The SoTL Advocate

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

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ISSOTL Down Under!

By Erin Mikulec, SoTL Scholar-Mentor at Illinois State University, Spring 2016

Back in October, I had the opportunity to attend and present at the ISSOTL Conference in Melbourne, Australia. Although I have participated in this conference in the past, this year’s event was an incredible display of the SoTL work being carried out in universities throughout Australia. In addition, there were also a number of plenary speakers and sessions by scholars from around the world, including the United Kingdom, South Africa, and China. Nonetheless, there were a number of common themes that emerged through plenary sessions, roundtables and paper presentations that made me think of the SoTL work being done at Illinois State University.


For the opening plenary keynote, Dr. Katarina Mårtensson discussed the importance of supporting SoTL at the local level. Dr. Mårtensson discussed three levels of investigation within the area of scholarship, including the purpose of the investigation, by whom conclusions are made, and the extent to which the knowledge is shared. It was in this last category that I was able to make many connections to the SoTL work that is carried out at Illinois State University, and the many ways in which it is supported in order to disseminate this knowledge both locally, for instance our journal Gauisus, this blog, and the annual Teaching and Learning Symposium and beyond, such as the Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning and the SoTL Commons Conference.

Many sessions also focused on internationalization efforts within institutions and their impact on students. These efforts included institutional commitments to promote internationalization through professional development opportunities, small project grants, and collaborative partners and networks outside of the institution. These resources were centralized within their respective universities and made available to faculty interested in starting their own international projects, with the ultimate goal of providing opportunities for student engagement and assessing student learning. There were also several sessions in which faculty had incorporated international perspectives and projects into coursework. One in particular was done at LaTrobe University among business students, who were tasked with opening a new fashion store in Japanese and English markets. This required students to consider both the market potential and cultural differences and similarities in apparel marketing and consumer culture in each location. They did this through interactions with business students in universities in the U.K. and Japan. The researchers used multiple methods of data collection to determine the student learning outcomes, such as reflections, online discussions with peers in Japan and England, and the culminating project that was a video ad campaign to be used in the respective markets. The students reported that at times there was limited communication with their international peers, which made it difficult to obtain all of the information they needed and wanted in order to carry out the assigned tasks. This is consistent with findings of my own research in these areas and the researcher discussed how this might be addressed in future iterations of the project, such as having students research communication styles across cultures as well as working with the cooperating faculty in other institutions to establish clear expectations for the project. Nonetheless, the project, although it had its challenges, was largely a success. It was exciting to hear the instructor present the findings of this project in terms of how it impacted student learning as well as informed her teaching. Again, it was encouraging to see this work kind of work being carried out in institutions around the world and knowing that the same kinds of support for similar endeavors are growing at Illinois State, such as the Go Global with SoTL! Mini-grant program.

Finally, I attended a session that focused on an international grant team that was examining the concept of student leadership. The discussion in this roundtable led to questions such as, what do we mean when we talk about student leadership? Is the goal to develop a small number of student leaders or is it to develop leadership skills in all students? And, finally, what is the role of institutions in developing leadership in university students? The discussion was rich with multiple perspectives that encouraged further discussion and reconstruction of ideas. However, the focus of the discussion was primarily defining student leadership and the role of the institution, and the idea of how to measure the impact of leadership seemed to be a question for the future. Although no definitive answer was found, the discussion yielded even more questions and it made me reflect on the amount of out-of-class learning also taking place at ISU through various students clubs and organizations. We likely need more SoTL research on the student outcomes from such out-of-class experiences.

However, the most powerful aspect of the ISSOTL conference is that it is a forum that fosters and encourages academics to reflect on their teaching, the learning of students, and how this can inform classroom practice. This was made clear through the variety of sessions I attended in which instructors were taking risks with their teaching and reporting the results, empowered by the positive energy of a supportive environment. This made me reflect on an earlier session in which the speakers discussed the need to “reshape” teaching and learning into SoTL in light of the changing role of the modern teaching academic. The emphasis was on the benefits of SoTL for faculty who are experts in their discipline and therefore may not be familiar with educational research practices. Furthermore, the speakers argued that SoTL provides research opportunities for faculty who are in teaching-intensive institutions. However, there is still a need for the support of chairs and deans, and a consistent understanding of the value of SoTL within the institution. These sessions helped to remind me of the importance of SoTL for scholars in disciplines across the university, whether they are in Illinois or Australia.

