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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Neil deGrasse Tyson and Community-Based SoTL Advocacy — Recommendations Inspired by a Popular Science Icon

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

Last week, the online version of The Chronicle of Higher Education published a piece by Vimal Patel titled “What Neil deGrasse Tyson Thinks Higher Ed Gets Wrong.” The article featured an interview with Tyson, a scientist and frequent media contributor/commentator, and discussed his perception that higher education is lacking a reward system (intrinsic or extrinsic) for communicating the work of researchers to the public. In his remarks, Tyson argued that teaching and public service are undervalued in most colleges and universities, relative to research. He posits that this fact contributes to public misunderstandings about science and research, as few researchers are actively and regularly engaged in sharing the findings of their scholarship outside their disciplines or institutions.

While the entirety of this interview focused on Tyson’s feelings toward science-based research, there were evident ties to the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL), as well, particularly in terms of Tyson’s thoughts on advocacy for research. As Tyson spoke of the need to regularly communicate research findings to the public, I was reminded of the idea that taking our SoTL work to the communities around our colleges and universities has been discussed by many as a vital, but often missing, component of SoTL advocacy. Tyson’s ideas tied directly to this notion. In sum, I noted three big takeaways from this article that inform opportunities for community-based SoTL advocacy:

Bring unexpected partners into discussions of SoTL. In his comments, Tyson shares that he interviewed singer Katy Perry on his radio show, much to the dismay of many who viewed Perry as a bad match for the typical science focus of Tyson’s shows. His response?

Why would [I] waste my time? She has more than 100 million Twitter followers. And if I can have a conversation with her about how science has touched her craft, then that brings science to her following. As far as I’m concerned, that adds value.

Why not look at SoTL in a similar fashion? Who can we bring to our craft to expand the reach and value of what we do? What groups of stakeholders can help spread the purpose and benefit of SoTL to others? Digging down, how do each of us identify targets for such advocacy in our own contexts and how might we connect with others for support and help?

Get better at communicating our SoTL research to the public.

Tyson argues that communicating research to the public is something that isn’t valued in higher education, particularly in the United States. He states:

Oxford has a tenured-professor line for the public understanding of science. I know of no such counterpart in the United States. Cambridge has a tenured-professor line for the public understanding of risk. Where is that here? These are [positions] where your ability to communicate is added to your academic chops.

I would argue that by virtue of our interest in SoTL, we are natural communicators. We are fluent in our disciplinary research but we are fluent in SoTL, as well. We translate to advocate, though this mostly occurs in our own institutional or disciplinary contexts. But, how many of us leave those contexts to enter the public sector? If we agree that groups outside our institutions might benefit from expanded SoTL advocacy, how do we get that message out? Might advancement centers, alumni networks, or research offices help? Should we do this work together in a cross-institutional manner? How might we engage established groups (i.e., ISSoTL) in a supportive or leading role for this work?

Keep it simple.

Tyson shared that part of his own development as a science commentator was understanding how his messages about science were most effectively shared. He reported that he believes his popularity in the media and with his followers lies in his ability to distill complex topics into digestible tidbits:

…the press can ask an academic question, and you can give an answer that you might give in a lecture hall. That’s not really the answer they want…I said, why don’t I just give them sound bites? So I went home and practiced in front of [my family]. They’d just randomly bark out questions about the universe, and I would deliver a two- or three-sentence reply. The anatomy of a soundbite has to be tasty, and you have to say, Wow, I’m glad I heard that. It has to…be so interesting that you want to tell someone else.

It’s likely true that once we endeavor to engage with stakeholders outside academia, we need to adapt how we communicate. As a speech-language pathology professor, I have often taught my students about a concept called “code switching,” wherein a speaker adapts how they deliver a message based on their audience. An example I frequently use to show how differently messages can be crafted via code switching is, “how would you ask the following people to open a window;”

When with a friend, you might ask “Dude, would you open the window?”

When with your younger brother, you might more directly say “open that window now!”

In the same room with your boss, you’d likely ask, “do you mind if I open that window?”

If we are seeking to share our SoTL with folks who aren’t academics, we need to learn to code switch a bit and use those communication skills I mentioned above in a slightly different way. We need to craft brief, summative, and engaging messages to appeal to folks unfamiliar with our work in an effort tot draw them in and hold their interest. We don’t need to give a forty minute paper. Rather, we need to make the case for how our SoTL work is important to them and how it might be in the future.

Blog Reference:

Patel, V. (2018). What Neil deGrasse Tyson thinks higher ed gets wrong. The Chronicle of Higher Education, 65(3). Retrieved from https://www.chronicle.com/article/What-Neil-deGrasse-Tyson/244522.

