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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Code Switching: Understanding Perspectives and Motivations for SoTL Advocacy

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

In last week’s blog, I proposed five ideas for purposeful and thoughtful SoTL advocacy. One of these suggested that something called code switching be operationalized to help a larger group of stakeholders to better understand SoTL. As I feel that a bit more unpacking about this phenomenon would constitute a positive contribution to discussions on SoTL advocacy, code switching is the focus of this week’s post. 

Here’s how I explain code switching to my students: as children develop adult-like language skills, they learn how to manipulate their message to fit their audience. A two-year-old child might ask anyone around her for something she needs in a singular way (“I want juice!”), but a four-year-old knows how to do this differently, choosing to ask her brother for juice by saying “give me juice” but using a more respectful “I want juice, please,” to ask the same of her mother. In doing so, the child shows that he understands that communication needs to be modulated and adapted for particular audiences in order to maximize the chance that communication attempts will be successful in meeting his or her own needs. Like the giraffe with the binoculars (in the image to the left), children find a communication target and focus their messages to be clear and successful.

What changes in those two years of development? The easy answer is that in neurotypical children, cognitive and linguistic development allows children to understand the Piagetian concept of means-end (how to get what they want) as well as how to perspective-take in conversations. So, with time, children learn that they can meet their needs best if they can understand the perspectives of the individuals they speak with. I would argue that the same notion can and should be applied to SoTL advocacy efforts, particularly when SoTL advocates understand the myriad motivations that might apply to various stakeholders in higher education.

As SoTLists, we must discern why SoTL might be meaningful to students, other faculty, or campus administration, not by telling these individuals why SoTL is important to US, but by crafting a message that makes SoTL important to THEM. This level of perspective-taking allows for stakeholders’ own needs and interests to be harnessed as a mechanism for SoTL advocacy. Consider the graphic below, which illustrates the wide array of potential stakeholders that exists for SoTL, connected to various motivations that could be accessed to encourage engagement in/with SoTL. Without doubt, I believe that the most successful SoTL advocacy efforts meet stakeholders at the level of their own motivations.

Once potential stakeholder motivations have been identified, code switching comes into play, as it becomes necessary to communicate about SoTL clearly with stakeholders in an individualized manner, identifying ways to modulate our messages about SoTL to be understandable, accessible, and useful to the individuals we engage with. Thus, while our underlying message of SoTL advocacy will likely always be one of the importance of evidence-informed teaching and learning, we might orient our conversational approaches differentially to meet our own SoTL advocacy aims.

For instance, students are often unaware of the SoTL work we do, but have a vested interest in SoTL that is largely unexplored in terms of optimizing their practices as learners. By explaining what SoTL is, giving examples of/encouraging the use of evidence-based learning strategies, explaining our own SoTL work, we pave the way for students to become involved in SoTL. This is SoTL advocacy. We start with students’ motivations to be better learners and work towards increased understanding and involvement in our SoTL efforts.  

For faculty who are unaware of the potential impact of SoTL, we engage in conversations about how SoTL can be used to help solve problems with course design/implementation, how SoTL can be undertaken to better understand our own teaching/learning context, and what sorts of supports exist to get started in SoTL. This, too, is SoTL advocacy, but it’s advocacy work that’s done in a different manner than with the student example above. While the main message with both stakeholder groups is that SoTL is important to them, the conversations about how and why this is the case are necessarily different. 

Code switching to access administrators’ motivations might include discussions based on SoTL’s utility for formative/summative assessment for program review, external accreditation efforts, evidence-based curriculum development, increased faculty/student research productivity, or increased student retention/engagement. Again, the heart of the advocacy message is that SoTL is important, but the conversations are necessarily different, based on stakeholder motivations.

I’d argue that code switching allows SoTL advocates the opportunity to advance SoTL across audiences in our local contexts and more broadly, as well. As such, it’s one tool in our advocacy toolbox — taken straight from child language development theory — that we might consider. 