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Position Description: Cross Endowed Chair in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning at ISU


Title:                Cross Endowed Chair in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning

Illinois State University invites applications for the position of Cross Endowed Chair in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL). The endowed chair is named for K. Patricia “Pat” Cross who is the David Gardner Professor of Higher Education, Emerita at the University of California, Berkeley. She has also served as Dean of Students at Cornell University; Distinguished Research Scientist at Educational Testing Service; and Professor and Chair of the Department of Administration, Planning and Social Policy at the Harvard Graduate School of Education..

Integral to the mission of Illinois State University, the Cross Endowed Chair enhances innovation and research in teaching and learning, supports SoTL work on campus and beyond, increases Illinois State’s ability to attract outstanding teacher-scholars to campus, and helps to establish a balance of recognition in scholarly work in teaching across disciplines. The Cross Endowed Chair also fosters opportunities for interaction and relationships with prestigious national forums related to SoTL. This is a university-level position reporting to the Office of the Provost. The Chair holds faculty rank in one of the University’s academic colleges in order to promote the scholarship of teaching and learning across all disciplines and colleges. The University is organized into six academic colleges: Applied Science and Technology, Arts & Sciences, Business, Education, Fine Arts, and Nursing.

The Cross Endowed Chair for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning shall be evaluated annually by the Associate Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies. The purpose of the annual review is formative; it also provides a comparative basis for the award of merit-based salary increases, if available.


The Cross Endowed Chair provides the opportunity for scholarship on teaching and learning in the discipline of the Chair, and also serves as a resource, related to SoTL, to colleagues on and off the campus of Illinois State University. The Cross Chair receives resources to support their own SoTL work and to assist in the development of faculty SoTL research, including items such as research time, clerical and research assistance, and travel sufficient to support a national research agenda and reputation. The Cross Endowed Chair works collaboratively with the Center for Teaching, Learning and Technology; University Assessment Services; national and international SoTL organizations; and faculty colleagues on teaching.

The position also carries teaching responsibilities. The teaching requirements may vary at times as negotiated by the Associate Vice President for Research & Graduate Studies, the appropriate Dean, and the Cross Chair, but will typically not be more than 25 percent of the Cross Chair’s responsibilities. The specific unit goals of the Cross Chair in SoTL are to accomplish high quality work and achieve recognition in the following roles:

  1. Supporting the SoTL work of others (faculty, staff, and students) at Illinois State University and locally, and enhancing the value/reward for SoTL work on campus.
  2. Conducting SoTL research, teaching, and service.
  3. Working at the national and international levels on SoTL connections and on the reputation of SoTL at Illinois State University.

The preferred start date for the position is July 1, 2016.


Selection of the chair will be based on a commitment to demonstrate and promote the scholarship of teaching and learning. Qualifications include the following.

  1. Terminal degree in any discipline.
  2. Eligible for, or currently maintains the position of a tenured senior Associate Professor or full Professor in a discipline at Illinois State University.
  3. Has a significant track record of multi-faceted experience in the SoTL in all or most of the following areas.
    An active research agenda in SoTL
    b. Professional presentations and publications in SoTL in one’s discipline
    c. Editor or associate editor/reviewer of pedagogical journals
    d. Roles in SoTL professional organizations
    e. Relevant service activities
    f. Recipient of teaching and/or SoTL honors/awards
    g. Experience and commitment to mentoring other faculty members and with faculty development
    h. Invitations as a master teacher (in service to others)
    i. Involvement in assessment activities
    j. Relevant grant writing
  4. Experience with administrative responsibilities including: developing and managing budgets, planning and writing progress reports, supervising staff and faculty scholars, administering internal grant programs, supervising selection of SoTL university award winner, organizing events, and coordinating SoTL website, social media, and internal SoTL publications.
  5. This position is security sensitive and subject to a criminal background investigation based on University policy. Employment is contingent upon passing a satisfactory criminal background investigation. Work may not begin until the criminal background investigation results have been received and cleared by Human resources.

