Written by Kathleen McKinney, Cross Chair in SoTL at Illinois State University
It would be interesting and useful to hear what you, our subscribers, believe are ‘gaps’ in SoTL reflection and research (i.e., under considered or under studied areas, methods, disciplines, contexts…). Someone’s views of what these gaps are depend, in part, on their definition of SoTL. Such views also reflect what SoTL work one happens to hear, see, or read. Keeping such caveats in mind, a few suggestions of ‘gaps’ in the field of SoTL that we might want to try to fill follow.
In terms of disciplines, more practitioner work could be done on our students’ learning in all fields but much extant SoTL is done by those in the social sciences and sciences. The Humanities have a growing presence. What about technical fields? What about the fine arts? In addition, it is wonderful that much of higher education SoTL focuses on undergraduate students. Yet, it seems we may neglect the learning experiences and outcomes of graduate students. Is there an assumption that we know how to teach and mentor graduate students and that they know how to learn?
It is also key to, perhaps the heart of, SoTL that it is practitioner reflection or research made public that focuses on the learning of one’s own students often in a particular classroom. Yet, teaching, learning opportunities, and learning take place in contexts other than our individual classrooms. We need more SoTL at the course and program levels. We need more SoTL looking at participation in co- and extra-curricular activities and learning outcomes from such activities. And, related to this, there are SoTL questions shared by those in the same discipline but at different institutions or those at the same institution but in different disciplines. Thus, we might consider more multi-institutional and/or multi-discipline SoTL projects.
In terms of ‘design’ of SoTL work, at least two gaps can be noted. First, we lack sufficient longitudinal SoTL work. We need more SoTL work that has multiple ‘data’ points over time and/or follow-up of students’ learning for longer than one semester or term. Such work offers us more information by which to speculate about causation, allows us to consider issues of transfer and retention of learning or impact, and strengthens the validity of our understandings/findings. Second, much SoTL involves an ‘intervention’ (new assignment, new technology, change in pedagogy…) and reflection or research data on learning outcomes from that ‘intervention’. It is certainly exciting to see increased learning or development after some intervention but this is not the most important part of the picture. To make improvements, to encourage adaptations, to understand, we must gather data/information about the intervening processes that occur between any ‘intervention’ and learning. We need to know more about the ‘why’, ‘how’, ‘when’, ‘where’, and ‘for whom’ of any intervention-outcome relationships.
Finally, we could do a better job applying –and sharing such applications of –SoTL results, findings, and implications. And, these applications should be, not just at the level of our classroom but beyond, as appropriate, to your discipline, a course or module, a program or department, general education, student affairs, and academic decision- making in the institution.