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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Taking a Winter Break

snowThe SoTL Advocate will be taking a short winter break from December 22, 2016 through January 9, 2017. No new posts will be published in the hopes that we can all enjoy a bit of rest and reflection to rejuvenate ourselves a bit.

If you can’t resist, here are links to a few of our past blogs that might make for timely reading:

Additionally, I would invite you to check out other excellent SoTL blogs and explore a bit on the following sites:

Wishing you all happiness and health in the coming new year all the way from Normal, Illinois-

Jen Friberg

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Diversity and Oppression: Cultural Competence Among Social Work Students

Written by Deneca Avant, Associate Professor in the School of Social Work at Illinois State University

Note: This blog briefly reviews outcomes from a project supported by a 2016 SoTL Small Grant via the Office of the Cross Endowed Chair in SoTL at ISU.

In light of recent tragedies that involve acts of violence on unarmed Black and Brown bodies, the concept of “power and privilege” has been underscored as a critical aspect of a social work education. Whereas the traditional social work education curricula tend to focus more on teaching students to better understand “diverse populations,” educators now realize the need for a heavier emphasis on race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and gender identity as factors that predict one’s access to power and privilege. As educators attempt to prepare students for practice, there remains a gap in the literature regarding how best to teach about privilege and oppression when serving marginalized populations.

By 2044 the U.S. Census Bureau (2015) has projected that more than half of all Americans will belong to a minority group. Educational institutions and human service professionals are critical entities within this paradigm shift, as when students and professionals lack skills and awareness to effectively serve diverse populations, clients generally suffer. Culturally incongruent treatment methods, lack of trust, bias in decision making, and inequities in access to treatment resources each contribute to a legacy of disparities in service-related outcomes that negatively impact communities of color (Fong, Dettlaff, James, & Rodriguez, 2014; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2011).

The social work profession has dedicated itself to working with the marginalized, oppressed, and excluded populations, and has included guidelines for culturally competent practitioners (Garran & Rozas, 2013; Schmitz, Stakeman, & Sisneros, 2001). The Council of Social Work Education and the National Association of Social Workers mandate that practitioners demonstrate cultural responsiveness by practicing with respect, knowledge, and skills related to clients’ backgrounds as well as an understanding of oppression (CSWE, 2015; NASW, 2015). Additionally, practitioners are expected to exhibit an awareness of their personal cultural backgrounds and biases that will enhance their ability to serve others (Colvin-Burque, & Zugazaga, & Davis-Maye, 2007).

I taught a course titled Cultural Competence, in which students were exposed to a variety of topics and ideas related to power and privilege. This convenience sample of Master of Social Work (MSW) foundation-level students (N=81) during a six-year period (2009 to 2015) could be described as follows:

  • Primarily white and female (85.2%) with the largest minority group being African-American
  • Ranging in age from 22 to 55 years old
  • Nearly two-thirds of respondents had some previous diversity training (63.8%) while over one-third had none (36.3%)

To assess student learning about privilege and oppression and to identify levels of cultural competence following this course, I had students complete assessments as normal course requirements. I chose to use the Diversity and Oppression Scale as my primary measure of attitudinal change, administering it at the beginning and end of the semester. This scale is a 25-item instrument rated with a 5-point Likert scale containing demographic questions and four subscales: 1) cultural diversity, self-confidence, and awareness, 2) diversity and oppression, 3) social worker/client congruence, and 4) social work responsibility in cultural diversity (Windsor, Shorkey, & Battle, 2015). Paired samples t-test were conducted on each of the survey’s 25 items with differences between pre- and post-timeframes specifically examined.

The mean score for the pre-assessment was 87.89 (SD=10.35) while the post-assessment score increased to 107.96 (SD=8.96). This change represented a statistically significant increase (p= .000). Seventeen of the 25 instrument items had a significant change in scores. The subscales cultural diversity, self-confidence, and awareness and diversity and oppression significantly increased from the pre-test to the post-test. However, scores for the subscales social work/client congruence and social workers’ responsibility for cultural diversity were not significant. One-way analysis of variance produced no significant differences amongst student racial groups. Whether a student had previous diversity training or not had no impact on change in the total scores (p=.276). Overall, completion of a cultural competency course did impact student awareness of diversity and oppression.

These results indicate that students’ attitudes can change over time with exposure to privilege and oppression course content. Study outcome substantiates the importance of educators equipping students with the necessary tools to fully understand and address injustices. This charge begins with encouraging students’ commitment to challenge their own prejudices as well as comprehend how social justice is relative to their personal development and academic preparation. More specifically, it is imperative for future social work practitioners to realize the roles that oppression plays in society for effective delivery of services to diverse clientele. Ultimately, when oppression is adequately acknowledged, advocacy and changes can be initiated resulting in culturally responsive practice.

Blog References

Avant, D. & Bracy, W. (2015). Using problem-based learning to illustrate the concepts of   privilege and oppression, Journal of Social Work Education. 51(3), 604-614. DOI: 10.1080/10437797.2015.1043207

Colvin-Burque, A., Zugazaga, C. B., & Davis-Maye, D. (2007). Can cultural competence be taught? Evaluating the impact of the SOAP model. Journal of Social Work Education43(2), 223-242.

