Written by Jennifer Friberg, Cross Endowed Chair in SoTL at Illinois State University
I have spent the last two decades of my life as a speech-language pathologist (SLP), working directly with children who have communication disorders, teaching/mentoring SLPs-in-training, and contributing to the evidence base for clinical practice and pedagogy in my profession. From the onset of my career as an SLP, I’ve answered the question, “what exactly do you do?” hundreds of times. As friends and family understood my professional life a bit better, this question was asked less frequently. That all changed this year, however, when I accepted the role of Cross Endowed Chair in SoTL at ISU. I’ve been asked “what exactly do you do?” more often than ever…and I can completely understand the confusion! Providing a 35,000’ overview of my role is difficult, but this description is usually a good start:
“I work with students and faculty who are interested in research and reflection on teaching and learning in higher education. I foster opportunities for networking, funding, completion, and dissemination of teaching and learning research at ISU and beyond.”
I actually find it more difficult to explain my role to faculty and students, from my university or from others. This is likely due to the multitude of different approaches to/perceptions of educational development for SoTL across institutions. Timmermans and Ellis (2016) recently wrote of their work to reconceptualize SoTL programming/support at the University of Waterloo. The combination of a smaller scale needs assessment combined with a university-wide task force led these authors to support and (successfully) implement a broader view of scholarly teaching, rather than a narrower view of SoTL, to guide educational development efforts. Their data indicated that to be the “Goldilocks fit” for their institution — not too big, not too small, but just right — to engage faculty and students in the study and reflection of teaching and learning.
The work of Timmermans and Ellis (2016) led me to think in a different yet focused way about SoTL at ISU. While SoTL support at the University of Waterloo is undertaken by the Center for Teaching Excellence, we have a different arrangement at ISU. I began to ponder the organizational structure for SoTL development and whether that might be the true driver in helping us understand and know who we are on our respective campuses. This, in turn, led me to consider the impact of the structure for teaching and learning at ISU on how SoTL support is sought and perceived.
At ISU, there is a great deal of support for teaching and learning. We have a robust Center for Teaching and Learning (CTLT) as well as a strong and growing influence in SoTL via the Office of the Cross Endowed Chair in SoTL. These entities are completely separate (different reporting and funding structures) though few realize that there is purposeful separation between the two campus units. For me, it is critical that our campus units be perceived as different. Why? Oversight for the Office of the Cross Endowed Chair is provided by the Associate Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies, which legitimizes and supports SoTL as an accepted, valued, and important form of research for our campus. This differentiates SoTL, institutionally, in a hugely positive way. Knowing who we are in terms of SoTL at ISU begins here.
Collaborations with CTLT extend from this notion, allowing an interactive and productive relationship across the continuum of good teaching, scholarly teaching, and the SoTL (McKinney, 2007). Because I am a visual person, I tried to capture the work we do graphically:
I am thankful that the organizational structure for educational development in teaching and learning at ISU has allowed us our “Goldilocks fit.” We have good and scholarly teaching encouraged by CTLT and scholarly teaching and SoTL encouraged by the Office of the Cross Endowed Chair in SoTL. It’s a balance, but one that is working at our institution. And, that’s really the key in a world where there is no one “right” approach to encouraging and supporting SoTL, isn’t it? The ability to support research and reflection on teaching and learning to honor the uniqueness of our institutions and their needs is critical. Thanks to Timmermans and Ellis for giving me the chance to reflect on this today!
McKinney, K. (2007). Enhancing learning though the scholarship of teaching and learning: The challenges and joys of juggling. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Timmermans, J. A. & Ellis, D. E. (2016). Reconceptualizing the scholarship of teaching and learning at the University of Waterloo: An account of influences and impact. New Directions of Teaching and Learning, 146, 71-78.