The SoTL Advocate

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

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.

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

  1. Pingback: Advice for New SoTL Researchers | The SoTL Advocate

  2. Pingback: Finding the “Sweet Spot” Across a Continuum of Student Roles/Voices in SoTL | The SoTL Advocate

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

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