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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Reflections on ISU SoTL Scholar-Mentor Program

Written by: Kathleen McKinney, Cross Chair in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, Illinois State University

For the last three years, at Illinois State University, we have had a program called the “SoTL Scholar-Mentor Program.” I have served as the facilitator of these scholar-mentors. This program overlaps somewhat with scholar programs at other institutions that either fund SoTL researchers/grants or use faculty members as SoTL faculty developers. We also fund a variety of faculty/staff SoTL grants and research. We also use paid and volunteer faculty to assist others with learning about SoTL or SoTL projects. We believe our additional SoTL Scholar-Mentor Program, however, is somewhat unique. In this blog post, I summarize the goals and features of the program, share links to some scholar-mentor reflections, and reflect on the program from my point of view.

The ISU SoTL Scholar-Mentor Program

There are two main goals of the SoTL Scholar-Mentor program. The first goal is to nurture faculty members who are interested in SoTL– but who also have SoTL experience– in terms of furthering their own SoTL work, strengthening their experience as SoTL mentors and faculty developers, and connecting them to the SoTL field beyond campus. The second goal is to provide additional and valuable ‘personnel’ to the Office of the Cross Chair in SoTL so that we can achieve our goals of SoTL support, research, and advocacy.

All tenured or tenure-track Illinois State University faculty members with experience in the scholarship of teaching and learning are eligible to apply to be a SoTL scholar-mentor. Scholar-Mentors receive a course reassignment to the Office of the Cross Chair for the semester(s) for which they are accepted and $3,000 in travel and/or research funds for the fiscal year they are a scholar-mentor. Scholar-mentors were eligible for other SoTL funds open to any faculty/staff member as well. SoTL Scholar-Mentors work directly with the Cross Chair in SoTL and any other scholar-mentors. They have some time to work on their own SoTL project and to travel to SoTL conferences. In addition, they take responsibility for certain SoTL support and mentoring services depending on their expertise, interest, and initiative.

Reflections from Scholar-Mentors

Over the course of the three years, we have had six different SoTL Scholar-Mentors; four of whom served more than one semester. The scholar-mentors represented three colleges and six departments or schools within our university. Several of the scholar-mentors made brief reflective comments about their experiences (Dr. Erin Mikulec of the School of Teaching and Learning, is still serving as a scholar-mentor). I share these below.

A reflection by Politics and Government Professor, Dr. Michaelene Cox can be found at She summarizes some of her work as a scholar-mentor and notes that “…the less tangible, but no less important, result of serving as a SoTL Scholar-Mentor is that I met a host of smart and delightful colleagues from diverse disciplines that I might not have run across otherwise. The position gave me practice and greater appreciation for teamwork and collaborative problem solving. It broadened my understanding of SoTL, and boosted my confidence and experience in mentoring others about this work. And lastly, the past year in service as a Scholar-Mentor provided a unique perspective on the spirit of teaching and learning that forms the foundation of ISU’s mission. “

Dr. Maria Moore, a professor in our School of Communication, offers a brief reflection of her SoTL Scholar-Mentor experience at She explains what she brought to our SoTL support efforts and some of the tasks she performed. She also said that “One of the best parts of the SoTL Scholar-Mentor experience was the collaborative nature of working with the other mentors and with Kathleen McKinney as our leader. As the other scholars came from different disciplines, I was able to learn a great deal from them and through their own mentor activities. There was such a wonderful creative spirit to our collaborative work, and it was deeply rewarding to see the success they had in their own initiatives.”

Drs. Jen Friberg (CSD) and Anu Gokhale (Tech) share summaries of their Scholar-Mentor work in a joint brief article at . Similar to other scholar-mentors they highlighted benefits of their experience including the chance to learn new things, form new networks and partnerships, and collaborate with others. Dr. Friberg, in a personal communication to me, indicated that “her experiences as a SoTL Scholar-Mentor have been instrumental in developing a ever deepening interest in SoTL, peer mentoring, and advocacy for SoTL at and beyond ISU. Work in this capacity allowed me to develop the skills and knowledge I will need to be successful in my role as the Cross Endowed Chair in the coming years.”

