The SoTL Advocate

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


Leave a comment

Musicology’s emerging culture for pedagogy and SoTL

Written by Allison Alcorn, Professor of Musicology at Illinois State University (aalcorn@ilstu.edu)

Like many of my colleagues in higher education, I stepped into the university classroom fresh out of graduate school before I had so much as folded my hood into storage. Also like most of these colleagues, I had never had a single pedagogy class, had never heard of learning theories much less studied them, and I set about teaching by sheer instinct based on what I had seen done as a student. Unlike my colleagues in disciplines outside of musicology, however, I have spent my career in an academic field notorious for its nearly complete disregard of pedagogy and the scholarship of teaching and learning. As late as 2013, any reference to teaching at all was completely absent from the Object statement of the American Musicological Society (AMS). Only two scholarly journals devoted to music history pedagogy exist, and those have been around for less than a decade. AMS finally hosts music history pedagogy round tables at its annual meetings, and papers related to teaching are making more frequent appearance at both national and regional conferences.

Musicologists invested in and dedicated to improving music history pedagogy are celebrating the forthcoming publication, Norton Guide to Teaching Music History, edited by C. Matthew Balensuela (DePauw University). This much-anticipated volume will include twenty-one essays covering everything from teaching historical periods to enlivening the classroom. Norton bills it as “both a resource for current music history teachers and an ideal text for history pedagogy courses” (publisher’s site product information). As delighted as we musicologists are, we also realize this milestone for us still falls into categories better thought of as “best practices” or “practical ideas” directly connected to disciplinary content rather than as a broader-scope systematic inquiry into student learning that advances the practice of teaching by making inquiry findings public. As such, musicology still lags decades behind other academic disciplines, but these are critical first steps none the less. At least musicology is showing up at the table now and, as a discipline, it is beginning to recognize that the act of teaching itself requires study and analysis. Musicologists like to think of ourselves as dealing in unquantifiable aesthetic issues—in fact, I have wondered if the erroneous but persistent notion that SoTL studies must be entirely objective and quantifiable research has turned Fine and Performing Arts folks to different avenues of study—but even so, how and why we teach these qualitative and aesthetic issues is a different matter. If we are concerned with determining whether our teaching is effective, whether the students are learning what we intend, whether our teaching is relevant, helpful, and engaging critical thought, if we care about our content and about our students, musicology must continue its evolution forward into the scholarship of teaching and learning.

I think we continue to breathe life into our teaching only when we embrace the idea that we can always improve as teachers. As a tenured, full professor in my twenty-first year of university teaching, I have finally dipped my toe into SoTL research. It’s a little scary, to be honest. On the other hand, there is comfort in realizing I don’t have to keep doing this teaching thing by sheer instinct. For my first foray into SoTL research, I am analyzing the effectiveness of synthesis journals as a way of helping my music majors keep sight of the big picture—it’s so easy to get lost in the details of musicology. Anecdotally, the strategy seemed to be working, and I wondered if the numbers would bear that out. This has been a completely different sort of research for me, and I have benefited tremendously from various aspects of the SoTL support system here at ISU. I am utterly grateful for a SoTL University Research Grant that enabled me to hire two music students (a senior and a graduate student) to assist with data collection. Ultimately, it’s a great problem that we have so much data, but the downside is that a large amount of data is overwhelming. In addition to their help with data collection and entry, having these two students to help me talk through the rationales, to push back and ask questions, and just to plow through the density with me made the early stages much more manageable and kept me from feeling like I was getting buried under a deluge of data. I also have taken advantage of brain storming with ISU’s cross-endowed chair in SoTL, Jen Friberg, who patiently talked me off several ledges over the course of the year and helped me think through a number of different approaches when I ran into a wall. And it probably goes without saying that her help was invaluable when it came to writing my first-ever IRB protocol. The bottom line is that SoTL research is important for and applicable to any discipline or sub-discipline. Support of all types is ready and waiting for new and experienced SoTL researchers alike. This has been an excellent research experience for me, and I am eager to discover what I can learn about the way I teach.