Illinois State University

Institution Profile: The first public university in Illinois, Illinois State University dates from 1857. Illinois State is a comprehensive Carnegie Doctoral/Research Institution and residential university offering more than 189 undergraduate fields of study in 6 colleges and 34 academic departments. The Graduate School coordinates 42 master’s, 1 specialist, and 10 doctoral programs. The University has an enrollment of approximately 21,000 students and over 1,225 faculty. Illinois State is distinguished by its strategic plan, Educating Illinois (, which focuses on the values of individualized attention, pursuit of learning and scholarship, public opportunity, diversity, and civic engagement in order to create an optimal learning and working environment for all Illinois State students and faculty/staff members.

Student profile:

  • 88 percent of the University’s students are undergraduates.
  • 20.6 percent of all students are from traditionally underrepresented groups, including African-Americans, Asians or Pacific Islanders, Hispanics, Native Americans or Alaskans, and international students from 65 countries.
  • About 25 percent of our freshman class comes from underrepresented groups.
  • Our students complete their degrees on time. Our high graduation rate (73.4 percent) ranks us among the Top 10 percent of all U.S. universities.
  • Illinois State alumni go on to successful careers, shown in the very low student loan default rate of our graduates (2.8 percent) compared with the national average (11.7 percent).


  • Most of Illinois State’s 1,155 faculty members hold a terminal degree in their field.
  • Ninety percent of undergraduate credit hours are taught by faculty members; the remaining 10 percent are taught by graduate assistants.
  • The student-faculty ratio is 18.6 to 1.


  • Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation135 discipline-based accredited sequences

Illinois State University’s campus is in the twin-city community of Bloomington-Normal near the geographic center of the state, 137 miles southwest of Chicago and 164 miles northeast of St. Louis. Interstates 74, 55, and 39; U.S. Route 150; and Illinois Route 9 intersect in Bloomington-Normal, creating a transportation hub. An Amtrak passenger station is just two blocks from the University and daily flights are available through the Central Illinois Regional Airport.

We are proud to be the home of Illinois State University and Illinois Wesleyan University who offer the finest in higher education; the corporate headquarters of State Farm Insurance; COUNTRY Financial; Beer Nuts; and world-class healthcare institutions including Advocate BroMenn Medical Center and OSF St. Joseph.


The Search Committee will accept applications and nominations until the position is filled. Candidate screening will begin immediately.  All application materials must be submitted online at no later than January 15, 2016. Application materials submitted via fax, email, or mail will not be accepted. Please prepare in advance separate documents representing a cover letter describing relevant experiences and interest in the position, five references with titles, addresses, business telephone numbers and e-mail addresses, and resume/C.V. to attach to this application.

(Inquiries may be directed to Chair of the search committee: Dr. Amy Hurd, at 309-438-2583 or

For more information, please visit our website at and

As an Equal Opportunity Employer, Illinois State University that has a strong institutional commitment to diversity and providing employment opportunity without regard to an individual’s race, color, religion, sex, national origin, sexual orientation, order of protection, gender identity and expression, ancestry, age, marital status, disability, genetic information, unfavorable military discharge, or veteran status.

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Going Global with SoTL: Mini-grants for SoTL on Learning Outcomes from Global/International Curriculum/Experiences

By Kathleen McKinney, Cross Endowed Chair in SoTL, Illinois State University

This blog post discusses a recent SoTL support program on the ISU campus that is providing mini-grants to study the developmental and learning outcomes of ISU students as a result of global/international/cross-cultural curricular or co-curricular experiences. This blog post has two purposes: 1. it outlines the features of this SoTL faculty development/support activity for those who run such programs and 2. it summarizes the selected SoTL projects as examples of SoTL on this topic for other SoTL researchers.

