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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“Using Research about Teaching to Suggest a Way Forward”

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

On January 6, 2016, the Center for Teaching, Learning, & Technology at Illinois State University hosted its 15th annual Teaching and Learning Symposium in Normal, Illinois. Attended by over 350 faculty from ISU, this year’s symposium focused on “Imagining the Future, Reflecting the Past.”

Todd Zakrajsek was the keynote speaker for the day, delivering several sessions centered on the metacognitive processes at work in many learning contexts at the college/university level. His keynote presentation (What Got Us Here is Not What We Need Now: Using Research about Teaching to Suggest a Way Forward) identified six facts about learning for us, as course instructors, to consider in planning learning experiences for students. These are provided and expanded upon below:

  1. Learning is best when it involves the learner in meaningful ways. Significant learning occurs when students feel as though they are active participants in the learning process.
  2. Teach students about learning. We expect students to come to college understanding how learning happens when few truly do.
  3. Humans like to learn. Humans are hard-wired to learn and seek out learning opportunities early and often throughout their lifetimes.
  4. We know a bit about how humans learn, and this knowledge should impact how we teach. There is a LOT of research about brain function and teaching and learning that can and should support the choices we make in designing learning opportunities for students. Access SoTL and other valuable research to engage in scholarly teaching.
  5. Be cautious about things that sound good without research support. Just because students “like” something or tell you it was a good experience doesn’t mean that it was. Study what you do. Share the results. Build the academy and the evidence we use to inform our teaching.
  6. Avoid “either-or” thinking. Evidence exists to support a variety of pedagogical approaches to teaching. There is no need to only lecture or never lecture. You don’t have to choose between active or auditory learning. A balance in teaching is important.

What would you add to this list? Could/should it be added to? What else do we know from SoTL and other research that might be of value in thinking about a way forward for course instructors in higher education? We’d love your opinions in the comments section below!

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Application of SoTL: Strategies to Encourage Metacognition in the Classroom

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

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Recently, I have been doing a good deal of reading about various evidence-based strategies to teach for metacognitive understanding in my graduate and undergraduate courses, knowing that when students are explicitly “thinking about their thinking,” they have the capacity to learn more, extend learning beyond the classroom, and integrate information across contexts more easily.

In 2012, Kimberly Tanner published a paper titled: Promoting Student Metacognition. Within this paper, Tanner reviews strategies for explicit teaching of metacognitive strategies to build a culture of “thinking about thinking” within her biology classes. She posits that thinking like a professional requires students to be metacognitive, making teaching about thinking arguably as important as teaching specific course content.

In terms of specific strategies, Tanner provides “sample self-questions to promote student metacognition about learning” (p. 115). She categorizes these into three categories (planning, monitoring, and evaluation) across four specific contexts (class session, active learning task/homework assignment, quiz/exam, and overall course) for a total of 51 specific questions that students can ask themselves to evaluate their learning processes. These include:

  • What resources do I need to complete the task at hand? How will I make sure I have them?
  • What do I most want to learn in this course?
  • Can I distinguish important information from details? If not, how will I figure this out?
  • To what extent am I taking advantage of all the learning supports available to me?
  • Which of my confusions have I clarified? How was I able to get them clarified?
  • How did the ideas of today’s class session relate to previous class sessions?
  • What have I learned about how I learn in this course that I could use in my future courses? In my career?

The utility of providing these questions to students for their use is undeniable, but we cannot be certain that students will take the opportunity to become more metacognitive on their own. Tanner advocates for sharing these questions with students AND embedding them into existing assignments and learning opportunities to build a habit of reflection, which can lead to more routine thinking about learning.

It is with a more explicit intention to directly encourage metacognitive thought that Ron Ritchhart, Mark Church, and Karin Morrison wrote the text Making Thinking Visible: How to Promote Engagement, Understanding and Independence for All Learners in 2011. Ritchhart, Church, and Morrison advocate for having students think about their own thinking through the implementation of thinking routines to make thinking more “visible” as part of the learning process. The suggest different levels of routines to drive different sorts of thinking: introducing/exploring ideas, synthesizing/organizing ideas, and digging deeper into ideas. All in all, 21 different strategies for classroom use are described, including:

  • See-Think-Wonder (p. 55): A strategy for introducing and exploring information that has students asking themselves three questions when observing a new object/artifact — What do you see? What do you think is going on? What does it make you wonder?
  • Connect-Extend-Challenge (p. 132): A strategy for encouraging synthesis and organization of ideas that asks student to consider what they have just read/seen/heard, then ask themselves: how are the ideas and information presented connected to what you already knew? what new ideas did you get that extended or broadened your thinking in new directions? What challenges or puzzles have come up in your mind from the ideas and information presented?
  • Circle of Viewpoints (p. 171): A strategy to digger deeper into ideas that requires students to consider different perspectives that could be present of affected by a given topic by considering the following: 1) I am thinking of [name of the event/issue] from ______ point of view, 2) I think [describe topic form your viewpoint] because _______, and 3) A question/concern I have from this viewpoint is ________ .

Do you think these strategies could be useful in your teaching context? When working with your students in academic, clinical, or outside the classroom/clinic situations, what strategies are you using to encourage metacognition? Have you studied these strategies in any way? We’d love to hear more in the comments below!

Blog References:

Ritchhart, R., Church, M., & Morrison, K. (2011). Making thinking visible: How to promote engagement, understanding, and independence for all learners. Jossey-Bass: San Francisco.

Tanner, K. D. (2012). Promoting student metacognition. CBE – Life Sciences Education, 11, 113-120.


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Awardee Announced for the 2015-16 Dr. John Chizmar & Dr. Anthony Ostrosky Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Award

Dr. Jennifer Friberg (Ed.D., Illinois State University), an Associate Professor of Communication Sciences and Disorders (CSD) at Illinois State University, is the 2015-16 recipient of the Dr. John Chizmar & Dr. Anthony Ostrosky Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Award. She teaches in the area of speech-language pathology, and has published SoTL research based on her experiences with students on topics such as student engagement, diagnostic decision making, and the impact of cross-curricular integration. This SoTL research has been presented at international SoTL conferences such as ISSOTL and EuroSoTL and published in journals such as Perspectives on Issues in Higher Education and Contemporary Issues in Communication Sciences and Disorders. Along with three colleagues from CSD, Friberg was an inaugural recipient of the “Walk the Talk” Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) award at ISU.

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Friberg has served as a SoTL Scholar-Mentor at ISU for three years, working closely with the Cross Endowed Chair in SoTL to mentor faculty and students in conducting teaching and learning research, deliver numerous SoTL-focused workshops, develop and edit The SoTL Advocate blog, and present original SoTL work locally, nationally, and internationally. She has served as a co-editor for Evidence-Based Education Briefs and is an editor of Gauisus, the internal SoTL publication at ISU.

Friberg has been a strong advocate for SoTL, co-authoring a position statement on SoTL in her discipline, co-founding a disciplinary SoTL journal, and co-authoring the first-ever text on SoTL in communication sciences and disorders: Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology: Evidence-Based Education. She has served as the chair of the SoTL Committee for the Council of Academic Programs in Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology and was the four-year national chair of Issues in Higher Education, a special interest group focused on SoTL within the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. She is a current member of the Advocacy & Outreach committee for the International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning.

Additional information related to the Dr. John Chizmar and Dr. Anthony Ostrosky SoTL Award can be found here or by emailing Kathleen McKinney at sotl@ilstu.edu for additional details.