Written by: Jennifer Friberg, Cross Endowed Chair in SoTL and Associate Professor of Communication Sciences and Disorders at Illinois State University
Recently, I have started to wonder if we, proponents of and for SoTL, might be missing an opportunity to connect with an important group of stakeholders as part of our “typical” SoTL advocacy. We regularly and routinely share the value and importance of SoTL with faculty and campus administrators. We advocate within our disciplines and across our institutions. Conversations at SoTL conferences have focused – rightly so – on the lack of student voices in our SoTL work. So many SoTL folks now strongly advocate for students to be partners in our SoTL endeavors. These are important, impactful efforts to continue building SoTL and likely always will be! That said, I think many of us are leaving an important group — prospective students and parents — out of our campus-level (macro) SoTL advocacy.
I will admit to having a unique perspective on this topic: my son is currently a high school junior. We have looked at numerous college websites and have visited half a dozen colleges. It was during one of these visits that my son asked a faculty member he met, “do you have the chance to do SoTL research here?” I was surprised by his question. I had been wondering the same thing, but figured that was simply because SoTL is my professional passion. I hadn’t stopped to consider that my son might care about this, too. Prospective students might really benefit from knowing that a university supports the study of student learning to improve teaching. For prospective parents, this might be equally important to inform discussions and priorities related to college choice.
At a time when the general societal attitudes are not always kind to higher education, it may be truly valuable that we demonstrate to prospective students and parents that there is meaningful research being conducted on student learning that is meaningful in the context of our individual institutions. Sharing how this research can improve the student experience at a university might help these stakeholders make important choices based not on “brand,” but rather on substance.
What mechanisms could be utilized to support the sharing of SoTL work with prospective students and parents at your university? I offer several suggestions below, though this is hardly an exhaustive list!
- Provide information (perhaps linked on your institution’s admissions website) about SoTL on your campus. Highlight the work of faculty and students. EXPLAIN why SoTL matters!
- Record and report testimonials on the impact of SoTL for students on your campus website. Specifically describe how course instructors use or apply SoTL to improve student learning. SHOW how SoTL makes an impact.
- It might be even more important to include information about SoTL accomplishments on specific department/unit websites. Reports have shown that the most common web searches engaged in by prospective students and parents are specific to majors/minors/academic programs than any other. CONTEXTUALIZE discipline-specific SoTL work.
- Think about how social media is used on your campus. I follow the Instagram and Twitter feeds from my son’s “top five” universities. It’s remarkable how much you can learn about what a university values just by doing this! Sadly, I’ve very rarely seen posts about student learning or SoTL from these accounts, though such posts would be very appropriate, and helpful. Think about how you can work with your institution’s social media managers to reach prospective students and parents through accounts such as these to advocate for the SoTL being done on your campus. INTEGRATE SoTL into your institution’s public image.
- Encourage admissions officers and other campus social media managers to share information relative to SoTL news and accomplishments on your campus. ADVOCATE for SoTL work to be shared.
- Social media/websites aren’t the only way to reach prospective parents and students, though they are likely the most common. Identify mechanisms at your institution that could be useful in sharing information about SoTL to this group of stakeholders. Perhaps an alumni magazine, community publication, or other outlet exists where information about SoTL can be shared. CONSIDER the possibilities for sharing SoTL in print and via other media.