Phyllis McCluskey-Titus, professor in Educational Administration and Foundations, in a personal communication to me, wrote “Some of my best experiences doing research relate to SoTL. Helping others design their projects or offering feedback on how they have written their findings was a very rewarding part of my role as a SoTL Scholar-Mentor. I find that SoTL researchers tend to be a lot like my disciplinary colleagues, collaborative and interested in students and their learning, so I enjoyed talking with “SoTL people” about effective teaching and incorporating suggestions from their research into my own classes. Working with Kathleen McKinney and the other SoTL Scholar-Mentors was never work, but always good quality time spent designing programs and services in support of SoTL on our campus with wonderful, thoughtful people from whom I learned a great deal.”

Reflections from the Cross Chair in SoTL

As I look back on the three-year program, several anecdotal conclusions occur to me.

  • All the Scholar-Mentors and all the applicants were women.
  • Scholars indicated several positive outcomes from their experience including learning new things related to SoTL and/or faculty development, meeting new people including in other disciplines and institutions, forming new partnerships sometimes with students, and having new opportunities for collaboration and team-work.
  • Though not mentioned in the above brief reflections, scholar-mentors also worked on their own SoTL research or writing, and traveled and presented their work. All the scholar-mentors attended international SoTL conferences. All the scholars also had previous, current, and/or later funding for SoTL research or travel through this office.
  • Most SoTL Scholar-Mentors became more involved in SoTL in their disciplinary association and/or in the international, multi-disciplinary SoTL field in terms of joining new organizations or professional service.
  • I tried to ‘match’ scholar-mentors with their interests, strengths, or desire to learn new things when negotiating the SoTL support/development tasks on which they would each take the lead or assist. This seemed to work out well for everyone in terms of motivation and success at task completion.
  • I, the Office of the Cross Chair, and those doing SoTL on campus benefited greatly from this program as the Scholar-Mentors often had strengths I did not (e.g., making video documentaries, using social media to promote SoTL and the office; working with external grant agencies…). In fact, most of the scholars came up with new and/or innovative programs or initiatives on which they took the lead and that I most likely would not have accomplished alone.
  • Scholar-mentors generally seemed to be very busy, possibly over-committed, professionally, yet most often were able to complete the support/development work on time and with quality. A few tasks were not completed to the extent I may have had in mind but this occurred rarely and not, necessarily, as the result of any scholar-mentor ‘failures’.
  • I enjoyed my interactions with these women tremendously. We had many successes and accomplishments as well as enjoyed some social time.




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Getting Started in SoTL: Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Annotated Literature Database

Written by: Nicola Simmons, Brock University

The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) focuses on improving student learning through scholarly inquiry into teaching and learning practices. Scholars of teaching and learning come from all disciplines and often bring their disciplinary lenses to studying these processes. (For a wonderful overview about SoTL, please see

These postsecondary practitioners and researchers are not always familiar with the research literature about learning and may have no point of entry for their investigations (Weimer, 2010). A frequent challenge is finding ‘point of entry’ literature around a particular topic that will provide a starting point for further inquiry. In addition, it can be challenging to grasp the ongoing scholarly debates in literature with which one is not yet familiar. Further, as Christensen Hughes and Mighty (2010) note, “researchers have discovered much about teaching and learning in higher education, but … dissemination and uptake of this information have been limited. As such, the impact of educational research on faculty-teaching practice and the student-learning experience has been negligible” (p. 4). Disseminating teaching and learning research in ways that connect it to practice continues to be a challenge (Poole, 2009).

These assertions are supported by my own experiences: For many years I worked with faculty members on their SoTL projects, and now work with both colleagues and graduate students. These consultations made me realize that finding point-of-entry literature in a field not one’s own is both difficult and daunting.

The release of a new open-access website – – aims to address that challenge. The website compiles key literature on SoTL topics to support postsecondary scholars and students from across all disciplines to improve their practice or conduct research pertaining to these topics. Each entry comprises a topic heading, a brief overview of the topic, and a short list of annotated key literature, highlighting ongoing debates in the literature.

A SoTL resources page provides a number of websites, books, articles, and videos that provide excellent background for those engaging in SoTL. While both they and the annotations are geared towards those entering SoTL, feedback thus far has suggested that SoTL scholars at any stage will find the site a useful place to begin or extend their literature searches.

Want to get involved?