By employing solid research methodology—just like I do in my content research—I can analyze what I’m doing and whether or not it’s accomplishing what I think it is. If it is, in fact, effective, that’s fantastic. Props to me. If it’s not, I tweak and I tinker and I try again. That way, in my twenty-second year of university teaching, I am going to be a better teacher than I was last year, and I know that each trip around the block is going to be better than the last one. Welcome to SoTL, musicologists!

Advertisements


Leave a comment

Defining research as an intro to SoTL: Reflections of a serial tinkerer

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

I’m willing to chat with just about anyone about the scholarship of teaching and learning – anytime, anyplace! Happily, in my role at Illinois State University, it’s my full-time job! I would have to say, though, that across the scope of topics and tasks that are a part of my day-to-day work, one of my most preferred activities is conducting workshops with stakeholders new to SoTL. Whether it’s a two-hour workshop or a two-day event, the “intro to SoTL” experience is one that fascinates me, as it presents the challenge of working with diverse groups of individuals, each with different motivations and understandings of the topics at hand. 

It’s either a strength or a weakness that I am a serial tinkerer. I constantly make large or small changes to my teaching or my educational development materials – and my intro to SoTL workshop materials do not escape this habit! Using feedback from workshop attendees, questions asked during workshops, my own personal reflections, and new/emerging resources from external sources, I seek to improve to my work in defining SoTL and mentoring the development of SoTL projects. 

One of my enduring challenges with planning my intro to SoTL workshops has been figuring out a way to unite workshop attendees in viewing scholarship as being a broad endeavor, one that can be approached in a variety of ways for a variety of reasons. I truly believe that most faculty, staff, and students *think* they believe this to be true, but there are times when subsequent comments/questions about rigor and value of various forms of scholarship (and SoTL) make me wonder. So, I continue to tinker, and in doing so, work towards ways to best make the point that one discipline’s perceptions/definitions of research might not match those of another. 

To this end, one of my most recent add-ins to my intro to SoTL workshop was developed after recently re-reading Gary Poole’s excellent chapter (Square One: What is Research? in McKinney, 2013, citation below) which discussed how entrenching ourselves in disciplinary approaches to scholarship restricts SoTL engagement. So now, rather than starting intro workshops talking about SoTL, I begin them by talking about the broader topic of research. I’ve found this to be an perfect way to identify and acknowledge disciplinary perspectives (and biases) about research and to make the point that research may be a much broader enterprise than some participants recognize. 

How does this process work? I have attendees reflect for a few minutes then write a draft definition of research and share with a small group around them. After a bit of small group sharing, we turn to the larger group for consideration, comparing and contrasting our definitions for research. I’ve found that this exercise sets the stage nicely for discussions about the diversity of approaches evident in all scholarly work, SoTL included. Even in a short two-hour workshop, this has been time very well spent. One recent attendee called it an “aha moment” in really understanding his perspectives on research. 

Last Friday, I facilitated an intro to SoTL workshop for 12 faculty and staff from across my campus. Disciplines represented were: business management, politics and government, social work, speech-language pathology, education, technology, software design, finance, english, and history. Due to this array of department/school affiliations, I was not surprised when attendees defined research as:

  • the search for statistical significance to indicate relationships between variables
  • what happens when two equivalent and randomly selected groups are compared
  • the process of answering a question
  • solving a puzzle
  • the examination of artifacts and data to reach a reasonable conclusion

Discussing these wildly different definitions as a large group was truly fascinating. After time, we agreed that a broader definition of research was most assuredly more inclusive of all disciplines’ approaches to scholarly work. It made our next discussions about the purposes, characteristics, limitations, and strengths of SoTL much easier for attendees to consider and evaluate. At one point, when one attendee asked about the generalizability of SoTL, another in her group replied, “maybe it’s another difference in how we think about research and perhaps generalizability isn’t always the goal.” Insert happy dance here. I may continue tinkering with other aspects of my intro to SoTL workshops in the future, but I feel fairly confident in saying that defining research will likely remain a standard “start” to my intro workshops. 

