Written by Jennifer Friberg, Cross Endowed Chair in SoTL and Associate Professor of Communication Sciences and Disorders at Illinois State University
On my flight home from a conference in sunny Austin, Texas last week (as I type this it’s snowing in Illinois, so the “sunny” descriptor is a happy recollection!), I had the opportunity to catch up on some journal reading that had accumulated. One piece I was interested in reading was an editorial from the most recent issue of InSight: A Journal of Scholarly Teaching. Written by Nancy Chick, this work (titled Does Reading SoTL Matter? Difficult Questions of Impact) discussed the issue of impact in SoTL and questioned the influence of reading SoTL on a practitioner’s teaching and on student learning. In doing so, Chick raised a troubling question in the minds of her readers: what if reading SoTL doesn’t lead to any change in teaching or learning practice? I’m fairly certain that SoTL researchers don’t produce their work to have it NOT inform future teaching and learning practices. So, are we missing the “application” boat where we take what we read and use it to solve teaching and learning problems?
I hate to think that SoTL reflects the trend identified in medical fields (“journals are not good at getting doctors to change and improve their practice”). However, I do feel as though the impact of reading SoTL research could easily be diminished without some sort of purposeful process of reflection, discussion, and/or integration – in the same manner that research says our students learn new skills. What might that look like, though? Chick suggests several wonderful options (a SoTL Journal Club, the use of small networks to discuss SoTL, and greater access to SoTL research via open access mechanisms to make discussions about our SoTL readings possible).
The overarching suggestion in this article was that those of us who read SoTL should “talk with others about what these readings make [us] think about.” I agree, for in that practice, there IS impact. Honestly, think about it. If you read SoTL research and then engage in discussions about what you’ve learned with others, you (very likely) consider your readings more deeply and puzzle over application of the study’s outcomes more thoroughly. Sharing leads to a deeper understanding — and perhaps use — of what we’ve read.
After reading Chick’s article, I spent the remainder of my plane ride thinking about other ways in which conversations about our own SoTL readings might be encouraged –beyond those suggested in the article. I have a few suggestions, across a variety of stakeholder groups/levels. These look a lot like general advocacy suggestions for SoTL, though each is tied to the specific practice of reading SoTL, with subsequent advocacy (aka: sharing) building impact over time:
- Help peers develop an awareness of SoTL. If they don’t know a body of research about teaching and learning exists, they will never attempt to read it! Share resources where evidence on teaching and learning can routinely be accessed. Explain – explicitly — how you’ve used SoTL readings to alter your teaching practice(s). Take it one step further and detail how reading SoTL led you to conduct your own SoTL study.
- Seek out formal and informal ways to share new knowledge derived from reading SoTL with colleagues or other stakeholders such as students, department or campus administrators, disciplinary leaders, and/or community members. Summarize what you’ve learned in newsletters, staff meetings, emails…any communication mechanism that allows for an exchange of this information. Approach your institution’s teaching and learning center to suggest programming based around reading SoTL to inform a scholarly approach to teaching.
- Mentor students in reading and applying SoTL research. Share insights about learning with students to help them develop scholarly approaches to learning as well as scholarly approaches to teaching.
- Add value to what you share with campus administrators about the SoTL you read by tying new knowledge from your SoTL readings to updates to the mission/vision of the institution or to its strategic plan. Advocate for evidence-informed thinking about next steps for your campus.
- Use social media to share summaries of SoTL research with relevant stakeholders. Give an overview of what you read, then provide a link to the primary source for further exploration. Ask questions to encourage discussion among your “followers” to further develop ideas related to your SoTL readings.
- Network at conferences to share case studies of how reading SoTL research has led to pedagogical change. This is particularly important at disciplinary conferences as widespread understanding of SoTL research is less obvious in those contexts than is typically evident at a teaching/learning conference.
These ideas in no way constitute an exhaustive list! Please feel free to add suggestions from your own context/practice below in the comments section! Happy SoTL reading – and sharing!
Chick, N. L. (2017). Does reading SoTL matter? Difficult questions of impact. InSight: A Journal of Scholarly Teaching, 12, 9-13.