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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Call for Chapters – Case Studies in Applying SoTL in Clinical Disciplines

Co-editors Jennifer C. Friberg (Illinois State University), Colleen F. Visconti (Baldwin Wallace University), and Sarah M. Ginsberg (Eastern Michigan University) invite submissions for their upcoming text: Case Studies in Evidence-Based Education: A Resource for Teaching in Clinical Professions. This text is under contract with Slack Publishers (late 2020 pub date expected).

This book will present evidence-based education case studies that support teaching in the same manner that evidence-based practice is used to support clinical practice. Case studies will describe one of two phenomena: how existing research on teaching and learning has been applied to adapt a learning context OR how course instructors have collected data and used it to inform changes to course design, content, or implementation. The key to all chapters will be the description of how research on teaching and learning can be used in the clinically-based classroom to encourage the use of evidence-based pedagogies.

After a successful first round of submissions, we are looking to round out this volume’s content with chapters on topics such as: flipped classroom processes, undergraduate research experiences, computer-based simulations, civic engagement, establishment of learning communities, use of standardized patients, ways to engage students in large/small group discussions, and innovative forms of assessment for clinical knowledge and skills. Other topics are welcome, as well.

Submissions are sought from contributors representing a wide variety of clinical disciplines including (but not limited to) the following:

  • Speech-language pathology
  • Audiology
  • Physical therapy
  • Occupational therapy
  • Nursing
  • Medicine
  • Optometry/ophthalmology
  • Physician Assistants
  • Psychiatry
  • Pharmacology
  • Radiography
  • Athletic Training
  • Public Health and Health Prevention
  • Physiology

Submission Process:

Those interested in contributing to this volume should submit a one-page (maximum) manuscript overview no later than May 13, 2019 to Jennifer Friberg (jfribe@ilstu.edu). This one-page manuscript overview should describe:

  • the teaching/learning context that is the focus of the chapter
  • how original data or existing research was applied to adapt the teaching/learning context
  • ways the evidence described in your chapter could be applied to other clinically-based disciplines.

Editors will review submitted manuscript overviews and invite selected contributors to submit complete manuscripts for inclusion in this volume. A sample chapter is available for review upon request. Questions? Please contact Jennifer Friberg (jfribe@ilstu.edu).

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Musicology’s emerging culture for pedagogy and SoTL

Written by Allison Alcorn, Professor of Musicology at Illinois State University (aalcorn@ilstu.edu)

Like many of my colleagues in higher education, I stepped into the university classroom fresh out of graduate school before I had so much as folded my hood into storage. Also like most of these colleagues, I had never had a single pedagogy class, had never heard of learning theories much less studied them, and I set about teaching by sheer instinct based on what I had seen done as a student. Unlike my colleagues in disciplines outside of musicology, however, I have spent my career in an academic field notorious for its nearly complete disregard of pedagogy and the scholarship of teaching and learning. As late as 2013, any reference to teaching at all was completely absent from the Object statement of the American Musicological Society (AMS). Only two scholarly journals devoted to music history pedagogy exist, and those have been around for less than a decade. AMS finally hosts music history pedagogy round tables at its annual meetings, and papers related to teaching are making more frequent appearance at both national and regional conferences.

Musicologists invested in and dedicated to improving music history pedagogy are celebrating the forthcoming publication, Norton Guide to Teaching Music History, edited by C. Matthew Balensuela (DePauw University). This much-anticipated volume will include twenty-one essays covering everything from teaching historical periods to enlivening the classroom. Norton bills it as “both a resource for current music history teachers and an ideal text for history pedagogy courses” (publisher’s site product information). As delighted as we musicologists are, we also realize this milestone for us still falls into categories better thought of as “best practices” or “practical ideas” directly connected to disciplinary content rather than as a broader-scope systematic inquiry into student learning that advances the practice of teaching by making inquiry findings public. As such, musicology still lags decades behind other academic disciplines, but these are critical first steps none the less. At least musicology is showing up at the table now and, as a discipline, it is beginning to recognize that the act of teaching itself requires study and analysis. Musicologists like to think of ourselves as dealing in unquantifiable aesthetic issues—in fact, I have wondered if the erroneous but persistent notion that SoTL studies must be entirely objective and quantifiable research has turned Fine and Performing Arts folks to different avenues of study—but even so, how and why we teach these qualitative and aesthetic issues is a different matter. If we are concerned with determining whether our teaching is effective, whether the students are learning what we intend, whether our teaching is relevant, helpful, and engaging critical thought, if we care about our content and about our students, musicology must continue its evolution forward into the scholarship of teaching and learning.