The website is a work in progress (you will see a limited number of entries have been completed – though a team of dedicated graduate students is working on more as I write). I invite you to not only use it, but to consider whether:

  • You could contribute an entry or two based on your work in progress
  • You could ask a graduate pedagogy class to contribute annotations for a class assignment

All entries will be attributed to the contributing author. Contact Nicola Simmons at Please see the annotation process tab for further details.


Christensen Hughes, J., & Mighty, J. (2010). Taking stock: Research on teaching and learning in higher education. Kingston, ON: McGill-Queen’s University Press.

Poole, G. (2009). The pursuit of the scholarship of teaching and learning in Canada: Good, but not good enough. Keynote presentation at the Canadian Society for Studies in Higher Education annual conference, Ottawa, Ontario, May 25-27.

Weimer, M. (2008). Positioning scholarly work on teaching and learning. International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 2(1).


Author Bio:

Nicola was the SoTL Canada Founding Chair and previously served as VP (Canada) for ISSoTL, VP (SoTL) for the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, and Chair of the Canadian Educational Developers Caucus. She is the author of the SoTL annotations website and the editor of a forthcoming special issue of New Directions for Teaching and Learning, “The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Canada: Institutional Impact (release summer 2016).

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Teaching History in a Place with a Different History: A SoTL Study in Progress

Written by: Richard Hughes, Associate Professor of History at Illinois State University and Sarah Drake Brown, Associate Professor of History at Ball State University

In the United States and the United Kingdom, researchers have focused on historical thinking and its implications for teaching and learning in the elementary and secondary schools. Fifteen teaching candidates in Illinois State’s History Department have student taught in Brighton, England over the past 3 years. While this number represents only a small percentage of the program’s student teachers, the teaching candidates’ experience student teaching abroad affords history educators with a valuable research opportunity. With support from Illinois State’s Going Global with SoTL initiative, we designed a study to examine the extent to which varied clinical experiences shape the evolving professional goals and performances of developing teacher candidates in history. We began this project because we believed that analyzing candidates’ student teaching experiences in both central Illinois and in England would enable us to reconsider current classroom and clinical experiences in the history education program at Illinois State as well as contribute to research about future directions in the preparation of history teachers nationwide.

The vast literature on study abroad programs narrows significantly when one’s focus centers on student teaching abroad. Given that our research interests pertain specifically to SoTL in History, we designed research questions that align with our discipline-based research emphasis expanded to the context of a study abroad experience. Three main questions guided our work:

  • How do varied clinical experiences shape the evolving professional goals and performances of developing teacher candidates in history?
  • How do emerging history teachers navigate the tensions between theory and practice in two differing clinical settings?
  • 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?

While developing our three main research questions, we simultaneously considered what types of evidence we would need to collect from teaching candidates, how to best analyze the evidence, and at what points during the student teaching experience we would collect evidence. Because we sought to have our study intrude as little as possible on the teaching candidates’ student teaching experience, the majority of data collected and analyzed was gathered in the context of assignments and observations that were part of every student teachers’ experience (whether they were participating in study abroad or if their teaching took place entirely in Illinois). Three key aspects of data collection existed: Sarah Drake Brown conducted an interview with the teaching candidates in February when they completed student teaching in central Illinois and just prior to their departure from England; Richard Hughes observed the teaching candidates at schools in Illinois and in England and conducted interviews with the student teachers during his overseas observations; and both researchers interviewed the teaching candidates once they had returned to the United States. At all three points of contact in the context of interviews, we asked the teaching candidates to respond to questions (reworded as appropriate) that reflected the research questions identified previously. In addition, teaching candidates were asked to: describe themselves as history teachers; articulate their goals and values as history teachers; explain how they developed these ideas; and describe a typical day in their classrooms. These questions were purposefully broad and open-ended so that the teaching candidates would have the opportunity to articulate ideas that mattered to them and to their development as teachers rather than responding only to ideas that the researchers had identified as important.

An initial analysis suggests that two of the three student teachers appeared to place greater emphasis on the importance of teaching students discipline-specific ways of thinking and ways of knowing after their experience in England. The third student teacher had stressed the importance of this practice after having taught in central Illinois and continued to address historical thinking after the clinical experience in England. More in-depth analysis of our data is necessary before we are able to offer substantive evidence that supports our initial impression. We plan to examine the interview transcripts, materials teaching candidates submitted (examples of lessons, etc.), and the observation notes Hughes made when observing the candidates both in Illinois and in England in order to identify and then study the themes that emerge from the experiences of these novice history teachers. We anticipate that a close analysis of this data will help us better understand how history education programs and the various contexts of field experiences impact teaching candidates’ learning. It is our intent to examine the work of Illinois State’s teaching candidates—both in the United States and abroad—in order to better inform the practices and approach taken in Illinois State’s history education program and to inform the practices in other history education programs nationally and internationally.

