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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SoTL at the Teaching and Learning Symposium, January 7, 2015

Written by Claire Lamonica, Director, CTLT at Illinois State University

Readers who are regular visitors to this blog know that at Illinois State University, we define the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) as the “systematic reflection/study on teaching and learning [of our ISU students] made public” (emphasis added). One of the most exciting opportunities to make public the various SoTL studies that take place on our campus is the annual Teaching and Learning Symposium, held each January on the Wednesday before classes begin at a conference center adjacent to our campus.

Organized by the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Technology, the day includes a nationally-known keynote speaker, the announcement of several university-level teaching awards, a poster session, and almost three dozen faculty-led breakout sessions. Recent years have seen registration for the event climb to well over 300 participants (as I write this, there are about 390 faculty, staff, and graduate students registered for the 2015 event), making it the largest single conversation about teaching and learning at Illinois State University to take place at in any given year.

While many of the faculty-led breakout sessions focus on lessons learned through reflection on teaching innovations and experiences (good and bad), a number of sessions each year are proposed by faculty who have engaged in formal studies of teaching and learning and who are ready to share their findings publicly with their peers. In 2015, the Symposium will include seven opportunities to listen to and learn from SoTL scholars who conducted their studies with the help of grants provided by the Office of the Cross Chair in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, as follows:

SoTL Posters

  • Professors Miranda Lin and Alan Bates of the School of Teaching and Learning will share a poster entitled, “Learning through Service: The Contribution of Service-Learning to First Year Pre-Service Teachers.” The poster showcases the results of early childhood pre-service teachers’ service learning experiences, offering insights in to the ways service learning contributes to these pre-service teachers’ attitudes toward teaching diverse student populations as well as their understanding of social justice.
  • Professor Lydia Kyei-Blankson, Educational Administration and Foundations, and Parul Gupta, a master’s candidate in the Technology Department, will present a poster entitled “Student-Faculty Research Mentorships and Collaborations: Practices, Challenges, and Lessons Learned.” The poster explores practices, challenges and lessons learned by master’s and doctoral level students as they negotiate research roles, tasks, and workload in a student-faculty research mentorship or collaborative relationship that culminates in academic publication(s).
  • Professors Emelio Lobato, Corinne Zimmerman, and Thomas Critchfield; Department of Psychology; will offer a poster entitled “Psychology Students’ Beliefs about the Nature of Science: The Role of Research Experience.” The poster reports on the effect of students’ research involvement, noting differences in attitudes about science, endorsement of science myths, and attitudes about psychology as a science for students with and without such research experience.

Posters will be available for viewing throughout the day, but their authors will be present to discuss the research and findings from 11:00-11:45 in Redbird Room E.

SoTL Sessions

  • Professor Lou Reifschneider, Technology Department, will present “Opportunities and Constraints of a Cross-discipline Course Using 3D Printing to Develop Marketable Innovations,” discussing the mechanics of an interdisciplinary (technology and business) product development course and offering a detailed explanation of one student team’s project that culminated with an alpha prototype created through the use of a 3-D printer. The presentation will also offer student feedback on the experience. The session will take place in Fell B from 8:30-9:20.
  • In “Creativity and Innovative Teaching Strategies,” Professor Shelley Clevenger, Criminal Justice Sciences, will highlight the most successful of a series of “outside the box” teaching activities used during two semesters of a Victimology course in 2013. Assignments included having students draw pictures to define terms, role playing, creating various media artifacts (videos, children’s books, comic books, brochures, posters, or art work), interacting with victims, and traveling off campus to tour facilities that serve victims. Results from a student survey, including qualitative comments, will be presented. The session will take place in Redbird A from 10:10-11:00 am.
  • A panel from Educational Administration and Foundations will offer a session entitled “Moving Beyond the Classroom: Effects of Out-of-Class Research on Student Learning,” sharing both the process used to structure an out-of-class research opportunity for students and the learning outcomes that students reported through participation in the research team. The purpose of the study was to understand what types of learning occur when students, with the assistance and guidance of a faculty member, participate in a research project that takes place outside of the structured curriculum and regularly scheduled class time. Panelists are Professor Phyllis McCluskey-Titus and students Anne McDowell, Skylar Guimond, Erin Kuntz, and Sean Creedon. The session will take place in Fell C from 2:00-2:50 pm.
  • Professor Erin Mickulec, School of Teaching and Learning, will present “More than Just a School Visit: Learning Outcomes of an Intensive Field Experience for Pre-service Secondary Teachers,” examining the impact of an intensive clinical experience in a unique educational environment. Results indicated that the experience influenced the participants in terms of working with diverse student populations, having a deeper perspective on the effects of bullying, negotiating power and control in the classroom, and working with middle school students. The session will take place in Fell C from 4:10-5:00 pm.

