The SoTL Advocate

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

One Idea for Introducing Graduate Students to SoTL: An Interactive Reading Circle

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Written by: Jennifer Friberg, Cross Endowed Chair in SoTL and Associate Professor of Communication Sciences and Disorders at Illinois State University

SoTL Reading Group 1

In May and June of this year, the Office of the Cross Chair in SoTL sponsored its second annual SoTL Reading Circle for graduate students. Eight students representing varied disciplines (special education, English, sociology, psychology, history, politics and government, geology, and women’s and gender studies) met to learn about the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) and to consider how scholarly teaching and/or SoTL might fit into their lives. The goal of this reading circle was to help students to understand SoTL and its contributions to classrooms, programs, institutions, and disciplines through:

  • exploration of the definitions of scholarly teaching and SoTL
  • identification of possible student roles in scholarly teaching and SoTL
  • discussion of how knowledge of SoTL can enhance teaching and learning
  • conversation centered around topical assigned readings.

I acted as the facilitator for the reading circle and worked to structure our meetings to invite discussion about teaching and learning. Adhering to Gutman, Sergison, Martin, and Berstein’s (2010, p. 36) conceptualization of ownership as a “linchpin for collaboration,” it was a priority for students to understand that SoTL was important to them as both students and as prospective faculty. We talked at length about their roles as scholarly teachers/learners and as scholars of teaching and learning and together generated the following lists of tips for both roles:

Tips for Scholarly Teaching and Learning

  • Find out if your discipline has its own pedagogical journal. Seek it out. Read articles of interest to you. Think about how the research on teaching and learning that you read about is similar to or different from “traditional” research in your discipline. Reflect on these similarities and differences.
  • Think about potential faculty mentors who engage in scholarship on teaching and learning. Set up opportunities to talk with them about their experiences. Ask them to be “meta” and walk you through their thought processes in terms of setting up or reading scholarship on teaching and learning.
  • Consider scholarship on teaching and learning with a “consumer’s mindset.” Even though SoTL is contextualized, reflect on outcomes from scholarship with an eye towards application to support your own teaching and/or learning efforts and use what you learn to improve your practices.

Tips for Scholars of Teaching and Learning

  • Think carefully about your teaching and learning wonderments. Look toward past inquiry to see what has been studied and consider how your research question(s) can be adapted to make new contributions.
  • Seek out mentors to help you structure your project. Invite them – or others – to collaborate with you.
  • Don’t feel as though your SoTL needs to look like the scholarship done by other individuals. Design a project that reflects your interests (in terms of your research question), methods that make sense within your discipline, and ways to share your outcomes that are appropriate to the work you’ve done.
  • Use the resources around you to work smarter and find support for your scholarship (we discussed specific resources here at ISU via the Office of the Cross Chair, including grants, trainings, blog, website).
  • Consider SoTL from a “producer’s mindset,” and think about strategic ways to share your work with others to improve teaching and learning on your campus and beyond.

We engaged in discussions across multiple shared readings from journal articles as well as from The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in and Across the Disciplines (McKinney, 2013). Students drafted possible research questions and collaborated to determine ways in which their questions could be studied. All in all, we spent five hours together having really interesting conversations about teaching and learning. Two students from this summer’s reading circle cohort are currently seeking disciplinary mentors for a SoTL project, to which I say, “hooray!”

Student interest in this past summer’s reading circle opportunity was immense and led to an upcoming collaboration with ISU’s Graduate School for the 2016-17 academic year. My office will be co-piloting a Certificate of Special Instruction in SoTL for graduate students, providing systematic study of scholarly teaching and SoTL as well as a guided experience in planning a SoTL project under the direction of a mentor (hopefully from the student’s discipline…stay tuned!). We are excited to have a new mechanism to introduce graduate students to SoTL and look forward to sharing outcomes from this endeavor in the not-too-distant future.

Blog References:

Gutman, E. E., Sergison, E. M., Martin, C. J., & Bernstein, J. L. (2010). Engaging students as scholars in teaching and learning: The role of ownership. In Werder, C. & Otis, M. (Eds.). Engaging student voices in the study of teaching and learning. Sterling, VA: Stylus.

McKinney, K. (2013). The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in and Across the Disciplines. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.

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