Written by Kathleen McKinney, Professor of Sociology and Cross Endowed Chair in SoTL, Emeritus at Illinois State University
I view the integration of SoTL in a discipline in terms of four questions: 1. To what degree are theories, methods, and general findings of a discipline, if relevant, used in SoTL research in the discipline? 2. Is there strong disciplinary support, respect, and reward for SoTL? 3. What are the forms and degree of involvement in SoTL in the discipline? 4. To what extent do colleagues in the discipline actually use or apply SoTL findings to the practice of teaching and understanding learning in that discipline? I have attempted to answer these questions and suggest strategies to increase integration in my own discipline of Sociology (McKinney, 2018). I hope this blog post will encourage others to do the same for their own disciplines.
I offer a few possible factors to measure in your attempt to answer these four questions about integration of SoTL in your discipline. I encourage blog readers to comment on this blog post with additional ideas of ways to answer these questions.
- The first question about the integration of SoTL concerns the extent that perspectives, theory and/or methods from your discipline in general are used in SoTL research, specifically, in your discipline. Of course, the extent to which this form of integration is possible varies by discipline. For example, those of us in Education or the Social Science fields are especially likely to have disciplinary theory or methods that work for SoTL. To assess this question, you could count and analyze the content of presentations or publication outlets that discuss discipline-specific theory or method and how these might be used in disciplinary SoTL. Finding existing, or conducting, research studies on SoTL that gather data and draw conclusions about the actual use of disciplinary theory and/or methods in SoTL research in your field would be another strategy.
- The second question of integration is to what extent there is support for SoTL projects and making those projects public including resources, respect and reward within your discipline. Such support should be at both the academic department or unit level and in your professional organizations or similar structures. To assess support at the department level, faculty and graduate students could complete surveys or be interviewed about department funding and assistance for SoTL; the status of SoTL compared to other research and scholarship in the department; how Chairs, Directors or senior faculty view SoTL; in what ways graduate students are taught about or encouraged to do SoTL; and how SoTL is rewarded in the department both informally and formally. Additional variables to measure or find include grant dollars for SoTL research, number or prestige of awards/recognitions for SoTL involvement or products, outlets for making SoTL public, explicit statements of support for SoTL in strategic plans or mission statements or similar documents, and availability of opportunities to learn about SoTL. Similarly, such data should be collected at the level of disciplinary professional organizations.
- The third question to assess integration of SoTL in your discipline is to what degree and in what ways are colleagues involved in disciplinary SoTL in your department or in the discipline as a whole. Quantitative data on the number of SoTL presentations and publications by those in your discipline during a given time frame could be gathered and compared to other research in the discipline. Measuring involvement could also include finding out what percent of faculty, staff and graduate students in your department or in your discipline (across departments or institutions) participate in various SoTL activities. For example, how many conduct SoTL studies, serve as reviewers of the SoTL work of others in the discipline, mentor others or teach about SoTL, and serve in leadership positions in SoTL organizations, etc. A related measure would be how much time colleagues spend in such SoTL activities relative to other disciplinary work.
- The fourth question is to what extent SoTL is integrated in your discipline through the process of applying the findings of disciplinary SoTL studies to practice: teaching and learning in your discipline at classroom, course, program, department, and cross-department levels. One way to assess this integration is to find out whether disciplinary organizations or task forces have used SoTL results to come up with best practices for teaching/learning or curriculum in the discipline. Related to this is to study the extent to which such best practices in the derived from SoTL are followed within and across disciplinary departments. Another way to get a sense of the extent to which and at what levels SoTL findings are being applied in your discipline is to look at the foci of disciplinary SoTL work perhaps by analyzing the content of disciplinary SoTL publication outlets or coding the content of SoTL presentations in the discipline. More specifically, you could measure at what levels SoTL is conducted and results are applied? What percent of these publications and presentations include explicit discussions of how the authors have applied their or other’s SoTL disciplinary findings to make changes in teaching or curriculum or other practices? You could also survey department leaders for concrete examples of changes made and the SoTL research findings that led to these changes.
My belief is that SoTL is not sufficiently integrated in many disciplines despite the suggestion and use of numerous strategies to increase such integration over the last two-three decades. I do think some general mechanisms have more promise than others at this juncture in the development of the field of SoTL. These include choosing disciplinary leaders who support¾or educating and co-opting leaders to support SoTL; using social change strategies involving both grassroots and top-down techniques; socializing future generations of graduate students and new faculty to the value of SoTL before or early in their careers; linking SoTL research to existing priorities of the discipline at various levels (e.g., department, cross-institutions, professional organizations); connecting more disciplinary colleagues to the networks, organizations and activities of the cross-discipline and international field of SoTL; conducting and using SoTL beyond one’s own individual classroom; and encouraging a focus on application and impact of SoTL results in the discipline. All of these, I believe, can help to make SoTL normative and expected in your discipline.
McKinney, K. 2018. “The Integration of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in to the Discipline of Sociology.” Teaching Sociology 46(2): 123-134.