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.