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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Historians and History Teachers: Collaborative Conversations

Post written by Richard Hughes (, Associate Professor in the Department of History at Illinois State University. This post reports on a project funded by a SoTL Grant funded by the Cross Chair in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning at Illinois State University.

As a faculty member in the Department of History, I teach undergraduate and graduate courses in both history education and traditional content in U.S. history. My teaching responsibilities and research interests mean that I am especially well situated to appreciate the persistent divide in higher education between historical content and the burgeoning research on the learning of history, especially in the area of historical cognition. Illinois State remains one of the largest producers of secondary history teachers in the nation and yet many of our students struggle to forge a teaching philosophy and pedagogy that reflect the provocative SoTL research in the discipline.

Working with a colleague from another university (Sarah D. Brown-Ball State University) and a graduate student, I am in the middle of a semester long research project based on the premise that what future history teachers need is not simply additional courses in the discipline but rather different approaches to teaching and learning about the past. Consequently, my current course on U.S. history in the twentieth century is distinctly different than both traditional content courses and required courses in teaching methods within the department or the College of Education. Instruction, readings, and assignments combine traditional historical content (ie. the American experience during the Great Depression) with research in history education to explore the following question: “How do students’ disciplinary understandings affect the emerging conceptualization of discipline-specific teaching?”

In this project the relevant data comes from an array of assignments that measure student progress in both content knowledge and understanding of the discipline in terms of teaching and learning. For example, the course (History 309) begin with students, who have all had numerous undergraduate courses in the discipline, writing a narrative of American history in the twentieth century and concludes with a final project in which students create a virtual museum exhibit on the same topic. In between, students also play the role of researchers into history and history education as they design interviews or “Think Alouds” with high school and college students to explore how individuals think about history and historical evidence. These and other assignments all aim to make visible the historical thinking and other discipline-specific methodology that so often remain invisible in traditional history courses, teaching methods, and in public history.

While the project is ongoing, the implications of our work may be significant for history departments and beyond. First, the data may suggest the importance of revising the training of secondary history teachers to include explicit attention to the intersection between content and research in history education. Second, departments across campus and throughout the nation offer traditional content courses in many disciplines while also training future teachers. The study may point to the value of changing curricula in both areas to provide future teachers, regardless of subject, with a better understanding of what happens when their students engage their discipline.

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The SoTL Grant Program and A Sample of Ongoing SoTL Projects at Illinois State University

A wide range of SoTL work in various disciplines takes place on campuses around the nation and the globe. This is true, as well, for Illinois State University. SoTL occurs with and without internal or external funding. The primary internal program that funds SoTL work on our campus is the annual Cross Chair SoTL Small Grant Program open to ISU faculty and staff. Blog readers, both within ISU and beyond ISU, will be interested in the characteristics of this program and some of the work done under this program.

Our grant program (the FY16 Call for Proposals is now available at with proposals due May 18) funds 4 to 6 grants per year up to $5,000 per grant. Some years the Call for Proposals is open in terms of SoTL area or topic or research question; other years we require a general (e.g., the study must be directly related to one or more goals and strategies in the University’s strategic plan) or specific (e.g., the study must focus on student outcomes from civic engagement experiences). Every year, one requirement is that the research team includes at least one graduate or undergraduate student involved in meaningful, nontrivial research roles. In addition, recipients must, if appropriate, receive IRB approval for their project, present their project at our annual teaching-learning symposium, make the work public in another way through submission of a product from their project to a conference, journal, edited book, juried show, video competition, etc., and submit a ‘report’ (paper, power point slides, video, poster…) for the ISU SoTL website. Readers of this blog can see such reports for the various funded SoTL research projects from 2001-2002 to 2013-2014 by clicking on the yearly links at

Anecdotally, these funded projects have occurred in a wide range of disciplines housed on our campus but more come from fields in education and the social sciences than in other disciplines. Most focus on course/class level SoTL questions. Some use multiple methods but, more often, one method –usually of actual learning—is used. But, of course, we need to go beyond the anecdotal! Thus, currently, SoTL Scholar-Mentor, Dr. Michaelene Cox (Politics and Government) and a student researcher are working on creating a database and summary/synthesis of the funded SoTL projects from 2001 to 2015. They will be coding research topics, methods used, discipline, main findings, and similar variables. It will be interesting to see what they find and report, and how we might use any common results/themes to improve teaching and learning on campus.