Blog reference:

Poole, G. (2013). Square one: What is research? In K. McKinney (Ed.), The scholarship of teaching and learning in and across the disciplines. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.


Leave a comment

Having a name for it: SoTL’s impact on my work

Written by Susan A. Hildebrandt, Professor Spanish and Applied Linguistics in the Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures at Illinois State University (shildeb@ilstu.edu)

My fall 2009 arrival at Illinois State University (ISU) helped me put a name to something that I’d been doing my entire career without even knowing it. I could finally define as SoTL what I’d done as an undergraduate student teacher, a beginning middle and high school Spanish teacher, a budding teacher educator and graduate student, and a novice teacher educator. 

Although I’ve only been able to name it as such for a little less than the last decade now, the “systematic reflection/study on teaching and learning made public” has had an immeasurable impact on my career since 1995. Throughout my career, I’ve used existing research and data to drive instructional decisions and pedagogical choices made while teaching adolescents, young adults, master’s and Ph.D. candidates, and sharing results with students, parents, other instructors, administrators, accreditation agencies, and other stakeholders. 

As an applied linguist, having a name for things is kind of important to me. As a human and a neuroscience nerd, I know how important naming things is to our species. I have a weird job, even for an academic. To begin, I’m a teacher educator in a College of Arts and Sciences. Right now I am a Professor of Spanish and Applied Linguistics in the Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures here at ISU, where I also coordinate the World Language Teacher Education program that prepares K-12 teachers of French, German, and Spanish. Like most other tenure-track faculty members across the United States, my job is divided into three components: scholarship, teaching, and service. All three of these areas are interwoven as my scholarship, teaching, and service inform, complement, and overlap with each other. Really, SoTL encompasses the entirety of my academic work, which allows one area to feed naturally into the others. 

The primary focus of my research is K-12 world language teacher education, knowledge, development, and professionalization, using both quantitative and qualitative methods. I’m also interested in educational policy and how teacher knowledge and practice are evaluated, particularly by the standardized assessment of beginning teacher readiness called edTPA. Other areas of my research explore ways of teaching language inclusively and with a social justice focus. SoTL has made me a better researcher by giving me the tools to share what I learn about ISU students’ learning with a wider public than I would otherwise be able. Specifically, the financial support from ISU’s Office of the Cross Endowed Chair in SoTL has been critical to my success as a scholar. I’ve been grateful for a number of SoTL travel grants since my arrival at ISU and found them especially vital as a faculty member still paying off my own student loans. The impact of the financial support from a 2011 SoTL small grant for $5000, which is far from small in the humanities, still impacts my students and research agenda today. The fall of 2018 was that seed grant project’s tenth semester, as my students in Teaching World Languages in the K-12 Setting taught French, German, and Spanish lessons to a diverse population of K-5thgraders from lower socioeconomic backgrounds at Unity Community Center. Further, as a result of having explored the SoTL literature, my own research has moved this program from a service-learning model to one of civic engagement and now social justice. 

SoTL has also made me a better teacher, helping me apply what I learn from my research to improve my students’ learning, both for future language teachers and for Spanish language learners. It has helped me frame my teaching within a social justice model and to lead informed discussions with my students about systemic challenges and solutions. By understanding edTPA as both a teacher and a scholar, I am better able to help my students succeed on the standardized assessment and share those techniques with a wider audience, both in world language teacher education circles and with various educational policy stakeholders. Because I teach what I research, the impact of my work is magnified. By teaching future teachers, I hope to get a bit of a double impact.

