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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Updated Advice for New SoTL Researchers

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

Screen Shot 2018-06-23 at 6.48.06 PM.pngAlmost three years ago, I penned a blog post titled Advice for New SoTL Researchers. In that post, I offered seven suggestions for those just getting started with a SoTL research agenda. In the last few months, I’ve had the good fortune to work with several cohorts of faculty and students who are part of “Intro to SoTL” cohorts. In working with them, I realize that the advice I offer to new researchers has changed. So, the following is my best effort at updating a list of things that new SoTL scholars might want to keep in mind.

  1. Design your project carefully. Examine the macro (classroom-level) context around you, looking for problems, opportunities, or wonderments that might be the basis for a SoTL project. Do you have a new technology that you’re wanting to integrate in your class, but aren’t sure it will work? Are you teaching an evening section of a very large class and you have an idea about improving student engagement? Might there be a way to study an out-of-class learning experience you’ve set up for your students? All of these – and many others! – could be a great place to start!
  2. Once you have a glimmer of an idea of the topic you might like to study, search for teaching and learning research in your field or another that might demonstrate how your topic has been studied in the past. Because SoTL research functions to provide a snapshot of your teaching/learning context at a point in time, it is fine to replicate a project that has already been done to see if similar outcomes are evident in your context. That said, reviewing past literature might drive you in a different research direction or provide an idea of how other scholars have approached research design in the past.
  3. Talk to a person who has completed a SoTL project and ask for advice or consultation. I have found individuals involved in teaching and learning research to be some of the most giving and collaborative colleagues I’ve encountered. Most would be quite happy to share lessons learned or chat about your idea(s) for a project. Seek out experienced SoTL scholars and learn with and from them. Then, when it’s your turn to be the experienced mentor, offer your wisdom often and broadly.
  4. Choose your data source wisely. There are SO many options in terms of potential data sources for SoTL work. As we are studying teaching and learning, SoTL scholars frequently use class artifacts, assessments, or reflections as a source for data. Other surveys, interviews, or focus groups beyond the typical business of your course might be useful. You are only limited by your own lack of creativity here. Carefully asses the focus of your project to suss out the richest sources of data for your study. Think about direct vs. indirect sources and the impact of your data on the overall rigor and quality of your work. Identifying a data source for your work should not be a quick decision, but rather, a careful deliberation.
  5. Consider more than one data source. As there are inherent biases in SoTL (e.g., it’s not meant to be inherently generalizable in most cases, we study our own students, true randomization or control is hard to exert), it’s optimal to have at least two data sources to compare and contrast to help validate the conclusions that you draw.
  6. Analyze and interpret your data appropriately. This piece of advice likely doesn’t need a lot of explanation; however, I would simply offer that you should think carefully about whether a qualitative, quantitative, or mixed methods approach to data analysis and interpretation is best for your corpus of data. Don’t force a fit, just finesse what you have so that the path to understanding your teaching/learning question is clear.
  7. Think about the audiences most suited for your work as you plan to share it with peers and others. Don’t assume that the potential audience for your work is broad and cross-disciplinary if your project only studies a phenomenon that is part of your discipline. Conversely, if your SoTL project focuses on a topic that has multi-disciplinary appeal, don’t narrow your audience unnecessarily. Share, publish, and promote your work in meaningful contexts with the individuals who will find it valuable!
  8. Put students at the heart of your SoTL. It has been well-stated that the heart of SoTL is the classroom. I choose to interpret this sentiment as not just a reminder that the single classroom context is the typical and intended focus of SoTL. Rather, I believe that the heart of SoTL subsumes the entire classroom environment and all the stakeholders within. Yes, you may study your students as research participants, but does that preclude you from sharing what you’ve learned with them? That is an opportunity that is often missed, in my view. Also, why not invite students to assist with your SoTL with the same frequency that you invite them into your disciplinary research? From my experience, it’s valuable for your students AND for you.

Of course, this is in NO way an exhaustive list of recommendations for new SoTL researchers. What is represented here is a continued starting place, on that will likely continue to evolve. Maybe three years from now, I’ll feel obligated/motivated to revise this list again! Until then, happy SoTL-ing! J


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Perspectives on the Intro to SoTL Experience: An Invitation to Share and Collaborate

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

introductionIn the last few years, I’ve learned that there are a variety of ways that institutions of higher education introduce faculty and students to the scholarship of teaching and learning. At Illinois State, we have traditionally offered at least one “Intro to SoTL” workshop each semester (so, typically one in the spring and one in the fall) along with a variety of supports throughout the year to support SoTL work: 1:1 consultations, use of a SoTL Resource Group of disciplinary SoTL mentors, grants for research and travel, a robust website, etc. These opportunities have mostly focused on faculty; however, opportunities such as University Research Grants (which require student involvement as a co-investigator) and the certificate program in SoTL for graduate students do allow students access, as well.