Finally, for those interested, the Small Grant project titles and recipients for 2014–2015 are listed below. Reports from these projects will be online in December of 2016. For 2014-2015, grant projects were required to focus on learning and other outcomes from student involvement in professional and/or disciplinary research, scholarship, or creative activity.

A Future Teacher and a Graduate Student’s Differential Benefits of Participation as a Member of an Educational Research Team: A Comparative Case Study – Rebekka Darner Gougis and Janet Stomberg, Biological Sciences.

Historians and History Teachers: Collaborative Conversations – Richard Hughes and graduate student to be named, History.

Student Involvement in the Production of Scholarly Publications: Practices, Challenges, and Lessons Learned from Faculty Research Mentorships and Collaborations – Lydia Kyei-Blankson and Parul Gupta, Educational Administration and Foundations.

How Participation in Out-of-Class Research and Assessment Projects Contributed to Learning Outcomes in a Student Affairs Graduate Program – Phyllis McCluskey-Titus and team of current and past graduate students, Educational Administration and Foundations.

Experiential Learning through Creation of a Performance Piece about YouthBuild – Kevin Rich and student to be named, School of Theatre and Dance.

An Examination of Psychology Students’ Beliefs about the Nature of Science: The Role of Research Experience 
- Corinne Zimmerman, Thomas Critchfield, and Emilio Lobato, Psychology


Ideas for Engaging Students in SoTL: Notes from a Panel at the Annual Teaching-Learning Symposium at ISU

At the 2015 Illinois State University Teaching-Learning Symposium, we held a panel discussion on involving students in SoTL projects beyond being subjects/objects of the research. Panelists were Lydia Kyei-Blankson, Educational Administration and Foundations, Phyllis McCluskey-Titus, Educational Administration and Foundations, and Maria Moore, Communication. The author of this symposium submission was Jennifer Friberg, Communication Sciences and Disorders. Below is a summary of the presentation notes from this panel as well as some resources.

Lydia Kyei-Blankson presented on ‘Engaging Students in SoTL Research: Student-Faculty Partnerships’. She offered the following 5 overlapping sets of reasons for engaging students in SoTL.

  • “Bringing student voices into the process of teaching and learning has an undeniably transformative effect” (Manor, Bloch-Schulman, Flannery, & Felten, 2010, p. 4).
  • Provides an opportunity to “socialize” students into the profession and increase knowledge about research, teaching, and learning (McKinney, Jarvis, Creasey, & Herrmann, 2010).
  • Provides learning experiences that go beyond the physical classroom.
  • Students have a lot to contribute to an instructor’s understanding of how students learn; “more authentic and more meaningful” work; richer inquiry and student-centered instead of faculty-centered research. Students bring the student’s perspective to the study. Participatory research and education. Students bear more responsibility for their learning.
  • Distributed educational power and decentralized classroom. “Instead of authority, expertise, power, and responsibility being highly concentrated in the teacher, they are disaggregated among all participants more equally” (Manor, Bloch-Schulman, Flannery, & Felten, 2010, p. 11).

Lydia also argued that students can be engaged in syllabi development, course redesign, and specific SoTL research projects. For the latter, Lydia has had students involved in projects on ‘Examining Interaction and Presence in online Courses’ and ‘Practice, Challenges, and Lesson Learned from Faculty-Student Research.’ Finally, she offered suggestions of what faculty members can do to enhance these collaborative research experiences: be sure the student is interested in the project; know the student’s strengths and weaknesses; be mindful of the student’s time and other commitments; keep the student engaged in all stages of the project from brainstorming ideas to making the findings public; be mindful and fair of credit and authorship; and don’t be too controlling.