 

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Study Design and Data Analysis in SoTL

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

In June, I visited the University of South Alabama (USA) and worked with Raj Chaudhury and Sue Mattson to get a group of faculty started with their year-long SoTL Academy efforts. Approximately 30 faculty from across USA’s campus came together to learn about SoTL and plan a SoTL project. We spent two days together in workshops and consultations and all participants left with a draft plan for SoTL work they hoped to conduct this current academic year.

This was the second year I was able to join the USA crew for this two-day educational and research development event. Sue and I agreed that a resource that would be valuable for the USA faculty for the second iteration of the SoTL Academy would be something that helped social science-oriented researchers see how SoTL might dovetail with concepts and ideas they already understood well. Thus, the following grids focused on descriptive, correlational, and experimental/quasi-experimental design were drafted and used in discussions about how SoTL might look like participants’ own disciplinary research — and how it might not. This resource is being shared here now, in the hopes that others might find this information valuable, as well.

Should you wish to obtain a copy of this information in PDF form, please feel free to email me at jfribe@ilstu.edu. I’m happy to share!

Descriptive Research
Description of Study Design Descriptive research characterizes a group of people, a context, or a phenomenon. These studies do not seek to establish a causal relationship; rather, they provide information about “what is” occurring or being observed regarding the focus of study.

Descriptive studies include observational, case study, and survey methods.

Exemplar SoTL Projects
  • Survey students’ re: practices in using print vs. online textbooks to support learning.
  • Observe how students’ use of technology in the classroom impacts attention span.
  • Study high achieving students in a course to predict practices/variables of success to share with future students.
Qualitative Analysis Options Qualitative data in a descriptive study is reported as narrative, reflection, open-ended response, field note, etc. Such data will need to be further analyzed for themes, categories, or patterns.

Common qualitative approaches in descriptive SoTL research include: case studies, action research processes, analytic induction, ethnography, comparative analysis, frame analysis, grounded theory, and interpretive phenomenology, among others.

Quantitative Analysis Options Quantitative data in a descriptive study is often reported in the form of descriptive statistics (e.g., mean, median, mode) along with standard deviations. Statistics might be used here, depending on the data collected and the topic being studied.

These data might emerge from test scores, grades on a course assignment or project, survey data, or frequency data.

 

Correlational Research
Description of Study Design Correlational research seeks to determine whether a relationship exists between two or more variables, but cannot determine if one variable causes another. Variables aren’t manipulated; rather, they are observed to determine any relationship that might exist between them.

Note that some sources identify correlational research as a quantitative-only subset of descriptive research, as some descriptive research might suggest a correlation found via grounded theory or other qualitative methods of research.

Exemplar SoTL Projects
  • Determine the relationship between number of hours studying and success on a quiz/test.
  • Identify whether there is a link between the use of peer editing and performance on a writing assignment.
  • Understand whether the use of social media helps students to summarize course content effectively.
Qualitative Analysis Options Qualitative data analysis is not undertaken for correlational research, as numerical data is needed to calculate a correlation coefficient.
Quantitative Analysis Options Correlational research is a quantitative method of inquiry. Correlation can only be determined for quantifiable data. These are data in which numbers are meaningful, usually quantities of some sort. It cannot be used for purely categorical data, such as gender, brands purchased, or favorite color.

Statistics are used to determine a correlation coefficient to identify positive, negative, or zero correlation. One thing to keep in mind is that any identified correlation does not mean that one variable caused the other to react. Instead, correlations simply define that a relationship exists.

 

Experimental/Quasi-Experimental Research
Description of Study Design Experimental and quasi-experimental research designs seek to manipulate one variable and control all others to investigate cause/effect relationships. All participants are assigned to either a control or experimental group. An intervention is applied to the experimental group. The control group has no intervention applied.

The key difference between experimental and quasi-experimental designs is the concept of randomization. If participants are assigned to control and experimental groups randomly, the research design is experimental. Non-random group assignment yields a quasi-experimental research design. True experimental research is considered the gold standard of research by many researchers, because random group assignment leads to optimal internal validity. In situations where random group assignment is not possible or ethical, quasi-experimental designs offer an alternative that allows the research to continue and still produce valid results.

Almost no SoTL qualifies as truly experimental in nature due to inherent ethical and logistical characteristics of SoTL that makes this type of research difficult to conduct (e.g., true randomization). One of the most common quasi-experimental designs for SoTL research is the pre-test/post-test with no control group design.

Exemplar SoTL Projects
  • Does the use of simulated patients help nursing students improve observational skills?
  • Do architecture students who initially design structures by hand understand the concept of space more deeply?
  • Do history students exposed to guided reading demonstrate a deeper understanding of historical imagination?
Qualitative Analysis Options Experimental and quasi-experimental designs may yield data that is descriptive (e.g., surveys, interviews, observations) that require qualitative analyses. Similar to information provided above for descriptive research, any qualitative data will need to be further analyzed for themes, categories, or patterns.

