The SoTL Advocate

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

A Bit of History of Centralized Support for SoTL at One Institution

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Written by Kathleen McKinney, Cross Endowed Chair in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL), Illinois State University

This blog post is an effort to reconstruct the history of centralized support for the scholarship of teaching and learning at one public institution: Illinois State University. Of course, there may also have been support for such practioner research on student learning at the college, department, or discipline levels but the focus of this blog post is on support at the University level. I urge readers of this blog to consider the history of SoTL support on their campuses and to think about ways to increase or improve such support. (See August 3, 2015 post to this blog, “Become a Social Change Agent for SoTL”)

After offering a University-wide teaching workshop for graduate students for five years starting in 1990, in July of 1996 we opened the Center for the Advancement of Teaching (CAT) at Illinois State University. Though the focus of this unit was on supporting exemplary teaching practices on campus to improve student learning, the center also moved quickly to support SoTL research and related efforts on campus. At this same time, in terms of other services and faculty development related to teaching and SoTL, there was a separate unit called Faculty Technology Support (FTS) and the precursor to the present day University Assessment Services, both of which also involved a small amount of indirect, centralized support for teaching and SoTL.

In 1998, CAT organized and sponsored the first annual ISU Teaching Symposium held in October. We had, maybe, 80 people attend or present that first year. Much of the work presented was teaching tips or scholarly teaching but a small was more formal SoTL. This event, of course, has evolved over the years into the amazing campus event we have now –the January ISU Teaching-Learning Symposium held in the uptown Normal Marriott with an external keynote speaker and usually about 400 people registered!

In 1998, we also began our work–lasting over a decade until 2012– with the, now defunct, American Association of Higher Education (AAHE) and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, working on teaching-learning issues, faculty development, and on the scholarship of teaching and learning. ISU became one of 12 institutional leaders around the US and Canada in one phase of this work (2003-2006) and was very involved in all phases of this institutional SoTL initiative. Some of that work and products are documented at

At CAT, over the years, we offered and supported many teaching support initiatives but, also, supported scholarly teaching and SoTL via consulting on projects, a library, the symposium, an occasional internal publication for making local SoTL public, and an early version of a SoTL small grant program. In about 2006, CAT was combined with Faculty Technology Support (FTS) to form the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Technology (CTLT). CTLT continues to support outstanding teaching practices, scholarly teaching, and to a lesser degree, SoTL.

In 2002, Dr. K. Patricia Cross provided a gift to Illinois State University to endow a University Chair in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. The Provost created the Office of the Cross Chair in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. CTLT continued(s) to offer some support for SoTL but most centralized SoTL support comes from the Office of the Endowed Chair. In 2003-2004, the Endowed Chair in SoTL was selected as a Carnegie Foundation SoTL scholar and was able to spend time in residence at Carnegie working on a SoTL project and bring back what she learned to campus. A wide range of SoTL support has been offered through the Office of the Endowed Chair over the last fourteen years including, for example, workshops on doing SoTL, consulting, SoTL books, this blog, grants to travel to present SoTL projects, SoTL university research grants, an internal SoTL publication, a university-wide SoTL award, a newsletter and web page with resources, incentives for sharing SoTL projects external to the campus, a faculty SoTL Scholar-Mentor program, teaching graduate students about SoTL, and much more.

We continue to offer such support today (! What is your institution doing to support SoTL to enhance student learning and development on your campus and in your discipline? What more could be done?




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