Phyllis McCluskey-Titus and doctoral student, Brandon Hensley, shared ideas about ‘What Students Learned as Research Team Participants for SoTL Grant-Funded Studies.’ From past literature, they summarized student outcomes including enhancing students’ research skills (Kardash, 2000); facilitating opportunity/ability to present/publish research (Galbraith & Merrill, 2012); actively engaging students in challenging and anxiety-provoking courses (Micari & Pazos, 2012); establishing positive mentoring relationships (Cox, McIntosh, Terenzini, Reason, & Quaye, 2010); providing “extra-classroom” interaction with professors (Cotton & Wilson, 2006); and helping students understand disciplinary nuances of research (Ryser et al., 2007).

In their own research on student outcomes from participating in SoTL research, students reported developing/learning/experiencing the following:

  • Cognitive, affective, career/life, and interpersonal skills.
  • The value of collaboration.
  • The importance of flexibility in adapting to changes, surprises, and diverse perspectives/styles.
  • The centrality of reflection (debriefing).
  • A sense of struggling when learning to be a researcher.
  • Socialization into the rigors of the field, discipline, and research process.
  • The emergence of a process orientation in addition to a focus on products.

Finally, they shared students’ suggestions for enhancing learning through involvement in SoTL. Students said they needed to have a clear understanding of expectations, be aware of the benefits of their involvement, and better understand SoTL and how it relates to them.

The third panel member was Maria Moore who focused on student involvement in a specific and, perhaps, unusual form of SoTL –‘Student/Faculty Collaboration through Documentary Production.’ Maria began with an overview to documentary as research method pointing out that it is a qualitative method where reality is never captured but is represented and the observer is located in the world represented (Denizen and Lincoln, 1998). This method is also a form of action research and there is full collaborative inquiry by all participants. The researcher is active and involved with the participants (Marshall and Rossman, 2010). More specifically, it has the characteristics of participatory action research. That is, it is a social process, participatory, practical and collaborative, emancipatory, critical, recursive, and aims to transform both theory and practice (Kemmis, McTaggart, and Retallick, 2004).

Numerous documentary benefits were highlighted by Maria including that it is publicly accessible; has “rich, nuanced” levels of information; gives agency and authentic voice to participants; allows concepts to be visualized; captures nonverbal communication, allows for demonstrations in addition to explanation, allows music or animation to underscore key concepts, and can include the role of emotion and aesthetics in the creation and expression of knowledge. In summary, she pointed out “reader participation is different from viewer participation.” Finally, Maria noted several considerations for student collaboration through documentary including resources (people, equipment, time, budget), having “expertise from a champion”, commitment, using brainstorming/feedback/review/support, and remembering to celebrate and honor the documentary and people involved.

Resources Cited above and Other Selected Sources on Involving Students in Research, in SoTL and in Improving Teaching and Learning

Ahmed, J. U. (2010). Documentary research method: New dimensions. Indus Journal of Management & Social Sciences4(1), 1-14.

Bohnsack, R., Pfaff, N., & Weller, W. (Eds.). (2010). Qualitative analysis and documentary method in international educational research. Barbara Budrich.

Bulcroft, K., Werder, C., and Glenn G. (2002). “Student Voices in the Campus Conversation,” Inventio: Creative Thinking About Learning and Teaching. June. George Mason University, Fairfax, VA.

Cook-Sather, A., Bovill, C. and Felten, P. (2014). Engaging Students as Partners in Learning and Teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Cotton, S.R., & Wilson, B. (2006). Student-faculty interactions: Dynamics and determinants. Higher Education, 51(4), 487-519.

Cox, B.E., McIntosh, K.L., Terenzini, P.T., Reason, R.D., & Quaye, B.R. (2010). Pedagogical signals of faculty approachability: Factors shaping faculty-student interaction outside the classroom. Research in HigherEducation, 51(8), 767-788.