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Thoughts on SoTL Advocacy from the SoTL Commons Conference

Written by Jennifer Friberg, Cross Endowed Chair in SoTL and Professor of Communication Sciences & Disorders at Illinois State University (jfribe@ilstu.edu)

A few weeks ago, I had the good fortune of being invited to deliver one of two keynote addresses at the annual SoTL Commons conference in Savannah, Georgia. Happily, I was given the opportunity to select my own topic for my talk and, having thought deeply about several options, selected SoTL advocacy as my focus. This is likely not a surprise to those who know me, as I am a passionate advocate for research on teaching and learning. After developing several iterations of my talk, I chose to focus my remarks on five ideas I believe to be central to effective SoTL advocacy. I share them here, in the hopes that one or more of these might resonate with folks for use now or at a later time in their own SoTL advocacy efforts.

As a starting point, I do feel as though the above screenshot of one of the slides from my keynote hits on something very important: SoTL advocacy should be undertaken in ways that employ diverse approaches to our advocacy work. Perhaps the the word “customized” might even be appropriate as a corollary to this recommended diverse approach to advocacy, as efforts to engage an expanded group of stakeholders in SoTL should be specifically tailored to fit the contexts in which SoTL advocacy is being undertaken. With that in mind, suggestions for thoughtful and purposeful SoTL advocacy presented at the SoTL Commons included the following:

  1. Keep your SoTL “start-up” story in mind. Share it with others, as understanding your interest in SoTL might drive someone else to develop an interest, too. I have found this to be true, particularly for colleagues within your own discipline. My field of speech-language pathology has an established standard for using evidence-based practices to inform clinical decision-making. When I explain to other speech-language pathologists or audiologists that I started with SoTL because of my view that evidence to support my teaching practices is just as necessary as evidence to support my clinical work, folks can easily understand my perspective. While they might not engage in SoTL, they can conceive of how it might be important to others and to the discipline, at large.
  2. Develop an “advocative” (ad-VOCK-ah-tiv) mindset. Encourage people to think about SoTL in different ways, via a lens of provocative advocacy. The central idea to being advocative is being both thoughtful and purposeful in advancing (in this case) SoTL. Think about why advocacy is needed with a person or group. Plan a thoughtful approach to your advocacy efforts, one that makes the stakeholders you seek to engage leave their interaction(s) with you changed in their thinking about SoTL. If you find yourself having similar conversations across a variety of stakeholders, that’s okay, as being advocative can be necessarily repetitive!
  3. Consider the advantages of code switching. I have facilitated a particular undergraduate language development course over a dozen times in the last decade at my university. One of the important concepts in that course’s curriculum is that of code switching, the notion that children learn to adjust the language they use (tone, vocabulary, delivery) based on who they are communicating with. I would argue that advocacy efforts require a similar type of code switching to make SoTL matter to a given audience. As there are very different stakeholder groups for SoTL (e.g., faculty, students, administration, accreditation groups), it is important to speak to language of the individuals you seek to engage in your advocacy efforts. SoTL should be made important to individual stakeholders in individual ways.
  4. Establish semantic congruency with specificity. We often lack semantic congruency in our discussions about SoTL. Why? A variety of words and phrases are used to talk about research on teaching and learning, which can lead to confusion (as discussed in this blog post a few weeks ago!). If you’re talking with folks about SoTL, be able to identify similarities and differences between SoTL and educational research, action research, or classroom-based research. Develop ways to describe well that which you advocate for.
  5. Mentorship is a critical component of SoTL advocacy. With experience, many SoTL scholars become mentors to novice student or novice/veteran faculty SoTLists. While this is wonderful, I would argue that mentees need to observe not only the work that goes into a SoTL project, but advocacy efforts to advance that work. This type of mentorship includes the sharing of practices and processes for self-advocacy and collective advocacy at any point in a project’s lifespan (pre, during, post) to advance SoTL at micro through mega levels of impact.


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Illinois State University SoTL University Research Grant (FY20) Call for Proposals

The Cross Endowed Chair in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning requests proposals for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning URG Grant Program. The program provides scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) small grants 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. All SoTL work must be made public and peer reviewed in some way via presentation, performance, juried show, web site, video, and/or publication.

For 2019-2020, funded projects can focus on the systematic study/reflection of any teaching-learning issue(s) explicitly related ISU students. Reports of previously funded grants (though on a variety of other topics) may be found at http://sotl.illinoisstate.edu/grants/index.shtml.Grants of up to $5,000 are available. Funds may be used for any appropriate budget category (e.g., printing, commodities, contractual, travel, student help, and salary in FY20). While 4-5 grants are expected to be awarded, all awards are subject to the availability of funds allocated for FY20.

