The SoTL Advocate

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

More on SoTL ‘Stories’: Motivations for and Roles in SoTL

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

In a recent post on this blog, Jennifer Friberg, SoTL Scholar-Mentor at Illinois State University, shared a bit of her SoTL story –why she does SoTL, how she came to be involved in SoTL, how her SoTL career developed over time. Jennifer was responding to a blog post by Janice Miller-Young, director of the Institution for Scholarship of Teaching and Learning at Mt. Royal University titled “How to tell the story of SoTL.” In her post, Janice suggested that faculty engage in SoTL research for three main purposes (quoting Jennifer): “to generate and study innovations in teaching, to apply and study innovative pedagogies, and to better understand the complexities in teaching and learning.” In this post, I add to these SoTL stories by summarizing highlights from my SoTL story then, based on this story as well as observations of, and conversations with, others in the field, I list 1. motivations for doing SoTL and 2. SoTL roles.

Thirty years ago, in 1985, I published with a colleague about our sociology curriculum and advising practices. Though our ideas were based in past literature, the work was in the ‘we tried it, we liked it’ anecdotal genre. My SoTL work stayed discipline-specific and somewhat ‘tips’ oriented as I shared what I believed were best teaching practices. I had the privilege of meeting excellent role models and mentors in the teaching-learning movement of the American Sociological Association beyond my institution. Over time, my SoTL work became focused on questions that arose from my lived experiences helping students learn inside and outside the classroom, and was evidence-based and peer-reviewed. In the mid 1990s I had the opportunity to serve as Editor of Teaching Sociology and learning so much from every submission I had the joy of reading. As I moved into an institutional role as director of our teaching center, I began to do more and ‘better’ SoTL work on sociology student learning and to help others do SoTL. I had the chance to work with amazing folks as a Carnegie SoTL Scholar, meeting more wonderful people from many disciplines and around the globe. I became an Endowed Chair in SoTL at my institution, began to write about the field of SoTL, and increased my involvement in SoTL research and service in my discipline and in the international, cross-discipline SoTL field through ISSOTL among other organizations and contexts. My focus now, as a (mostly) retired faculty member, is to provide service, mentoring, and support to others doing SoTL. I also continue to learn from others doing SoTL and writing about SoTL.

I offer nine forms of motivations as to why people do the scholarship of teaching and learning.

  • It builds our vitae and our cases for rewards and promotions.
  • It is valued by others in our institution and/or discipline.
  • To improve our teaching.
  • To improve our students’ learning outcomes.
  • To involve students as co-researchers in SoTL–a high impact teaching-learning practice.
  • To help our department, discipline or institution with high priority initiatives, assessment, accreditation, and program review.
  • Because we cherish our interactions with other SoTLers.
  • Because it becomes part of our professional, and even personal, identity.
  • Because we enjoy the specifics of the ‘work’ itself.

I think there are several types of roles in which we choose to engage within the field of SoTL. Of course, many of us engage in more than one of these roles at the same time and/or over the course of our SoTL careers. These roles include consuming SoTL (read, listen to, adapt, use others’ SoTL work); producing SoTL (conduct and make public original SoTL work); being an active colleague in the SoTL community in your institution and beyond and in your discipline and beyond (e.g., attend conferences, join organizations, use SoTL beyond your classroom…); and/or serving the SoTL field (e.g., editor, mentor, committee member in a SoTL professional organization…).

I look forward to hearing some other SoTL ‘stories’, including examples of these or other motivations for and roles in SoTL.


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