Common qualitative approaches to data analysis in SoTL include: case study, action research processes, analytic induction, ethnography, comparative analysis, frame analysis, grounded theory, and interpretive phenomenology, among others.

Quantitative Analysis Options Experimental design lends itself to more straightforward and simpler types of statistical analysis. Primarily due to the lack of randomization, quasi-experimental studies usually require more advanced statistical procedures. Quasi-experimental designs may also utilize surveys, interviews, and observations which may further complicate the data analysis.

Quantitative analysis requires several steps. First numeric data is assigned a level (nominal, ordinal, interval, or ratio). Next, descriptive statistics are calculated for data (e.g., means, standard deviations). For some studies, descriptive statistics may be adequate; however, if you want to make inferences or predictions about your population, inferential statistics (e.g., t-test, ANOVA, regression) may be indicated.

Blog References:

Bishop-Clark, C. & Dietz-Uhler, B. (2012). Engaging in the scholarship of teaching and learning: A guide to the process and how to develop a project from start to finish.        Stylus: Sterling, VA.

Campbell, D. T. & Stanley, J. (1963). Experimental and quasi-experimental designs for research. Cengage: Boston.

Cresswell, J. W. (2012). Qualitative inquiry and research design: Choosing among five approaches (3rd ed.). Sage: Thousand Oaks, CA.

Gurung, R. A. R. & Wilson, J. H. (Eds.). (2014). Doing the scholarship of teaching and learning: Measuring systematic changes to teaching and improvements in learning. Jossey-Bass: San Francisco.

 

 


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Fall 2018 Program and Funding Opportunities at ISU for SoTLists

Illinois State University faculty and students have a robust selection of programming and funding opportunities this fall. Information below summarizes each. Contact Jen Friberg, Cross Endowed Chair in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, for additional information or to submit information as requested below (jfribe@ilstu.edu).

Programming Opportunities for Faculty & Students

SoTL Advocate Guest Author Incentives: Faculty and students involved in SoTL are invited to submit guest blog posts for The SoTL Advocate, a blog established in 2014 to provide information about SoTL and SoTL research to stakeholders at ISU and beyond. With 14,000 readers a year in over 20 countries, this blog has a wide readership and a strong sharing network for your work. Authors of accepted blog posts will receive a $100 stipend for their contribution.

Certificate of Specialized Instruction in SoTL: Graduate students with a strong interest in teaching and researching in higher education after graduation are invited to join this year’s cohort of students seeking focused study and reflection of research on teaching and learning to facilitate their work as students and as future faculty. All graduate students will receive information about this program, but others can access details at sotl.ilstu.edu.

SoTL Abstracts: The Office of the Cross Endowed Chair in SoTL is preparing a late fall newsletter (to be disseminated campus-wide) to feature the SoTL work of ISU students and faculty. Forward the citation and abstract for any SoTL work you’ve published in 2017 or 2018 for inclusion in this compendium. Be recognized for your work!

1:1 Consultations: Considering a SoTL project, but not sure where or how to start? Arrange a consultation with an experienced SoTL researcher.

Watch for a separate notice about an upcoming half-day workshop on the topic of collecting, analyzing, and interpreting qualitative data for your SoTL study. Dr. Sarah Ginsberg of Eastern Michigan University will be joining us for a hands-on session for faculty and for 1:1 consultations afterward. Save the date – 10/26/18.

Funding Opportunities (Full RFPs, submission guidelines, and review criteria are available @ ilstu.infoready4.com)

SoTL Travel Grants: Applications are being accepted for the SoTL Travel Grant Program for travel to present SoTL work. Funds may be used toward conference registration and/or travel costs. This applies to a trip already taken (and not fully reimbursed) or to be taken, to present SoTL work this fiscal year. We expect to award 10-12 grants for FY19. Please note that faculty/staff are eligible for one travel grant (of any kind) per year. Awards of up to $700 will be available to those presenting SoTL research at disciplinary or other teaching/learning conferences. Special awards of up to $1000 will be available to those presenting at international teaching and learning conferences. There are 2 cycles for SoTL Travel Grants. Applications for the fall award cycle are currently being accepted and must be submitted by 5pm on October 1, 2018. Applications for the spring award cycle will open October 8, 2018, and must be submitted by 5pm on February 4, 2010.

SoTL Seed Grants: Applications for seed grant funding to get SoTL projects up and running will be accepted starting in early September 2018. Grant funds will be awarded (in the form of a stipend) for work toward one of the following: writing an IRB or literature review for a SoTL project, gathering/collecting/analyzing data for a SoTL project, or applying SoTL to solve a teaching/learning issue in your classroom. Up to 12 SoTL Seed Grants in the amount of $250 will be awarded to faculty conducting their first SoTL project. Applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis from September 2018 through May 2019, with awards granted until funds are exhausted.