Written by Jennifer Friberg, Cross Endowed Chair in SoTL and Associate Professor of Communication Sciences & Disorders at Illinois State University
Recently, I worked with faculty at Bradley University to develop a framework for and guidance in SoTL peer mentoring. Bradley is working diligently to increase engagement in SoTL and have adopted a “grow their own” approach to this effort, selecting faculty who have been SoTL-productive to mentor other faculty members interested in becoming SoTL scholars. The process of preparing for this undertaking led me to (over time) merge my anecdotal experiences as a SoTL mentor with evidence about peer mentoring (in and out of SoTL). I’ve tried to organize some of these reflections below:
- In preparing my session, I looked toward existing research on peer mentorship in SoTL, finding little. One study I did find was from Hubbal, Clark, and Poole (2010), who analyzed ten years of data on SoTL mentoring to identify three critical practices of SoTL mentors : modeling of SoTL productivity, facilitation of mentees’ SoTL research, and engagement in SoTL networking with other SoTL scholars. In terms of my SoTL mentee/mentor experiences, I think the last practice, that of connecting mentees with other SoTL scholars, is critical and often neglected. Introducing novice SoTL scholars to the “commons” of SoTL has the potential to sustain interest, broaden perspectives, and increase engagement in the SoTL movement as a whole.
- Often times, when I do “intro” workshops to explain SoTL to new students and faculty, there is a perception that SoTL research is very different from disciplinary research. I always explain that while it can be, it really isn’t in many ways! Similarly, I have found that faculty who have extensive disciplinary experience mentoring students and peers struggle to understand that SoTL mentorship really isn’t all that different. The same practices applied to a differently-focused research project can be very successful in helping a novice SoTL researcher gain confidence in conducting research on teaching and learning.
- Zellers, Howard, and Barcic (2008) found that benefits to mentees engaged in mentorship programs included assimilation to campus culture, higher career satisfaction, higher rate of promotion, and increased motivation to mentor others. While this work was not focused on SoTL, I can easily see how the same tenets might apply to research on teaching and learning, as well. In terms of SoTL research, I’d add that benefits could include opportunities for assimilation to SoTL culture at and beyond the single institutional level as well as the chance to work with mentors and faculty across varied fields of study in a way that isn’t always customary in disciplinary research.
- Clutterbuck and Lane (2016, xvi) state “to some extent the definition of mentoring does not matter greatly, if those in the role of mentor and mentee have a clear and mutual understanding of what is expected of them and what they should, in turn, expect of their mentoring partner.” This is so true! The most successful peer mentoring relationships I’ve witnesses have strong foundations in clear and regular communication of expectations, progress, bottlenecks, etc.
- I’ve encountered two types of SoTL peer mentorship frameworks: formal (set framework for participation and, often, assignment of mentor/mentee pairs) and informal (relationships that develop by happenstance due to opportunity and shared interests). I feel that there are likely benefits to each. Formal mentorship programs are more likely to have stronger administrative support and integration of the program within a strategy for professional development, both characteristics of successful mentoring programs (Hanover Research, 2014). Conversely, informal peer mentoring frameworks allow for voluntary participation, participant involvement in the mentor/mentee pairing process, and the ability for participants to co-develop goals, expectations, and desired outcomes of the mentorship paring, each also components of successful mentoring programs (Hanover Research, 2014). So, which is better and why? This might be a very interesting area for future study, as currently, we just don’t know.
- What makes a successful peer mentor? Awareness of adult learning principles/teaching strategies/techniques, and understanding/acknowledgement of differences in orientation and stage of development between themselves and their mentees, and ability to plan/observe/facilitate discussion (Knippelmeyer & Torraco, 2007). It would seem that many folks engaged in SoTL, then, would make excellent peer mentors, as these characteristics are as endemic to SoTL as they are to mentorship!
Clutterbuck, D. & Lane, G. (2016). The situational mentor: An international review of competences and capabilities in mentoring. London: Routledge.
Hanover Research. (2014). Faculty mentoring models and effective practices. Author.
Hubball, H., Clarke, A., & Poole, G. (2010). Ten-year reflections on mentoring SoTL research in a research-intensive university. International Journal for Academic Development, 15(2), 117-129.
Knippelmeyer, S. A. & Torraco, R. J. (2007). Mentoring as a developmental tool for higher education. University of Nebraska-Lincoln teaching center publication.
Zellers, D. F., Howard, V. M., Barcic, M. A. (2008). Faculty mentoring programs: Reenvisioning rather than reinventing the wheel. Review of Educational Research, 78(3), 552-588.