The SoTL Advocate

Supporting efforts to make public the reflection and study of teaching and learning at Illinois State University and beyond…


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Students Describe Learning Empathy from Working with Shelter Dogs

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

FarmerDugan

Dr. Valeri Farmer-Dougan

Last Friday, I had the great pleasure of attending a talk entitled Helping Shelter Dogs and Students: A University-Pet Shelter Collaboration. Hosted by the Department of Psychology at Illinois State University, this talk given by Dr. Valeri Farmer-Dougan was a part of an ongoing “Extending Empathy Project” slate of speaking events for the academic year. This talk became a must-see for me when it combined two of my favorite things — dogs and SoTL. I shifted my schedule around to attend, and was thrilled that I made the time to do so! See the description below that provides an abstract of the event, with the SoTL portion in red, bolded font:

Most dog owners report a special bond between themselves and their dogs. This special bond is supported by recent research with the Canis lupus familiaris. Indeed, dogs appear able to detect and respond to basic human emotions such as sadness, happiness and anger. Dogs can follow a point or eye movement, exhibit guilty behavior, understand when to steal forbidden objects, and imitate simple human responses. Dogs provide not only physical assistance to humans, but also provide emotional support and relieve some symptoms of psychiatric illness. Further, dogs elicit empathetic and altruistic behavior from humans. Why the domestic dog can form such a unique bond with humans will be explored. In addition, the Applied Canine Behavior Project, a collaboration between the ISU Canine Laboratory and Pet Central Helps Animal Rescue, will be described.

This collaboration has three major goals:

  1. Development of a teaching laboratory where students apply learning theory and behavior analysis;
  2. Provide an opportunity for students to engage in consultation, training, and behavior intervention for shelter dogs; and
  3. Provide support for applied research with the domestic canine. Students involved in the project will discuss the impact that working with shelter dogs has had on their empathetic and altruistic behavior.

Finally, students will discuss how working with the dogs prepares them for work with human populations.  The presentation will end with an opportunity to interact with some of our dogs.

The talk started out with Dr. Farmer-Dougan, Director of ISU’s Canine Behavior and Cognition Lab, providing an overview of research on the various positive impacts of the use of service and therapy dogs with targeted human populations, explaining that the roles that dogs have taken on to support their human counterparts are both numerous and beneficial. Students who participated in the Applied Canine Behavior Project were present to answer questions and provide insights on their learning at the end of the hour-long event. Their experiences as part of a credit-earning independent study included working with dogs from animal rescue and shelter environments, training of service dogs, caring for dogs being raised by inmates at a local prison as part of a “weekend furlough socialization effort” for the dogs, and work with entities such as the University of Illinois shelter medicine program and Youth Build of McClean County. Specific *intended* learning outcomes for students involved in this project were identified as follows:

  1. gain experience with applied behavior analysis to teach/modify canine behavior
  2. gain research skills working in a research lab
  3. develop patience in working with dogs and people
shelter2

Students with dogs “furloughed” for the weekend from a local jail where they are being raised by inmates. Dogs are released to be socialized outside of the environment of the jail.

Before moving forward with my summary of this event, it must be noted that in the world of research on teaching and learning, there is a robust body of work focused on (largely) positive impacts of service-learning involvement for college and university students (one list of such scholarly work can be found on the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Annotated Literature Database in the service learning section). That said, while there is a good deal of SoTL work that looks at various types of student learning that results from service-learning involvement, few studies focus on development aspects of interpersonal competency such as empathy via such experiences. To say that I was curious what the students involved with the Applied Canine Behavior Project would report is a huge understatement.