Looking toward the future, I’m wondering what the most effective ways might be to “read” new folks into research on teaching and learning. I have feedback from colleagues on my campus on this topic, in addition to input from other institutions I’ve visited to provide intro to SoTL workshops and experiences. That said, I am eager to understand such experiences across a broader group of stakeholders and contexts.

To this end, I am wondering if any faculty, students, or SoTL professional developers might be interested in writing or contributing to a blog to explore the intro to SoTL process a bit. Specifically, I’d be interested in hearing from individuals who can:

  • describe an innovative model for intro to SoTL professional development opportunities or supports
  • discusses the sometimes tricky topic of explaining research methodologies in the context of an intro to SoTL experience
  • describes mechanisms to involve multiple campus units to support an intro to SoTL opportunity
  • shares data to assess the impact or outcomes of intro to SoTL professional development
  • profiles how advocacy for SoTL is integrated into an intro to SoTL experience
  • provides “lessons learned” from their first SoTL study or first SoTL mentorship experience
  • explain how a SoTL mentor supported and/or encouraged SoTL development or productivity

Other ideas are welcome, as well, as the list above is certainly not exhaustive.

If there’s interest, I’ve also been thinking about putting a group of SoTL professional developers together to share ideas and materials for intro to SoTL efforts. 

Folks interested in sharing their experiences and/or perspectives (through either a blog post, blog collaboration, or Intro group) are invited to contact me via email with ideas or questions ( Potential contributors should read conventions for blog posts on the SoTL Advocate, which were highlighted in a recent blog.

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SoTL University Research Grants Awarded for FY19

sotl-sealAt Illinois State University, University Research Grants (URGs) are awarded by each of our seven colleges and by the Office of the Cross Endowed Chair in SoTL. On average, five projects are awarded funding of up to $5000 to study the developmental and learning outcomes of ISU students.

At Illinois State University, we define SoTL as the “systematic study/reflection on teaching and learning [of our ISU students] made public.” This definition allows for research in any discipline and the use of various methodologies. The work may be quantitative or qualitative in nature and focus on class, course, program, department, cross-department, and co-curricular levels. Specific criteria for this award can be found on the Cross Chair website. All funded SoTL URG work must be made public and peer reviewed in some way via presentation, performance, juried show, web site, video, and/or publication.

Outcomes of past SoTL URG-funded projects have been archived here.

This year’s call for proposals was highly competitive, with 17 team applications submitted. After careful peer-review, five student/faculty teams have been awarded SoTL URGs for FY19. These teams represent five disciplines across four ISU colleges. Funded projects are summarized below:

Decoding Geometry Constructions as Generalizations

Research Team: Jeffrey Barrett (Professor, Department of Mathematics) and Darl Rassi, Doctoral Student, Department of Mathematics

In an ISU undergraduate course, students learn to generalize and form arguments based on the use of geometric figures and measures. Generalized constructions of figures are important as a conceptual foundation for argumentation; however, the best means to teach students to construct geometric objects that represent general cases of figures are not evident. We propose a repeated measure design to cycle through instructional support with examples of construction steps and with analytical processes identifying the level of generalization for different examples. By analyzing reflective interview transcripts with an instructor, we expect to identify expert steps to generalize constructions like this, and analyze steps in the process of such work. By collecting weekly data in cycles, we expect to learn how many repeated trials provide adequate support for students to construct a generalization concept enabling them to build on their understanding of geometry.

The Impact of University Experiences on the Intercultural Effectiveness of ISU Students

Research Team: Meredith Downes (Professor, Department of Management & Quantitative Methods) and Aron Applegate (Student, Department of Management & Quantitative Methods)

Many students enrolled as majors in Illinois State University’s international business program are well-traveled and have interests that extend beyond the midwestern United States prior to beginning their college careers. However, it is important that students’ international skills and abilities be developed further as a result of their attendance here in order to gain critical professional skills for the workforce. Thus, this study assess students’ intercultural competence upon joining the international business program and again when they are close to graduating to identify factors most influential in increasing cultural competence. Specifically, a variety of university-sponsored experiences (e.g., internships, study abroad, student clubs and organizations) will be explored to understand their impact on students’ intercultural competence.