Applicants were required to submit a proposal narrative of up to 3 pages, a reference page/bibliography, and an itemized budget with justifications. Two faculty members with expertise in SoTL reviewed the proposals using the following criteria.

  • Proposal focused on studying learning and/or developmental outcomes of ISU students’ experiences with global/international/cross-cultural assignments or opportunities.
  • Proposal included a brief, relevant literature review and how the proposed project ‘fits’ in this literature.
  • Project uses appropriate methodology for gathering evidence to reflect on/study the teaching-learning issue or question, and this method is briefly but clearly described.
  • Project is ethically appropriate in terms of human subjects and this is made explicit.
  • Budget justifications and items/amounts are appropriate for the SoTL study proposed.

We received twelve proposals. The mini-grants are for $1,000 per proposal. We were able to fund the following six projects. (Note, these summaries are edited excerpts from the grant proposals.)

“Study Abroad Experience in Peru and Students’ Development” (Aysen Bakir, Marketing)

I worked on creating a short-term study abroad program to Peru for our students in the College of Business. I would like to understand the nature of the experiences our students gain by participating in this program and understand the outcomes based on their exposure to this program. The program includes company visits and cultural excursions. These activities aim to provide exposure to how businesses operate in different cultures, the type of challenges they have, and the strategies companies implement in Peru. Additionally, Peru has a very rich history providing a great exposure to a culture that is significantly different than U.S. I am planning to use qualitative techniques. Students’ work will be analyzed. Prior to the program, the students will read materials about Peru and doing business in Peru. After reading the materials, students will write a report. This report will have specific questions tapping into students’ knowledge, expectations, and experiences with Peru and international aspects. During the program, the students will keep a daily journal. The journals will address questions regarding the professional and personal experiences in Peru. Students will also create a presentation after coming back from the trip. The presentation assignment will include structured questions and will require the students to focus on their development and implications of what they have gone through with the Program.

“Interpreting the Frames: A Study of Six Art Education Students’ Integration of Their Study Abroad in Australia Experience Into Their Classroom Teaching Practices” (Judith Briggs, Art)

In Summer 2013 and Summer 2015, I led two study abroad trips to visit the visual arts departments of New South Wales (NSW) Australia schools to examine how NSW visual arts educators integrated the constructs of their state Visual Arts Syllabi into their teaching and enabled their students to talk about, to write about, and to make contemporary artwork. It is the focus of this qualitative study to discern if and how the students who visited NSW and used the NSW model to create and to teach curriculum within their ISU methods courses used the NSW constructs within their own student teaching practices. The study also includes a graduate teacher from the 2015 cohort. Did the study abroad experience influence their subsequent teaching practices within the public school atmosphere? The study will consist of analysis of recorded interviews with five student teacher candidates and one graduate teacher.

“History Teacher Candidates and Discipline-Specific Pedagogy: Theory, Policy, and Practice in England and the United States” (Richard L. Hughes and Sarah Drake Brown, History)

This study will address the following questions: 1. How do varied clinical experiences shape the evolving professional goals and performances of developing teacher candidates in history? 2. How do emerging history teachers navigate the tensions between theory and practice in two differing clinical settings? 3. How do experiences working with professional teachers, secondary students, and the general public in two different countries shape the discipline-specific pedagogy of history teacher candidates in terms of ongoing debates over history as content or skills? During the Spring 2016 semester, three ISU history/social science education majors will participate in a unique experience, student teaching in secondary schools in both Illinois and in England. The research uses case studies to better understand the experiences and perspectives of teacher candidates. Data from oral interviews, frequent written reflections, formal observations, and the analysis of students’ teaching artifacts from both continents provide insight to the participants’ perceptions, skills, and behavior as emerging professionals. Researchers will assess the artifacts associated with students’ teaching according to the professional teaching standards created by the Stanford Center for Assessment, Learning and Equity (SCALE) for the edTPA exam.