When it was their turn to contribute, Dr. Farmer-Dougan asked the students to describe their learning as a result of their work with the Applied Canine Behavior project. Their contributions to the presentation were unscripted and occurred as a quasi-focus group as the students reflected together. What did they report as part of their reflections? Largely, student reflections largely could be placed into two categories: development of empathy transferred from working with dogs to thinking about humans and development of empathy from working with people and dogs together. Specifically, students contributed the following to the discussion:

Development of empathy transferred from working with dogs to thinking about humans

  • Understanding a dog’s story helps us know how to work with them…and how to be more patient. The same applies to people.
  • Having dog has taught how to deal with persons in need. We work with a lot of anxious dogs and have learned that anxious people aren’t all that different.
  • We are more sensitive to non-verbal messages that people share after working with dogs, as that’s all they have to give us.
  • People can be having lots of emotions but just not be showing them, just like is the case with dogs.
  • Working with abused dogs has increased our empathy towards people in the same situation.
  • We don’t talk about human behavior like we do about dogs’ behavior. We should. With dogs, we consider their past and what they’ve gone through—their full history. We need to be more wholistic like that with people. Behaviors hide things.
  • Working with dogs makes us feel more connected to people as we are better able to “read” them in terms of what are people really saying
  • Dogs teach us to listen in a very different way. You can use that to listen to people differently, too.

Development of empathy from working with people and dogs together

  • Watching dogs develop bonds with people has been amazing and inspiring.
  • Our work with dogs has changed our perceptions of persons with disabilities — working with service dogs and their new persons has helped us see people with disabilities as more able than we had before.
  • We watch people realizing mistakes they have made with their dogs and and see them trying to make things better, which makes it easier to interact with them. They want to improve things and we want to help them.
  • Involvement in this program has made students more likely to adopt shelter dogs themselves, knowing more about the dogs, their stories, and their potential.
  • We realized time and effort in training changes dogs and gives them a second chance at life.
  • Working with dogs can help anyone heal old grief (loss of dog, persons).
  • Doing this work is a very emotional experience – it pushes you to be patient, be a better person, and change your own behavior.

Dr. Farmer-Dougan reports that she’s kept data from students over the last several semesters about their learning, so this may not be the last you hear of this project! Stay tuned!

 

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SoTL, ER, and DBER: Thoughts Inspired by a Twitter Conversation

Written by: Jennifer Friberg, Cross Endowed Chair in SoTL and Professor of Communication Sciences and Disorders at Illinois State University

A few weeks ago, I published a blog post titled “Finding the Goldilocks fit for your SoTL manuscript.” As always, I publicized the new blog post on my Office of the Cross Chair Twitter account (@ISU_SoTL). Who knew that a really great question from Erin Whitteck (@EWhitteck) would engender such a great conversation over the following days?

tweetstorm

Folks contributing to the subsequent tweet stream offered the suggestion that there is overlap between disciplinary-based educational research (DBER), SoTL, and educational research (ER), but that the lines between these types of inquiry could be a bit blurry. Questions were raised about rigor, methodological differences, and resources for better understanding. Since then, I’ve been pondering. To get us into the same semantic sandbox, consider the following definitions:

SoTL “involves the systematic study of teaching and/or learning and the public sharing and review of such work. ‘Study’ is broadly defined given disciplinary differences in epistemology and the need for interdisciplinary SoTL…SoTL focuses on teaching and learning at the college level, and is primarily classroom based. Ideally, SoTL also involves application and use” (McKinney, 2007, p. 10).

“ER is the scientific field of study that examines education and learning processes and the human attributes, interactions, organizations, and institutions that shape educational outcomes. Scholarship in the field seeks to describe, understand, and explain how learning takes place and how formal and informal contexts of education affect all forms of learning. Educational research embraces the full spectrum of rigorous methods appropriate to the questions being asked and also drives the development of new tools and methods” (AERA, 2018).

“DBER is grounded in the science and engineering disciplines and addresses questions of teaching and learning within those disciplines…DBER investigates teaching and learning in a discipline using a range of methods with deep grounding in the discipline’s priorities, worldview, knowledge, and practices…DBER is informed by and complementary to general [educational] research on human learning and cognition” (Singer, Neilsen, & Schweingruber, 2012, p. 9).

In response to the suggestion that there is overlap between SoTL, ER, and DBER, I believe that to be an undeniable truth. Each focuses on research on teaching and learning, serves to add knowledge to better understand educational processes, demands rigor, and has the potential for impact across contexts (e.g., micro, meso, macro, mega). SoTL, DBER, and ER also each purport to embrace a wide array of research approaches, including qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods designs.

