A new research center at Curry will strengthen the higher education program and position the school at the forefront of the current debate about measuring the effectiveness of postsecondary education.
The Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (or CASTL-HE) will be a nexus for researchers across the university and beyond who wish to engage in the evidence-based study of postsecondary teaching and learning. “The center’s research will link the examination of instructional practice to student learning outcomes,” says Karen Kurotsuchi Inkelas, who serves as the new center’s director.
Inkelas has had a longstanding interest in how college environments affect students. Her prior research has focused on the impact of living-learning programs—academic programs based in residence halls that strive to integrate students’ academic and social spheres to optimize learning—on undergraduate student outcomes. She began her career at the Searle Center for Teaching Excellence at Northwestern University, where she first became interested in teaching and learning theories. While working on her Ph.D at the University of Michigan, she became more interested in student outcomes and then explored places outside the classroom where learning takes place.
The center’s research will link the examination of instructional practice to student learning outcomes.
“Now I’m back where I started,” Inkelas says. “I still truly believe that the primary enterprise of postsecondary education is teaching and learning. It’s the one thing that ties all institutions together.”
Inkelas is especially interested in understanding how innovative instructional ideas are having an impact on student learning. “A number of professors and instructors have innovative ideas about how to teach their subjects,” Inkelas says, “but how do they know if their ideas were actually effective?” Few college professors have ever had to assess their teaching, she adds, and that’s where the center can help. “We can provide the design for the assessment.”
The center is an important addition to the Curry School’s higher education program, says Professor Margaret “Peg” Miller, and brings new expertise. “It provides a center of gravity for research on a topic that has become increasingly important in higher education.”
Students in the higher education program will be able to take courses taught by Inkelas and other center fellows and, as grant funding becomes available, will have opportunities for graduate or postgraduate research. “We also hope to run workshops or conferences someday for program alumni,” Inkelas says.
by Lynn Bell
Photo by Dan Addison