The stage lights glowed blue and purple and the sounds of synthesizers and digital intruments filled McCrary Theater as people took their seats in anticipation of the performance about to take place.

Techtronica, a synth-based ensemble that was formed a year ago, joined the veteran commercial group, Elon Electric Ensemble to present a concert of all original music on Thursday evening Nov. 21.

“Techtronica was founded to be a synth-based ensemble so that all of the sounds that we generated were artificial,” said Clay Stevenson, director of Techtronica.

While the group does incorporate real instruments, Stevenson said that they are, “the ensemble that performs music that was studio produced, things that you couldn’t recreate with live instruments solely.”

In contrast he said, Electric Ensemble is essentially a rock band.

Every fall Electric Ensemble puts on a show of all original music written by the students in the ensemble, and after talking with Todd Coleman, director of Electric Ensemble, Stevenson decided that he too wanted Techtronica to perform more original compositions.

“That prompted me to solicit original material from the members in my group, and I got enough interest that we decided to do a joint concert of all originals,” Stevenson said. “So the concept behind this show is all original coming from both this electronic side and a more traditional pop band side.”

On stage were about six computers, several stations of keyboards and drum pads, a drum set and various microphones and guitars. The stage was set up in a way that allowed for a clear view of every thing happening on stage no matter where one was sitting.

Overall the music was well mixed for the space and the vary light display added a layer of visual contrast that brought energy to the performance.

Brooke Jenkins (right) and Sean Magee are members of both Techtronica and Electric Ensemble. They were standout performances for both groups.

Brooke Jenkins (right) and Sean Magee are members of both Techtronica and Electric Ensemble. They were standout performances for both groups.

That being said, performing this type of music in a concert hall setting hindered the performance as a certain level of energy was clearly missing.

“Techtronica had really good music, but they need to work on stage presence. It would be so much more entertaining if they looked like they were enjoying themselves,” junior Lori Schachle said.

It was clear that this group is in its infancy, but the musical execution was of such a quality that it is quite exciting to wonder what this group will do next.

The standout performance from the set was junior Brooke Jenkins’ song entitled “Take Me Somewhere.”

“It was a little slow for Techtronica, but it was soothing and a nice change of pace,” said junior Connor D’Albora, who was the monitor engineer for the show.

The melody of the song was simple, but it made the moments when Jenkins did show off her vocal virtuosity that much more special. Her voice was soft, gentle and controlled, and her stage presence was calm yet attention demanding.

The group’s set ended with a song by senior Sean Magee, who is also in Electric Ensemble.

“Sean is a great performer. He’s so energetic,” Schachle said.

Magee then introduced Electric Ensemble and helped transition between the sets quickly and efficiently.

All students were well prepared for the performance and the pace was perfect in that the two-hour concert did not drag at all. There was a definite immediate switch of energy between sets, and tt was clear that this group has been around for a while.

The members of Electric Ensemble appeared to be simply jamming out on stage instead of putting on a performance. The group’s execution was seemingly effortless and it invited audience members to sit back and simply enjoy the music.

One of the standouts of the group, guitarist Jack Garno, fed off the energy of others in the group while bringing more energy to any one that seemed to be lacking some. He definitely had the role of lead guitarist down, power stance and all.

Each member’s compositions that were performed had a distinct character and the other members took on the persona of whoever was the soloist at the time. In short, they listened, played and adapted well as a group.

Two of the standouts were Dylan Fitchett, whose deep-grizzly voice was captivating, and Brooke Jenkins, who seemed incapable of hitting a wrong note all night.

Addison Horner brought a light quirkiness to the group that helped balance the set with his song “This Song is for You.”

“I wrote this song for a girl. She doesn’t know it’s for her yet, and I think I’ll keep it that way… for now,” he said. He was genuine and suave and it was a pleasure to hear this song shared.

Electric Ensemble puts on a concert every fall of original music, which is what prompted Techtronica to join them for a joint concert of original music this fall.

Electric Ensemble puts on a concert every fall of original music, which is what prompted Techtronica to join them for a joint concert of original music this fall.

Sean Magee of course, was another audience favorite. “He’s just such a great performer,” D’Albora said.

While his five songs well exceeded the amount of songs every one else played, no one could have ended the show better.

“’Olivia’ was so fun. I just wanted to rock out the whole time,” junior Krystee Cross said. “You could tell that he really enjoyed singing and really believed in what he was singing.”

Any shortcomings aside, it was clear that both groups were full of members highly committed and passionate about their music.