And SoTL has made me better able to serve my department, college, university, state, and profession. My students’ edTPA data inform my participation in national educational policy discussions, which in turn inform my duties administering the LAN teacher education, my research, and my teaching. I take what I have learn through the systematic investigation of my students’ learning and bring it my conversations with fellow teacher educators from ISU and across the nation. Those investigations come to the interactions I have with the other members of the American Council of Teachers of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) Board of Directors and with the creators of the World Language edTPA. And SoTL has helped me develop as a mentor to other teacher educators and researchers both locally and across the country, as I model using data to improve programmatic performance and classroom instruction.  

Overall, SoTL provides me a unique opportunity to examine my students’ learning and apply those findings to my scholarship, my teaching, and my service. Working in SoTL for almost 10 years has enabled me to hone my research skills, to advance my students’ learning, and to produce a line of research that has been recognized with the 2018-2019 Dr. John Chizmar & Dr. Anthony Ostrosky Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Award, an honor by which I am deeply humbled. SoTL provided me a name and a framework that has helped me move forward in my professional career and form a scholarly identity. I now have a name for what I was doing before I came to ISU and I’ll long be spreading that name far and wide.


Leave a comment

Summer/Fall 2019 SoTL Conferences – Save the Dates/Open Calls for Papers

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

The following list features a sampling of summer/fall SoTL conferences that might be of interest to those who use or do SoTL. Note that many still have calls for papers/proposals still open, so consider sharing your work at one of these venues. For a complete list of SoTL/SoTLish conferences, refer to this list. If you host or know of a conference you’d like to see added to this site, email Jen Friberg at jfribe@ilstu.edu. Happy conferencing this year. I hope to see many of you at one or more of these venues!

SoTL Academy

  • Conference Date: May 13-14, 2019
  • Conference Location: Findlay, Ohio, USA
  • Registration: open
  • Call for Papers: closed

EuroSoTL Conference

  • Conference Date: June 13-14, 2019
  • Conference Location: Bilbao, Spain
  • Registration: open through 5/20/19
  • Call for Papers: closed

SoTL in the South Conference

  • Conference Date: October 9-11, 2019
  • Conference Location: Bloomfontein, South Africa
  • Registration: open (early bird available through 3/31/19)
  • Call for Papers: closed

International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Conference

  • Conference Date: October 9-12, 2019
  • Conference Location: Atlanta, Georgia, USA
  • Registration: opens 5/15/19 (early bird available through 9/2/19)
  • Call for Papers: 4/1/19

International Society for Exploring Teaching & Learning Conference

  • Conference Date: October 10-12, 2019
  • Conference Location: Charlotte, North Carolina, USA
  • Registration: Not yet open (early bird available through 9/13/19)
  • Call for Papers: 5/15/19

Research on Teaching and Learning Summit

  • Conference Date: October 18, 2019
  • Conference Location: Kennesaw, Georgia, USA
  • Registration: open (Early bird available through 9/7/19)
  • Call for Papers: closes 4/30/19

2019 Symposium on Scholarship of Teaching and Learning

  • Conference Dates: November 7-9, 2019
  • Conference Location: Banff, Alberta, Canada
  • Registration/Call for Papers: info provided shortly, according to website (will update here as dates become available)

Original Lilly Conference on College Teaching: Evidence-Based Teaching and Learning

  • Conference Dates: November 21-23, 2019
  • Conference Location: Oxford, Ohio, USA
  • Registration: opens 4/1/19
  • Call for Papers: closes 6/17/19


Leave a comment

Applying SoTL Beyond the Individual Classroom: An Overview of an Upcoming Edited Book*

Written by Kathleen McKinney, Cross Chair and Professor of Sociology (Emeritus) and Jennifer Friberg, Cross Chair and Professor of Communication Sciences & Disorders at Illinois State University 