So, then, what about the differences? Here are a few that are important to consider:

  1. Both DBER and ER apply to K-12 research in addition to research in higher education. SoTL is focused on higher education.
  2. DBER is a form of ER, with a focus on science and engineering disciplines.
  3. The purpose of SoTL is to advance the practices of teaching and learning through systematic study and reflection (Larsson, Martensson, Price, & Roxa, 2017). The purpose of ER and DBER is to create generalizable knowledge about teaching and learning (Felten, 2015), though it should be noted that DBER scholars acknowledge a need to translate DBER findings to classroom practice, in line with SoTL (Singer, Neilsen, & Schweingruber, 2012).
  4. A common tenant of SoTL is that scholars study their unique learning contexts to better understand their teaching and/or their students’ learning. Most ER removes the investigator from the context being studied.
  5. While ER and DBER seek to create generalizable findings, most SoTL is not inherently generalizable as it often studies a single learning context and might study a small(ish) number of individuals. Rather, SoTL should be inherently replicable through the explanation of a systematic approach to investigation that is reported when results are disseminated. SoTL seeks to build generalizability over time as different constructs are studied in different places by different people at different times.
  6. SoTL embraces a “big tent” philosophy with a wide array of disciplines and diverse approaches to inquiry recognized as making important contributions to research on teaching and learning. As ER and DBER typically focus on education or STEM fields, theories, methods, and practices for these disciplines are typically utilized in those types of inquiry.

ER, DBER, and SoTL are all valuable forms of teaching and learning research. While there is overlap between and across these categories of research, they are not competitors. They exist on a continuum that encourages scholarly approaches teaching and further research on teaching and learning. I would argue that it is the interpretation of the similarities and differences of SoTL, ER, and DBER that friction might emerge, as we typically consider research through our own disciplinary lenses. That might be topic for a future blog all on its own…

So, Erin, I’ll try to answer Twitter question from earlier in November that launched this discussion: “what is the difference between a disciplinary SoTL journal and a DBER journal?” Honestly, there may not be a difference. In some fields, SoTL and DBER might both be published in the same journal. In others, it might be one or the other. I’d suggest that you look at the aims and scope statements for your discipline’s SoTL and DBER journals. Identify which aligns with the work you’ve done in terms of purpose (e.g., add or apply knowledge). If you’re not sure, editors LOVE getting emails from prospective contributors. I really mean this! Send an abstract of your work and ask if it’s suitable for their journal or ask a question or two to guide your efforts. Good luck!

Blog References:

American Educational Research Association. (2018). What is educational research? Downloaded from http://www.aera.net/About-AERA/What-is-Education-Research.

Felten, P. (2015). Principles of good practice in SoTL. Teaching & Learning Inquiry, 1(1), pp. 121-125.

Larsson, M., Martensson, K., Priace, L. & Roxa, T. (2017). Constructive friction? Exploring patters between educational research and the scholarship of teaching and learning. Paper presented at the 2nd EuroSoTL Conference, Lund, Sweden.

McKinney, K. (2007). Enhancing learning through the scholarship of teaching and learning: The challenges and joys of juggling. Anker Publishing: Boston, MA.

Singer, S. R., Nielsen, N. R., & Schweingruber, H. A. (Eds.). (2012). Discipline-based education research: understanding and improving learning in undergraduate science and engineering. National Academies Press: Washington, D.C.


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Finding the Goldilocks fit for your SoTL manuscript: It’s a question of content, voice, and application!

Written by Jennifer Friberg, Cross Endowed Chair in SoTL and Professor of Communication Sciences and Disorders at Illinois State University (contact email: jfribe@ilstu.edu)

As is the case with disciplinary research, SoTL research is carried out carefully and systematically. Data is analyzed, results are presented, and a compelling case is made for the implications of the outcomes of SoTL research process. For those of us for whom a peer-reviewed journal article is the “currency” of academic productivity, we think about where we might eventually send our work for review and (hopefully!) publication throughout our project’s life. We search lists of SoTL publication outlets seeking the Goldilocks “fit” for our research, carefully reviewing the aims, scopes, and missions of SoTL journals as part of this process. As these efforts unfold, there is a foundational question that must be asked as part of the search for a journal “home” for your SoTL work: Does my SoTL best fit in a disciplinary journal or a cross-disciplinary journal?

