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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The Students-As-Partners in SoTL Movement: Wonderments from ISSoTL

Written by Jennifer Friberg, Cross Endowed Chair in SoTL at Illinois State University

notes-for-blogDespite being a devotee of technology, I am a pen and paper note taker (and probably always will be). At conferences, in particular, I take copious notes in a my “SoTL journal” of the moment, capturing whatever is of interest to me at a particular time. ISSoTL this year was no different, my handy SoTL journal was filled with pages of scrawled notes, doodles, arrows, and connections as I processed all I heard.

My notes from the session presented by Angela Kehler, Roselynn Verwoord, and Heather Smith titled Power and Voice: A Critical Analysis of the Students-As-Partners Literature were particularly interesting. Looking them over, I noticed that I only recorded questions, evidently channeling my dissertation advisor who regularly challenged his students to view curiosities as “wonderments” for future reflection and study.

Kehler, Verwoord, and Smith posed the following questions as part of their presentation:

  • How can we infuse more systematic critique into the students-as-partners literature to avoid being overly laudatory/celebratory in our reporting of outcomes?
  • How do we underestimate power in the students-as-partners movement?
  • Who is the safe space for in the students-as-partners movement? What hierarchies are being supported and/or perpetuated in the work we engage in?
  • What is the aftermath of students-as-partners work? Can students who have experienced increased autonomy/responsibility due to changing power structures be happy when they return to the “norm” after their experience is over?

Thinking about these questions led me to scrawl a variety of additional wonderments in my notes that I find myself still pondering, three weeks after the end of the conference:

  • Can value-shifts in the students-as-partners movement be likened to code-shifts used by successful communicators? Might code-shifting represent the first behavioral change in successful student/faculty partnerships?
  • When and how do important transitions in faculty/student partnerships happen?
  • Is flexibility in interpretations of traditional role structures important? How are these behaviors modeled in successful student/faculty partnerships?
  • What makes partnership “real” in terms of buy-in and experience for all stakeholders?
  • What is the intersection of collegiality and friendship in faculty/student partnerships? Is there a need for such a divide?
  • My best collaborations have emerged from long-term relationships with trusted and well-known colleagues. Is it possible to develop similar, deep collaborations in shorter-term relationships lasting one term/year?

Kehler, Verwoord, and Smith offered that the students-as-partners movement is multi-faceted and complex with many moving parts and warned of the dangers of being “uncurious” about the things happening around us. It would seem that based on the discussion at this and other sessions at ISSoTL, we are far from uncurious about student/faculty partnerships, which, I think is a very good thing.

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Improving Writing Through Revision: Stop Complaining and Start Supporting

Written by Rebecca M. Achen, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Sport Management at Illinois State University

A photo by Joanna Kosinska. the spring of 2016, I embarked on a project to discover a revision strategy that would help my graduate students become more accomplished writers. After spending my first semester at ISU hearing students lament about writing and voice frustration with their scores, I decided to implement three revision strategies into one graduate course in the spring of 2016. I received a SoTL Research Mini-Award for June 2016 from the Office of the Cross-Endowed Chair to support the analysis of the data and writing of the manuscript.

Bean (2011) highlights the importance of encouraging revision for improving writing and critical thinking skills. He suggests faculty focus on strategies to help students understand the process of writing. As such, I embarked on a project to improve students’ writing through revision to determine which revision strategy is most effective. In a graduate course, I assigned four written concept papers, with identical assignment instructions and rubrics, but varying concepts. After completing the first paper, students were given the opportunity to rewrite it. Prior to writing the second paper, students were invited to send me a rough draft for feedback. For the third paper, students were required to bring a draft to class for peer review. Finally, none of these revision options were afforded for the fourth paper. After final course grades were submitted, I reviewed student consent forms and then compared scores across papers. While the average score was the highest on the assignment they were allowed to rewrite, t-tests revealed no significant differences in average scores across the written assignments.

I also asked students their perceptions of each revision strategy. Overall, students found rewrites and rough drafts to be useful for improving their writing skills. However, their comments clarified their focus was less on improving their writing skills, and more on getting feedback from the individual who would be grading their paper. Also, they did not value peer review. Most students did not feel feedback provided by peers was detailed or specific enough to be useful.

After reflecting on the results, my own experience teaching the course, and what I observed using the revision strategies, I plan to make systematic changes to my course to help students improve their writing through revision. Below are my suggestions for faculty who wish to encourage revision in their classes.