In this blog post we share an overview of a new edited book titled Applying the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Beyond the Individual Classroom (Indiana University Press, 2019). The focus of this volume is on SoTL and its application beyond one individual classroom. We define SoTL using both our institutional definition, ‘the systematic reflection/study of teaching and learning made public’, as well as with key characteristics: practitioner, action reflection/research, usually about the instructor/researchers’ own students and/or students in their discipline at a local level. The SoTL results or implications that are applied/used beyond the individual classroom are from our chapter contributors’ own, original SoTL project(s) and/or from a synthesis of others’ SoTL work on a given topic or in the discipline. These SoTL findings and implications, then, are used or applied in various ways at levels beyond one classroom. We begin by elaborating on our SLaM model for describing or categorizing applications of SoTL research and results or implications. Our thesis and framework builds on earlier discussions of this topic (e.g., Friberg & McKinney, 2015, 2016; McKinney 2003, 2007, 2012) and focuses on three questions to design, categorize, or use applications of SoTL results/knowledge in and beyond the individual classroom (for an expanded explanation, see a prior blog on the topic):

  • What is the Source of the SoTL that is applied?
  • At what Level(s) in institutions and disciplines are the research/results/implications applied?
  • What existing or newly created Mechanisms or processes in the institution or discipline are used (or could be used) to apply the SoTL results to new areas or contexts, and beyond the individual classroom?

Our focus on SoTL applications beyond the individual classroom should not be interpreted as a critique of, or effort to decrease, SoTL at the individual classroom level. Classroom-based SoTL was the original nature of SoTL and remains the heart of SoTL in our view. In the edited book, however, we take the “big tent” view of SoTL (Hutchings & Huber, 2005:4). We hold a broad conception of SoTL in terms of questions asked, research methods used, and ways to make the work public. We also believe that conducting and using SoTL that moves beyond the individual classroom level is important for greater impact of SoTL on teaching, learning, and institutional and disciplinary cultures. Such research and applications are most often collaborative involving teams and networks of SoTL scholars and other stakeholders. SoTL beyond one classroom may include interdisciplinary, interinstitutional, and/or international research and applications thus broadening involvement, connections, and networks. SoTL beyond the micro level may be more likely to use multiple-methods and diverse theoretical frameworks. The application of SoTL findings at more macro levels should encourage, and provide the data for, evidence-informed decision-making within and across institutions. We also believe SoTL research and applications at a broader or more macro level, then, add to the field in terms of providing more information about the role of context and generalizability for SoTL work. Finally, SoTL at these other levels is often connected to department or institutional missions or goals and, thus, has the potential to increase its legitimacy, use, and impact.

To obtain material for the volume, we sought, via a widely circulated Call for Chapter Proposals and an editorial review process, detailed chapter ideas/proposals. After two rounds of reviewing chapter proposal abstracts, we selected our expert contributors based on their quality chapter ideas, fit to the theme of the book, and diversity. The authors represent a range of disciplines, institutions, and nations/cultures.  In addition, the levels, areas, and methods of their SoTL work and applications are purposely varied in order to demonstrate diversity of SoTL application across chapters. Chapters involve collaborations of researchers and authors in various roles. Though all chapters do both, some focus more on ‘conducting’ a SoTL project beyond the individual classroom; others on ‘applying’ more traditional SoTL beyond that level. Chapters report on SoTL about student learning and/or about SoTL related to faculty members’ teaching and learning. Chapters represent an array of SoTL questions and applications by authors from five nations and over a dozen institutions of higher education, who represent nine fields or disciplines, and administrative roles in ‘teaching-learning’ or ‘writing’ or ‘first-year’ centers or programs. (See the Table of Contents below.)

