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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Why SoTL Matters

Written by Erin Mikulec, Associate Professor (School of Teaching and Learning) & SoTL Scholar-Mentor at Illinois State University

As the semester draws to a close, I have been reflecting on how SoTL has impacted my teaching and research.  This semester has been different than others for me in terms of SoTL as I have had the wonderful opportunity to serve as a SoTL Scholar-Mentor and to participate in the SoTL Commons Conference in Savannah, Georgia. These activities have led me to think about how SoTL has shaped the work that I do, both in terms of teaching and research.

One valuable aspect of SoTL is that it provides insight into how class projects and activities are effective…or not. For instance, one of my first SoTL projects examined the learning outcomes of 4-week peer-teaching and classroom management project that I have had my students do for several years.  While I had always felt strongly that the project was an impactful experience for my students, it wasn’t until I analyzed their work and reflections as data that I was able to identify not only the strengths of the project, but also where it could be improved.  Of course, not all projects go as planned or have the outcomes that one would hope for.  This became clear during a subsequent SoTL project in which I studied the learning outcomes of an online international experience. My students communicated via online discussion forums with students at a university in Japan, and while the students were excited about the project, it fell short due to differences in communication styles and beliefs about the role of educational technology which varied across the two cultures. While it would have been possible to simply conclude that the project was not as successful as I had hoped, it was the analysis of the student work, both from the U.S. and Japan, which led me to understand those two important pieces, and to not simply chalk it up to “logistics”.

SoTL research not only identifies learning outcomes, but it also informs instruction.  The data generated by the two projects described above, one successful and one less so, impacted my classes significantly. In the class with the peer-teaching project, I was able to place greater emphasis on certain aspects, such as preparing students for the experience and providing more opportunities for discussion and reflection. This made the project even stronger. In my class with the international experience, I worked closely with my university partner in Japan to identify ways in which we might support and encourage more interaction and communication amongst both groups of students.  In both instances, it would have been easy to simply say that one project worked and the other didn’t. However, it was through SoTL that I was able to take the results of my research and apply them to my practice.

In addition to supporting classroom practices, SoTL serves as a means for instructors and advisors to work effectively with university students. In my first semester at Illinois State, I began working with the ISU Equestrians.  As a faculty co-advisor, I attended meetings, accompanied riders to horseshows, and provided administrative support as well as conflict management.  This led to my very first SoTL study in which my co-author and I examined the learning outcomes of participation in a Registered Student Organization (RSO).  It was through this project that I realized the importance of recognizing that university students are in a constant process of transitioning from student to professional and that our role as instructors and RSO advisors is instrumental in supporting this process, through learning to work with others on the team, working with external stakeholders, problem solving, and communication.  Our research, which began with our own ISU team, eventually led to collecting data regionally and nationally.  What’s more, making our research public through conference presentations and publications, allowed others to begin to look at these processes as well.

Finally, SoTL conferences and events provide a venue for instructors and researchers to share their work in a supportive environment. I have attended a number of such conferences, such as ISSOTL and SoTL Commons, and am always impressed and inspired by the work that others are doing.  Often, I believe that in the College of Education we take for granted the validity of researching our teaching and using the results to inform our practices.  It was at my first SoTL conference that I understood that this is not necessarily shared in all colleges and departments. This only reinforced for me the importance of SoTL and encouraging SoTL researchers to participate in conferences and make their work public.  It is through these venues that SoTL researchers have a voice that will hopefully encourage them to continue in their work. Furthermore, having served as a SoTL Scholar-Mentor this semester has been a wonderful experience in working with colleagues across campus to develop their own SoTL work.  All in all, while I have always believed strongly in the power of SoTL, this semester has helped me to understand the multiple ways in which SoTL matters.

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Celebrating SoTL at Illinois State

Written by: Jen Friberg & Erin Mikulec, SoTL Scholar-Mentors at Illinois State University

On April 12, 2016, the Office of the Cross Endowed Chair in SoTL at ISU hosted a reception to honor the faculty, staff, and students on campus who have been involved with SoTL (e.g., as a grant recipient, author/co-author of a paper published in Gauisus, SoTL award winners, etc.).

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Janet Krejci, Vice President for Academic Affairs & Provost, opened the reception and John Baur, Associate Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies, introduced the incoming Cross Endowed Chair in SoTL (Jennifer Friberg, beginning July 1, 2016) during his remarks.

