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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Musings on SoTL Peer Mentorship

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

pointRecently, 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!

Blog References:

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.

 

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ISU Fall SoTL Workshops & Funding

STATE_YourLearningA variety of funding and training opportunities exist for ISU faculty and students interested in SoTL this fall! Contact Jen Friberg (jfribe@ilstu.edu) with questions.

 

Workshops:

Intro to SoTL (Mon 9/25/17 from 12:30-3:30pm): Do you have an interest in studying your students’ learning as a way to improve your teaching? The scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) is a type of scholarship that can help you expand your research to include systematic study of teaching and/or learning. This workshop is designed to introduce attendees to SoTL, describe ways to engage in SoTL inquiry, and examine the benefits of SoTL as part of a productive research agenda. Examples of SoTL work will be provided. Resources to support SoTL work will be reviewed. These workshops have been designed for an audience with little to no prior experience with SoTL.

SoTL Forum: Changes to IRB Processes Coming in 2018 (Weds, 10/25/2017 from 1-2:30pm): The Office of the Cross Chair in SoTL is hosting an open forum for ISU faculty and students interested/engaged in SoTL research to discuss changes to federal policies and internal ISU procedures that will be implemented in January of 2018. John Baur (Associate Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies), Kathy Spence (Director of Research and Ethics Compliance), and Jen Friberg (Cross Chair in SoTL) will facilitate this session and address your SoTL IRB questions.

CSI-SoTL: The Certificate of Specialized Instruction in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (CSI-SoTL) was co-developed by the Office of the Cross Endowed Chair in SoTL and the Graduate School at ISU to provide an opportunity for graduate students to engage in study and reflection of research on teaching and learning to facilitate successful work as students and as future faculty. As many future college/university teachers lack opportunities for purposeful study and reflection on teaching and learning as part of their graduate school experience, this program provides a unique opportunity to gain knowledge and skills in these areas. All participants will attend three seminars on SoTL then work with a mentor to plan a SoTL project.

 Funding:

SoTL Travel Grants: Applications are currently being accepted for the SoTL Travel Grant Program – FY18. The program is designed to encourage public sharing of SoTL work related to the teaching and/or learning of ISU students. The program provides partial funding for travel to present SoTL work. Funds may be used toward conference registration and/or travel costs. This applies to a trip already taken (and not fully reimbursed) or to be taken, to present SoTL work this fiscal year. We expect to award 10-12 grants for FY18. Please note that faculty/staff are eligible for one travel grant (of any kind) per year. Awards of up to $700 will be available to those presenting SoTL research at disciplinary or other teaching/learning conferences. Special awards of up to $1000 will be available to those presenting at the 2017 International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (ISSoTL) conference. There are 2 cycles for SoTL Travel Grants. Applications for the fall award cycle are currently being accepted and must be submitted by 5pm on October 2, 2017. Applications for the spring award cycle will open October 9, 2017 and must be submitted by 5pm on February 5, 2018.

SoTL Seed Grants for New SoTL Scholars: Applications for seed grant funding to get SoTL projects up and running will be accepted starting in early September, 2017. Grant funds will be awarded (in the form of a stipend) for work toward one of the following: writing an IRB or literature review for a SoTL project, gathering/collecting/analyzing data for a SoTL project, or applying SoTL to solve a teaching/learning issue in your classroom. Up to 10 SoTL Seed Grants in the amount of $250 will be awarded to faculty conducting their first SoTL project. Applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis from September 1, 2017 through May 15, 2018, with awards granted throughout the 2017-18 academic year until funds are exhausted.

 


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College Rankings, Student Learning, and SoTL : An Unlikely Trio?

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

ratingLast Friday (9/8/2017), the Chronicle of Higher Education published an interesting article written by Richard M. Freeland titled “Stop Looking at Rankings. Use Academe’s Own Measures Instead.” Ostensibly, this piece discusses the role and utility of college rankings such as those published annually by U.S. News and World Report. Freeland explains that there are some measures reported in these rankings that are “legitimate indicators of academic quality,” such as “graduation rates, faculty qualifications, and investment in academic programs.” He goes on to say that other rankings (the federal government’s College Scorecard, extant Integrated Postsecondary Education System data, and the Voluntary System of Accountability) have added important data to the conversation of what makes a college “good” in a world where it’s hard to determine institutional quality. He is undeniably correct. However, for years I have felt as though we have been missing the boat with our current reporting of college rankings, as we seem to in no way account for student learning as part of these metrics. Due in large part to my background in teaching and learning (and my status as the parent of a high school junior seeking a future university home!), this is very frustrating to me, for I want to know more about student learning outcomes at institutions than about many other data points. This is a huge void and something I’ve considered an opportunity for SoTL for a long, long time.