“Preparing Future Early Childhood Teachers: Furthering Intercultural Dialogues among Early Childhood Pre-service Teachers across the Globe” (Miranda Lin, Teaching and Learning)

Students enrolled in TCH 111: Teaching a Diverse Student Population will be asked to complete a pen pal project in which they will engage in intercultural dialogue with their counterparts in Taiwan and Turkey. Prior to starting the project, TCH 111 students will take Berarto and Deardorff’s (2012)’s Intercultural Competence Self-Reflection survey. Students will communicate with their pen pals through Facebook (via a private group) throughout the spring semester. After the pen pal project is completed, our pre-service teachers will complete a guided reflection paper and complete the Intercultural Competence Self-Reflection survey the second time. Specifically, this project will look into how 1) pre-service teachers’ perceptions of diverse populations altered, 2) the experience helped them better understand the impact of global issues on their daily lives, and 3) pre-service teachers come to understand that teaching and learning is greatly affected by the interplay of politics, societal norms, and cultural values in the specific historical time. Pre-service teachers will also take part in focus groups after completing the pen pal project to gain more insight into their experience.

“FCS 399 Fashion Industry Tour to Asia: May 2016” (Yoon Jin Ma and Elisabeth Reed, Family and Consumer Sciences)

The Fashion Industry Study Tour of Asia (FCS 399) that will be offered during Summer 2016 is designed to provide students the opportunity to expand their understanding of the global fashion industry through site visits in South Korea, China, and Hong Kong at apparel and textile production facilities, retail companies, as well as with top-ranked universities where students will interact with international fashion students. To assess student learning outcomes from the program, the Consortium for Innovative Environments in Learning (CIEL) Global Environmental Literacy Rubric (The University of New South Wales Australia, 2015) will be employed both pre and post the experience. CIEL Global Environmental Literacy Rubric is designed to evaluate student learning outcomes of a global environmental perspective in diverse dimensions, including 1) knowledge of environmental impact, 2) knowledge of life systems, 3) application of knowledge to environmental issues, 4) experience working with physical environments, 5) attitudes concerning integrity of global environments, and 6) personal agency for environmental action.

“Exploring and Understanding Global Diets from a Sociocultural Perspective: A Case of Pre-service Teachers in Thailand, Taiwan, and the U.S.” (Do-Yong Park, Teaching and Learning)

This project will be implemented in spring 2016 through science methods courses in three cooperating universities around the world. Each participant of Thailand and Taiwan will be pared up with each of the ISU students in TCH 257. Each individual participant uses a digital journal on facebook created for the purpose of this project and writes a description of and posts a picture of everything that they eat for 7 days. At the end of the week, the students in TCH 257 compare their journal with other students and how the food that each ate compare and contrast with others. For assessment of learning outcomes, each participant submits two products including (a) reflection paper and (b) two kinds of report named ‘nutrients and me.’ At the end of the project, (c) there will be a focus group interview on how this project helped them understand science in terms of contextual environment, cultural milieu, and sociological perspectives. These three sources of data will be analyzed using a constant comparative method by using open coding to find common experience, patterns, or themes checked by two student members.

Finally, as part of this SoTL support, all award recipients/teams must meet the following requirements.

  1. If human subjects are involved, receipt of IRB approval before starting the SoTL project.
  2. Attend two meetings of all grant recipients for ‘trouble-shooting’ and ideas/advice on applying and sharing results.
  3. Presentation of the funded SoTL research project at the ISU Teaching-Learning Symposium in January 2017.
  4. Submission of a brief report on the project by December of 2016 to the Cross Chair.


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Do we need to be “meta-theoretical” in our SoTL work?

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

In the most recent issue of Teaching and Learning Inquiry, authors Janice Miller-Young and Michelle Yeo propose a framework for considering SoTL which “attempts to broadly delineate the available learning theories underlying and methodologies appropriate to studying teaching and learning while remaining hospitable to a broad range of diverse disciplines” represented in contemporary SoTL work (Miller-Young & Yeo, 2015, p. 37). This is no small undertaking. The framework described in this paper is thorough and advocates for SoTL researchers to make explicit — in ways central and important to their discipline(s) — not only the methodologies used to make sense of data, but also the theoretical approaches that informed the research in the first place.