I think we continue to breathe life into our teaching only when we embrace the idea that we can always improve as teachers. As a tenured, full professor in my twenty-first year of university teaching, I have finally dipped my toe into SoTL research. It’s a little scary, to be honest. On the other hand, there is comfort in realizing I don’t have to keep doing this teaching thing by sheer instinct. For my first foray into SoTL research, I am analyzing the effectiveness of synthesis journals as a way of helping my music majors keep sight of the big picture—it’s so easy to get lost in the details of musicology. Anecdotally, the strategy seemed to be working, and I wondered if the numbers would bear that out. This has been a completely different sort of research for me, and I have benefited tremendously from various aspects of the SoTL support system here at ISU. I am utterly grateful for a SoTL University Research Grant that enabled me to hire two music students (a senior and a graduate student) to assist with data collection. Ultimately, it’s a great problem that we have so much data, but the downside is that a large amount of data is overwhelming. In addition to their help with data collection and entry, having these two students to help me talk through the rationales, to push back and ask questions, and just to plow through the density with me made the early stages much more manageable and kept me from feeling like I was getting buried under a deluge of data. I also have taken advantage of brain storming with ISU’s cross-endowed chair in SoTL, Jen Friberg, who patiently talked me off several ledges over the course of the year and helped me think through a number of different approaches when I ran into a wall. And it probably goes without saying that her help was invaluable when it came to writing my first-ever IRB protocol. The bottom line is that SoTL research is important for and applicable to any discipline or sub-discipline. Support of all types is ready and waiting for new and experienced SoTL researchers alike. This has been an excellent research experience for me, and I am eager to discover what I can learn about the way I teach.

By employing solid research methodology—just like I do in my content research—I can analyze what I’m doing and whether or not it’s accomplishing what I think it is. If it is, in fact, effective, that’s fantastic. Props to me. If it’s not, I tweak and I tinker and I try again. That way, in my twenty-second year of university teaching, I am going to be a better teacher than I was last year, and I know that each trip around the block is going to be better than the last one. Welcome to SoTL, musicologists!


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Defining research as an intro to SoTL: Reflections of a serial tinkerer

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

I’m willing to chat with just about anyone about the scholarship of teaching and learning – anytime, anyplace! Happily, in my role at Illinois State University, it’s my full-time job! I would have to say, though, that across the scope of topics and tasks that are a part of my day-to-day work, one of my most preferred activities is conducting workshops with stakeholders new to SoTL. Whether it’s a two-hour workshop or a two-day event, the “intro to SoTL” experience is one that fascinates me, as it presents the challenge of working with diverse groups of individuals, each with different motivations and understandings of the topics at hand. 

It’s either a strength or a weakness that I am a serial tinkerer. I constantly make large or small changes to my teaching or my educational development materials – and my intro to SoTL workshop materials do not escape this habit! Using feedback from workshop attendees, questions asked during workshops, my own personal reflections, and new/emerging resources from external sources, I seek to improve to my work in defining SoTL and mentoring the development of SoTL projects. 

One of my enduring challenges with planning my intro to SoTL workshops has been figuring out a way to unite workshop attendees in viewing scholarship as being a broad endeavor, one that can be approached in a variety of ways for a variety of reasons. I truly believe that most faculty, staff, and students *think* they believe this to be true, but there are times when subsequent comments/questions about rigor and value of various forms of scholarship (and SoTL) make me wonder. So, I continue to tinker, and in doing so, work towards ways to best make the point that one discipline’s perceptions/definitions of research might not match those of another. 

To this end, one of my most recent add-ins to my intro to SoTL workshop was developed after recently re-reading Gary Poole’s excellent chapter (Square One: What is Research? in McKinney, 2013, citation below) which discussed how entrenching ourselves in disciplinary approaches to scholarship restricts SoTL engagement. So now, rather than starting intro workshops talking about SoTL, I begin them by talking about the broader topic of research. I’ve found this to be an perfect way to identify and acknowledge disciplinary perspectives (and biases) about research and to make the point that research may be a much broader enterprise than some participants recognize. 

How does this process work? I have attendees reflect for a few minutes then write a draft definition of research and share with a small group around them. After a bit of small group sharing, we turn to the larger group for consideration, comparing and contrasting our definitions for research. I’ve found that this exercise sets the stage nicely for discussions about the diversity of approaches evident in all scholarly work, SoTL included. Even in a short two-hour workshop, this has been time very well spent. One recent attendee called it an “aha moment” in really understanding his perspectives on research. 

Last Friday, I facilitated an intro to SoTL workshop for 12 faculty and staff from across my campus. Disciplines represented were: business management, politics and government, social work, speech-language pathology, education, technology, software design, finance, english, and history. Due to this array of department/school affiliations, I was not surprised when attendees defined research as:

  • the search for statistical significance to indicate relationships between variables
  • what happens when two equivalent and randomly selected groups are compared
  • the process of answering a question
  • solving a puzzle
  • the examination of artifacts and data to reach a reasonable conclusion

Discussing these wildly different definitions as a large group was truly fascinating. After time, we agreed that a broader definition of research was most assuredly more inclusive of all disciplines’ approaches to scholarly work. It made our next discussions about the purposes, characteristics, limitations, and strengths of SoTL much easier for attendees to consider and evaluate. At one point, when one attendee asked about the generalizability of SoTL, another in her group replied, “maybe it’s another difference in how we think about research and perhaps generalizability isn’t always the goal.” Insert happy dance here. I may continue tinkering with other aspects of my intro to SoTL workshops in the future, but I feel fairly confident in saying that defining research will likely remain a standard “start” to my intro workshops. 