An Ethnographic Investigation of Future STEM Teachers’ Development of Disciplinary Practices

Research Team: Rebekka Darner (Assistant Professor, School of Biological Sciences) and Kara Baldwin (Graduate Student, School of Biological Sciences)

The Next Generation Science Standards and the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics require STEM educators to not only teach content but also engage students in actions of scientific and mathematical inquiry (disciplinary practices). Doping so requires teachers to have knowledge of disciplinary practices to develop authentic learning experiences for their students. This research will explore the connection between undergraduate research experiences and the development of pre-service STEM teachers’ knowledge of disciplinary practices. Specifically, the research will examine the development of community within each research setting to identify factors that may influence or enhance pre-service teachers’ knowledge of disciplinary practices. Pre/post measures to identify changes in participant knowledge of disciplinary practices will be administered. Additionally, the iterative-reflective practice of ethnography will allow researchers to identify factors within undergraduate research experiences that might impact future teachers’ ability to engage their students in STEM disciplinary practices.

Examining Pre-Service Teacher Embodiment of Critical Issues

Research Team: Alice Lee (Assistant Professor, School of Teaching and Learning) and a student researcher to be determined

The study will examine how pre-service teachers embody critical issues within a critical literacy course (TCH: Reading and Language Arts in the Elementary School). Framed in a grounded theory developed from previous work, “teachers as embodied toolkits” is a lens that theorizes the ways teachers embody race and language and how pedagogy is something a teacher lives. Employing case study methodology, the Spring 2018 section of data will be collected and analyzed to describe how the learning processes of this cohort of pre-service teachers can be described relative to issues such as race and diversity.

Synthesis Journals as a Path through the Forest: Analyzing the Effectiveness of Synthesis Journals in Helping ISU Music Majors Contextualize Music History

Research Team: Allison Alcorn (Professor, School of Music) and a student research to be determined

MUS 253 (Music History Until 1750) is a required course for ISU undergraduate music majors. The course is usually a student’s first exposure to serious study of music history. As a result, students often report feeling overwhelmed by the amount of information and the level of detail required across the course. In response to such concerns, synthesis journals were integrated into this course with the goal of helping students keep sight of the “larger context” and not lose the forest for the trees. Through student reflections, this project seeks to understand the impact of synthesis journals on student learning of course content and connection-making to broader contexts of Western European culture.


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Reflections on the College Art Association’s 2018 SoTL Bootcamp

Written by Alysha Meloche, Ph.D. student at Drexel University’s School of Education (author bio provided at end of blog post). This blog was cross-posted on the Art History Teaching Resources blog

In February, the College Art Association’s (CAA’s) Education Committee organized a one-day Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) Bootcamp in conjunction with its 2018 Annual Conference. Supported by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, the University of Southern California, AHSC (Art Historians of Southern California), and CAA, this free workshop attracted about 30 participants interested in learning more about SoTL. (What’s SoTL? Click here)  Modeled on the THATcamps at CAA from 2013 to 2015 that introduced more members to digital art history, this year’s SoTL Bootcamp similarly aimed to increase awareness of SoTL and to encourage artists and art historians to pursue this emerging area of research.

Why do SoTL?  The Bigger Picture

The SoTL Bootcamp took place on USC’s campus on Saturday in an effort to allow faculty with heavier teaching loads to attend. As participants arrived, a shared commitment to arts education quickly became obvious. In light of threats to institutional art programs and government funding, many instructors spoke about a need to “bring something back” that could convince their administration that study of the arts and humanities is a worthy pursuit. This shared concern offered the foundation for rich discussions on topics such as equitable assessment practices, no-cost textbook options, direct learning experiences, and ideas to help artists and art historians engage with SoTL on their home campuses. (Notes, comments, and programming details of the SoTL Bootcamp are archived on the CAA Commons and Twitter #CAASoTL.

Important to this conversation is the position that SoTL not only improves teaching and learning in higher education, but that it can effectively advocate for the value of the arts and a liberal education. However, for SoTL to have significant impact, faculty in art and art history must be open to learning more about a field where we are currently novices. These kinds of big picture issues were addressed in lightning talks throughout the day by experts in art history, SoTL, and educational research.

How do we begin?  Expanding Our Skill Sets To Engage with SoTL

The Bootcamp’s break-out sessions provided an opportunity to exchange ideas on particular issues. These informal conversations revealed that while art and art history educators are very good at sharing ideas about teaching and learning with each other, we are less prepared to discuss them with others outside the field.  Despite the fact that we are experts in our subject and skillful in our teaching, our academic training and research methods differ from SoTL, which emphasizes generalizable evidence of effective teaching and learning. This difference was the focus of an interactive workshop for art and art history instructors who want to develop their own educational research projects.

Led by SoTL scholar Nancy Chick from the University of Calgary, the workshop highlighted types of SoTL inquiry that would better understand student learning in our classrooms and how it could be improved, and also studies that would examine teaching approaches and practices that affect student learning. Although Chick draws on methods from the field of educational research, she reframes them in a way to promote interdisciplinary understanding.

Workshop Takeaways

Read what other people are doing.