CTLT is pleased to be starting 2015 with a bang by offering these and many other presentations during the annual Teaching and Learning Symposium. To see a complete schedule for the day, go to the CTLT website or download the new, free Symposium guidebook app. It’s available for both iOS and Android devices.

In the meantime, we wish you the very best for a happy holiday season and a truly restorative winter break!

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Making a Difference with SoTL: Excerpts from a Published Essay

Written by Kathleen McKinney, Cross Chair in SoTL at Illinois State University

In this post, I want to briefly suggest several strategies to help us make a greater difference with our scholarship of teaching and learning. This post consists of excerpts from McKinney, K. 2012. “Making a Difference: Applying SoTL to Enhance Learning.” The Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning 12 (1): 1-7.

By definition, we should be making our SoTL work public. We need to make our work public for multiple audiences using multiple mechanisms. It is important to share our work with academic colleagues in our institution and our discipline as well as members of tenure and promotion committees. SoTL, however, will not have the impact we desire, and our students deserve, without also reaching out to colleagues in other disciplines, students, accreditation staff, administrators, and members of the larger community or public. We can draw on traditional tools such as conferences, journal articles, or books but must also make greater use of public/press interviews, newsletters, web representations, performances, readings, videos, and structured conversations.

It is important to continue building the commons (Huber and Hutchings, 2005). Much SoTL work still occurs in various forms of isolation: the one SoTL scholar in each department; a scholar engaging in only one SoTL project or a series of unconnected projects; some departments or disciplines in an institution active in SoTL while others have little or no SoTL tradition. This isolation limits our impact as we fail to learn from applying and building on our own and others’ work via connected and collaborative studies. Thus, to a greater degree than we are currently doing, we need to synthesize our SoTL work across individual efforts or projects, and replicate or adapt the SoTL work of others to new contexts.

As in any field, one way to move the field forward and increase impact is to engage in projects that help to fill the gaps in the existing literature and knowledge base. I urge you to think about the gaps you see in the field of SoTL both within your discipline and across disciplines. These include insufficient attention to co- and extra-curricular learning experiences, learning by graduate students, the explicit use of “theory,” the intervening processes or why/how, longitudinal SoTL, and the ‘big’ or common questions (cross-discipline, cross-national, and cross-institutional).

In the early years of SoTL, students were our research participants –the subjects of our projects. We have moved toward involving students, and benefiting from their lived expertise, as collaborators, engaging student voices in the study of teaching and learning. This may involve a range of roles from providing basic research assistance to full partnerships to students as lead or sole SoTL researchers. And, student voices can be better heard when we take students seriously as an audience for SoTL work.

Though the original nature, perhaps the heart, of SoTL was disciplinary and classroom based, another way to increase impact is to move beyond the classroom level to the program, department, college, and institutional levels. There are many existing mechanisms or processes as well as partnerships we can use to apply our SoTL work at these levels. Some of these include assessment, curriculum design/reform, accreditation, strategic planning, program review, faculty development, budget requests, general education, and student affairs.

Finally, we can –and must if we want to make a greater difference and increase our impact– take on the role of social change agent. We can each work to push the SoTL.

Huber, M. T. and Hutchings, P. (2005). The Advancement of Learning: Building the Teaching Commons. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.


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Timing is Everything: Working to Increase Disciplinary Acceptance of SoTL

Written by: Jennifer Friberg, SoTL Scholar-Mentor at Illinois State University

Over the last several years, I have been one of many vocal advocates for SoTL in my professional discipline of speech-language pathology. Through this process, I’ve had the good fortune to meet and collaborate with a wonderful group of individuals interested in teaching and learning. While we have made progress with our pro-SoTL efforts, I have learned firsthand that change can be a slow moving endeavor, particularly in a profession governed by a variety of stakeholders representing several professional organizations and interests. That said, I have also learned that patience with the process can yield encouraging outcomes.