Council on Social Work Education. (2015). Education Policy and Accreditation Standards. Alexandria, VA: Author.

Fong, R., Dettlaff, A., James, J., & Rodriguez, C. (2014). Addressing racial disproportionality and disparities in human services: Multi-systemic approaches. Columbia University Press.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities. Social Determinants of Health Initiative (2011). Retrieved at:

Garran, A. & Rozas, L. (2013) Cultural competence revisited, Journal of Ethnic and Cultural Diversity in Social Work, 22(2), 97-111. DOI: 10.1080/15313204.2013.785337

Sisneros, J., Stakeman, C., Joyner, M., & Schmitz, C. (2008). Critical multicultural social work.Chicago: Lyceum Books.

National Association of Social Workers. (2015). NASW standards for cultural competence in social work practice. Washington, DC: Author.

U.S. Census Bureau. (2015). Projections of the Size and Composition of the U.S. Populations:

2014-2060. Current Population Report. (Sandra L. Colby and Jennifer M. Ortman). Retrieved from

Windsor, L. C., Shorkey, C. & Battle, D. (2015). Measuring student learning in social justicecourses: The diversity and oppression scale. Journal of Social Work Education, 51, 58–71.

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Exploring the Learning Process, Perceptions, and Confidence in Experiential Research Project Scaffolding in Two Allied Health Undergraduate Courses


Written by: Julie Schumacher (Associate Professor, Family & Consumer Sciences), Jackie Lanier (Associate Professor, Health Sciences), and Rachel Vollmer (formerly Associate Professor, Family & Consumer Sciences) of Illinois State University

Note: Work on this project was supported by a 2016 SoTL Mini-Award from the Office of the Cross Endowed Chair in SoTL at ISU to collect and report pilot data.

In-class writing assignments have the potential to be an active form of learning for students to critically analyze research and apply course content. Unfortunately, some writing assignments are not structured as an active learning experience. Instead, a final paper may be due at the end of semester without any chance for the students to revise and improve their writing skills (Darnall, 2011). Scaffolding the assignment into its various parts can increase student application and analysis of information (Massengill, 2011).

The current research study focused on two undergraduate courses at Illinois State University in different disciplines (Health Sciences and Family & Consumer Sciences) but these courses require a similar research and writing project. The goal of this research study was to assess undergraduate allied health students’ perceptions of their confidence and interest in conducting research over the course of a semester. A scaffolded approach for feedback and mentoring was used to introduce each phase of the research process, including writing the literature review, developing the methodology, collecting and analyzing data, and disseminating the results and implications of the study via a paper. By breaking up the assignment into the various sections of the research project and providing feedback for each section, the researchers hoped to increase student application of information as well as student confidence and interest in the research process.

The research questions that guided this study included:

  1. Will using the scaffolding approach to writing assignments increase students’ perceptions of their interest in research and their confidence in conducting research?
  2. What teaching methods most impact the learning process for students completing a research project?
  3. How do instructors’ perceptions of student engagement compare to students’ interest and confidence in doing research?

To study these questions, a survey instrument was developed to assess change across the semester. The researchers conducted a pilot study of thid survey instruments during the spring 2016 semester with the two courses of interest for this study. During June 2016, researchers:

  1. Reviewed feedback and suggestions from the pilot study participants.
  2. Reviewed responses in the free-writing section of the pilot study to assess the richness of responses and ponder how to elicit more information from the respondents, if necessary.
  3. Edited surveys where appropriate.
  4. Developed methods of assessing Research Question #3 (above) relating to instructors’ perceptions.
  5. Finalized research plan for implementation dates of pre-, midpoint, and final surveys for fall 2016 and spring 2017 semesters.
  6. Reviewed literature and begin writing manuscript for submission to peer-reviewed journal.

The main finding from review of the pilot study data revealed that open-ended responses lacked the richness and depth the researchers were looking for.  Those questions were updated and researchers planned to present information to students about the study in class to increase their understanding of study goals. It was thought that this interaction would increase students’ understanding of study goals, and they would be more likely to provide in-depth answers to the open-ended questions. After review of the pilot study results and updating the instruments, the study was implemented in fall 2016. Surveys which included open-ended responses were provided to students at the beginning and middle of semester, and will also be provided at the end of the semester to assess student learning and confidence throughout their research experience. This research study has received IRB approval and is currently in progress.

By using questionnaires, learning reflection essays, and instructor feedback, we hope that this research will fill the gap of assessing a method of active learning in research projects and its effect on students’ confidence and interest in the research process while including instructor feedback of the process.


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STLHE 2017 Call for Papers & Reviewers is Open

Call for Proposals and Reviewers is open for the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education‘s 2017 conference in Halifax.


Proposals Due: December 12, 2016 

The institutes of higher education of Halifax invite you to submit your conference proposals and to pass along this invitation to your colleagues and staff.

There are several themes, threads, and formats through which to submit a proposal for #stlhe2017.

