The SoTL Advocate

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

The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same

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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.)



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