To make sure we are all on the same page semantically, I’d define a disciplinary SoTL journal as one that focuses primarily on one discipline. Teaching and Learning in Communication Sciences and Disorders is one that is a great example of this, with its focus on SoTL for the connected disciplines of speech-language pathology and audiology. Teaching and Learning Inquiry would be an ideal example of a cross-disciplinary SoTL journal, as manuscripts selected for publication potentially apply to a variety of disciplines across the academic spectrum.

The question of disciplinary versus cross-disciplinary fit has to do (mainly) with the potential reach for your work. For instance, if you conduct a rigorous SoTL project to understand how art history students’ learning is impacted through study abroad experiences in Italian museums, it’s possible that your findings might have primary interest and impact within the discipline of art history. As such, a journal like Art History Pedagogy & Practice would be a wonderful outlet for your work. A study on intrapersonal learning as a result of students’ involvement with an array of campus student organizations might have a broader disciplinary appeal, with publication in the cross-disciplinary Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning one potential outcome.

That said, it’s often how a manuscript is written that truly influences its fit for publication. With this in mind, three primary considerations become evident:

  • The content of your manuscript is extremely important. Is the topic being explored centered on questions from a single discipline? Or, might the content of your paper be of interest to people representing a variety of disciplines and contexts?
  • Your writing voice is also critical. When you constructed your manuscript, did you use accessible terminology or did you employ disciplinary jargon to best make your points?
  • How have you described the potential applications of your work? Did you tie your findings to uses and impacts in one discipline or did you make an effort to extend your research outcomes to a variety of fields and contexts?

The decision tree below operationalizes the notions of content, voice, and application through the lens that the more linguistically accessible and contextually inclusive your manuscript seeks to be, the more likely it is to find a fit in a cross-disciplinary SoTL journal.

SoTL decision tree

I have one last thought for your consideration. Some SoTL is simply so focused on one discipline that its contributions to the pedagogical content knowledge of that discipline must be honored with publication in a disciplinary journal. Similarly, some SoTL cannot be tied to only one discipline, or perhaps it’s so applicable to other disciplines that publishing in a cross-disciplinary outlet is its best fit. Thus, SoTL is not “better” or “worse” if its published in a disciplinary rather than a cross-disciplinary journal — or vice versa. Rather, it’s knowing where your SoTL belongs that helps it to have value to your audience. 

 


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The SLaM Model of Applying SoTL In and Beyond One Classroom

Written by Kathleen McKinney, Illinois State University, Emeritus and Jennifer Friberg, Illinois State University 

slamIn this blog post we share a model for the application of scholarship of teaching and learning findings in and beyond the individual classroom level. The model, named SLaM, is detailed in the Introduction chapter of our edited book, Applying the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Beyond the Individual Classroom (Indiana University Press, 2019, in press). The focus of that volume is on SoTL and its application beyond one classroom but the SLaM model is about application at any level. We define SoTL using both our institutional definition, ‘the systematic reflection/study of teaching and learning made public,’ as well as key characteristics as practitioner, action reflection/research that is usually about the instructor/researchers’ own students and/or students in their discipline and is most often at the local level. We understand application as the use of SoTL research findings and implications to design, change, intervene, make decisions, etc., primarily in institutions and disciplines, to enhance teaching and student learning.

The SLaM model is an outgrowth of our early discussions of application at various levels (e.g., Friberg & McKinney, 2015, 2016; McKinney 2003, 2007, 2012).[1] We then organized and built on those ideas, as we wrote for and edited our latest book, to create the SLaM model. The model uses three questions to conceptualize, categorize, and understand the use of SoTL results/knowledge in applications to teaching and learning. We briefly note these here but a more detailed discussion, diagram, and examples of the model can be found in our Introduction to our edited book (see endnote 1 below for the citation for the model).