We hope readers of this post will be challenged to read the book and to consider and discuss with others our SlaM framework and where the example projects and applications in the book fit in the field of SoTL as well as in the use of SoTL research, results and implications in their disciplines and on their campuses.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Introduction to Applying SoTL Beyond the Individual Classroom: Overview, Framework, and Two Examples. Kathleen McKinney, Jennifer Friberg, and Maria Moore

Part I: Applied SoTL with a Focus on Student Learning, Outcomes, Program

  1. 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. Brent Oliver, Darlene Chalmers, and Mary Goitom,
  2. Making a Graduate English Course an Organic and Integrated Learning Process. Radhika Jaidev and Tan Su Hwi
  3. User Perspectives on Simulation in Educational Practice. Andrew Creed and Ambika Zutshi
  4. A Bigger Bang for your Book: SoTL, High Impact Practice, and Common Reading
  5. Programs. April Tallant and Glenda Hensley
  6. The Collaborative for Understanding the Pedagogy of Infant/toddler Development: A Cross-University, Interdisciplinary Effort to Transform a Field through SoTL. Claire Vallotton, Gina A. Cook, Rachel Chazan-Cohen, Kalli B. Decker, Nicole Gardner-Neblett, Christine Lippard, and Tamesha Harewood

Part II: Applied SoTL with a Focus on Faculty/Instructor Learning, Development

  1. Catalyzing the Exchange and Application of SoTL Beyond the Classroom: An Analysis of Two Types of Community Spaces. John Draeger, and Lauren Scharff
  2. Multi-Institutional SoTL: A Case Study of Practices and Outcomes. Peter Felten, Jessie L. Moore, and Tim Peeples
  3. “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
  4. The Scholarship of Teaching, Learning, and Student Success: Big Data and the Landscape of New Opportunities. George Rehrey, Dennis Groth, Carol Hostetter, and Linda Shepard

Conclusion

Circles of Inquiry and Impact: Expanding the Teaching Commons. Pat Hutchings, National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment; former VP of the Carnegie Foundation for Teaching

*This blog post uses edited excerpts from the Introduction chapter by McKinney, K., Friberg, J., and Moore, M. titled “Introduction to Applying SoTL beyond the Individual Classroom: Overview, Framework, and Two Examples” in our forthcoming edited book, Friberg, J. and McKinney, K. (Eds.) 2019. Applying the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Beyond One Classroom. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press. (Publication is expected about August, 2019.)

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.

Hutchings, Pat., and Mary T. Huber. 2005. The Advancement of Learning: Building the Teaching Commons. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.        

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.


Leave a comment

Thinking more about data sources for SoTL projects

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

In late January, I gave a presentation at the SoTL Commons conference that focused on the need to carefully select data sources for SoTL projects that are both deep and comprehensive in addressing the topic(s) being investigated. Specifically, my talk had three distinct components:

  1. An overview of potential SoTL data sources (featured in another recent blog)
  2. A discussion about the pros and cons of direct vs. indirect evidence for SoTL work.
  3. A framework for working through the decision process for selecting the “best” data source(s) for a SoTL project.

The framework described above was presented in the form of a decision tree to help SoTL scholars guide their thinking about data sources, their fit for the topic being investigated, and overall preparation to appropriately utilize any data collected. This decision tree was shared in “draft” form and remains as such, though with a few recent tweaks, it’s edging itself ever closer to being finalized. 🙂 Below I share that decision tree as well as another resource I shared at the conference presentation, a visual representation of an excellent direct vs indirect data reference created by Vanderbilt University’s Center for Teaching in 2013. I hope you (or someone you know) might find these resources helpful now or in the future! If you’d like a higher quality .pdf file for either visual aid, please email me at jfribe@ilstu.edu.

Direct vs. Indirect Evidence:

Data Source Decision Tree (as it’s still a draft…feedback is welcome!)

Terms used in the decision tree are defined as follows:

  • existing artifact: a project, assignment, assessment, or experience that is part of the current teaching/learning context you are seeking to study or compare
  • archived artifact: a past project, assignment, assessment, or other artifact from a past teaching/learning context you are seeking to study or compare
  • extraneous data: information (e.g., interview, survey, pre/post test) collected in a manner that is that is “above and beyond” what typically happens in the learning context(s) you are seeking to study


1 Comment

Code Switching: Understanding Perspectives and Motivations for SoTL Advocacy

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

In last week’s blog, I proposed five ideas for purposeful and thoughtful SoTL advocacy. One of these suggested that something called code switching be operationalized to help a larger group of stakeholders to better understand SoTL. As I feel that a bit more unpacking about this phenomenon would constitute a positive contribution to discussions on SoTL advocacy, code switching is the focus of this week’s post. 

