Knefelkamp Practice To Theory To Practice Essay

Seven Stories of Campus Theory and Practice on Student Learning, Civic Engagement and Well-Being

The following seven case studies were commissioned by Bringing Theory to Practice and authored by Sally Reed, after conducting interviews with campus participants in late 2014. The case studies tell campus stories—stories rich with varied successes and challenges in the complex work of studying student learning, civic engagement and well-being. The seven campuses represented offer a diverse set of contexts in which to appreciate BTtoP’s overall vision, and offer opportunities for learning and reflection.

As is to be expected, some of the background data, titles and institutional affiliations of persons, names of campus programs or facilities, etc., in these studies have changed since the interviews took place or programs were implemented (some nearly a decade ago.) If you have questions or wish to request further information, please reach out to BTtoP Project Manager Jennifer O’Brien at O’ to facilitate.

We hope you gain as much from these studies as we did!
-The Bringing Theory to Practice Project team

A Guide to Reading These Case Studies

By L. Lee Knefelkamp, Senior Scholar, Bringing Theory to Practice and Professor Emerita of Psychology and Education, Teacher’s College, Colombia University

These are powerful case studies that can provide us with insight into the efforts to focus on institutional change that will benefit students. It is often easy to simultaneously admire and dismiss such case studies because they are "stories" of what happened on one particular campus. We run the risk of over-generalizing the cases--because the findings are so hopeful...and dismissing them because they don't exactly match our own campus conditions. Below are some guidelines for reading and thinking about the case studies.

Recognize that each case study has a context:  the history of the institution, the climate for cultural/programmatic innovation, and previous examples of innovative efforts.

Compare your own institutional context to the context of the case study: where are the similarities and the differences?

Keep an open mind! There is learning in every case study!

  1. What has been learned about students or about shaping campus culture in the case study?
  2. How can the information gleaned from answering #3 inform what is happening on your own campus?
  3. What does the DATA say? And....what DATA should have been collected?
  4. How can the learning from the case be ADAPTED to your own campus?
  5. What are the core learnings from the terms of who students are and what needs they have AND how campuses can be responsive?
  6. What pragmatic plans can your campus make and what are the realistic scope of an intervention and time lines for such an intervention?
  7. What are the characteristics of the team that would design and implement a new program?

Case Studies

California State University, Chico

Dickinson College

Georgetown University

Kingsborough Community College & CUNY Graduate Center 

St. Lawrence University

School of the Art Institute of Chicago

University of Nebraska-Lincoln

This page will:

  • Integrate theory into Practice
  • Reflect on this project and its implictions

Advising a Student

  • Rarely is one theory enough to make meaning of a students’ experiences and “supplying appropriate challenges and supports” (Evans et al., 353).
  • Models for combining theories and utilizing theory in practice can be helpful

The Practice-to-Theory-to-Practice Model

11 step model for practically apply theory (by Knefelkamp, Golec and Wells)

  • Identify concerns which need to be addressed.
  • Determine goals and outcomes.
  • Identify potentially useful theories
  • Analyze student characteristics from each theory perspective
  • Analyze environment from each theory perspective
  • Identify sources for challenge and support, work to produce balance
  • Reexamine goals and outcomes
  • Plan intervention while keeping goals and outcomes in mind
  • Implement intervention.
  • Evaluate outcomes
  • Redesign, and re-implement intervention (if necessary)

The Developmental Intervention Model

  • Framework for student development which encourages professionals to utilize a variety of strategies
  • Can be targeted at individual or institution, can be planned or responsive, and can be explicit or implicit.
  • Three components:

1. Target of intervention

2. Type of intervention

3. Intervention approach

Final Thoughts and the Future of Student Development Theory

  • “Theories provide insights for working effectively with individual students, advising and training student groups and organizations, designing classroom experiences, and evaluating and developing policy and procedures on college campuses” (Evans et al., p 361).
  • Student development theory and learning influences all parts of college campus’ and helps in meeting the goal of holistic student education

Student development theory has limitations:

  • Research is often based on small, homogeneous samples and tends to generalize some populations of students
  • Theory tends to lack comprehensive examples, and relies on hypothetical solutions

Recommendations can be observed for expanding theory research (Evans et al., p 365-71).

  • Development must be considered in a more holistic and less linear manner
  • The impact of the environment on development must be considered
  • The ways in which various aspects of development intersect and are interconnected must be investigated
  • Educators must challenges themselves to be creative when using theory
  • Educators must intelligently design interventions that are sensitive to the unique needs of specific environments
  • More effort must be made to publish reports of studies evaluating developmental interventions
  • Educators must remember that all theory reflects the values of its authors and the time which they live in
  • Student affairs faculty teaching student development must be aware of the complexity of the broad range of student development theory, encourage their student’ fluency in the language and concepts of the knowledge base, and be enthusiastic models for studying student development theory over an entire professional student affairs career
  • The whole of students’ development is bigger than its parts

This page was written and created by Ashlie Baty. Please use the comment section below to ask questions, provide reflection, discussion and/or feedback. To contact directly about this page, please see Ashlie Baty at

Reflection of Project and Its Implications to Practice

From experience this experience and others of the last nine months, we have learned that applying student development theory can be tough. For as many case scenarios of practice or examples we read, nothing can quite prepare us for the real situation. We were astonished when we realized that student development theory is not catered to the typical 18-22 year-old college students. Oftentimes, as we read these theories and understand them in the context of our students, but we can see and experience our own growth. Thankfully we have found mentors and advisors to challenge and support us through our developmental journey, just as we serve the students and organizations we encounter. Theory has given us a language to explain to peers where we are at, individually, in our journey. Having a common language is a key factor when discussing these theories and continuing conversations with professionals who are not at Florida State University.

One lesson learned from this experience and this semester of reflection; everyone is growing, transition and experiencing life at different levels/phases and theory is present to help each other and advance our students. Knowing and accepting this advice is paramount to excel as a campus partner, student advocate, and/or caring friend.  Conversations have become less tense and more developmental, group projects have taken a different shape, and advice has turned into three parts listening and one part talking. Student development theory has given us a broader look on life and careers and we are enthused to learn more.

Specifically to this blog and project, the hope would be for this webpage to serve as a catalyst for future conversations surrounding theory and encourage new ways of engaging in theory discussion. Social media is a powerful tool and it’s extremely helpful within our professional development. We highly encourage anyone reading this blog to participate in a discussion about or post via the comments section at the bottom of each page. Use this space for examples, additions, critiques, questions, feedback or any other reasons you feel will add to our learning experience as graduate students.

Reflection composed by Ashlie Baty ( & Michelle Robinson (

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