Landmark College President Shares Research
I have worked at several colleges and universities, and in each case, scholarship, service, and teaching were main criteria by which faculty were assessed when it came to rank promotion or tenure consideration. Scholarship often takes the form of research, such as a laboratory-based research project, ideally involving student participation. Do the discovery, inquiry, and experiences lead to student development and knowledge, both about content and about their own abilities and future paths? Yes. Does this lead to a broad impact that improves teaching (in and out of the classroom) across the institution? Not often.
Research programs at these institutions and many institutions are also often undertaken by a research arm, institute, or graduate division made up of faculty and staff with a sole or primary focus on research. These research institutes are typically funded by federal and state grants and do often involve undergraduate and graduate students. Involvement of students is wonderful, and it can be incredibly powerful in terms of student growth and preparation for post-college opportunities. However, too rarely does one see a college or university’s often arcane research directly informing and improving that institution’s fundamental teaching and learning.
Yes, the merits of discovery research extend well beyond the “business” of teaching and learning, and advances in research bring us closer to, for example, curing diseases. However, a direct and fully mutualistic relationship between heavy-duty research and the process of learning by the student body is difficult to find. At Landmark College, we are fortunate to have the Landmark College Institute for Research and Training (LCIRT), which conducts research and development every day, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and other funders. LCIRT’s efforts and foci are not merely conveniently located within a college environment with about 500 full-time students with learning disabilities and difficulties (LD). LCIRT’s discovery programs deliberately involve our faculty and staff on many levels.
Rarely does one find a globally recognized, academically situated research outfit that from the outset of any pursuit asks about the application of likely findings in a learning environment. Even when LCIRT is conducting seemingly esoteric research steeped in technology, they have an intentional link to the teaching and learning efforts going on within our campus. The advantages of such a close and mutualistic working relationship include the tremendous benefit of having our researchers both inform and learn from our educators, while our educators learn from but also inform our researchers. For example, the LCIRT webinar series are often co-presented with faculty, and almost all research endeavors (such as our recent three NSF grants) involve STEM faculty, advisors and coaches as partners.
Another new initiative through LCIRT seeks to engage our students as research apprentices, working side by side with LCIRT researchers; a grant from the NSF’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates provides stipends for two Landmark College students to work as research assistants on NSF-awarded projects to LCIRT. Other examples of research collaborations with faculty include: A “Changing Students’ Mindsets” intervention with at-risk high school students; a “neuro-gaming” project to study how video games can positively impact a student’s brain; “Stress Management and Resiliency Training” for first-year students; and “Therapy Dogs and Exam Anxiety,” to mention a few. LCIRT also offers regularly scheduled workshops and one-on-one faculty consultations on research topics.
As Landmark College moves to investigate best practices for students with LD not only in the traditional classroom but also in the online space, our embedded research division is identifying how to apply break throughs regarding the science and technology behind online teaching and learning efficacies. LCIRT’s discoveries will continue to inform and inspire our on-campus and online offerings. In the end, the students benefit the most, and that is why we hope that other institutions will start to look to apply more of their discoveries right on their own campuses.
Peter Eden, Ph.D., is president of Landmark College in Putney, Vermont.