Here’s how I explain code switching to my students: as children develop adult-like language skills, they learn how to manipulate their message to fit their audience. A two-year-old child might ask anyone around her for something she needs in a singular way (“I want juice!”), but a four-year-old knows how to do this differently, choosing to ask her brother for juice by saying “give me juice” but using a more respectful “I want juice, please,” to ask the same of her mother. In doing so, the child shows that he understands that communication needs to be modulated and adapted for particular audiences in order to maximize the chance that communication attempts will be successful in meeting his or her own needs. Like the giraffe with the binoculars (in the image to the left), children find a communication target and focus their messages to be clear and successful.

What changes in those two years of development? The easy answer is that in neurotypical children, cognitive and linguistic development allows children to understand the Piagetian concept of means-end (how to get what they want) as well as how to perspective-take in conversations. So, with time, children learn that they can meet their needs best if they can understand the perspectives of the individuals they speak with. I would argue that the same notion can and should be applied to SoTL advocacy efforts, particularly when SoTL advocates understand the myriad motivations that might apply to various stakeholders in higher education.

As SoTLists, we must discern why SoTL might be meaningful to students, other faculty, or campus administration, not by telling these individuals why SoTL is important to US, but by crafting a message that makes SoTL important to THEM. This level of perspective-taking allows for stakeholders’ own needs and interests to be harnessed as a mechanism for SoTL advocacy. Consider the graphic below, which illustrates the wide array of potential stakeholders that exists for SoTL, connected to various motivations that could be accessed to encourage engagement in/with SoTL. Without doubt, I believe that the most successful SoTL advocacy efforts meet stakeholders at the level of their own motivations.

Once potential stakeholder motivations have been identified, code switching comes into play, as it becomes necessary to communicate about SoTL clearly with stakeholders in an individualized manner, identifying ways to modulate our messages about SoTL to be understandable, accessible, and useful to the individuals we engage with. Thus, while our underlying message of SoTL advocacy will likely always be one of the importance of evidence-informed teaching and learning, we might orient our conversational approaches differentially to meet our own SoTL advocacy aims.

For instance, students are often unaware of the SoTL work we do, but have a vested interest in SoTL that is largely unexplored in terms of optimizing their practices as learners. By explaining what SoTL is, giving examples of/encouraging the use of evidence-based learning strategies, explaining our own SoTL work, we pave the way for students to become involved in SoTL. This is SoTL advocacy. We start with students’ motivations to be better learners and work towards increased understanding and involvement in our SoTL efforts.  

For faculty who are unaware of the potential impact of SoTL, we engage in conversations about how SoTL can be used to help solve problems with course design/implementation, how SoTL can be undertaken to better understand our own teaching/learning context, and what sorts of supports exist to get started in SoTL. This, too, is SoTL advocacy, but it’s advocacy work that’s done in a different manner than with the student example above. While the main message with both stakeholder groups is that SoTL is important to them, the conversations about how and why this is the case are necessarily different. 

Code switching to access administrators’ motivations might include discussions based on SoTL’s utility for formative/summative assessment for program review, external accreditation efforts, evidence-based curriculum development, increased faculty/student research productivity, or increased student retention/engagement. Again, the heart of the advocacy message is that SoTL is important, but the conversations are necessarily different, based on stakeholder motivations.

I’d argue that code switching allows SoTL advocates the opportunity to advance SoTL across audiences in our local contexts and more broadly, as well. As such, it’s one tool in our advocacy toolbox — taken straight from child language development theory — that we might consider.