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Graduate Students and SoTL: Informing, Encouraging, and Supporting

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

Many campuses work to involve graduate students in reading, assisting, conducting, and applying scholarship of teaching and learning projects/research. At Illinois State University, through the Office of the Cross Endowed Chair in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, we also do this via several mechanisms. We believe it is critically important for graduate students to learn about and have the opportunity to participate in SoTL as both an opportunity for more research experience and as a way of understanding and improving their teaching as graduate students and/or future faculty members. In this brief blog post, I summarize some of the mechanisms we have used. I encourage blog readers to comment and add ideas for other readers.

SoTL Reading Circle

We offer a SoTL reading circle to graduate students. We provide a book on SoTL (and sometimes other readings). In the past, we have used The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in and Across the Disciplines (McKinney, 2013, IU Press). Students do reading ahead of attending two required, facilitated group discussion meetings. At those meetings, particpants explore ideas about SoTL research, understand the value of SoTL in the role of professor, and consider opportunities that exist at ISU to support scholarly productivity as a SoTL researcher.  Generally, we limit each reading circle to 8-10 students. Participating students also earn a $150 stipend for reading the text and for active participation in both sessions. The stipend is applied to their student account at ISU (any funds remaining in a student’s account after account is paid in full are refunded to the student). And, of course, we feed the students as well!

SoTL Toolbox Session via Graduate School Toolbox Program

Our Graduate School offers regular professional development sessions, one hour in duration, on a wide range of topics to graduate students on campus. This year, we were able to add a SoTL Toolbox session to that list of offerings. About a dozen graduate students signed up for the session. We created a power point presentation about SoTL, its uses, making it public, and support on campus. We shared some SoTL related handouts. There was no monetary compensation for the graduate students but we did feed them!

Require Student Co-researcher on SoTL Grants

We offer a variety of SoTL related grants during the year for faculty members and academic staff. These include travel grants, mini-grants, and SoTL University Research Grants (URGs up to $5,000). For many of these grants, but especially the URGs, faculty/staff applicants must include at least one student (can be an undergraduate but is most often a graduate student) in meaningful roles on their research team. Doing so and outlining the non-trivial research duties in which the student will engage is one criterion for funding. This often leads to SoTL research presentations and papers co-authored by the PI and the student. Students have also presented on their experience working on the SoTL grant.

Selected SoTL Development Events Open to Graduate Students or Special SoTL Workshop for Graduate Students

Sometimes our office is able to offer space in SoTL workshops or other opportunities to graduate students. This depends, however, on the purpose of the workshop or opportunity, funding issues, timing, demand from faculty and staff, etc. Occasionally, we will offer a SoTL workshop just for graduate students and are able to target their interests, needs, and experience.

Opportunities for Involvement in SoTL Support Work by Our Office

A few years ago, when ISU was a leader in the Carnegie Foundation CASTLE Program, 2-4 graduate students were involved on the campus teams for these initiatives including traveling to CASTLE events and co-authoring chapters in a book on student voices in SoTL. More recently, graduate students in Art, English, and Communication have been hired to use their professional skills in our SoTL support efforts including designing the original cover of Gauisus (our online, multimedia SoTL journal), copyediting and formatting papers for Gauisus, designing PR material for events, and planning a major on-campus SoTL event.

Encourage/remind Graduate Students how to Make their SoTL Public Locally

Finally, we offer a variety of ways anyone on campus, including graduate students, can share their individual or team SoTL research and products locally. We inform graduate students about these opportunities via fliers, information to Chairs/Directors, FaceBook, Twitter, the graduate school, and so on.  The opportunities include writing very brief ‘articles’ for the SoTL at ISU Newsletter or The SoTL Advocate Blog, submitting a representation of their SoTL work to Gauisus, presenting at the annual Teaching-Learning Symposium, or having a poster at the annual University Research Symposium.