Jazz choir Élan brings a cappella set to Fat Frogg

Multimedia journalism by Kelsey Higgins

The_Fat_Frogg_1282153017The Fat Frogg is a local weekend hotspot for the students of Elon University, and on Friday evening Nov. 21 Elon’s premiere jazz choir Élan came to the establishment to present a night of a cappella music.

Élan is under the direction of associate professor of music Stephen Futrell.

The atmosphere at the bar was warm and welcoming and the continued service throughout the evening did not take away from the performance.

For this concert the group performed selections that were entirely a cappella, which according to Futrell, is something the group has not done extensively before.

“We are very excited to be here this evening,” Futrell said as stepped on stage to count the group off for its first number.

After the brief introduction the concert began and straight from its first note it was clear that Élan had brought its best.

Chase Strom of Vital Signs, a student-run-coed a cappella group on campus, joined Élan as a special-guest beatboxer.

This is Élan's first time doing all a cappella music.

This is Élan’s first time doing all a cappella music.

His vocal percussion was one of the highlights of the evening, bringing a source of energy to the group while he maintained a solid tempo throughout every song.

With their jeans and matching black-button-up shirts the group looked casual, but still sharp and professional.

After the first two songs Futrell joined his students on stage to sing “Seladeo,” which, originally by Roger Treece and Bobby McFerrin, was one of the best tunes of the evening.

Élan swayed back and forth through the changing harmonies as a fully cohesive unit with ease and grace.

“The level of vocal training was apparent and set the ensemble apart from other student-run organizations,” Erin Palmer ’14 said.

Many audience members were moving more than simply bobbing their heads, as the groove was infectious. The sound was loud enough through the speakers for the bassline to resonate in each audience member’s chest, but thankfully it wasn’t so loud that it induced pain.

The group sang so well together during this tune that it was as if the music could not move or sound any other way.

In contrast, Élan’s rendition of “Big Time,” by Peter Gabriel was a more in-your-face a cappella number.

info box

Showing off many different sides of it’s a cappella versatility, the choir’s set also included a slow version of “We Found Love,” which did not feature a soloist and demonstrated the group’s ability to listen to one another with the upmost sensitivity.

“This next one was arranged for us by a good friend of the group,” said Futrell as he introduced “Here Comes the Rain.”

Although beautifully sung, this sensitive ballad battled for the audience’s attention as a large group of people by the bar attempted to quietly celebrate the Elon men’s soccer win, which advanced the team further in the NCAA tournament.

“Geek in Pink,” which featured Shane Dittmar as a soloist was one of the group’s comical numbers, and it sang the humorous number with an energy that made every joke seem genuinely in the moment rather than rehearsed.

Élan sang a variety of a cappella arrangements that showed off the group's versatility in the genre.

Élan sang a variety of a cappella arrangements that showed off the group’s versatility in the genre.

Dittmar was perhaps one of the best soloists of the evening with his immense breath support, control, powerful projection and energetic attitude. He and Caitlyn Balckum, who sang the last song of the night, received the loudest applause.

According to Futrell, Élan has recently been invited to perform at the Southern Division Conference of the American Choral Directors Association, which is set to take place this March in Jacksonville, Fla.

To find out how you can support Élan’s tour or to contribute to the Elon Choral Activities Designated Fund contact Futrell at sfutrell@elon.edu or at 336-278-5681.

JFK Assassination: Are the conspiracy theories true?

Multimedia journalism by Kelsey Higgins

Town of Elon Police Chief Cliff Parker lowered the flags this morning in remembrance on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of JFK.

Town of Elon Police Chief Cliff Parker lowered the flags this morning in remembrance on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of JFK.

It was a gray and drizzly morning as Elon Police Chief Cliff Parker stepped outside to lower the flags outside of the Town of Elon Police Department located on South Williamson Avenue.

Parker aligned the flags with perfect precision in remembrance of the day 50 years ago when President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed in Dallas.

Memorial events are being held all across the country and the world today, but how many people are also still asking questions about whether or not Oswald acted alone?

According to the 2013 Gallup Poll, 61 percent of Americans still believe others besides Lee Harvey Oswald were involved in the assassination; however, this is the lowest percentage the poll has reported in almost 50 years.

“I think its a conspiracy that 61 percent of people believe [the conspiracies]. From what I know there is proven evidence of the single gunman. No conspiracy,” Parker said.

Parker has worked on the force for over 30 years and although he said he, “is no scientist,” he believes that the evidence proves that Oswald acted alone.