Eligibility and Requirements: All tenured and tenure-line faculty, non-tenure line faculty, faculty associates, graduate teaching assistants, and AP staff with teaching or teaching support responsibilities at Illinois State University are eligible to apply. Each proposal, however, must be from a team of at least one faculty/staff member and at least one student (graduate or undergraduate). Team members may be from the same discipline or include members from more than one discipline.

Application Requirements:The following information is required for all applications via the Office of Research and Graduate Studies internal grant site and MUST BE SUBMITTED BY 5PM ON FRIDAY, MAY 17, 2019:

  1. A narrative (1500 words, maximum) addressing the first 7 bullet points below under selection criteria should be uploaded.
  2. A reference page/bibliography.
  3. An itemized budget including a budget justification (i.e., details/sources on where/how numbers were obtained and calculated).
  4. Optional appendices (e.g., draft of questionnaire or focus group questions).

Review Criteria: In addition to checking that the proposal meets all eligibility and materials requirements noted above, three faculty/staff members with expertise in SoTL will review the proposals using the following criteria.

  • Project clearly fits SoTL related to the teaching and learning of ISU students as defined above.
  • Proposal includes a brief but relevant literature review (‘theory’ and past relevant SoTL research) and how the proposed project ‘fits’ in this extant literature. (General and discipline-specific journals on college teaching-learning are available at both Milner Library and CTLT. See, also, the list at http://ilstu.libguides.com/sotl.)
  • Project uses appropriate methodology for gathering evidence to reflect on/study the teaching-learning issue or question posed, and this method is clearly described.
  • Proposal clearly discusses roles for student researcher(s) who are on the SoTL project team.
  • Project is ethically appropriate in terms of the use of human subjects and this is made explicit.
  • Proposal lists specific possibilities for presentation, performance, representation, or publication of funded scholarship.
  • Proposal contains an appropriate and detailed budget, and budget justifications including how/where budget figures were found and derived.

Acknowledgements: Acceptance of grant funding indicates agreement to fulfill these requirements.

  1. If human subjects are involved–submission of an IRB protocol form and receipt of IRB approval before starting the project (as this research will be made public);
  2. Presentation of the funded SoTL research project (in progress or completed) in any format (poster, paper, panel, video) at the CTLT Teaching-Learning Symposium held in January 2020 or January 2021;
  3. As appropriate to the discipline(s) and the project, submission of a representation of the work (e.g., article, video, web site, portfolio, poster) to a teaching newsletter, website, conference, show/competition, journal, or book by December 2020 or 2021 with a copy of that product and/or a summary report with information on the project to the Cross Chair. The submission or report will be placed on the ISU SoTL website. This can include Gauisus (ISU’s internal SoTL publication – Gauisus.weebly.com) or the SoTL Advocate (ISU’s SoTL blog – illinoisstateuniversitysotl.wordpress.com).
  4. Explicit recognition of this funding source in all presentations, publications, videos, etc. of the project (Funding source is ‘Illinois State University, Office of the Cross Endowed Chair in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, SoTL URG Grant Program, FY20).


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New Guidelines for SoTL in History: A Discipline Considers the SoTL Turn?

Written by Richard Hughes, Associate Professor of History at Illinois State University (contact email: rhughes@ilstu.edu)

The last few years have involved promising, yet limited steps toward the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) among historians. While historians have discussed the teaching of history since the founders of the American Historical Association (AHA) claimed at its first meeting in 1884 that “few of the American universities give as yet any adequate historical instruction,” the AHA’s Tuning Project in 2013 and 2016 reflected new, concerted efforts to define the discipline in terms of teaching and learning (American Historical Association, 1884). The result was a clear consensus on “Core Competencies and Learning Outcomes” for students of history in higher education that included such skills as building knowledge, historical methods, disciplinary understandings, working with both primary and secondary source evidence, creating historical arguments and narratives, and using historical evidence to inform citizenship (American Historical Association, 2016). At the same time, the AHA acknowledged the challenge of assessing such learning goals and, just two years later, a special section of The Journal of American History focused on the current state of assessment in the field. Essays such as Anne Hyde’s “Five Reasons Why Historians Suck at Assessment” identified the substantial obstacles toward getting historians to embrace assessment as a key ingredient in teaching and learning. While a number of essays reflected the perspective of many that, at best, such efforts were a necessary hazard if only to keep others from imposing their assessments on historians, Hyde and others acknowledged the potential of rigorous assessment as a “shared set of tools” to improve curriculum and instruction (Hyde, 2018).