You wouldn’t write on a topic without reviewing the most recent publications, so first read about SoTL when you begin to develop a project. Take a look at AHTR’s SoTL Resources page and their 2015 literature review on SoTL-AH, and Chick’s  bibliography specifically for humanists interested in SoTL. Since SoTL in art and art history is still limited, you should consult educational research from other fields that address similar teaching methods or concepts, and explore theoretical frameworks in Learning Science, and Ed Psych that differ from your own creative or scholarly practice.

Collect evidence of student learning.

Teachers often collect artifacts that demonstrate student learning; in fact, looking to see if students achieve course objectives is one of the most important aspects of our jobs. But this type of assessment typically occurs after we teach the material.  When was the last time you looked for evidence of student knowledge before they begin a new topic or course? Or conducted a longitudinal follow-up by looking for retention of information a few months after the learning took place? It may not be as frequent. However, conducting pre and post-tests are a great way to see the real effects of an intentional change in one’s teaching practice. There are a lot of different types of evidence of student learning ranging from quantitative surveys and tests, to qualitative questionnaires or discussions (or both!). The best options are usually unique to each research project and beyond the scope of this reflection, but for those of us outside the social sciences, this article provides a useful overview.

Publish it!

If a teacher has a good idea that clearly worked in the classroom then they should consider sharing it in the spirit of promoting best practices in the field. Such publication should include the specific context of the study (Who? Where? When?), the literature that informed their approach, the details of what they did, and a summary of the data (which is just another word for evidence) they collected along with details of their analysis. In addition to Art History Pedagogy and Practice, here is a list of other SoTL publications to explore.  

Publish it (even if it doesn’t work)!

The field of SoTL can learn just as much from a study that was unsuccessful as one that was outstanding. Everyone wants to be the person who came up with an idea that works for everybody, but success every time is not a reasonable expectation for teachers in the classroom.

Overwhelmed, overworked? Collaborate.

The process of conducting SoTL demands additional time in the form of planning, collecting evidence of student learning, data analysis, and publishing. Collaborating with peer can be a great benefit, and allows you to build on one another’s different experiences and areas of expertise. According to some journal standards, having someone other than the teacher collect and analyze evidence of student learning makes that information stronger.

Leverage your strengths.

Although SoTL requires art educators to step out of their disciplinary expertise, Nancy Chick insists that our particular area of knowledge is an important asset to SoTL practice.  After all, who knows our classroom better than we do? Chick’s workshop was empowering because she pointed out that, in many ways, we all perform SoTL. If a teacher takes feedback from course evaluations they may make an adjustment to their practice. If a teacher notes that students did not grasp a particular concept when grading a test they may change the way that they teach or evaluate that concept next time. Both of these are examples of analyzing and utilizing evidence from the classroom.

The hurdle before us is how we share the context and details of our teaching experiments in a way that is usable and repeatable for others. Anecdotal evidence shared on blogs like the AHTR Weekly, social media, or during informal gatherings can be amazingly helpful (especially for new teachers!), but without guidelines to ensure academic rigor, these findings lack the scholarly credibility to have broad impact.

Conclusion:  Why should CAA promote and encourage SoTL?

In 2002 the National Research Council (NRC) published a treatise outlining what they considered to be the standards for Science-based research in education. It was an effort to encourage and promote better quality research that policy makers could use to inform their decisions. Despite initial and continued skepticism and dialogue among researchers in the field, the standards persist. Organizations that provide funding to research the arts look for these qualities:

  1. Pose Significant Questions That Can Be Investigated Empirically
  2. Link Research to Relevant Theory
  3. Use Methods That Permit Direct Investigation of the Question
  4. Provide a Coherent and Explicit Chain of Reasoning
  5. Replicate and Generalize Across Studies
  6. Disclose Research to Encourage Professional Scrutiny and Critique

CAA’s SoTL bootcamp was part of a larger movement to empower academics and teachers of the arts to advocate for the many benefits that an art education can provide to students. Such an empowerment will involve a shift in the way art academics have traditionally approached research. However, as the many participants who were present at the bootcamp know, art scholars are great at research. Such a movement will take energetic and passionate individuals, meaningful collaborations, and sustained discussion. As the arts face adversity in changing times, CAA and other arts organizations should promote more SoTL professional development as a strategic priority.

Alysha Meloche is a Ph.D. student and researcher at Drexel University’s School of Education and was one of four Kress SoTL Fellows participating in the Bootcamp. Her research interests include transformative critical theory in creativity and aesthetics that promotes equity and access. She intends to study approaches to Art History that instill creative confidence and identity in students. Some of the variables that interest her are the transformative aesthetic experience of observing art and the effect of being taught the creative process through examples from history. Before joining Drexel University, Meloche earned both her B.A. and M.A. in Art History from Temple University. She then worked for five years as an Art History and Design Professor.