The SoTL Advocate

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

Institutionalization of SoTL: Thinking About Outcomes at Two ISUs

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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

Recently, Marcketti and Freeman (2016) published an article in the Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning focused on outcomes following adoption of promotion and tenure policies that support the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) at Iowa State University. In their work, Marcketti and Freeman provide a wonderful summary of the issues impacting the institutionalization of SoTL, highlighting the need to develop consistent and visible reward structures for faculty engaging in SoTL. Specifically, these authors focus on the creation of SoTL-friendly promotion and tenure policies to acknowledge the value of SoTL work.

Marcketti and Freeman (2016) provide the language from Iowa State University’s Faculty Handbook, which offers the following guidance:

  • SoTL is valued and should be held to similar standards of rigor and peer review as other, disciplinary research and/or creative activity.
  • While all faculty should engage in scholarly teaching, not all faculty need engage in SoTL.
  • If a faculty member does choose to pursue a research agenda that includes SoTL, all SoTL work “counts” as scholarship and/or creative activity, rather than as a part of assigned teaching responsibilities.

This language serves to promote, extend, and support SoTL at Iowa State. This is evidenced by the fact that five-year averages calculated by Marcketti and Freeman (2016) for faculty engagement in SoTL have ranged from 44-52% for faculty on their campus (see article for variation by faculty seniority and type of SoTL work). I view these data as remarkable and think that those involved in the process of developing this supportive and productive environment for SoTL at Iowa State should be commended.

Thinking about this work several days after my initial read of Marcketti and Freeman’s article, I found myself wondering how typical these outcomes are at other institutions in terms of faculty involvement and engagement in SoTL. Closer to home, I considered the current SoTL support structures at my own university and have pondered what else I might do to proactively support SoTL at Illinois State University.

Harkening back to my days as a school-based speech-language pathologist, I often worked with children to help them reflect on their learning using a “KWL” chart. In doing so, I encouraged students to identify what they knew (K), what they wanted to know (W), and (after an experience) what they learned (L). In reading Marcketti and Freeman’s work, I considered the work done at Iowa State from an adapted KWL perspective to perhaps illuminate future efforts at Illinois State and other institutions:

  1. What mechanisms do you have in place to support SoTL at your institution?
  2. What processes can be developed to establish and extend support for SoTL on your campus? How can these be developed?
  3. What are the outcomes of these supports? Have they served to increase SoTL engagement and support? In what ways?

I think that attention to this last item — outcomes of the supports in place for SoTL — is critical. One basic rationale for SoTL is that we can’t assume that learning happens just because we think it does in our classrooms. Similarly, I would argue that we can’t assume that faculty engagement happens simply due to the provision of support for SoTL. Rather, we need to evaluate the mechanisms that are put into place to identify those most successful at our individual institutions.

Faculty engaged in SoTL at Illinois State University have access to research grants, travel grants, workshops/trainings, consultation, publishing opportunities, social media support, and a robust SoTL-specific website. Our institutional strategic plan, Educating Illinois, specifically mentions the need to grow SoTL on campus. With these numerous supportive mechanisms in place, I am unsure which are most helpful for faculty, individually or collectively. There is work to be done to examine outcomes from these programs and initiatives. Additionally, while I am aware that many departments/schools at Illinois State University support and value SoTL, I am not certain whether any specifically mention SoTL as part of their promotion and tenure policies and procedures. Thus, there is additional work to be done to understand the impact of supportive reward structures at my institution.

Thanks to Marcketti and Freeman for their article and their work at Iowa State University. I appreciate the fact that colleagues from the “other” ISU helped me to think about efforts to support SoTL on my campus from a new and different perspective.

Blog References:

Marcketti, S. B. & Freeman, S. (2016). SoTL evidence of promotion and tenure vitas at a             research university. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 16(5), 19-31.

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