Higher education is continually at a gateway, a liminal space, where possibility and advancement is available. In this context, what is the role of the post-secondary institutions, classrooms, and teachers in supporting students in their quest for higher learning? Understanding where we have come from, and where we are now, is key to understanding where we are going, and how we can develop and change over the next century to meet the needs of our changing student demographics.

Proposals may be submitted (and a submission template is available for download) on the conference website.

For those interested in reviewing submissions, please use this form

For more information, please contact

We look forward to hosting you in Halifax!





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Reflecting on Phase One of ISU’s New CSI-SoTL Program

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

Screen Shot 2016-06-29 at 10.18.48 PMEarlier this year, I wrote a blog describing the Certificate of Specialized Instruction in SoTL (CSI-SoTL) program I co-developed in concert with my colleague, Amy Hurd, Director of the Graduate School at Illinois State University. Amy was interested in developing certificate or badging programs in various areas of focus for ISU’s graduate students; I was interested in developing a long-term effort to engage graduate students in the pursuit of scholarly teaching and engagement in the scholarship of teaching and learning. Thankfully, a collaboration was timely for both of us and the CSI-SoTL program emerged.

Quite honestly, Amy and I were unsure what type of interest students would have in our CSI-SoTL program. We created marketing flyers and sent information describing the program to all graduate students at ISU. Students with “a strong interested in teaching at the college/university level following graduation” were encouraged to participate. No stipends or course credit were offered as “carrots.” Rather, we hoped that students truly interested in learning about SoTL would join the program. Our goal was 10 participants; 13 enrolled. The breakdown of participants was as follows:

  • 7 males, 6 females
  • 8 doctoral students, 5 Master’s students
  • 12/13 students were involved in teaching within their discipline
  • Representation from the following disciplines (n): sociology (1), communication (2), English (3), politics and government (1), information technology (1), special education (2), economics (1), chemistry (1), and agriculture (1)

As conceptualized, the CSI-SoTL program was developed to help graduate students understand the purpose, definition and applications of SoTL to support current and future teaching, learning, and research efforts. Students enrolled in the CSI-SoTL program just completed the first of three phases:

  1. A three-workshop series on the topics of SoTL and My Teaching and Learning, Methods for SoTL, and Sharing My SoTL Work (October-December, 2016)
  2. Developing a SoTL project in consultation with a faculty SoTL research mentor (January-March, 2017)
  3. Systematic reflection during and after completion of workshops and project planning (Completed in April 2017)

Following the completion of Phase One, students were asked to evaluate their experiences across all three workshops the attended. Students indicated the following with quantitative data based on a Likert-type scale where 1=strongly disagree and 5=strongly agree:

Mean SD
I was well informed about the objectives of each workshop in the series. 4.53 .52
I understand the difference between scholarly teaching and the scholarship of teaching and learning. 4.62 .51
Workshop content was relevant to my role as a student. 4.54 .66
Workshop content was relevant to my role as a teacher. 4.62 .51
The content of these workshops stimulated my interest in teaching and learning. 4.62 .51
I am more likely to engage in scholarly teaching/learning as a result of my attendance at these workshops. 4.85 .38
I am more likely to engage in SoTL as a result of my attendance at these workshops. 4.85 .38

When asked to describe the most valuable aspects of the Phase One workshops, students provided the following feedback:

  • I really enjoyed learning about what SoTL is and how it’s different from just “good teaching” and “scholarly teaching.” I also appreciated the resources that were provided.
  • The most valuable aspect was the feedback from fellow members of the group. The ability to discuss your questions or concerns with a receptive, intelligent audience helped me grow in my pursuits.
  • Getting to know other people’s SoTL research ideas.
  • In-depth discussion of research interests/questions.
  • Facilitator catered information to each participant’s disciplinary background, which helped to incorporate a diversity of opinions.
  • I view these workshops as a crucial step toward effective pedagogy. All graduate teaching assistants could benefit from this certification training.
  • First session was very educational and made me wish I had learned this was a field sooner.

Students offered the following suggestions to improve Phase One:

  • It would be great to send an email out in advance outlining specifically what we’ll be covering in each section.
  • The workshops were great. The only interesting addition might be an online discussion between workshops to talk with one another.
  • I feel like they could be longer! More work time together to bounce ideas off one another.
  • Could have some materials included and distributed before meeting every session like pre-memo email with articles and links.
  • Have homework.
  • More workshops! Perhaps have this as a for-credit class.

So, what to do with all this information? Plan for next year’s CSI-SoTL program!! While I am not sure that we will offer this program for course credit in the future, Amy and I will chat about ways to integrate students’ feedback to create a better experience for the next group of enrollees. I am already planning to integrate more “out of class” work and am intrigued by having an online discussion group for “in between” workshop queries, reflections, etc.

What is to come for this year’s CSI-SoTL participants in Phases Two and Three? I am in the process of matching each student with a faculty mentor with SoTL experience from their own discipline to plan a SoTL project. Together, each student-mentor pair will develop a detailed plan for a SoTL research project including research questions, methods, ethical considerations, and dissemination outlets. Students will share their projects with each other at an end-of-program event where they will be awarded their certificate for completing the CSI-SoTL program.