Dr. Hill and students

$75,000 grant to allow Wofford to study academic civic engagement

Arthur Vining Davis Foundations provides funding

AVD grant 382x255
Wofford students engage with local elementary school students in the Sandor Teszler Library Gallery.

SPARTANBURG, S.C. – Wofford College has been awarded a $75,000 planning grant from the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations to further its efforts to identify and advance academic civic engagement at the college.

The project, “Strengthening Academic Civic Engagement with Educational Technology,” will involve a tiered approach: 1) identifying academic civic engagement already included in the college’s curriculum; 2) employing an innovative approach to assessing those courses with an identified civic engagement component, using electronic portfolios; 3) evaluations from external sources, benchmarking, and holding and attending conferences and workshops designed to advance academic civic engagement at Wofford; and 4) creating a “taxonomy of practice,” looking at shared learning outcomes, course assignments and best practices.

“Following Wofford’s strategic vision roadmap, we will leverage our learning from this planning grant to advance the academic quality of teaching for civic engagement,” says Jessalyn Wynn Story, director of the Center for Community-Based Learning at Wofford and co-director of the grant project. She also is director of the Bonner Scholars program at Wofford. “A larger vision is to establish a physical hub that catalyzes civic engagement inquiry and collaboration and continues to collect and analyze data for continuous academic improvement. We believe we have a distinctive opportunity to build sustainable research and practice around academic civic engagement and to share our experiences broadly.”

Dr. John D. Miles, dean of Wofford’s Center for Innovation and Learning, associate professor of English and co-director of the grant project, says the self-study and pilot assessment components of the project “will lead to the development of an inventory of best practices from current participants at Wofford and the national conversation on civic engagement and ePortfolios.”

The overarching purpose of the grant is to strengthen the academic civic engagement that already exists within Wofford’s curriculum, Miles and Story note. “This will provide us with resources for those faculty who want to add more academic civic engagement to their courses, those who want to do more, and it ultimately will give Wofford a voice in the national conversation on civic engagement,” Miles says.

Story adds: “We will focus on three categories of academic civic engagement: civic literacy – the cultivation of knowledge about democracy, its principles, history and constructs; civic inquiry – the exploration of the civic dimensions of areas of study, for example, how mathematics can be used to move society forward; and civic engagement – working with others to improve the quality of people’s lives and the sustainability of our planet.”

The assessment portion of the project will include a pilot study using electronic portfolios (ePortfolio) to capture both faculty and student reflections on academic civic engagement through artifacts from the ePortfolios. “The data will help us understand how courses are developed and implemented at Wofford and to observe the student learning experience more closely,” Miles says. Students involved in the Bonner Scholars program also will participate to “deepen their reflective practice.”

The end of the planning grant will mark the creation of “a taxonomy of practice,” Story adds. “This taxonomy will take shape during the grant, but will lead to the creation of an interactive website and publication. The website will bring together an initial collection of curricular materials assessed for their effectiveness, student work that illustrates the best of what civic engagement can promote, and a space for community partners to seek further partnerships with the campus.

“The project design and intended outcomes resonate at the core of Wofford’s new strategic vision,” Story says, “which seeks to build academic coherence between classroom and out-of-classroom learning and create a seamless learning environment. Wofford aims to carefully examine its own context and then offer something of value to future institutional collaborations and the national conversation.”

The Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, based in Jacksonville, Fla., were organized in 1952 under a living trust established by Mr. Davis. The foundations currently provide philanthropy to private higher education, religious literacy and interfaith understanding, and public educational media. Since inception, the foundations have given more than 2,600 grants totaling more than $300 million to colleges and universities, hospitals, medical schools and divinity schools. The Arthur Vining Davis Foundations have funded visionary leadership in public television for scientific and historical documentaries, children’s programming and distribution of high quality educational media. For more information, go to www.avdf.org.