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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Announcing the publication of Applying the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning edited by Friberg and McKinney

Written by Kathleen McKinney, Cross Endowed Chair in SoTL, Emeritus, Illinois State University

We have argued for some time that the findings and implications of SoTL work are insufficiently applied—beyond, and sometimes within, their original context–to other students, audiences/stakeholders, courses/modules, programs, disciplines, institutions, and so on. This volume provides representation of some efforts to make this leap of application to other and broader contexts. Of course, a book about the application of SoTL findings and implications to different and broader contexts is also a book about SoTL advocacy. Using SoTL in these ways to enhance teaching and learning increases awareness of SoTL, and promotes SoTL and what it can do for our students and institutions.

In this edited volume we explore scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) ‘projects’ and the applications of what is learned via those projects to levels beyond the individual classroom. In our Introduction, we discuss our SLaM framework about the application of SoTL including the Sources of SoTL findings and implications for application, the Levels at which SoTL results and implications can be applied, and the institutional and disciplinary Mechanisms which can be used to apply SoTL findings and implications. In addition, we offer concrete, specific examples of SoTL reflection/studies and applications providing lessons learned or suggestions for others. These examples include two brief illustrations from our institution and nine others in contributed chapters from authors at many institutions. Finally, Pat Hutchings wraps things up with a concise and thoughtful Conclusion.

This book is unusual in its truly international character with contributors from five nations (Australia, Belgium, Canada, Singapore, United States). It is also intentionally diverse in terms of emphasis on the SoTL project vs. the applications; foci of the SoTL project and applications; strategies for obtaining, and the nature of, evidence; the types of sources, levels and mechanisms of application; institutional culture; views of SoTL; and writing styles. Finally, our contributors represent numerous disciplines including business, communication, education/learning studies, English, faculty/educational development, family studies/human development, health sciences, informatics, philosophy, psychology, student support, and social work.

As discussed in the Introduction, our SoTL tent for this volume is quite expansive. Readers may even disagree whether some of the efforts to obtain evidence on teaching and learning for application as presented in this volume are, in fact, SoTL. This, we hope, will make for interesting conversations and collaborations, and encourage additional work with our SLaM model, and SoTL reflection/studies and applications around the globe.

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Walking Interviews in My Undergraduate Research

Written by Megan Herdt,recent Elon University graduate and current graduate student in the counseling psychology doctoral program at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

As an undergraduate psychology student at Elon University, I performed a qualitative study with ten low-income students using sedentary and walking semi-structured interviews. My study was a strengths-based exploration of the ways in which my participants navigated through their mostly white, mostly affluent institution. My participants were first-generation and continuing generation students that identified as black, biracial, Latinx, Hispanic, and white. They also varied by affiliation with scholarship cohorts, gender, religiosity, sexuality, and year in school. I conducted one round of sedentary semi-structured interviews that focused on participants’ applications and acceptances to college, transitions to college, experiences while at college, and the influences of their identity dimensions on their experiences. In the next academic semester, I performed walking interviews with participants. Each participant brought me to between three and five places that played significant roles in their college experiences. The walking interviews focused on sense of belonging, development, and the salience and influence of participants’ identity dimensions.

My findings included various strategies that participants developed to help them navigate through their institution. These strategies and approaches include striving for authenticity, expanding one’s analysis of social categories, and becoming a social justice advocate. I also developed a list of suggestions that the university can implement to bridge the sociocultural incongruities between itself and its low-income and other minoritized students (Devlin, 2013).

As both a researcher and as a fellow student who shared the campus and many student experiences with my participants, I became a participant-observer during the walking interviews. My experiences as a student influenced my perceptions of and way of being in the places that participants brought me to, as well as the ways in which I asked interview questions and the ways in which I moved through participants’ interview guides. The flexibility of semi-structured interviewing gave me freedom to adapt my interviews, so I was able to respond to spontaneous conversations that naturally emerged as I strolled through my campus with my peers. Throughout the research process, I critically reflected on my positionality as both a researcher and a student and the influences of my positionality on my data collection and analysis — I took detailed field notes containing summary, analysis, and reflection within twenty-four hours of each interview.

Many strategic uses of place emerged through the walking interviews as participants brought me to the following types of places:

  • academic buildings that housed participants’ majors
  • racial, ethnic, cultural, and religious identity organizations
  • scholarship offices
  • outdoor on-campus locations such as lakes, fountains, benches, and even specific trees
  • on-campus residence halls.

These strategic uses of place often revolved around the mentoring relationships that participants had developed from people in specific locations. Academic buildings and support from the professors within enhanced participants’ academic, scholarly, and student identities. For example, one participant called her academic major building “a fortress that has no little gate, nothing out there that can change who I am as a person…while I’m here I make it so I don’t think about any of that stuff and I only focus on what I need to be focusing on and going to professors.” The racial, ethnic, cultural, and religious organizations that participants belong to, along with the friends, peers, and staff affiliated with those organizations, fostered participants’ development related to that specific dimension of identity. From the time another participant spent in a campus-designated space for Hispanic students with his friend group, he learned to integrate his “real self with being Hispanic and being a [university] student…We aren’t just [university] students and we aren’t just Hispanic. We’re Hispanic, [university] students.” Scholarship offices, cohorts, and affiliated staff were tremendous forms of support for participants receiving those scholarships. Many participants who were affiliated with scholarship programs described those program spaces, along with their staff and peers, as places and people that provided complete acceptance and freedom for self-expression.