Denizen, N. K., & Lincoln, Y. S. (1998). Strategies of qualitative inquiry.

Galbraith, C.S., & Merrill, G.B. (2012). Faculty research productivity and standardized student learning outcomes ina university teaching environment: A Bayesian analysis of relationships. Studies in Higher Education, 37(4), 469-480.

Healey, M., Flint, A., and Harrington, K. (2014). Engagement through Partnership: Students as Partners in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education. York,UK: The Higher Education Academy.

Kardash, C. M. (2000). Evaluation of an undergraduate research experience: Perceptions of undergraduate interns and their faculty mentors. Journal of Educational Psychology, 92(1), 191–201.

Kemmis, S., McTaggart, R., & Retallick, J. (2004). The action research planner.

Little, S. (ed.) (2011). Staff-Student Partnerships in Higher Education. London: Continuum.

Marshall, C., & Rossman, G. B. (2010). Designing qualitative research. Sage.

McKinney, K., Jarvis, P., Creasey, G., & Herrmann, D. (2010). A range of student voices in the scholarship of teaching and learning. In C. Werder & M. Otis (Eds.). Engaging student voices in the study of teaching and learning (pp. 81-95).

Micari, M., & Pazos, P. (2012). Connecting to the professor: Impact of the student-faculty relationship in a highly challenging course. College Teaching, 60(2), 41-47.

Manor, C., Bloch-Schulman, S., Flannery, K., & Felten, P. (2010). Foundations of student-faculty partnerships in the scholarship of teaching and learning: Theoretical and developmental considerations. In C. Werder & M. Otis (Eds.). Engaging student voices in the study of teaching and learning (pp. 3-15).

Roth, W. M. (2013). The documentary method. In On Meaning and Mental Representation (pp. 169-186). SensePublishers.

Ryser, L., Halseth, G., & Thien, D. (2009). Strategies and intervening factors influencing student social interaction and experiential learning in an interdisciplinary research team. Research in Higher Education, 50(3), 248-267.

Teaching & Learning Inquiry. (2015). A special issue of this journal on “Engaging Students as Co-Inquirers”. Teaching and Learning Together in Higher Education. (Alison Cook-Sather, journal editor).

Werder, C. and Otis, M. (eds.) (2010). Engaging Student Voices in the Study of Teaching and Learning. Sterling, VA: Stylus.

Werder, C. and Skogsberg. E. (2013). “Trusting a Culture of Dialogue with Students as Co-Inquirers” in Student Engagement Handbook: Practice in Higher Education. Elisabeth Dunne and Derfel Owen, (eds). UK: Emerald Group Publishing.

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A Sample of SoTL Publication Outlets, urls, and Mission Statements

Many campuses or SoTL organizations offer lists of SoTL journals and newsletters as publication outlets for our SoTL projects. Our list, created and maintained by ISU Milner librarian, Sarah French, contains core or cross-disciplinary outlets as well as discipline-specific outlets ( As you will see there are many, many outlets of varying forms (online only, hard copy, both), quality, editorial and review processes, and foci. In this post, we share a brief description of a sample of core or cross-disciplinary SoTL outlets –listed alphabetically—that you might consider for making your SoTL work public. The five journals selected have long histories and/or are associated with major SoTL organizations or initiatives but represent just a sample of SoTL outlets. All are peer reviewed. All have a general, not topic specific, focus. On a side note, for blog readers who are Illinois State University faculty or staff, be aware of our spring-summer 2015 “Incentives for Making SoTL Work Public Program.”