  1. What is the source of the SoTL that is applied? The “S” in our SLaM framework is connected to identifying the source(s) of SoTL findings being applied. SoTL research results that are applied at various levels may be from the teacher’s original scholarship of teaching and learning studies, SoTL work by colleagues, the synthesis of presented or published SoTL research in the discipline/institution/larger SoTL field, or some combination of these sources of SoTL results and implications.
  2. At what level(s) are the data/results/implications applied? There are numerous levels (the “L” in our framework) at which SoTL findings and implications could be applied to positively impact teaching and learning. These levels include the individual classroom, course/module, program, department, college, co-curricular, institutional, disciplinary, multi-institutional, and multi-disciplinary levels.
  3. What mechanisms or processes are used (or could be used) to apply the SoTL data/results/implications to new areas or contexts at various levels? The “M” in our SLaM framework represents the many mechanisms that exist or could be created that can be used as processes for novel applications of SoTL findings. A few examples include assessment, quality assurance, course/program design or redesign, accreditation, budget development, strategic planning, faculty/staff development, interdisciplinary initiatives, and graduate student training.

In our forthcoming edited book, eleven examples of the application of SoTL are described; two in our Introduction and nine in the contributed chapters. We briefly summarize three of these examples of applications and their fit with our model here. First, Brent Oliver, Darlene Chalmers, and Mary Goitom of Mount Royal University in Canada in their chapter, “Reflexivity in the Field: Applying Lessons Learned from a Collaborative Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Study Exploring the Use of Reflexive Photography in Field Education” use findings and implications from face-to face interviews with students from multiple institutions (source). They apply what they learned at the course, program and department levels using curricular reform, program review and accreditation (mechanisms). They are planning additional applications in a new interdisciplinary fellowship program and via faculty development programs.

Another example comes from Belgium. In the chapter, “Feedback First Year”- A Critical Review of the Strengths and Shortcomings of a Collective Pedagogical Project,” Dominique Verpoorten, Laurent Leduc, Audrey Mohr, Eléonore Marichal, Dominique Duchâteau, and Pascal Detroz describe their sources of SoTL findings: SoTL literature on feedback practices as well as original data from interviews with members of the faculty participating in SoTL staff development programs, observations and diaries of advisers, minutes of meetings, and descriptive templates of project outcomes. Levels of application included individual courses, faculties/departments (group of courses; program), and institution. The mechanisms they used for application were specific course re-design tasks (designing feedback activities by faculty participants), a variety of course interventions, and sharing results in departments via meetings and plenaries.

Finally, contributors Claire Vallotton, Gina A. Cook, Rachel Chazan-Cohen, Kalli B. Decker, Nicole Gardner-Neblett, Christine Lippard, and Tamesha Harewood share their SoTL applications in “The Collaborative for Understanding the Pedagogy of Infant/toddler Development: A Cross-University, Interdisciplinary Effort to Transform a Field through SoTL.” Their project used implications from past SoTL literature, reflection, and original SoTL studies on multiple campuses (sources) at the course, program, department and disciplinary levels. The application mechanism was a cross-institutional, collaborative group of scholars (CUPID) where participants shared resources, conducted research, and disseminated work via conferences, workshops, publications, meetings.

We hope readers of this blog post will take a look at the details of the SLaM model and the interesting projects and applications from around the globe presented in the edited volume. We welcome feedback on the model and hope others will find it useful in their SoTL research and applications.

Blog References

Friberg, Jennifer C., and Kathleen McKinney. 2016. “Creating Opportunities for Institutional and Disciplinary SoTL Advocacy and Growth.” Presentation. SoTL Commons Conference, Savannah, GA, USA.

Friberg, Jennifer C., and Kathleen McKinney. 2015. “Strengthening SoTL at the Institutional and Disciplinary Levels.” Poster presentation. EuroSoTL, Cork, Ireland.

McKinney, Kathleen. 2012. “Making a Difference: Applying SoTL to Enhance Learning.” The Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning 12(1): 1-7.

