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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A Community College Perspective on Creating a SoTL Scholars Program

Written by Catherine Ford and Deidra Peaslee from Anoka-Ramsey Community College (Minnesota, USA)

A-R logoIn 2014-2015 Anoka-Ramsey Community College undertook a collaborative strategic planning process, resulting in five institutional goals, including promoting academic excellence.  While academic excellence is something all institutions pursue, we quickly conceded that there was little research conducted by community college faculty with community college students to frame “excellence” in the community college classroom.   Simultaneously, the college was also developing opportunities for students to engage in classroom-based undergraduate research opportunities.   These two factors seemed to be at odds with one another, how can we say we value engaging in research if we were not willing to undertake it ourselves? If as an institution we wanted to strive and promote these values, then it only made sense to turn the lens inward and model the research and self-reflection we are trying to develop in our students.

In order for an initiative like this to be successful, faculty support is critical so release credits were provided to Catherine to develop a framework and support faculty one on one. It was not too far along in this process that it became apparent to us that what we wanted to pursue already had a formal name: the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. During the first year, time was spent trying to recruit faculty while we read the “big names” in SoTL work.  This was very similar to the old adage, “flying the plane while building it.”

Other than the funds for the release credits, during the first year the initiative did not have a budget, but Catherine worked with faculty to obtain institutional innovation grants up to $1000 each to support research. The plan was to develop a research study in the fall, complete with IRB approval, and collect data in the spring with the intent to share results beyond the institution. Our purpose is to “focus on the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) as a means to enhance the teaching experience of faculty and the learning experience of students.”

During the second semester of the first year we attended a Lilly Conference, and two things were apparent. First, few models of community colleges doing this work existed and in order to be effective, we needed to turn our initiative into a formal program. Unfortunately, a Google search did not return the step-by-step approach to develop a sustainable SoTL program at a community college, so using knowledge gained from the conference, we developed a program and budget proposal based on what we knew for certain: the program needed to be a joint collaboration between administration and faculty. This collaboration assures that the college views this as important work, deserving of time, money, and attention.

ARCCOur proposal for the second year, now named ARCC Scholars, focused on developing a two-year (four semester) faculty learning community of 5 faculty from across disciplines. These faculty receive a stipend for each semester and travel expenses to attend an educational conference in the first year and present at an educational conference in the second year. We grandfathered our original four faculty participants into Year 2 of the commitment and developed a learning community. In the one-year together, they have leaned on each other for pedagogical and research support and have developed invaluable networking and connections.

The ARCC Scholars program selects five faculty through a competitive, yet non-threatening application process. We don’t require faculty to know exactly what they want to study before the program begins. The activities of Year 1 – semester 1 supports faculty as they develop a research question, complete a literature review, explore methodology, design the study, and submit an IRB application. Year 1 – Semester 2 is designated for data collection of the implemented study. Year 2 is dedicated to analyzing and preparing to share the study results outside of the institution via conference presentation or submitting study results for publication.

ARCC timeline

At the community college, faculty come to the SoTL Scholars Program with a wide range of experience with research. This includes everything from no research experience with human subjects to previous publication of pedagogical research. We aim to  support faculty while creating opportunities for faculty to learn from one another, strengthening the campus environment. We also remove barriers that might prevent faculty from pursuing or completing SoTL work. This has included assistance in narrowing a research question, providing templates for requests to use instruments, reviewing the IRB application before submission, collecting data for anonymity and privacy, acting as a second coder, and assisting with statistical analysis.

Just as we meet our students where they are when they enter our institution, we meet our faculty where they are at with no judgement. This is another reason why we find it beneficial to have a smaller cohort. Cohort meetings are a safe place to be vulnerable in our quest to improve our teaching and learn various aspects of the research process.  This one-on-one work in addition to the support the cohort provides is pivotal to the success of our SoTL Scholars program and is anecdotally supported by comments from cohort members.

During the school year, faculty cohorts meet three times in the fall and three times in the spring. These meetings provide structure as to support and next steps as well as allow for individual work time or time to ask questions of the group or Catherine. In order for SoTL work to be successful at the community college level where publication is not rewarded with tenure and the teaching loads are heavy, the key is support. Although the financial support and travel stipends are appreciated and an added “bonus,” faculty would likely not pursue this work at an institutional level (versus independently), if the support through the process was absent.

Admittedly, funding this model as designed does  present a question of scalability, however the college has a history of utilizing innovation incentives to get ideas launched and then modifying incentives for sustainability. As we attempt to quantify the value add of this program not just on faculty but on students, we look to surface level measures of success by counting participation and number of faculty who apply as well as qualitative faculty satisfaction data. By these accounts, we are heading in the right direction.

Blog Contributor Contact Info:

FordCatherine Ford (

PeasleeDeidra Peaslee (




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Planning for a Summer or Fall SoTL Conference?