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Over 50 individuals were recognized and celebrated for their contributions to the SoTL work done on our campus, representing 22 academic departments/schools/units, as follows:

SoTL URG Recipients: Anu Gokhale, TEC and Nadia Khatib, TEC; Lydia Kyei-Blankson, EAF and Heather Donnelly, TCH; Erin Mikulec, TCH and Jill Donnel, TCH; Sandra Osorio, TCH and Josh Bieler, SWK

Go Global with SoTL Mini-Grant Recipients: Aysen Bakir, MKT; Judith Briggs, ART; Richard Hughes, HIS; Miranda Lin, TCH; Yoon Jin Ma, FCS and Elisabeth Reed, FCS; Do-Yong Park, TCH

SoTL Travel Grant Recipients: Charlene Aaron, NUR; Judith Briggs, ART; Anu Gokhale, TEC; Linda Haling, TCH; Jennine Harvey-Northrop, CSD; Susan Hildebrandt, LAN; John Hooker, COM; Kate Lewis, MUS; Jacqueline McClure, CSD; Rebecca Rosenblatt, PHY; Sherry Sanden, TCH; Jean Sawyer, CSD; Jamie Smith, CSD; Lisa Vinney, CSD; Matt Winsor, MAT

Making SoTL Public Incentive Recipients: Bill Anderson, FCS; Hulda Black, MKT; Shelly Clevenger, CJS; Rebekka Darner Gougis, BSC; John Hooker, COM; Kathleen Hopper, COM; John Huxford, COM; Guang Jin, HSC; Lydia Kyei-Blankson, EAF; Robert McLaughlin, ENG; Aimee Ott, COM; Jennifer Peterson, HSC; Euysup Shim, TEC; Karen Stipp, SWK

The SoTL Advocate Guest Authors: Richard Hughes, HIS; Brandon Hensley, EAF; Susan Hildebrandt, LAN; Emilio Lobato, PSY, Tom Critchfield, PSY and Corinne Zimmerman, PSY; Phyllis McCluskey-Titus, EAF and Anne McDowell, COE; Erin Mikulec, TCH

Gauisus Authors: Bill Anderson, FCS; Sarah Bradshaw, FCS;  Jennifer Banning, FCS;  Karen Stipp, SWK; Kathryn Sheridan, SWK;  Ariana Postlethwait, SWK;  Rebekka Darner Gougis, BSC;  Janet Stomberg, BSC;  Alicia O’Hare, GEO; Mark Zablocki, SED; Christy Borders, SED; Carrie Anna Courtad, SED; Stacey Jones-Bock, SED

Gauisus Reviewers: Bill Anderson, FCS; Danielle Futoran, Milner Library; Stefanie Gardiner-Walsh, SED; Jennifer Friberg, CSD, Phyllis McCluskey-Titus, EAF; Kathleen McKinney, SOTL, Erin Mikulec, TCH

SoTL Scholar-Mentors: Fall 2015: Jennifer Friberg, CSD; Spring 2016 Jennifer Friberg, CSD and Erin Mikulec, TCH

SoTL University Award Winner: Jennifer Friberg, CSD



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Reflecting on Learning at the SoTL Commons Conference

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

At the end of March, I had the good fortune to attend the SoTL Commons conference in Savannah, Georgia. The conference was full of all the things you hope to find at a SoTL gathering: good ideas, a sense of community, and an opportunity to reflect and learn. Kudos to Diana Sturgis and her team from Georgia Southern University for a wonderful experience. I look forward to going back in the future.

SoTL COmmons

One of my favorite presentations at the conference was delivered by keynote speaker Dr. Sarah Leupen from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Her address (Beyond Navel Gazing: The Evidence Base for Employing Reflective and Metacognitive Practices in our Teaching) offered timely and useful advice for those wishing to engage their students as reflective learners. Specifically, Dr. Leupen suggested five strategies – supported by ample evidence — that we, as course instructors, could use in order to accomplish this task in a scholarly manner:

  1. Teach students what we actually know about learning. Leupen cited a host of evidence related to how people learn and strongly advocated for instructors to share this knowledge with their students so they might better understand their own learning processes – what works, what doesn’t, and what changes in practice could be effective to improve learning.
  2. Use learning wrappers to have students reflect on (and learn from) their past performance on various types of learning assessments. Having students identify what they did (process of studying and preparation) and if it worked (satisfaction with their learning/performance outcomes) can help students identify effective practices in preparing for assessments.
  3. Have students teach content to each other. Leupen cited research that suggests peer teaching/discussion is most effective in helping students engage in high-level activities (e.g., analysis, synthesis, and evaluation), as when students have to reason, reflect, and explain, they have better learning outcomes.
  4. Use team-based learning. Implementing the trifecta of individual thought, peer-to-peer communication/discussion, and instructor facilitation has been found to be impactful in the learning process for students, for much as students can teach each other (see #3 above), they can also be very effective teammates, solving problems and simultaneously reporting on what they have learned.
  5. Train students’ attention to task. Stating that “natural times for reflection are disappearing,” Leupen advocated for the need to teach targeted “meta-attention” strategies to students via contemplative reading and reflective journaling in an effort to create a purposeful and regular outlet for non-interrupted reflection.

Dr. Leupen’s excellent presentation can be downloaded in its entirety at the SoTL Commons proceedings site. Other presentations from the conference can be downloaded here. For a list of other, upcoming SoTL conferences, check the Cross Chair website.


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SoTL Think Tank: Fostering Cross-Program Collaboration Within a Discipline

Written by Jerry K. Hoepner, Associate Professor ( and Abby Hemmerich, Assistant Professor ( at the University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire

The American Speech Language and Hearing Association (ASHA) Academic Affairs Board (AAB) released a report on the role of undergraduate education in Communication Sciences and Disorders (CSD) in June of 2015. Among the concerns addressed by this report is the need to align curriculum and pedagogy across programs. A lack of consistency across programs constrains the portability of a CSD degree to other undergraduate and graduate programs, as well as the generalizability to related educational and healthcare professions.

