The SoTL Advocate

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

How Are We SoTL-ing?

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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 

In the run-up to ISSoTL 2017 last week in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, it might have been easy to miss that the latest issue of Teaching and Learning Inquiry (TLI), the journal of the International Society of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, has just been published. I had the opportunity to read several articles in this issue prior to traveling to the conference and was particularly interested in one article, Survey of Research Approaches Utilised in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Publications, which was co-authored by Aysha Divan (U. of Leeds), Lynn Ludwig (U. of Wisconsin-Stevens Point), Kelly Matthews (U. of Queensland), Phillip Motley (Elon U.), and Ana Tomljenovic-Berube (McMaster U.).

Why the interest? As a SoTL faculty/student developer, I am forever asked if there is a “preferred” method for engaging in SoTL. I have always addressed this topic from an anecdotal perspective, simply telling novice SoTL scholars that qualitative, quantitative, and/or mixed methods are all equally appropriate for SoTL, depending on the “fit” of the method to the study aims/design. With this paper, a bit more clarity was offered as a result of systematic study of three years of published SoTL journal articles.

Honestly, I imagined that there were far more qualitative methods employed in SoTL research than quantitative; however, I was incorrect. Overall, 223 articles from the following journals were studied: International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, the International Journal for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, and the Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. Across these articles, there was an almost even balance of quantitative, qualitative, and mixed methods research (see graphic below).

methods breakdown

Of even greater surprise to me were the following findings:

  • 84% of papers utilized a single data source for reporting (primarily students), which leaves the need for triangulation of data open for consideration in terms of future project planning.
  • Data from mixed methods studies were often times poorly integrated with only 30% of studies fully integrating qualitative and quantitative data as part of the discussion of findings.
  • 65% of studies relied on a single “snapshot” of data (data collected at one time only), which leads to thoughts on the value of/need for collecting longitudinal data to study student learning over time.

At ISSoTL last week, Gary Poole delivered a plenary address reminding us all that as professionals interested in SoTL, we have a choice to facilitate or hinder as we collaborate and mentor. As a professional developer for faculty and students interested in SoTL, I intend to share this information as a facilitative effort to grow SoTL at ISU (and beyond), helping future SoTL scholars to be mindful of trends, needs, and considerations in SoTL publishing. Specifically, I will urge SoTL researchers to:

  1. Seek out a “goldilocks” fit to connect their research questions to the type of data they collect. Why? This allows a researcher to determine whether research question(s) being posed are best answerable with qualitative, quantitative, or mixed methods approaches. A good fit is critical for a study to make sense to interested stakeholders.
  2. Ensure that data come from as many direct data sources as are necessary to form a strong foundation for any discussion of results/implications.
  3. Use indirect data sources primarily as support/triangulation for data collected from direct sources.
  4. Think carefully and critically about how data from a study is discussed. If the design selected has a mixed methods approach to data collection, then all aspects of data should be explored in an integrated manner to identify trends and accurately interpret and report data across the board.
  5. Consider whether data collected at multiple data points might be more appropriate for a study than a “one-time” data collection effort in order to best answer the research question(s) being posed.

 

Blog References:

Divan, A., Ludwig, L. O., Matthews, K. E., Motley, P. M., & Tomljenovic-Berube, A. M. (2017). Survey of research approaches utilised in the scholarship of teaching and learning publications. Teaching and Learning Inquiry, 5(2).

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