The SoTL Advocate

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

Universal Characteristics of SoTL?

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Written by Jennifer Friberg, SoTL Scholar-Mentor at Illinois State University

Last week, Joelle Fanghanel delivered one of three keynote presentations at the inaugural EuroSoTL conference on the campus of the University College Cork in Ireland. In an address titled, “Defining SoTL — Still a Challenge After 25 Years,” Dr. Fanghanel proposed a list of possible universal characteristics of SoTL research derived from work she is engaged in with colleagues from several other universities, indicating that those near the top of the list were most likely to be agreed upon by those involved with SoTL. These SoTL characteristics included the following:

  • SoTL is inquiry on practice.
  • SoTL involves the process of seeking review and critique by making SoTL work public.
  • SoTL is community-based in nature.
  • A global community exists to support SoTL.
  • SoTL is a potential change vehicle.
  • SoTL engages students are partners and co-researchers.
  • SoTL provides an environment for experimentation and innovation.
  • SoTL is at the same time disciplinary and interdisciplinary.
  • SoTL exists in a state of tension with discipline-specific research.
  • There are issues of recognition, career advancement, and professionalism associated with SoTL in some environments.
  • SoTL is about conveying values and beliefs.
  • SoTL is a big tent, but a tent that might need to become more inclusive.
  • SoTL is a vehicle to translate across disciplines and contexts.

In your experiences with and around SoTL, is this list inclusive of possible universal characteristics of SoTL? What modifications would you make, based on your experiences with SoTL? How would any additions to or deletions from this list make a stronger case for universal SoTL characteristics?


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