Over the course of the last year, I have been involved in the drafting of my profession’s first ever position paper on SoTL as a meritorious form of scholarship. Happily, recent conversations at my annual research conference indicated that this position paper has had influence in increasing the stature and acceptance of SoTL in my discipline. Understanding that more work is needed to build upon the foundation the adoption of this position paper has provided for my discipline, reflecting on the changes I’ve seen in my profession is an important first step for moving forward. Several ideas are prominent as considerations:

  • One person alone cannot (typically) affect important change in an organization. Advocacy must be shared amongst individuals who, together, can work to advance the profile and understanding of SoTL, its benefits and its uses. Thus, a shared and sustained interest in SoTL advocacy is critically important for pro-SoTL efforts to be successful.
  • There must be a clearly understood need for SoTL for a discipline. Perhaps the need for SoTL exists, but hasn’t been sufficiently expressed – or various stakeholders in a discipline conceive of SoTL so differently that confusion exists as to the nature and advantages of SoTL. Therefore, benefits of SoTL for a discipline must be presented cogently and comprehensively to stakeholders on a regular basis to sustain SoTL advocacy efforts.
  • The intersection of interest and need is the issue of timing: when an increasing interest in SoTL meets an expanding need for SoTL advocacy, the time is right to support pro-SoTL efforts.

Perhaps these reflections will resonate with others seeking to advocate for SoTL within their disciplines, or quite possibly others have had very different experiences. Either way, I am very interested in hearing from others who have had success in advocating for SoTL in their disciplines. What were the most successful practices you used? What victories have you experienced? How could support from and outside of your disciplines help with your advocacy efforts? Do you have examples of SoTL position statements from your discipline(s)? Please share your thoughts/ideas/input in the comments section below!


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The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same

Written by Kathleen McKinney, Cross Chair in SoTL at Illinois State University

(Excerpts from McKinney, K. 2015. “The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same.” The International Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 9 (1).)

“… As I look back… [over the past 30 years] within the context of the past and current field of SoTL, I see wonderful and exiting growth and change in the field. This includes, but is not limited to, increased quality and recognition of our work, increased institutional and disciplinary support, innovative uses of technology to study learning and make SoTL public, the creation of new professional organizations and publication outlets, more inclusivity and diversity in terms of disciplines, theory, methodologies and nationalities, increased efforts at advocacy, recognition of alternative ways to represent SoTL work, balancing the discipline-based heart of SoTL with cross- and inter-disciplinary work, more conversations about application (McKinney & Jarvis, 2009, McKinney, 2012a, 2012b), ‘transformation’ (Gilpin & Liston, 2009) and ‘authenticity’ (Kreber, 2007), and maintaining SoTL as action and practitioner research while moving studies and application beyond the classroom level.”

“Ironically, I also see and hear a great deal of repetition and redundancy over many years of the issues, debates, and problems of the field written about in publications and discussed at conferences and on campuses. The more things change, the more they stay the same. In 2002, twelve years after Boyer (1990) and 12 years before writing this essay, I wrote a speech for a campus SoTL ceremony (McKinney, 2004).” I discussed several issues or challenges in that speech, briefly summarized here:

  • Struggles with the meaning of, defining SoTL.
  • Distinguishing SoTL from related ideas and activities.
  • Setting important SoTL research agenda within and across disciplines.
  • Dealing with the many barriers, including reward structures and disciplinary differences, to doing and applying SoTL.
  • Doing advocacy for and about SoTL.

“Many of these same challenges were discussed with other Carnegie Scholars in my 2003-2004 cohort and, then, were still timely issues to address in my ‘how to’ SoTL book several years later (McKinney, 2007).” Six years later my edited book was published (McKinney, 2013). Again, there is similarity to the themes from the past.

  • “What methods and assumptions are privileged in the field of SoTL?
  • What is the history and current status of SoTL within a discipline?
  • How can we use ideas from one discipline in the SoTL work within another?
  • What are ‘appropriate’ ways to measure learning?
  • What are the obstacles to doing SoTL including differing research paradigms?
  • What are the myths about SoTL research and methodologies?
  • How do we collaborate across disciplines and what are the barriers such as different ways of knowing?
  • How do we do SoTL work and application at the institutional level?”

I have heard conversations and presentations about similar issues at every meeting of the International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (ISSOTL) over the last 11 years, at numerous other SoTL conferences, and at the many campuses I have visited over the last 16 years giving workshops or keynotes. “… we continue to debate the size of our ‘tent’ (Huber & Hutchings, 2005), to wonder and worry about value, reward, and institutional commitment, sometimes we reinvent the wheel in terms of SoTL questions studied or methodologies used without recognition of prior work, we talk about the barriers to collaboration and cross-discipline work, and we debate the quality and generalizability of the work (and/or whether those things matter in SoTL).”

“…Is the ‘more things change, the more they stay the same’ a reality or simply my perception after many years in the field? Is the ‘same’ sufficiently balanced by the ‘change’? …is this problematic for the field or simply the way fields develop? Perhaps being temporarily stalled is actually a good thing, necessary to push us in new directions? If problematic, how so and what do we do about it? How can we shift the balance between ‘same’ and ‘change’, and move the field forward…?“

(References are available in the published essay.)