  1. Teach students to be effective peer reviewers. Being able to provide useful and critical feedback is an essential skill for students in their academic and professional careers. However, students need to be taught how to provide good feedback. First, I intend to spend class time discussing effective and targeted feedback strategies. Then, I plan to provide students with peer feedback forms to use. Finally, I will review the feedback they provide to peers, so I can provide advice to improve their peer review skills.
  1. Require students to provide a rough draft or complete a revision for at least one assignment during the semester. Overall, students were not motivated to revise their work, and less than half the class took advantage of rewrites and rough drafts. Requiring them to do so at least once will help them see writing as a process, and not as something they can complete the night before the paper is due. While I realize this might be time intensive for faculty members, doing so only once a semester provides a good balance between resources and student needs.
  1. Help students understand why improving their writing skills will help them as professionals. While students indicated they valued improving their skills, they were not interested in putting in time or effort to improve. Brandt (2006) interviewed professionals about their writing in the “knowledge economy.” Having students read this article, which includes a plethora of quotes from professionals on writing, will help them understand why technical writing and creativity are valuable skills to foster while in college. Also, this article highlights the use of peer review in the work force. The more we can connect students’ learning to their lives after college, the more likely we will get buy-in from students.

While not all courses are focused on improving writing skills, we have a duty as educators to help students continually learn and develop their communication skills. Writing should be encouraged, assessed, and fostered in each class we teach so that, at ISU, we graduate professionals who defy the stereotype of young employees with poor writing and communication skills.

Blog References

Bean, J. (2011). Engaging ideas: The professor’s guide to integrating writing, critical thinking and active learning in the classroom. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Brandt, D. (2005). Writing for a living: Literacy and the knowledge economy. Written Communication, 22, 166-197.


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The Mind of SoTL: Quotes from ISSoTL 2016

Written by Jennifer Friberg, Cross Endowed Chair in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning at Illinois State University

It’s Sunday night and I’m sitting in the airport in Minneapolis on my way home from the annual meeting of the International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (ISSoTL) in Los Angeles. Using my ridiculously long layover to reflect on my conference experiences, I am happy to report that ISSoTL this year was packed with intriguing ideas, great conversation, and many opportunities to learn. Looking over my notes from the past week, I’m struck by the number of speaker/contributor quotes that I recorded to reflect on in the coming weeks — each of which illustrate the diversity of thoughts and ideas typical of ISSoTL and celebrate SoTL’s big tent quite well. The following is a sampling for your consideration:

We are influenced by narratives of constraint in SoTL. – Karen Manarin (Mount Royal University) during the CUR Pre-Conference Symposium

How do we underestimate power in the students-as-partners movement? — Heather Smith (University of Northern B. C.) during the session titled “Power and voice: A critical analysis of student-as-partners literature”

When things become logical, they become real and then they become second nature. — Tom Klein (Loyola Marymount University) during his plenary titled “Visual logic as a thought structure for framing stories”

Is SoTL about doing better or is it about doing better things? — Tony Ciccone (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee) in remarks at the closing plenary titled “Oh the places you’ll go! Imagining the future of and with SoTL”

We speak SoTL as a second language….those of us who know it well need to be translators. — Margy MacMillan (Mount Royal University) in comments to the panel during the closing plenary.

Each of these quotes reflect on important relationships in the scholarship of teaching and learning and focus on key inter- and intra-personal concepts intrinsic to SoTL across a variety of stakeholders: engagement, advocacy, contingency, expression, balance, reflection, mentorship, and integration. While the heart of SoTL is in the classroom — and likely always will be — it was made clear to me last week that the mind of SoTL is focused on interactions and relationships that advance our knowledge of teaching and learning.

I’m thankful to my SoTL colleagues for their contributions last week and look forward (already) to ISSoTL in Calgary in 2017. More to come on ISSoTL 2016 in the coming weeks. Stay tuned!

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Student Stories of Free Speech Acts on Campus: a Digital Documentary Film

Written by Maria A. Moore, Associate Professor and Mass Media Program Coordinator in the School of Communication at Illinois State University

free-speechI was thrilled to receive a SoTL Research Mini-Award for June 2016 funding in support of my documentary film exploring the lived experiences of students committing Free Speech Acts at Illinois State University. The grant allowed me to complete eight segments for this documentary and to prepare it for exhibition. Funded work involved additional scripting, voice tracking, graphic design, and final editing for the documentary.

The documentary follows the Free Speech Act experiences of twenty undergraduate communication students in the School of Communication at ISU. The speech acts were based on a topic of the student’s choosing and were conducted in person and in public. Topics included testing on animals, body image, Black Lives Matter, the misrepresentation of women in the media, mental health awareness, and various aspects of state and federal politics. The students spoke about the context and experience of their speech acts, as well as participating in interviews about their topic and about the learning they gained about Free Speech itself.

The documentary will be publicly screened for the first time in Los Angeles in October 2016 at the annual conference for the International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching & Learning (ISSoTL). The conference Telling the Story of Teaching and Learning, accepted the film for the topic threads of ‘learning to tell stories’ and ‘student stories’.

The project may have implications for other SoTL scholars. While this particular digital documentary film specifically follows a variety of student participants in Free Speech Acts at one Illinois State University, this model of inquiry may be practical or inspirational to others who wish to infuse their institution with a different campus-wide Free Speech concept or to document student story and voice through documentary filmmaking techniques.

Questions? Contact Maria at