Research on Learning: Projects in the Scholarship of Learning & Teaching

The sciences at Carleton are moving toward a more evidence-based approach to assessing student learning. As part of this effort, several faculty are engaged in scholarly projects related to student learning in their courses. The projects below fall into the category of the "scholarship of teaching and learning" (SoTL) and will result in publication in the scholarly literature. These faculty have also presented their work at conferences and workshops and will continue to do so as new results emerge.


Projects listed below were last updated in June, 2008. More recent activities are detailed above.

Introductory Biology with Problem Solving

How this research is part of a larger effort to broaden access to science

Debby Walser-Kuntz
Susan Singer
Sarah Deel
Several introductory science and math courses include problem-solving sections that are offered in addition to regular class time or in place of some lab time. Faculty faciliate and coach students who are working actively on problems individually and in teams. This effort has been led by the Biology Department faculty Susan Singer, Debby Walser-Kuntz, and Sarah Deel. These faculty have offered Biology 125 with Problem Solving three times. They have done a great deal of research on student learning, including comparisons to learning in sections of Biology 125 without an explicit problem-solving focus. Their research has been presented nationally at meetings on the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, including the conference in April 2005 on Innovations in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning at the Liberal Arts College. Susan Singer and Debby Walser-Kuntz received funding from HHMI in summer 2005 for this research.

Integrative Learning in a First-Year Seminar on Abrupt Change in Human & Climate Networks

Trish Ferrett
Larry Wichlinski
Ice core data show abrupt change ~13,000 years ago
Trish's Carnegie project research findings on integrative science learning in this seminar

A portrait of learning and pedagogy in this seminar, by Richard Gale (see essay opening)

Prof. Trish Ferrett (Chemistry) taught a first-year seminar in fall 2005 (IDSC 100-01) on the integrative concept of abrupt change. On the science side, students studied what Thomas Kuhn calls "extraordinary science" by using historical climate data records and theories to investigate the emerging paradigm of abrupt change in global climate systems. This approach allowed students to explore the nature of complex natural systems and the dynamic human processes for knowledge building in science. The inquiry-based seminar circled through authentic questions that climate researchers are asking themselves today: 1) How fast can the global climate change? 2) Why does the climate change quickly? 3) How have past humans been affected by abrupt climate change? and 4) What about the possibility of abrupt climate change in our future?

Seminar students also learned about abrupt change in human networks. This was done through joint readings, discussions, and writing assignments with a second seminar under the common theme of paradigm shifts in science (taught by Larry Wichlinski, Psychology). Larry's seminar studied the ongoing paradigm shift regarding the mind-brain relationship in neuroscience. Jointly, the students read Gladwell's Tipping Point, Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, and portions of Howard Gardner's Changing Minds and Jared Diamond's Collapse. This material allowed students to delve into abrupt changes of the human mind - at the level of individuals, small and large social groups, scientific communities, and civilizations. Trish and Larry also asked students to reflect on a past mind change and on their mind changes over the course.

With Carleton College support and a 2005 Carnegie Scholars Award (with partner Joanne Stewart, Hope College), Trish is doing a scholarly study on students' integrative learning in this seminar. Her research addresses this question: In what ways are students "going beyond" as they make integrative moves in this inquiry seminar that circled a single transdisciplinary concept - abrupt change - with richly related perspectives from science and social science?

Larry and Trish were supported by HHMI in summer 2005 to develop these linked seminars. Trish was also supported in summer 2004 with a Carleton Wallin Faculty Development grant and a Carleton curriculum development grant. She received one course release in fall 2005 as part of Carleton's contribution to her Carnegie Scholars Award.

Links for the Scholarship of Teaching & Learning

Learning to Learn (Acrobat (PDF) 346kB Feb21 07), Karl Wirth (Macalester College) and Dexter Perkins (University of North Dakota)

The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching

The International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning and its Annual Conference 2006,and Annual Conference 2007

February 2007 Conference on Innovations in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning at the Liberal Arts College(in Northfield, MN)

MountainRise, an electronic journal dedicated to the scholarship of teaching and learning.

International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching & Learning

Getting started: Doing the Scholarship of teaching and learning, University of Wisconsin

Defining the Scholarship of Teaching versus Scholarly Teaching