He is not the only one who opposes the theories though. Unanimously, 10 Elon University students who were polled this morning agreed that the conspiracy theories were nothing more than just that; theories.

“I’m not a big believer in conspiracy theories. I think people are still digging into this because they don’t want to believe the truth,” sophomore Jeff Krieger said.

Although they admitted that their history knowledge was lacking a bit, four of  students outside of the local Acorn Coffee Shop also said that they do not think the theories can be true.

Screen shot 2013-11-22 at 11.32.47 AM

According the Gallup Poll 61 percent of Americans still believe the conspiracy theories. (Graphic from the Gallup Poll website.)

“For me, its one shooter,” senior Frank Garcia said. “I think people are still talking about this because its more of a symbol of government and power and such. A president was shot.”

The Warren Commission, which was formed a week after the assassination, actually said in their report that the evidence was overwhelmingly in support of Oswald acting as a lone gunman.

Where do the conspiracy theories come from then? Such theories have been popularized in movies, books and other media since the assassination.

“I think people are still trying to make money off it by making movies and books and whatever, but I think [the event no longer affects us today],” senior Kyle Whittaker said. “I think the movies and documentaries are really intense, but I think they are all a little much. Its time to kind of let it die at this point.”

Parker says the proof is in the evidence gathered from that day. “They can recreate the shot, and from looking at all the angles there is no way others were involved.”

Clear here to read another article about the credibility of the JKF assassination conspiracy theories.

Elon University facilitates more collaboration in higher education

CEL

One of the most common and important questions that any prospective student asks a college or university is, “how will I be shaped by an education at your institution?”

It is common knowledge that students who wish to get the most out of their education do so, said Elizabeth Minnich, senior scholar for the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU).

But what is that universities are doing to ensure that student’s are receiving the best education possible?

According to Angela Owush-Ansah associate dean of the school of education at Elon, it is the job of teachers to help students make connections and develop these qualities.

According to Angela Owush-Ansah
associate dean of the school of education at Elon, it is the job of teachers to help students make connections and develop these qualities.

“It is not impractical if you ask all sorts of employers and leaders what they hope students are learning that they will say, ‘teach them to think, to be creative, to be responsible, to be imaginative and to care about living well among others,’” Minnich said. “That can be done through engagement with virtually every sort of content.”

Elon University identifies itself as a small-private college dedicated to engaged learning, and about a year ago it opened the Center for Engaged Learning (CEL).

Elon’s CEL works internationally to develop and synthesize research on central questions about student learning, to foster research about engaged learning and to host multi-institutional research, conferences and seminars, according to Jessie Moore, associate director of CEL.

This past Oct. 2 – 5, CEL hosted the 2013 Conference of the International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (ISSOTL).

“I cannot think of a time when higher education opportunities mattered more in the world,” said Elon President Leo Lambert while speaking at a conference plenary. “So much hangs in the balance that will be decided by the future leaders in our classrooms today. We must remember that our business is not awarding diplomas, it is human transformation,” he said.

A renewed interest in engaged learning

According to Owush-Ansah, the difference between engaged and traditional learning is primarily collaborative and active in nature.

According to Owush-Ansah, the difference between engaged and traditional learning is primarily collaborative and active in nature.

It is through engagement that human transformation is possible, and according to Minnich it is how, “we end up with knowledge that is part of who we are, rather than something we have in some compartment as long as we can remember it.”

In his article, “Engaged Learning: Are We All on the Same Page?” Stephen Bowen of the AACU writes, “Engagement is increasingly cited as a distinguishing characteristic of the best learning in American higher education today.”

Although engaged learning is not a new concept, it has recently resurfaced and gained increased attention throughout the international educational community.

One reason for the resurfacing, as said by Jessie Moore associate director of CEL, is because colleges and universities are having to come up with answers to the “what’s the value of a degree at your institution” question.

“One of the ways to answer those types of questions is to think about the experiences we offer and the value it brings to a student’s education,” she said.

High Impact Practices and the Elon Experiences

Liberal Education and America’s Promise (LEAP) is a national advocacy, campus action, and research initiative that champions the importance of a twenty-first century liberal education, according to AACU, and it details high impact practices.

Liberal Education and America’s Promise (LEAP) is a national advocacy, campus action, and research initiative that champions the importance of a twenty-first century liberal education, according to AACU, and it details high impact practices.

What exactly is engaged learning though?

“A lot of engaged learning research talks about it as high impact practices, and George Kuh is one of the first folks to really synthesize some of the research on engaged learning,” Moore said. “There are also things like the AACU that brings together a lot of work on high impact practices.”

