Dr. Beth Towle, assistant professor of English and associate director of the University Writing Center at Salisbury University, will join ten colleagues from across the University System of Maryland (USM) as a member of the inaugural cohort of USM Elkins Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Fellows this fall.
The initiative, named for Dr. Wilson H. Elkins, former president of the University of Maryland, College Park, and created by the USM’s William E. Kirwan Center for Academic Innovation, intends to encourage and elevate academic research on teaching practice.
“Through her role with the University Writing Center and as chair of SU’s English Assessment Committee, Dr. Towle is at the forefront of not only working with students, but helping to determine how SU can better serve their needs,” said SU President Carolyn Ringer Lepre. “To be among the inaugural cohort of the Elkins Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Fellows is a fitting honor for someone so dedicated to ensuring students succeed at SU and beyond.”
The study of student learning, instruction, and instructional innovations is the emphasis of teaching and learning scholarship. The findings of these studies can assist educators decide which instructional approaches to utilize with students when designing courses, thereby improving student performance and adding to the body of information about effective educational practices.
Each member of the inaugural cohort will conduct independent research. Towle’s work will complement that of SU’s English Assessment Committee, which she chairs. Early initiatives included updating main departmental outcomes and administering a critical thinking evaluation to students.
The next phase is to focus on community development and giving current students and recent graduates a sense of belonging. At this point, research will consist of a survey of students and recent alumni, followed by focus groups in which they will discuss their experiences at SU and give ideas for future participation.
Following the COVID-19 outbreak, many students felt ostracized, according to Towle, who believes that this research will lead to approaches and initiatives to ameliorate that in the future. The ultimate goal is to boost retention rates, giving students a better chance of completing their degrees and succeeding after graduation.
“One of the things that is really clear among first-year students is how important a sense of belonging is for all students,” she said, noting that much of her previous research has focused on first-generation students. “Students tell us all the time how important that is.”
Faculty engagement with artificial intelligence and community building in online courses are two more themes discussed by fellows in the first Elkins Scholarship of Teaching and Learning cohort. During the 2023-24 academic year, its members will meet twice to exchange developing findings from their research.