The argument for this “meta-theoretical” approach to SoTL, in my mind, is one of cohesion. There is no doubt that SoTL enjoys space under a big tent, with a wide array of approaches to SoTL available to choose from. That said, perhaps a more meta-theoretical approach to SoTL could help the work we do across and between disciplines as SoTL researchers to share a commonality other than a strong desire to understand teaching and learning more deeply. Explicit recognition of the theoretical characteristics unifying our SoTL work might not always be necessary, though I would argue (and in doing so, agree with Miller-Young and Yeo’s suggested framework) that it should at least be considered as part of the process of designing a SoTL project.

In their article, Miller-Young and Yeo identify four categories of learning theories that might be applicable across a variety of disciplines. These are summarized in the figure below.

Screen Shot 2015-11-09 at 11.25.35 AM

Take a look at these categories of learning theories and consider your own SoTL work. Would your research questions, methodology, findings, and/or reflections be strengthened by framing your SoTL projects in a more meta-theoretical manner? If so, how? If not, why? As always, your comments and insights are welcome!
Blog Reference:

Miller-Young, J. & Yeo, M. (2015). Conceptualizing and communicating SoTL: A framework for the field. Teaching and Learning Inquiry, 3(2), 37-53.

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Threshold Concepts for Information Literacy as a Potential Support for Student SoTL Researchers

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

At ISETL last month, I had the good fortune to attend a session presented by Amelia Koford, Daniel Braaten, Collin Bost, and Mark Dribble (all representing Texas Lutheran University) titled, “How Threshold Concepts Help Students Think Like Researchers.” In this session, the audience was introduced to the Association of College & Research Libraries new Framework for Information Literacy in Higher Education, a resource meant to guide students’ understanding of obtaining information while engaging in research. To this end, the Framework was established as a set of six threshold concepts (concepts that, when learned, create transformative learning experiences for students that change their perceptions and allow newer, broader, and deeper understanding of critical concepts).

While various, discipline-specific threshold concepts have been identified for learners, those presented within this Framework apply to a more cross-disciplinary audience and could potentially prove useful as a structure to support novice researchers in developing a focused understanding of the research process.

In SoTL communities, we have been talking about the need to increase the presence of student voices in SoTL research. Perhaps this Framework could be helpful in this endeavor? Consider the Framework’s threshold concepts and descriptions (excerpted entirely from the original source document):

Authority is Constructed and Contextual

“Information resources reflect their creators’ expertise and credibility, and   are evaluated based on the information need and the context in which the information will be used. Authority is constructed in that various communities may recognize different types of authority. It is contextual in that the information need may help to determine the level of authority required. ”

Information Creation as a Process

“Information in any format is produced intentionally to convey a message and is shared via a selected delivery method. The iterative processes of research, creating, revising, and disseminating information vary, and the resulting product reflects these differences.”

Information Has Value

“Information possesses several dimensions of value, including as a commodity, as a means of education, as a means to influence, and as a means of negotiating and understanding the world.”

Research as Inquiry

“Research is iterative and depends upon asking increasingly complex or new questions whose answers in turn develop additional questions or lines of inquiry in any field.”

Scholarship as Conversation

“Communities of scholars, researcher, or professionals engage in sustained discourse with new insights and discoveries occurring over time as a result of varied perspectives and interpretations.”

Searching as Strategic Exploration

“Searching for information is often nonlinear and iterative, requiring the evaluation of a broad range of information sources and the mental flexibility to pursue alternate avenues as new understanding is developed.”

Arguably, each of these threshold concepts can be directly applied to SoTL research in a broad manner including a variety of approaches and representations across disciplines. With that in mind, I am curious. If we agree that these threshold concepts can apply to SoTL, how do we/should we help our student SoTL researchers understand these threshold concepts? How did we, as SoTL researchers, internalize these concepts and how can we best model these ideals? Please consider sharing your input in the comment area below to start a discussion on these topics!