McKinney, Kathleen. 2007. Enhancing Learning through the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning: The Challenges and Joys of Juggling. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

McKinney, Kathleen. 2003. “Applying the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning: How Can We Do Better?” The Teaching Professor August-September:1,5,8.

 

[1] As discussed in the Introduction to our edited book, the SlaM model overlaps slightly with the 4M model (Poole and Simmons, 2013; Wuetherick and Yu, 2016). Our initial presentations and writings of the SLaM model, however, predate the 4M model and the two models are distinct in various ways.

 


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A&O’s List of SoTL-Minded Twitter Accounts: #ISSoTL18 Edition

Compiled by members of the Advocacy and Outreach Committee for International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (ISSoTL) in advance of this week’s international SoTL conference in Bergen, Norway.

Please note that you don’t have to attend the ISSoTL conference to read about conference happenings (search for #ISSoTL18) or to follow the SoTL-minded twitter accounts identified below! Safe travels to all headed to Bergen!

ISSOTL Twitter 2018


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Engaging in SoTL – Sounds Great, but Where Do I Start?

Written by Rebecca Achen, Assistant Professor of Sport Management at Illinois State University (rmachen@ilstu.edu)

ideaWhen you first heard of SoTL, were you interested, but had no idea where to start? What would you study? How would you study it? Who can help you? With so many questions, you may have felt overwhelmed. Maybe, you decided you do not do anything in your classes worth researching. Maybe, you felt worried the results of research on your teaching and students’ learning would be unfavorable, frustrating, or not actionable. Guess what? All these questions and fears are normal! Often, one of the most difficult parts of a SoTL project is generating an idea. Here is a list of places to start.

  1. Review the open-ended comments on your teaching evaluations. What are students often saying challenges them? What are they frustrated by in your courses? What suggestions do they have for improving your courses?
  2. Take time to reflect on each course at the end of the semester and physically write down your thoughts. After a few semesters, take a look at the reflections from your courses all at once. What challenges are you consistently facing? What frustrations do you have? What types of assignments do you find yourself questioning or being excited by? What have you continued to use in your courses that you want to better understand in terms of your students’ learning?
  3. Borrow a book from the SoTL library at ISU and take notes while you read it. Which parts of the book excite you? What concepts or theories interest you? Which ones do you think apply to your students?
  4. Take SoTL workshops offered on your campus or nearby institutions (if you’re able). At ISU, we have access to help with SoTL! Not only are there several workshops offered each year on various SoTL topics, but you can make an appointment with Jen Friberg to talk about what you might want to research and work out your ideas through conversation. There may well be a SoTL professional developer/mentor at your university, too!
  5. Attend pedagogy workshops offered by your teaching and learning center. Often, these are catalysts for trying new things in your courses, which you can then study to learn if the changes to your courses were effective in accomplishing the course goals.

What does this look like in practice? Let me tell you about what prompted my most recent SoTL project. In the graduate courses I teach, students have semester-long projects that are designed to assess their learning and understanding over the entire semester. Over the last few years, students across courses have consistently commented (in course evaluations) that they struggled to meet project deadlines, felt overwhelmed by the enormity of the projects, and were unable to stay engaged with the projects. While I have made small changes in my courses to help them be more successful, including more effectively scaffolding projects and providing individual mentoring for students, students have still been consistently frustrated. So, in the spring of 2018, I implemented weekly progress reports where students responded to five questions each week about their progress on their projects. My own observations led me to believe this approach was generally effective, and it allowed me to be more connected to student progress on the projects. On course evaluations, students commented these check-ins were helpful and allowed them to reflect on their projects, keep each other accountable, and meet deadlines. However, some students stated the reports felt like busy work and admitted they were not always honest in their evaluation of their progress.

