The SoTL Advocate

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

Developing SoTL Research Ideas and Questions

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

As we plan for a small, informal SoTL Idea/Project Brainstorming Session here at Illinois State University on February, I am thinking, again, about the processes of developing ideas, research questions, hypotheses, or problems for SoTL projects.

Where do we, can we, find ideas for the research foci of our SoTL work? Let me suggest six sources of ideas on which you might draw. Of course, this is not an exhaustive list and although I list these separately, they should be integrated as you use multiple of these sources to draft, refine, improve, and finalize your SoTL research project idea.

  1. First, and perhaps most importantly given that SoTL is action, practioner research, we garner ideas for our SoTL projects from our lived experiences with students and teaching both in and outside the classroom. Often a SoTL project arises because we notice changes in student attitudes or behaviors as a result of something we did in the classroom and we want to validate that or we are concerned about something that does not seem to be going quite right in our class or program and we want data on why or data on what might ‘fix’ it, or we believe there might be interesting learning as a result of a co-curricular experience that we want to confirm and strengthen or… well, you get the idea!
  2. Second, students can and should be a source of ideas for our SoTL research. Students can implicitly and explicitly offer SoTL project ideas via informal conversations with us, data from student evaluations or classroom assessment, interactions in our student disciplinary clubs, and as our co-researchers on SoTL projects.
  3. Third, as with all research, we should be looking to fill the gaps in the existing SoTL literature. As I have noted in an earlier post, some gaps are lack of SoTL on graduate student learning, lack of longitudinal studies, lack of projects at levels beyond or outside the classroom, lack of studies that directly measure intervening variables and processes (the why and how), and a lack of projects that build praxis—SoTL study followed by application of those results in context then a follow-up study, more application, more follow-up research… And, of course, our SoTL work should build on prior research.
  4. Fourth, we should all (especially those of us not in an Education discipline) be learning about models and theories of learning in higher education. Such theories can certainly suggest ideas for our SoTL research.
  5. Fifth, let’s not underestimate the benefits of colleagues as ‘sounding boards’ for our ideas. Listen to and talk with colleagues from your discipline and other disciplines at, for example, teaching improvement or SoTL campus events, at disciplinary or SoTL conferences, and in department or committee meetings.
  6. Sixth, consider institutional/association priorities on your campus or in your discipline related to teaching and learning. What are the goals and objectives in your institution’s strategic plan that relate to learning in your classes? What are the best practices recommended for teaching by your disciplinary society? How do these inform your ideas for a SoTL project?

Below are just a few references related to the topic of this post:

  • Bass, R. (1999). The Scholarship of Teaching: What’s the Problem? Inventio: Creative Thinking    about Learning and Teaching. 1(1), 1-10.
  • Hutchings, P. (2000). Opening Lines: Approaches to the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning.  The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.
  • McKinney, K. (2007). How Do I Get Started? Chapter 3 in Enhancing Learning through the      Scholarship of Teaching and Learning: The Challenges and Joys of Juggling. Anker/Jossey-Bass.
  • Nelson, C. (2003). Doing it: Examples of Several of the Different Genres of the Scholarship of     Teaching and Learning. Journal on Excellence in College Teaching. 14(2), 85-94.

One thought on “Developing SoTL Research Ideas and Questions

  1. Pingback: Assessing the Reach of the SoTL Advocate Blog | The SoTL Advocate

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