Written by Jennifer Friberg, Cross Endowed Chair in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, and Professor of Communication Sciences and Disorders at Illinois State University (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Just the other day, I was trying to type the phrase “parallel universe” in an email to a friend and colleague. Instead, I typed “parallel university.” That seems really quite perfect to describe where we are now in higher education, doesn’t it? So many things are so very different, yet our ultimate goal is unchanged: to challenge our students as thinkers and learners and facilitate growth and change through that process. Thus, we are headed toward the same destination, but on an unfamiliar trajectory. Parallel universities…one we expected, one we did not.
Back in March, when the world started changing so very quickly, I was invited by Nancy Chick (Director of Faculty Development at Rollins College) and Lee Skallerup Bessette (Learning Design Specialist at Georgetown University) to collaborate on a project that helped transform my thinking about Covid-19 and its impact on teaching and learning in higher education — then and now. Inspired by a need to make SoTL more public, we crafted a document titled “What the Research Tells Us about Higher Education’s Temporary Shift to Remote Teaching: What the Public Needs to Know from the SoTL Community,” which was shared and read widely. This work spoke to our faith in our colleagues engaged in pedagogical triage and our faith in SoTL to lead the way. Our main assertion in this document? Evidence exists that can lead us *now* to successfully support our students as learners and as human beings at a scary and stressful time.
We created an accompanying “Public Statement of Response to Higher Education’s Temporary Shift to Remote Instruction,” to invite others to support the need to think carefully about evidence-informed, student-centered teaching at this moment in time. The invitation to endorse this statement is still open, for anyone who wishes to be included!
We and our faculty colleagues around the world recognize–and acutely feel–the anxiety that students are feeling. Implementing effective learning practices wherever possible, while remaining flexible in doing so, is our best way forward. Every effort is being made to design activities based on the best of what we know about good teaching and learning. These are unprecedented and extraordinary times. Faculty are working tirelessly for their students, and this work is informed by decades of research. These are the conversations we are all having (and will continue to have) within our institutions, with our colleagues and students, and in a glocal academic community as we work together in the coming weeks and months.From Chick, Friberg, & Skallerup Bessette’s Public Statement
Why do I share these documents/processes here? They help me make what I think is a critical point about leading with SoTL in uncertain times. As asserted in the excerpt above, conversations about the future are ongoing. Most institutions are struggling with the balance between returning to campus and the need to protect the welfare of students, staff, and faculty. I would argue that as SoTLists, we have the potential to lead right now and contribute to the conversations being had about the future.
I would suggest that leading with SoTL in this moment may best be accomplished through the sharing of SoTL resources with decision-makers who stand to influence operations at societal, institutional, and/or single classroom levels. SoTL scholars are uniquely positioned with specialized understanding about teaching and learning that can help our institutions plan for the forthcoming weeks and months. To this end, the documents above make a case for SoTL’s role in thinking about priorities and possibilities in a higher education enterprise that is, without doubt, forever changed as a result of the current global pandemic.