When I was planning my fall 2018 classes, I decided that based on student feedback, I wanted to implement weekly progress reports again. As I was writing my rubrics and assignment sheets, the light bulb went off – this could be a SoTL project! Because of the courses I teach in the first year of the graduate program, I was able to set up a multi-phase project to explore student perceptions of and reflections on using progress reports to complete major course projects. By the end of the 2018-2019 academic year, I will have evidence that will allow me to make an informed decision on how weekly progress reports function in my classes and whether they are accomplishing my intended teaching and learning goals. Then, I can share this information through SoTL outlets to help others evaluate whether this type of assignment could work in their classes and expand general understanding of supporting student learning through scaffolding and formative assessment. By putting in a little extra time and effort (getting IRB approval, creating a survey, and being intentional in course design and delivery with this research in mind), I will not only potentially improve my teaching and students’ learning, but I will contribute to an important body of scholarly work. We are all doing things in our classrooms that are worthy of scholarly inquiry. Use the tips above to start brainstorming ideas. Together, we can improve teaching and positively influence student learning!


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Sources, Types, and Analysis of Data in SoTL

Written and compiled by Jennifer Friberg, Cross Endowed Chair in SoTL, and Professor of Communication Sciences & Disorders at Illinois State University

A few weeks ago, I published a blog titled “Study Design and Data Analysis in SoTL,” which provided a resource for viewing different types of research designs and their application for the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL). This resource was developed as a part of preparations for a two-day “intro to SoTL” workshop at the University of South Alabama. Today’s blog shares a related resource created for the same workshop series.

dataWhile research design is a really important consideration in the planning of SoTL projects, I would argue that an equally important consideration is the determination of the type(s) of data that could be collected to address an identified research purpose/question, as different types of data can provide different types of narratives to describe teaching and learning. The tables below explore eight different data types commonly utilized by individuals completing SoTL studies. Each describes a data type, talks about the data yielded from each type, indicates whether qualitative and/or quantitative analysis is possible for the data source in question, and provides extra information to consider possible to using any of these data sources. Please note that this is not an exhaustive list of possible data sources for SoTL research!

Should you wish to obtain a copy of this information in PDF form, please feel free to email me at jfribe@ilstu.edu. I’m happy to share!

Survey Data

Description Surveys collect data to reflect participant perceptions or knowledge about a particular phenomenon at one point in time.
Data Potentially Yielded Data generated via a survey are answers to specific questions drafted and administered. Survey questions can be closed ended (e.g., multiple choice answers or Likert-type scale data) or can be open ended in nature. Different question types yield different data.
Quantitative Analysis Possible? Yes
Qualitative Analysis Possible? Yes
Miscellaneous Thoughts on Data Type
  • Look for previously validated surveys to use as part of your study to increase validity/reliability of data collected.
  • For non-validated surveys, consider soliciting 2-3 expert reviewers to provide feedback re: survey content and format.
  • If survey is collecting indirect data (e.g., student perceptions), consider a plan to triangulate these data with a different, more directly objective source of information.

Interviews/Focus Groups

Description Considered a subset of survey research, these methods gather information about participant knowledge and feelings individually or with a group of people in a manner that allows (in some designs) for follow-up questions and non-standard data collection.  Interviews are generally conducted with a single person, while focus groups are group interviews.
Data Potentially Yielded Interactions occurring within interviews and focus groups are typically audio or video recorded. Orthographic transcriptions of these interactions can be created and analyzed to identify relevant trends across participants. Observations of specific behaviors might be quantified, as well, depending on the intent of the study’s design.
Quantitative Analysis Possible? Yes, but less frequent than qualitative analysis
Qualitative Analysis Possible? Yes
Miscellaneous Thoughts on Data Type Collection of interview and focus group data often causes extra human subjects review board scrutiny due to threats to confidentiality and/or anonymity. Consider how you will protect and explain protections for your study participants as part of your IRB development process.

Think Alouds

Description Think alouds are specific types of interviews where participants are asked to verbalize thoughts for internal cognitive processes in a sequential manner (e.g., how to complete a professionally-oriented task)
Data Potentially Yielded Like with interviews/focus groups, think alouds are typically audio or video recorded so that orthographic transcriptions of these interactions can be created and analyzed to identify relevant trends across participants.
Quantitative Analysis Possible? Yes, but less frequent than qualitative analysis
Qualitative Analysis Possible? Yes
Miscellaneous Thoughts on Data Type Similar to interviews and focus groups, collection of think aloud data often causes extra human subjects review board scrutiny due to threats to confidentiality and/or anonymity. Consider how you will protect and explain protections for your study participants.

