The SoTL Advocate

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

Three Key Teaching Questions & Our Obligation to Follow the Research

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

Last week, I had the good fortune to attend the 45th annual conference of the International Society for Exploring Teaching and Learning (ISETL) in Savannah, GA. While the weather was delightful, the ideas discussed among attendees were even better! Now back at home and work, I’ve been busy reflecting on my experiences over the three days of the conference. While several blog posts will be posted in the coming weeks that originate in ideas generated and/or shared at ISETL, I wanted to first reflect on ideas from the keynote address delivered at the opening of the conference by Dr. Terry Doyle (titled: A New Paradigm for Student Learners). While this address focused on interesting research-based necessities to support student learning (hydration, sleep, exercise, and diet), it was the initial content of the address that provided a foundation for my thinking about teaching and learning ever since.


Doyle asked the audience to ponder what he termed Three Key Teaching Questions:

  1. What would make us happy that our students still knew and could apply from the content and skills of our course a year later?
  2. What knowledge and skills do students need our help with and what can they do on their own?
  3. What teaching actions optimize the opportunities for students to master the learning outcomes of our courses?

He very clearly indicated that in answering these questions, we, as course instructors, are obligated to follow where research takes us (even if it’s not comfortable to do so!), which immediately resonated with my interest in the application and generation of SoTL research. As course instructors, we regularly engage in reflection on the classes we teach, asking ourselves questions such as:

  • Did my terminal project lead to transformative learning?
  • Did my students learn as much in collaborative group experiences as I hoped they might?
  • How does the content of my course compare with other, similar courses at other institutions?
  • Are my students truly engaged in learning course content?
  • Do students in my discipline learn differently than students in other disciplines?

These are all questions that we can take a scholarly approach to answering, using information in or across various disciplines to influence our pedagogical choices. We can examine published teaching and learning research for help and guidance. Or, we can create and answer our own research questions to address our wonderments about teaching and learning. Either way, we can answer Doyle’s three key teaching questions by following where the research takes us…and our students can ultimately benefit!


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