Written by: Jennifer Friberg, Cross Endowed Chair in SoTL and Associate Professor of Communication Sciences and Disorders at Illinois State University
Last week in her blog post, my colleague Phyllis McCluskey-Titus discussed the benefits for faculty who engage in SoTL work with students. She identified a variety of outcomes that make SoTL mentorship with students a reflective and productive endeavor, and explained each from her perspective as a mentor and facilitator of SoTL work with students. It was clear from her reflections that Dr. McCluskey-Titus’ work with students favored the establishment of strong connections with students through the development of collaborative research relationships. My read of this blog post led me to recall the continuum of the range of student voices developed by McKinney, Jarvis, Creasey and Herrmann (2010) which outlined the spectrum of possibilities for student voices to be heard in the context of SoTL work. This continuum is summarized in the following graphic:
As a Commons, we are seeking to increase student voices in SoTL – an initiative that I fully support! I think it’s necessary, timely, and right to engage students in SoTL in a similar manner as we do in our disciplinary inquiry. That said, it’s not always easy! The above continuum yields a host of potential stopping points for students engaged in SoTL, from acting as a research subject to helping with clerical work, to helping with analysis, to co-development/independent project development. All forms of engagement in SoTL can potentially be of benefit to students and faculty, but perhaps some more so than others. This continuum would suggest that to be the case.
In my experience, there are faculty-driven and student-driven contextual factors that influence the ability to involve students as more than just research subjects in any given SoTL project. The following represents a non-exhaustive list of questions/bottlenecks that I’ve pondered in terms of developing a faculty mindset for student inclusion in SoTL research:
- Time – Does a student have ample, focused time to allocate to a SoTL project in the midst of a busy semester? If so, does a faculty member have the freedom to spend a great deal of time mentoring a student over the course of a project? Is this expenditure of time honored/valued as part of the teaching/research/service trifecta?
- Timing – Is a student seeking involvement in a project right as a faculty member is in the process of developing one? Is it feasible for a student to be engaged with an entire SoTL project across multiple semesters in terms of his/her plan of study? Can a student contribute to a SoTL project on a short-term basis in a way that is meaningful to his/her learning and the aims of the faculty co-researcher?
- Depth – What level of student involvement in SoTL work yields benefits for students and faculty?
These questions lead to more. Where is the “sweet spot” for student engagement in SoTL research? How do you find it? I would offer that perhaps the best fit for student involvement in SoTL is quite literally a moving target, dependent on contextual factors (considerations of time, timing, depth, etc.) that impact the ability to engage students across the continuum McKinney and colleagues describe above. There will be times where all the variables fall into place and a faculty/student research team can develop and study a teaching and learning question together collaboratively with complexity from start to finish. More often, there will be times where a student can work with a faculty member on a SoTL project in a more limited fashion, necessitating a need for less complex or active involvement in the work being done.
We know that students can benefit in a variety of ways from engagement in SoTL work. I would argue that knowing these potential benefits, we can work to adapt even short-term “lower continuum” involvement in a SoTL project to be a positive learning experience for students if we mediate the experience well. We need to talk to our students, explain the genesis of our research wonderments, describe the choices we made as researchers in terms of methods/analysis, and discuss what we might do with the outcomes of our SoTL work. In doing that, we have the opportunity to turn a less active/less complex student role in a SoTL project into one with a strong connection to the project and instructor, therein tying the student experience to both ends of the student voices/roles continuum and (hopefully) maximizing student learning/engagement in the process.
McKinney, K., Jarvis, P., Creasey, G., & Herrmann, D. (2010). In Werder, C. & Otis, M. M. (Eds). Engaging student voices in the student of teaching and learning. Sterling, VA: Stylus.