Engaged Learning Groups Are Enhancing the Baylor Experience

September 5, 2008
By Casi Bowers

What do you get when you combine one challenging interdisciplinary topic, three semesters of engaging assignments, and an exceptional community of support with 49 students who are living and learning together? The answer is an Engaged Learning Group (ELG) -- one of the fastest-growing and most exciting additions to Baylor's curriculum.

ELGs were created as a coordinated effort to engage students and apply community in a meaningful way during the first two years at Baylor. Participating in an ELG allows students to be exposed to a major or discipline that they might not have already encountered and connect with others having the same intellectual and research interests.

For the Baylor faculty who create the topics and then teach the courses, ELGs provide an opportunity for faculty in different disciplines to work together on topics of mutual interest. Such faculty might not normally collaborate because they are from different schools, colleges or departments.

When the three inaugural ELGs began in fall 2007, expectations for the new program were high, and program officials say those expectations have been met. With the second iteration beginning in August 2008, students enrolled in the program were offered three new course topics as well as new choices in living arrangements designed to provide improved accommodations.

"Through feedback from students involved in the first groups, we learned they felt the experience would have been enhanced had they lived in a hall where all the residents were taking part in the same type of experience," said Dr. Frank Shushok, dean for student learning and engagement. "In order to provide that type of environment, a remodeling project was completed in Kokernot Hall and we are very excited about this new piece being added to the puzzle."

Renovation took place this past summer at Kokernot, which now serves exclusively as a residence hall for students enrolled in ELGs. The new design is unique, incorporating male and female halves of the building connected by a shared lobby and study areas. Other renovations include a "smart classroom," enhanced study and community space, faculty offices and an apartment for the newest members of Baylor's faculty-in-residence program, Dr. T. Laine Scales, professor of social work and associate dean of graduate studies of professional development, and her husband, Dr. Glenn Blalock, assistant professor of English.

In addition to providing the impetus for enhanced living arrangements, feedback from students also has been used in developing the new ELG topics offered this fall. For example, completing three semesters in Exploring Christian Narratives: From Eden to Modernity is the first ELG to fulfill a degree requisite by satisfying religion course requirements.

"We are proud that the goals of the learning groups have been realized. These include increased student-faculty contact, cooperative learning, active learning and increasing the number of undergraduates engaging in research," said Tiffany Hogue, assistant provost for institutional effectiveness. "Both parents and students are excited about the offerings and we believe the program will continue to grow exponentially."

Perhaps sophomore Bailey Eubanks, starting his second year in "Film and Digital Media," sums up participating in an ELG best: "It's not just another class, it's an experience!"

More information about Baylor's Engaged Learning Groups is available here.


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