The SoTL Advocate

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

The Right Questions at the Right Times

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

I was fortunate enough to attend the first EuroSoTL conference in Cork, Ireland earlier this month. Speakers addressed issues germane to SoTL in a multiude of ways, each touching upon the tremendous importance of asking the right questions at the right times. David Pace advocated for identifying “bottlenecks” where students struggled in specific courses, then using SoTL to understand and resolve these issues. While acknowledging that gaps in knowledge provide uncertainty which creates anxiety for both students and teachers, Kathy Takayama urged faculty to seek learning gaps in order to grow and improve their teaching practice, always “living the question” in a way that leads to careful reflection and analysis via SoTL. Beth Marquis asked “how do you transition students from passive to active participants in SoTL?” Ultimately, the great similarity amongst EuroSoTL presentations was the notion that the questions we ask are important for our teaching and our students’ learning — we just have to be brave enough to identify the issues we face as teachers and be willing to investigate how to best solve them.

In her closing plenary for EuroSoTL, Pat Hutchings identified future directions for SoTL, calling them “Visions of the Possible” to add to the SoTL work scholars already have underway. She urged attendees to seek answers to the following:

  1. How can we best move SoTL towards regular practices of teaching (e.g., asking contextually-based SoTL questions such as “How do you craft assignments that are evidence-based?).
  2. How can SoTL best be integrated into institutional policies and agendas (e.g., making SoTL a special program in its own dedicated place).
  3. How can students be more fully engaged as SoTL research associates and collaborators (e.g., reflecting on learning as a metacognitive experience).

What are your visions of the possible? What are the questions you are asking yourselves as you plan for the new academic year?

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