  • The Canadian Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (CJSoTL) “is a peer reviewed, trans-disciplinary, open-access electronic journal created and supported by the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (STLHE). We accept submissions (in French or English) from academic professionals working to understand and enhance learning through systematic scholarly inquiry: articles relevant to the Canadian context, that shed new light on the teaching and learning interests of post-secondary education in Canada, including quantitative and/or qualitative research reports and essays examining issues in the scholarship of teaching and learning.” (
  • International Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching & Learning “is an open, double-blind peer reviewed electronic journal published twice per year by the Centers for Teaching & Technology at Georgia Southern University. The journal is an international forum for information and research about the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) and its implications for higher/tertiary education. Anchored in inquiry and engagement, the scholarship of teaching and learning re-conceptualizes teaching as an ongoing and scholarly process with an emphasis on bringing about improved student learning (Huber & Morreale, 2002). SoTL is a key way to support the continuous transformation of academic communities and cultures.” (
  • The Journal of Excellence on College Teaching “is a peer-reviewed journal published at Miami University by and for faculty at universities and two- and four-year colleges to increase student learning through effective teaching, interest in and enthusiasm for the profession of teaching, and communication among faculty about their classroom experiences. It answers Ernest Boyer’s call for a forum to present the scholarship of teaching and learning. The Journal provides a scholarly, written forum for discussion by faculty about all areas affecting teaching and learning, and gives faculty the opportunity to share proven, innovative pedagogies and thoughtful, inspirational insights about teaching.” (
  • The Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (JoSoTL) “founded in 2001, the Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (JoSoTL) is a forum for the dissemination of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in higher education for the community of teacher-scholars. Our peer reviewed Journal promotes SoTL investigations that are theory-based and supported by evidence. JoSoTL’s objective is to publish articles that promote effective practices in teaching and learning and add to the knowledge base. The themes of the Journal reflect the breadth of interest in the pedagogy forum.” The themes of articles include data-driven studies, literature reviews, case studies, invited comments, and invited essays. (
  • Teaching Learning Inquiry is the journal of the International Society of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (ISSOTL). The mission statement reads “Teaching & Learning Inquiry (TLI) publishes insightful research, theory, commentary, and other scholarly works that document or facilitate investigations of teaching and learning in higher education. TLI values quality and variety in its vision of the scholarship of teaching and learning. Its pages will showcase the breadth of the interdisciplinary field of SoTL in its explicit methodological pluralism, its call for traditional and new genres, and its international authorship from across career stages.” (

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The Dr. John Chizmar & Dr. Anthony Ostrosky Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Award at Illinois State University

The recipient of this award for 2014 was Dr. Cheri J. Simonds (Ph.D., University of Oklahoma), a Professor of Communication at Illinois State University.  She has Co-directed ‘Communication as Critical Inquiry’ for the past seventeen years. She and her colleagues were integrally involved in general education reform at ISU. She teaches in the area of communication education and has published several articles in national peer reviewed journals including Communication Education, Communication Teacher, and The Basic Communication Course Annual.


Throughout her tenure at Illinois State University, she has collaborated with colleagues to develop two lines of research on the Scholarship of Teaching Communication as well as the Scholarship of Learning. In terms of the former, she has published work on classroom management training, speech evaluation training, criterion based assessment, interactive instructional strategies, and authentic portfolio assessment. These efforts have been recognized by the Basic Course Division of the National Communication Association (NCA) in naming ISUs ‘Communication as Critical Inquiry’ Course as the Inaugural Program of Excellence Award in 2008. In discussing her SoTL scholarship in the Communication discipline, Simonds stated that the link between teaching and learning is communication, a clear justification for her research agenda.

In terms of the Scholarship of Learning, she has studied the effects of teacher self-disclosure on Facebook on teacher credibility, student motivation, affective learning, and classroom climate. She has also explored the effects of teacher clarity, immediacy, and credibility on student learning. These efforts have provided opportunities to inform teachers of various disciplines the communication skills needed to be effective teachers.

Simonds has co-authored textbooks on Classroom Communication, Intercultural Communication, and Public Speaking. She is the Outgoing Editor of Communication Teacher, lead author on the NCA Resolution on the Role of Communication in General Education, and Chairs the NCA Task Force on Strengthening the Basic Communication Course. The National Communication Association recently honored her with the Inaugural Basic Communication Course Distinguished Faculty Award.

Illinois State University faculty can access the following link for additional information about this award: Dr. John Chizmar & Dr. Anthony Ostrosky Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Award for 2015-16.