Blog reference:

Poole, G. (2013). Square one: What is research? In K. McKinney (Ed.), The scholarship of teaching and learning in and across the disciplines. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.


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Having a name for it: SoTL’s impact on my work

Written by Susan A. Hildebrandt, Professor Spanish and Applied Linguistics in the Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures at Illinois State University (shildeb@ilstu.edu)

My fall 2009 arrival at Illinois State University (ISU) helped me put a name to something that I’d been doing my entire career without even knowing it. I could finally define as SoTL what I’d done as an undergraduate student teacher, a beginning middle and high school Spanish teacher, a budding teacher educator and graduate student, and a novice teacher educator. 

Although I’ve only been able to name it as such for a little less than the last decade now, the “systematic reflection/study on teaching and learning made public” has had an immeasurable impact on my career since 1995. Throughout my career, I’ve used existing research and data to drive instructional decisions and pedagogical choices made while teaching adolescents, young adults, master’s and Ph.D. candidates, and sharing results with students, parents, other instructors, administrators, accreditation agencies, and other stakeholders. 

As an applied linguist, having a name for things is kind of important to me. As a human and a neuroscience nerd, I know how important naming things is to our species. I have a weird job, even for an academic. To begin, I’m a teacher educator in a College of Arts and Sciences. Right now I am a Professor of Spanish and Applied Linguistics in the Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures here at ISU, where I also coordinate the World Language Teacher Education program that prepares K-12 teachers of French, German, and Spanish. Like most other tenure-track faculty members across the United States, my job is divided into three components: scholarship, teaching, and service. All three of these areas are interwoven as my scholarship, teaching, and service inform, complement, and overlap with each other. Really, SoTL encompasses the entirety of my academic work, which allows one area to feed naturally into the others. 

The primary focus of my research is K-12 world language teacher education, knowledge, development, and professionalization, using both quantitative and qualitative methods. I’m also interested in educational policy and how teacher knowledge and practice are evaluated, particularly by the standardized assessment of beginning teacher readiness called edTPA. Other areas of my research explore ways of teaching language inclusively and with a social justice focus. SoTL has made me a better researcher by giving me the tools to share what I learn about ISU students’ learning with a wider public than I would otherwise be able. Specifically, the financial support from ISU’s Office of the Cross Endowed Chair in SoTL has been critical to my success as a scholar. I’ve been grateful for a number of SoTL travel grants since my arrival at ISU and found them especially vital as a faculty member still paying off my own student loans. The impact of the financial support from a 2011 SoTL small grant for $5000, which is far from small in the humanities, still impacts my students and research agenda today. The fall of 2018 was that seed grant project’s tenth semester, as my students in Teaching World Languages in the K-12 Setting taught French, German, and Spanish lessons to a diverse population of K-5thgraders from lower socioeconomic backgrounds at Unity Community Center. Further, as a result of having explored the SoTL literature, my own research has moved this program from a service-learning model to one of civic engagement and now social justice. 

SoTL has also made me a better teacher, helping me apply what I learn from my research to improve my students’ learning, both for future language teachers and for Spanish language learners. It has helped me frame my teaching within a social justice model and to lead informed discussions with my students about systemic challenges and solutions. By understanding edTPA as both a teacher and a scholar, I am better able to help my students succeed on the standardized assessment and share those techniques with a wider audience, both in world language teacher education circles and with various educational policy stakeholders. Because I teach what I research, the impact of my work is magnified. By teaching future teachers, I hope to get a bit of a double impact.

And SoTL has made me better able to serve my department, college, university, state, and profession. My students’ edTPA data inform my participation in national educational policy discussions, which in turn inform my duties administering the LAN teacher education, my research, and my teaching. I take what I have learn through the systematic investigation of my students’ learning and bring it my conversations with fellow teacher educators from ISU and across the nation. Those investigations come to the interactions I have with the other members of the American Council of Teachers of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) Board of Directors and with the creators of the World Language edTPA. And SoTL has helped me develop as a mentor to other teacher educators and researchers both locally and across the country, as I model using data to improve programmatic performance and classroom instruction.  

Overall, SoTL provides me a unique opportunity to examine my students’ learning and apply those findings to my scholarship, my teaching, and my service. Working in SoTL for almost 10 years has enabled me to hone my research skills, to advance my students’ learning, and to produce a line of research that has been recognized with the 2018-2019 Dr. John Chizmar & Dr. Anthony Ostrosky Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Award, an honor by which I am deeply humbled. SoTL provided me a name and a framework that has helped me move forward in my professional career and form a scholarly identity. I now have a name for what I was doing before I came to ISU and I’ll long be spreading that name far and wide.