The SoTL Advocate

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

Making a Difference with SoTL: Excerpts from a Published Essay

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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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