The AHA Council approved and publicized “Guidelines for the Incorporation of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in the Work of the History Profession” in January 2019. Authored by Natalie Mendoza, David Pace, and Laura Westhoff, the ambitious statement explained how “historians contribute to SoTL in five significant ways.”  First, such historians forge a research agenda through which they “define intellectual problems in the field, systematically collect evidence, come to reasonable conclusions, and place their work in the context of a larger body of literature.” Second, historians enrich their own work in the classroom as “scholarly teachers” through an understanding of “an evidence-based body of literature.” Third, historians, informed by SoTL research, contribute to the development of “classroom practice, curriculum development, and faculty rewards and recognition.” Fourth, SoTL research has great potential to play a key role in the “training of the next generation of historians” who will spend much of their careers in the classroom. Finally, the statement argued that the “AHA has the responsibility to promote this work, uphold standards for its practice, and recognize its study as a scholarly endeavor and a means of improving the quality of teaching and learning in the discipline” (American Historical Association, 2019).

The program of the recent annual conference in Chicago, where the AHA approved the SoTL guidelines, provides a revealing measure of the status of SoTL within the discipline. On the one hand, HistorySoTL: The International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning History, an affiliated organization of the AHA, hosted a workshop on “Enduring Problems for History Teachers (and How to Manage Them)” which addressed such issues as historical literacy, curriculum and coverage, and assessment. HistorySoTL has hosted successful workshops at the last four AHA national conferences while historians from the United States and other countries have presented SoTL research at the annual meetings of ISSOTL and SoTL Commons. Recent years have also included prominent publications on SoTL from historians such as David Pace’s Decoding the Disciplines Paradigm (2017) and Joan Middendorf and Leah Shopkow’s Overcoming Student Learning Bottlenecks (2018) as well as a growing number of articles and book chapters such as Lendol Calder and Tracy Steffes’ chapter in Improving Quality in American Education (2016) entitled, “Measuring College Learning in History.”  Elsewhere, two established journals, The History Teacher and Teaching History: A Journal of Methods, have taken deliberate steps to solicit and publish more articles reflective of SoTL research as further evidence of a discipline increasingly oriented toward SoTL.

Chart republished in https://www.historians.org/publications-and-directories/perspectives-on-history/december-2018/the-history-ba-since-the-great-recession-the-2018-aha-majors-report

On the other hand, the AHA conference, the preeminent gathering of professional historians in the country, also demonstrated the precarious position of SoTL within the discipline. The conference program included at least 26 sessions dedicated to teaching, second only to the general topic of “Profession” and far more than such traditional topics as war, gender, religion, immigration, race, and politics. However, while the exact nature of each presentation is difficult to discern from the program, it seems clear that, with a few notable exceptions such as Lendol Calder’s research on assessing the historical thinking of undergraduates, the sessions largely reflected what the SoTL guidelines identified as “wisdom of practice” presentations that describe the thoughtful work of accomplished teachers but are, as the new guidelines emphasize, “distinct from the theoretical and evidence-based exploration of pedagogical issues in the scholarship of teaching and learning” (American Historical Association, 2019).  Program abstracts mentioned such valuable topics as reflective practice, student engagement, and instructional strategies associated with important historical topics with no suggestion that the teaching presentations centered on research problems, the analysis of evidence, or the burgeoning SoTL literature in history or related disciplines. In other words, the same conference that included the official adoption of SoTL guidelines for historians included little evidence that many scholars have embraced the sort of scholarly endeavors outlined in the guidelines. If the future of SoTL in history remains unclear, the recent AHA’s History Majors Report may provide an important clue. Based on enrollment figures since 2008, the much-discussed report from the AHA detailed the sharp decline in the number of history majors in American colleges since 2008. In addition to the intellectual engagement of exploring “scholarly arguments about pedagogy” in history, it may be that concern over the health of the discipline in higher education is ultimately the best argument for embracing SoTL to more accurately promote, assess, and publicize the “Core Competencies” of students in history (American Historical Association, 2019).