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

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While I know that many of us are quite busy with spring obligations, it’s never too early to look towards the next opportunity to attend or present at a SoTL conference. With that in mind, the following conferences feature (at least in part) content focused on SoTL, are scheduled for the summer or fall of 2018, and currently have an OPEN call for papers:

9th Annual SoTL Conference (May 14-15 in Tiffin, OH, USA)

  • Proposals accepted through March 15, 2018

Innovative Strategies to Advance Student Learning (August 6-8 in Asheville, NC, USA)

  • Proposals accepted through April 5, 2018

International Society for Exploring Teaching and Learning (October 10-13 in Tempe, AZ, USA)

  • Proposals accepted through May 15, 2018

International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (October 24-27 in Bergen, Norway)

  • Proposals accepted through April 1, 2018

Original Lilly Conference on Teaching (November 15-18 in Oxford, OH, USA)

  • Proposals accepted through June 21, 2018


These conferences are open to register, but are no longer accepting proposal submissions:

International Institute on Students as Partners (June 11-14 in Hamilton, ON, Canada)

Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (June 19-22 in Sherbrooke, QC, Canada)

Research on Teaching and Learning Summit (October 12 at Kennesaw State University near Atlanta, GA, USA)


Do you know of a SoTL conference that doesn’t appear on this list? Please feel free to email me at to have it added.

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Problems, Opportunities, and Wonderments: Possible Subsets of “What works?”

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

what worksWhen I talk to people new to SoTL — students, faculty, other interested folks — I am sometimes asked what a “typical” SoTL research question might be. Part of my description of SoTL details that a fair amount of SoTL is context-specific and is meant to gather information or data about a fairly restricted population: the students (or teachers) in the course or experience being studied. I explain that while SoTL is not inherently generalizable, if enough people in enough different contexts study similar questions, we can develop standards for high-impact teaching and learning practices that CAN transfer across classrooms, disciplines, and/or institutions. Kuh (2008) wrote of high-impact practices for undergraduate education that exemplify this idea very nicely.

But back to those “typical” SoTL questions…it’s not always easy for those new to SoTL to identify one thing to study in their first SoTL project. In Opening Lines: Approaches to the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, Pat Hutchings (2000) laid out a wonderful taxonomy of questions to characterize the main foci evident in most scholarship of teaching and learning work: what works, what is, visions of the possible, and theory building questions. She describes “what works?” questions as being the typical starting place for most new SoTL researchers, as topics falling into this part of Hutchings’ taxonomy focus on investigating the effects of different approaches to teaching and learning. Having facilitated numerous “Intro to SoTL” experiences for faculty and students, I wholeheartedly agree with Hutchings that this “what works?” level of inquiry often is the first explored by new SoTL scholars. It is on that level of Hutchings’ taxonomy that I focus my thoughts today.

I have found that it’s helpful to break down “what works?” concepts into three subcategories in an effort to encompass possible areas of SoTL study. I use the following terms, though many others could be substituted easily:

  • Problems exist in the teaching and learning contexts of most instructors, and typically involve doubt, insecurity, or difficulty in some form or fashion. Problems exist when any aspects of classroom environment, course content, or course management cause trouble for students or for the course instructor. Potential problems that could be studied in a SoTL project include:
    • determining how to use problematic classroom space most effectively,
    • managing active learning with large course enrollment,
    • figuring out why a particular class/lab/experience seems to be very difficult for students.
  • Opportunities are variables that become a part of your learning context, whether you placed them there or they occur via happenstance. These are usually perceived by students and course instructors as more positive in nature than are problems. Opportunities that might be studied as part of a SoTL project include:
    • identifying the impact of a study abroad experience,
    • measuring the differences between flipped and traditional teaching designs,
    • analyzing student learning as a result of a service learning associated with a particular course.
  • Wonderments* lead to pedagogies that are integrated into a course/learning context in a creative manner. Wonderments begin with the question “what would happen if we did ___________?” adding something that otherwise wouldn’t exist in a course to address an instructor-conceived idea. Examples of potential wonderments that might be studied in a teaching/learning context are:
    • implementing pre-course modules designed to decrease math anxiety for students in a chemistry course,
    • using arts-based observation methods to help doctors, nurses, or other clinical professionals be more effective diagnosticians,
    • creating a new pedagogy (or merging others together) to see if they support student learning (e.g., combining case study teaching with perspective-taking to encourage students to understand clinical cases more comprehensively).

The examples above are obviously not exhaustive, but are meant to illustrate each of these terms as I use them. Is it possible that overlap exists across the categories of problems, opportunities, and wonderments? I would think so, particularly in terms of wonderments, as a creative idea might be used in addressing a problem or in creating an opportunity. That said, as wonderments occur on their own as well, I thought them to be deserving of their own descriptor.

Why do these possible subcategories of Hutchings’ “what works?” question matter? I have consistently found that using subcategories makes it easier for new SoTL researchers to identify the focus of their first study – and to understand why they are interested in studying that topic. As a SoTL faculty developer, anything that facilitates research on teaching and learning and helps crystalize ideas about SoTL is something worth using!

*The term wonderment was inspired by Dr. Ken Jerich, my dissertation adviser, who regularly used this term in his teaching and research. Obviously, I do now, as well.


Blog References:

Hutchings, P. (2000). Opening lines: Approaches to the scholarship of teaching and learning. Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching: Menlo Park, CA.

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