Pre-/Post-Tests

Description Pre/post tests allow for collection of data to reflect changes resulting from some sort of intervention or experience over a pre-determined span of time.
Data Potentially Yielded Data collected is intended to reflect any changes (either positive or negative) resulting from an intervention or experience. Pre-/post-test data could be collected via a survey, reflection, or interview/focus group. The key here is that there are two (or more) sets of data to reflect differences across time.
Quantitative Analysis Possible? Yes
Qualitative Analysis Possible? Yes
Miscellaneous Thoughts on Data Type
  • Look for previously validated instruments to use for pre/post test designs.
  • For non-validated surveys, consider soliciting 2-3 expert reviewers to provide feedback re: survey content and format.
  • If pre/post test collects indirect data (e.g., student perceptions), consider a plan to triangulate these data with a different source.

Onlooker/Participant Observations

Description Specific, systematic observations conducted to collect behavioral data about participants within a teaching or learning context. In onlooker observations, the observer is not a part of the intervention/ experience. In participant observation, observers are active participants in the intervention/ experience.
Data Potentially Yielded Data collected from trained observers will quantify or describe the behaviors of participants at one or at multiple time frames. These data might be tallies of observed behaviors, descriptive notes describing behaviors, or time-managed tracking of behaviors in an environment.
Quantitative Analysis Possible? Yes
Qualitative Analysis Possible? Yes
Miscellaneous Thoughts on Data Type
  • All observers should be carefully trained to collect data that reflects the intent of the study.
  • Observations can be made in real time or via videotaped sample.
  • Consider gathering inter-rater reliability data if more than one reviewer is operating within the context or project.

Course Assignments/Projects/Assessments

Description Course assignments, projects, or assessments are any tasks students complete as a part of your class which can be used to understand participant mastery of content or performance at a given point in an academic term or program. This might include: writings, journals, projects, online assignments, quizzes, tests, etc.
Data Potentially Yielded Data reflects a wide array of possibilities, but commonly would reflect participant knowledge and/or understanding of course content at a specific point in time during the course’s duration.
Quantitative Analysis Possible? Yes
Qualitative Analysis Possible? Yes
Miscellaneous Thoughts on Data Type
  • Any artifact that is part of a course you regularly teach or a course you have taught in the past can be used in a SoTL study. Consider the use of archival data to compare groups with and without a particular intervention or experience.
  • If you can no longer obtain consent from past students as they are gone from campus or you lack contact information for them, you can ask your IRB for a waiver of informed consent, so long as you have a plan to protect participant identity.

Written Student Reflections

Description Written student reflections are comprised of student thoughts and ideas presented that are expressed to demonstrate deep thinking and consideration (e.g., reflective journals).
Data Potentially Yielded Generally, data are journal entries or responses to specific reflection questions. Written data is analyzed to identify changes or trends across study participants.
Quantitative Analysis Possible? Yes, but less frequent than qualitative analysis
Qualitative Analysis Possible? Yes
Miscellaneous Thoughts on Data Type
  • Reflection data is almost always derived from some sort of prompt (e.g., journal prompt, reflective question). Craft these prompts carefully to ensure that you’re collecting the data most valuable for your study.
  • Analysis of written reflection data is almost always a qualitative endeavor. There are a variety of valid approaches to this sort of work, so consulting with a qualitative researcher if this is a new form of method for you is a good idea.

Visual Student Reflections

Description Visual student reflections are comprised of student thoughts and ideas presented that are expressed to demonstrate deep thinking and consideration (e.g., concept maps, drawings, figures, photos).
Data Potentially Yielded Visual reflection data provide representations of knowledge, skills, or learning at a given point in time to identify changes or trends across study participants.
Quantitative Analysis Possible? Yes
Qualitative Analysis Possible? Yes
Miscellaneous Thoughts on Data Type
  • Visual reflection data is almost always derived from some sort of classroom project or activity. Craft these experiences carefully to ensure that you’re collecting the data most valuable for your study.
  • Consider various visual data analysis methods as a lens for understanding your data.