Moore indentified these high impact practices, which at Elon are also known as the “Elon Experiences,” as: study abroad, undergraduate research, internships, service learning and leadership. Also included in high impact practices is writing-intensive courses and living-learning communities.

“CEL focuses on trying to understand the characteristics of those high impact practices. So, what makes them effective? What makes it so that they really support engaged learning?” Moore said. “The second aspect that we promote is trying to understand how to scale those experiences so that more students can participate.”

In short, high impact practices place particular emphasis on the importance of real-world experiences and hands-on learning.

According to CEL, increasing student involvement in all high impact practices is a goal of the center. (Data provided by CEL).

According to CEL, increasing student involvement in all high impact practices is a goal of the center. (Data provided by CEL).

Elon’s CEL: an emphasis on collaboration

Another reason why engaged learning is resurfacing, according to Moore, is because there is a renewed interested in learning from one another across disciplines.

“We’ve got people looking at service learning, and we’ve got people looking at undergraduate research. We’ve got professional organizations focused on small slices of engaged learning, but not necessarily talking to each other and exploring what is happening across all those high impact practices,” she said.

It is CEL’s dedication to researching all aspects of engaged learning that makes it unique to other centers worldwide, said Peter Felten, executive director of CEL and Elon’s Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning (CATL).

“What CEL is trying to do is do multi-institutional research from different kinds of institutions and ideally from different countries, and to really understand on the ground what [engaged] learning looks like and what seems to help that learning happen,” Felten said. “Its much more practical research than gigantic surveys or small very situated ones.”

Thus, beyond researching the effectiveness of high impact practices, CEL helps students integrate learning across experiences and make stronger connections among them, said Moore.

In his article "Engaged Learning: Are We All on the Same Page?" Stephen Bowen of the AACU categorizes engaged learning into four different categories.

In his article “Engaged Learning: Are We All on the Same Page?” Stephen Bowen of the AACU categorizes engaged learning into four different categories.

In his plenary at ISSOTL ’13, Lee Shulman emphasized the importance of understanding differences and collaborating across disciplines in the process of discovering successful teaching methods.

“Real knowledge is universal knowledge,” he said.

It is for this reason that one of CEL’s primary goals is to facilitate broader international discussions on engaged learning.

“I have long believed that practicing thinking together with differing people about interesting, significant questions, projects and issues is the single most important thing we do,” Minnich said. “In an age in which information, even knowledge and to some extent even wisdom, has never been so quickly and easily available, thinking it — whatever it is — over, questioning, reflecting, varying, imagining and going deeper is crucial.”

Think tanks, conferences and more

One way in which CEL works to achieve its goals is by bringing people to campus for research seminars, “to share what they already know about the high impact practices,” Felten said.

Lee Shulman emphasized the importance of collaboration across all disciplines during his plenary at ISSOTL'13.

Lee Shulman emphasized the importance of collaboration across all disciplines during his plenary at ISSOTL’13.

These seminars last for three-consecutive summers, in which guests, “develop research questions to go back to their campuses and conduct research, come back to Elon, share what they’ve learned, refine their research and figure out what the multi-institutional connections there are,” Felten said.

CEL just finished a seminar focused on writing as a high impact practice and is now accepting applications for its next seminar, which will be focused on excellence in mentoring undergraduate research.

CEL also brings people to campus for shorter periods of time to participate in “think tanks and have some focused conversation about high impact practices to help consolidate what we know, think about what we don’t know and make some plans together for how we are going to fill in some of those knowledge gaps,” Moore said.

It is primarily through these think tanks and seminars that students can participate in CEL’s research. Also part of the center’s programming is hosting and participating in conferences.

ISSOTL 2013

SoTL, or the scholarship of teaching and learning is the type of scholarship that CEL promotes, and as previously stated, CEL hosted the ISSOTL ‘13 Conference in Raleigh this October.

According to Vanderbilt University’s Center for Teaching, the scholarship or teaching and learning, “represents an international multidisciplinary movement to better understand teaching and learning in the college classroom.”

Since the ISSOTL'13 conference CEL's website has received increased international views. (Graphic provided by CEL)

Since the ISSOTL’13 conference CEL’s website has received increased international views. (Graphic provided by CEL)

In his article “Principles of Good Practice in SoTL,” Felten, describes five principles of good practice in SoTL as, “inquiry focused on student learning, grounded in context, methodologically sound, conducted in partnership with students [and] appropriately public.”

