Tufts receives $8 million gift to study collegiate-level learning

Provost Harris welcomes the audience to the Institute for Global Leadership's 31st annual EPIIC International Symposium on "Europe in Turmoil" on Friday, Feb. 19, 2016. (Julia Press / The Tufts Daily)

Tufts will soon expand its footprint into the study of collegiate education with the launch of the Institute for Research on Learning and Instruction (IRLI), according to a Tufts Now article. The institute will focus on developing more effective methodologies and techniques that can improve learning outcomes of students at Tufts and beyond, especially in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.

The institute is funded through an $8 million gift from the James S. McDonnell Family Foundation, an organization dedicated to funding scientific research and scholarship.

According to University President Anthony Monaco, the institute will add scholarship to the small field of university education. 

“We are very grateful to the [McDonnell Family Foundation] for its generous support in establishing the Institute, which will enable the university to study the under-examined area of how students learn at the collegiate level,” Monaco told the Daily in an email. “The results of this research will benefit students both here and beyond Tufts.”

While the institute will initially focus on STEM disciplines, it will later branch out to all subjects and how they can be taught more effectively, the Tufts Now article explained. A bridge professor and two tenure-track faculty will be hired to staff the center.  

Provost David Harris agreed that the IRLI will add notable scholarship, especially in the fields of educational and cognitive science.

“[The IRLI will study] how myriad aspects of the teaching environment affect learning outcomes … [by] integrating technologies, rethinking evaluation, and creating inclusive learning environments,” Harris told the Daily in an email. 

He added that in addition to faculty research, the IRLI will have opportunities for student involvement.

“IRLI will provide innovative opportunities for student research, both in support of faculty projects, and as a base for more independent student projects,” Harris said.

Monaco said that the work of the IRLI is particularly important as Tufts aims to admit a more diverse student body.

“As higher education welcomes an increasingly diverse community of students, our institutions need to discover new and better ways of teaching students with a variety of learning styles,” he said. “The institute will enable us to use discipline-based research to develop pedagogies that improve students’ learning outcomes.”

The McDonnell family has previously made gifts to the Center for Engineering Education and Outreach at Tufts and is interested in moving STEM into schools more effectively, according to foundation president and member of the McDonnell family Catherine Rogers. 

Harris said this latest gift helps establish the relationship between the McDonnell Family Foundation and Tufts.

“This most recent gift is a significant enhancement of the foundation’s support for our activities,” he said.