campus partner(s)

Duke University






Outcomes and Assessment

award date


project director

Robert J. Thompson Jr.

Duke University

Grant Summary

$246,960 over 54 months. Under the leadership of Robert J. Thompson (principal investigator), and with the support of the Spencer and Teagle Foundations, Duke University will embark on a collaborative research project aimed at fostering a culture of experimentation and evidence for undergraduate education at research universities. That iterative approaches to curricular and pedagogical efforts to enhance student learning and engagement become the standard practice for departments and programs responsible for undergraduate education in the humanities and social sciences is a primary outcome. A second goal of the project is to incorporate what is known about cognitive development, the process of learning, and effective teaching and learning practices into well-designed initiatives with measurable and replicable results. Promoting a spread of effect for this work within and across institutions will also be key.

Schools will be drawn from the American members of the Association of American Universities and will be selected to participate through a competitive RFP. Each participating institution will be granted up to $100,000 to undertake one or two campus-based projects over three years that evaluate and experiment with various pedagogical approaches focused on the development of two core intellectual skills: writing and critical thinking / analytical reasoning. The campus projects will employ a basic A-B-C design for a specific, well-defined experiment. (The A condition is the first step in which the experiment is undertaken and the learning outcome assessed. The B condition is the second step in which modifications of the A condition are made and the learning outcome is again evaluated. The C condition is a modification of the B initiative based on the evaluation of the B condition.)

Leaders of the campus projects will convene once a year to share results and experiences, and potentially to establish working groups or clusters of faculty across institutions around each core intellectual skill.

The knowledge generated from this project will be disseminated in two ways. First, leaders of campus projects will be expected to publish their findings in appropriate journals and to present their work at national and regional professional meetings. Second, the principal investigator will write a book that synthesizes the findings of the entire project and addresses the implications for higher education's commitment to liberal education at the undergraduate level. At the heart of the book will be a discussion about the evidence for effective practices in the development of writing and critical thinking / analytical reasoning abilities.