Freeland writes of a “deep resistance within academe to publishing data about what students learn,” providing a historical overview of various standardized measures of intellectual achievement that have been proposed – and rejected — as universal measurements of student learning. And, so, the void in the reporting of student learning as a important data point in college rankings remains. Freeland remarks:

While many colleges have developed programs to assess student learning (often because of accreditation requirements), few systematically collect and even fewer publish quantitative data that allow readers to compare student intellectual achievement across institutional lines. Until this gap is filled, higher education’s systems of accountability will continue to be data-rich but information-poor with respect to the quality to actual learning. The public will be left to rely on commercial rankings as indicators of institutional quality.

Based on all of this, my overarching question is this: as advocates for the scholarship of teaching and learning – the very research that CAN help provide information about student learning in higher education to the public – is it important that we promote SoTL as a potential valuable contributor to the college rankings discussion?

I’ve struggled with this question all weekend. Here’s where my thinking is at this point:

  • I believe that SoTL does belong in the college ranking discussion. Student learning is our wheelhouse. We need a seat at this table to advocate for and honor outcomes of a diverse and rich field of scholarship on student learning. SoTLists cannot allow student learning to be assessed via a standardized test or any other “one look” measure of performance and expect to tell the whole story. Scholars of teaching and learning recognize this well and can advocate accordingly.
  • I don’t believe that student learning should be ranked. I can see dangers in how this could happen if we start talking about which school has better learning outcomes than others might. Student learning varies by context and discipline, creating a number of limitations on “best learning outcome” data that could be reported. There is no universal curriculum for higher education. As such, any ranking system of student learning would lack reliability and validity.
  • Years and years of research on teaching and learning has led to the understanding of high-impact practices for undergraduate education, and more such information is shared regularly in cross-disciplinary and discipline-specific publications.

So, then, perhaps what we are looking to capture in college rankings shouldn’t specifically focus on student learning outcomes. Every institution of higher education is looking to support student learning, but we must acknowledge that this is accomplished in a manner that honors contextual differences as well as institutional missions and ideologies. With this in mind, any comparison of student learning across institutions may well be akin to comparing apples to oranges.

That said, you CAN measure the use of evidence-based approaches in higher education (e.g., undergraduate research, service learning/community-based learning, internships, and first-year seminars and experiences; Kuh, 2008) to measure quality of instruction. SoTL scholars add to the evidence-based for scholarly learning daily. We have solid evidence that certain instructional methods work and data could be collected to reflect how often these pedagogies are used in college classrooms. That might be a metric of interest to various stakeholders. I’m confident there are others, as well. I’m still stewing on this and am curious what others are thinking. I think this is an important discussion and one that we, as SoTL advocates, should be a part of, to explore this idea some more. To that end, feel free to comment below or continue the discussion on social media (@ISU_SoTL).

Blog References:

Freeland, R. M., (2017, September 8). Stop looking at rankings. Use academe’s own measures instead. Chronicle of Higher Education. Downloaded from: http://www.chronicle.com/article/Stop-Looking-at-Rankings-Use/241140?cid=at&utm_source=at&utm_medium=en&elqTrackId=4eadfa107c984352bd8664bf86cba24d&elq=869cd22487394fe88b84eb2d7904a1d2&elqaid=15516&elqat=1&elqCampaignId=6640#comments-anchor

Kuh, G. D. (2008). High-impact educational practices: Why they are, who has access to them, and why they matter. Washington, DC: AAC&U.

McKinney, K. (n.d.). A sampling of what we know about learning from scholarship of teaching and learning and educational research. Downloaded from: http://sotl.illinoisstate.edu/downloads/materials/A%20Sampling%20of%20What%20We%20Know.pdf