The International Society for SoTL (ISSOTL), which was founded in 2004, “serves faculty members, staff and students who are about teaching and learning as serious intellectual work. The goal of the Society is to foster inquiry and disseminate findings about what improves and articulates post-secondary learning and teaching.”

CEL on a national scale

There is not enough evidence to call CEL the first of its kind, but it’s definitely a unique center from those to which it might be compared.

Cornell University’s Engaged Learning + Research, which, “is a new university-wide center designed to advance academic service-learning, community-based research, and public scholarship across a wide spectrum of academic disciplines and programs,” is similar to CEL.

Also similar is Wake Forest University’s Teaching and Learning Center, which, “hosts events designed to bring together faculty and other professionals and discuss the challenges of teaching in and across disciplines.”

Alice Moore and Tawanna Franklin said that there work in the Wabash Provost Scholar program provided them with a deeper connections to their education.

Alice Moore and Tawanna Franklin said that their work in the Wabash Provost Scholar program provided them with a deeper connections to their education.

We know that there are other research centers that focus on small parts of engaged learning, but as far as we know we are the only one that is focused on engaged learning holistically,” Moore said.

The Wabash Center in Indiana, for example, does more survey related research on engaged learning, she said, and CEL, “certainly hopes to partner with them and work in combination in the future.”

The Academy for Teaching and Learning at North Carolina Agriculture and Technical State University adopted research methods from the Wabash Center to create the Wabash Provost Scholars program.

Alice Moore and Tawanna Franklin, two student scholars who were trained to conduct various assessment activities aimed at improving the learning environment at the university, shared their experience as co-researchers at the ISSOTL ’13 conference.

They said that through their participation in the program they gained a better understanding of digging deeper into data, developing research skills and how to reflect upon their own education.

CEL and CATL: a clear distinction

Although not many universities have the full equivalent of Elon’s CEL, the presence of CATL and other similarly named teaching and learning centers is much more nationally prevalent; however, a clear distinction must be made between the two.

CEL is focused externally while CATL is conversely focused more internally, Felten said.

Centers for teaching and learning are more common across the US than CEL. (Data from University of Kansas' Center for Teaching Excellence).

Centers for teaching and learning are more common across the US than CEL. (Data from the University of Kansas’ Center for Teaching Excellence).

“CATL is primarily focused on promoting the growth and possibilities for faculty in terms of investigating their own teaching and student learning,” said Deandra Little, managing director of CATL at Elon. “A lot of what we do here at the center is think about the evidence based research on student learning or on differing teaching methods and strategies that promote that.”

CATL offers teachers a variety of help from conducting mid-semester focus groups in order to collect student feedback to meeting with teachers in individual consultations in order to address concerns or offer ways to improve teaching.

“Faculty are already doing the real hard work of making teaching and learning happen, but then it can also be useful to have a space where we are trying to figure out what the most recent trends are, so we can send those out to people who we know are interested,” Little said.

President Leo Lambert recognized the work of CEL and CATL at the ISSOTL '13 conference.

President Leo Lambert recognized the work of CEL and CATL at the ISSOTL ’13 conference.

Unlike CATL, the agenda for CEL isn’t driven by individual faculty needs that might change day-to-day, Felten said, the agenda for CEL is looking at institutional needs and what higher education research says.

“CEL is a bit like a sister center but it’s more externally focused so we still share resources with Elon faculty, and we work with Elon faculty who are interested in pursuing these research projects on a multi-institutional scale, but we are in essence connecting Elon’s work to work at other institutions,” Moore said.

Conclusion

In his article, “Through the Learning Lense,” George Boggs states, “When institutions and organizations begin to identify with processes instead of intended outcomes, they become vulnerable. They lose sight of their real missions and, when faced with challenges or disruptive innovation, often struggle to survive.”

In order to survive in the rapidly changing world, educators are turning towards each other to stay up-to-date.

“Successful teaching is something that they have been trying for generations to define,” said Mary Wise, associate vice president of academic affairs at Elon University. “I think if you ask five different people you will get five different answers.”

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Collaboration across disciplines could help lead to a better understanding of the most successful and effective teaching methods. Such collaboration in the field of higher education is facilitated by centers such as Elon’s CEL.

Today universities are being held personally responsible for proving their own worth and value in the competitive higher education society, and centers such as Elon’s CEL is an example of such proof.

“Money spent on a college education is not money spent to buy a job. It is money spent on finding support and resources to develop yourself,” Minnich said. “Education is not a product; it is an experience, and no one can have an experience for you, nor is anyone’s experience just like anyone else’s.”