Outdoor locations on campus functioned as neutral spaces that participants were able to adapt and appropriate for their own personal needs. These places were often locations that were free from the marginalization and isolation that participants encountered in campus-sanctioned spaces. One participant regularly visited an on-campus water fountain because of her personal connection to water, and she related the essentiality of water to the essentiality of herself: “Just the meaning of water and how it’s essential to life and how humans are essential to life and people are essential to life and then I am essential to my life. And I have a place on this campus and I’m going to make a big impact one day…”.  Lastly, on-campus residence halls functioned as cues for participants’ reflections on past experiences, inspired participants to share meaningful stories, aided participants in constructing narratives, and stored both memories and past selves.

Blog Reference

Devlin, M. (2013). Bridging socio-cultural incongruity: Conceptualising the success of students from low socio-economic status backgrounds in Australian higher education. Studies in Higher Education, 38(6), 939–949.

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Introduction to Walking Interviews: A Potential SoTL methodology?

Written by Megan Herdt, recent Elon University graduate and current graduate student in the counseling psychology doctoral program at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Walking interviews, also referred to as place-based or walk-along interviews, are becoming an increasingly popular methodology across the social sciences (Evans & Jones, 2011; Kinney, 2017). This methodology originated in the fields of ethnography, geography, anthropology, and mobility studies, but today it is being used in fields as diverse as environmental studies and the health sciences (King & Woodrooffe, 2017). Walking interviews are a semi-structured interviewing technique in which a researcher and participant walk together while the researcher interviews the participant (Kinney, 2017). This methodology can be used in several ways, such as to elucidate participants’ relationships to specific places, to spatially locate research encounters, and to explore the geographies of specific populations (Holton, 2015; Holton & Riley, 2014). In a recent issue of the Social Research Update, Kinney (2017) briefly reviews four types of walking interviews: the docent walking interview, the go-along interview, the participatory walking interview, and the bimbling interview.

Walking interviews offer several unique advantages to researchers. Walking interviews equalize the relationship between the participant and researcher, giving the participant power to lead the interview both physically along the chosen route and verbally through the occurrence of natural, spontaneous interactions (Holton & Riley, 2014). Flipping the power dynamic of a typical research encounter makes walking interviews more accessible, more inclusive, and less intimidating than traditional semi-structured interviews (King & Woodrooffe, 2017; Kinney, 2017). Through a shared mobility between the researcher and participant, walking interviews open up previously inaccessible channels into the participant’s perspective (Holton & Riley, 2014). Walking interviews are more flexible and adaptable than sedentary interviews, and they allow for a more collaborative meaning-making process between the researcher and participant (King & Woodrooffee, 2017). Each place within a walking interview functions as a cue to the participant, acts as a physical representation of experiences, and affects the salience of the participant’s identity dimensions (Holton & Riley, 2014).

Because of their mobile nature, walking interviews offer windows into a participant’s sense of belonging and sense of self in addition to concepts such as place attachment, environmental pasts, and place-identities (Prince, 2014). Place attachment can be defined as “a phenomenon that incorporates several aspects of people–place bonding, including behaviour, affect and cognition” (Chow & Healey, 2008, p. 363). A person’s environmental past is composed of the memories and attitudes related to personally significant places (Proshansky, Fabian, & Kaminoff, 1983). Environmental pasts are the foundations for place-identities, defined as subsets of one’s identity which hold attitudes, feelings, beliefs, and other cognitions about the physical world in which they are located (Proshansky, Fabian, & Kaminoff, 1983). Places can also represent past selves, which allows a person to make self-comparisons at various points in time and maintain a consistent sense of self (Twigger-Ross & Uzzell, 1996). Characteristics of places, even their physical appearances, also communicate messages about belonging or not belonging (Bufton, 2003).

Of course, walking interviews also come with several important considerations. Situation-specific considerations include issues regarding weather, the walkability of possible routes, and the extent of participants’ mobility (Kinney, 2017). Confidentiality and privacy are also more limited in walking interviews, as the majority of a research encounter usually takes place in public or semi-public areas (Kinney, 2017). In spite of the more collaborative and social nature of walking interviews, the researcher still has power over the participant, and it is important that the researcher still reflexively engage with issues of positionality and power in the research encounter (King & Woodrooffe, 2017).

Blog References

Bufton, S. (2003). The lifeworld of the university student: Habitus and social class. Journal of Phenomenological Psychology, 34(2), 207–234.

Chow, K., & Healey, M. (2008). Place attachment and place identity: First-year undergraduates making the transition from home to university. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 28(4), 362–372.

Evans, J., & Jones, P. (2011). The walking interview: Methodology, mobility, and place. Applied Geography, 31(2), 849-858.

Holton, M. (2015). Adapting relationships with place: Investigating the evolving place attachment and ‘sense of place’ of UK higher education students during a period of intense transition. Geoforum, 59, 21-29.

Holton, M., & Riley, M. (2014). Talking on the move: Place-based interviewing with undergraduate students. Area, 46(1), 59–65.

King A.C., Woodroffe J. (2017) Walking Interviews. In: Liamputtong P. (eds) Handbook of Research Methods in Health Social Sciences. Springer, Singapore.

Kinney, P. (2017). Walking interviews. Social Research Update, (67), 1-4. Retrieved July 1, 2019, from  

Prince, D. (2014). What about place? Considering the role of physical environment on youth imagining of future possible selves. Journal of Youth Studies, 17(6), 697–716.

Proshansky, H. M., Fabian, A. K., & Kaminoff, R. (1983). Place-identity: Physical world socialization of the self. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 3, 57–83.

Twigger-Ross, C. L., & Uzzell, D. L. (1996). Place and identity processes. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 16(3), 205–220.