While this is a discipline-specific example, it is a challenge which faces many disciplines. The reality of today’s educational context affirms that students increasingly seek flexibility in how they assemble their education and the programs that deliver it. This blog addresses one program’s attempt to foster collaboration across institutions operating in the same state university system.

The University of Wisconsin Systems SoTL Think Tank sought to initiate a consortium of faculty from six state programs in CSD. The program was initiated in the spring of 2015 through a UW Systems conference development grant by the Office of Professional Instruction and Development (OPID). The initial intent of the consortium was to share information about current teaching strategies, develop a network of faculty interested in incorporating SoTL research in their programs, encourage sharing of resources and content expertise, foster research and teaching collaboration between programs, increase SoTL and pedagogical knowledge across system programs, and conjointly develop plans for future collaboration (see figure 1).

Figure 1. Purpose and goals of the UW Systems SoTL Think Tank.

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Prior to the one-day seminar, attendees responded to a Qualtrics survey about their previous and current perspectives and experiences with SoTL and pedagogy. Most respondents indicated that collaboration happened within their own departments on their own campuses but less across the campus or with similar programs on other campuses (see figure 2). Most attendees felt their home departments valued discussions of SoTL and encouraged research in this area, but implementation of teaching observations was less common (see figure 3).

Figure 2. Pre-conference collaboration data.

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Figure 3. Perceived value of SoTL at home institution.

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A moderator from the host university’s Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning guided discussions following the framework below:

  • Meet and greet. An informal discussion paired with refreshments allowed the attendees to get to know one another prior to deeper discussions of pedagogy.
  • Discussion of selected readings from disciplinary SoTL text (Ginsberg, Friberg, & Visconti, 2012). Initial discussions of the text allowed attendees to share pedagogical philosophies and connect academic and clinical teaching. Attendees worked within small groups to share experiences and insights related to instruction.
  • What is SoTL and where are people at the outset? Reflecting upon previous experiences with teaching and learning, under the lens of readings within the Ginsberg et al. text, attendees identified the aspects of SoTL that matched their current understanding and where they hoped to be. As you see in the images below (see figure 4), attendees’ conceptualization of the intersection between teaching and SoTL migrated throughout the day from a focus on teacher-learner interactions and pedagogical content knowledge towards evidence-based education and SoTL.

Figure 4. Attendee conceptualizations of the teaching, pedagogy, and SoTL continuum.

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  • SoTL and pedagogy in the discipline. Discussions of the role of SoTL in the discipline, implementation of evidence-based pedagogies, and signature pedagogies within the discipline took place as attendee conceptualization evolved.
  • Action Plans. Following a framework designed by the hosts of the think tank, we worked to assemble dreams (i.e., what would you do if time, money, and other resources were not a limiting factor), goals (e.g., what specific steps will you take next), and potential collaboration surrounding research and teaching interests and needs (see figure 5). Each attendee defined a plan for implementing SoTL at some level into his/her teaching or research for the following academic year.

Figure 5. Action plan (left) and examples of lessons to share (right).

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  • Brag N’ Steal. Attendees brought an innovative lesson to share and discuss. As they presented their lesson plans, it fostered a discussion of how others may draw upon those principles for lessons in their content areas (e.g., a lesson for an adult neurogenic disorders class and how that could be modified for a child language development course). Examples are shown in figure 5 above.

Several projects and plans for follow-up were initiated. This included:

  1. A survivor speaker series exchange which has already hosted its first speaker
  2. A faculty speaker-exchange
  3. A presentation at our disciplinary annual conference in November 2015
  4. A presentation at the UW Systems conference in April 2016
  5. A plan to meet again the following spring, hosted by another program within the system

The program was intended to foster inter-program pedagogical and research collaborations. The conference included one, full-day interaction, intended to foster review of a framework for SoTL research and pedagogical enhancement in CSD. Faculty with expertise in similar content areas were able to connect for future collaboration in teaching resources, as well as research. Further, commonalities across program curriculums provided a basis for initiating discussions of inter-program curricular consistency and compatibility. This could enable students to move seamlessly between system programs (i.e., undergraduate to undergraduate program, undergraduate to graduate school).

Implications & Potential Extensions

This program attempted to initiate a collaboration of disciplinary programs across a system. While not all universities are a part of a state system, as the programs we have described, most programs will have state and regional affiliates in their discipline with whom they may wish to collaborate. As you can see, this is not a process that is quick to implement. Our work thus far is merely a few steps towards our ultimate goals of producing portable curricula, shared standards, cross-program collaboration, and shared expertise. Achieving those lofty goals begins with those initial connections and conversations.

Blog References:

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. (2015). Academic Affairs Board, “The Role of Undergraduate Education in Communication Sciences and Disorders”, Final Report. Retrieved from

Ginsberg, S., Friberg, J., & Visconti, C. (2012). Scholarship of teaching and learning in speech-language pathology and audiology: Evidence-based education. San Diego: Plural Publishing.