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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Roadblocks, opportunities, and a call for blog contributors across three topics

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

In informal conversations with friends and colleagues, I’ve heard from many that writing a blog post is a scary proposition, for what are very understandable reasons. Authoring a blog is new to many, represents a different form of writing, and are not (typically) recognized in most disciplines as a scholarly artifact. Folks have asked me why they should take on the work of writing a blog in the face of the challenges they perceive. My response? At their core, blogs represent a way to broaden the audience who knows about the work that you’re doing. Think about the narrowness with which our scholarly work is typically shared. We publish in journals and present at conferences with other people who do similar work to what we do. There’s tremendous value in that. However, looking beyond our expected professional audiences, publishing blog posts allows for an easy crossing of disciplinary, institutional, and/or social borders to engage more and different stakeholders in your work. There’s tremendous value in that form of publishing, too. That said, I’m biased. I really enjoy blogging and find it to be incredibly enriching both personally and professionally.

From my experiences as a co-creator, frequent contributor, and current editor of this blog, I want to offer two thoughts for your consideration. One focuses on the biggest roadblock to contributing to a blog (shared anecdotally with me by many) while the other focuses on the biggest opportunity.

  • Roadblock? It seems as though the most difficult thing for contributors to find is their “blog voice.” Ideally, blogs are accessible, jargon-free, and provide a high level summary of a process, idea, or project. I usually tell people that writing a blog is not like writing a paper for peer review. Instead, it’s like writing a letter to folks who have different experiences, priorities, or levels of understanding of your topic than you might. I firmly believe that while it may be initially challenging to develop a less regimented style of professional communication, engaging new audiences with your work makes it a worthy endeavor. How do you overcome this roadblock? Read the blog(s) you wish to write for. Examine the tone, format, and general feel of the already published posts to inform your choices as a potential blog contributor.
  • Opportunity! I wrote recently about purposeful amplification of SoTL work being a major conference theme at #ISSOTL19. One of the ideas I reported on in that blog came from a session presented by Lockhart and Wuetherick (citation below), who discussed planning for the eventual impact of your work when you engage in initial planning of a SoTL project. Writing a blog post tied to your SoTL work is an excellent way of planning for impact. And, while impact can mean a variety of things (e.g., impact across an institution, a discipline, across disciplines, in the public space), the bottom line is that if more and different people are exposed to your work, the greater the chance at increasing its impact. This blog, for example, has had over 12,000 views in over three dozen countries this year alone. Trust me when I say that a broader audience exists for your work. Blogging can help you access that audience.

The information shared above is not coincidental! I share it because I am seeking to represent the voices of more and different SoTL stakeholders on this blog. There are several topics I’d like to propose as a foundation for potential contributors to build upon:

What DOESN’T work? We routinely talk about, publish, and present information related to what does work in our SoTL. Rarely (almost never, actually) do we talk about what didn’t work well at all. There’s value in sharing reflections on things we wish we had done differently, outcomes that weren’t positive, or lessons we have learned from errors made in the process of SoTLing. There’s no shame in learning and growing, and that’s what happens when things just don’t work. Consider sharing those experiences!

What am I reading? Share a link to a site, blog, article, book…anything you’re reading. Create a blog post that briefly summarizes the subject of your reading and share how it can be used/applied in a learning context. Or, share how you/your practice as a teacher or learner evolved as a result of that reading. Another option might be to speak to how you’ve shared or translated that work to other stakeholder groups of personal or professional interest. There is SO MUCH out there to digest that isn’t brought to a wide audience. This call is a chance to make that happen!

Topic of your choice! What are you thinking about in terms of SoTL? Power, voice, partnerships, outcomes, roadblocks, methods, community… Chances are, SoTL Advocate readers would like to hear more! Summarize a project you’ve completed. Give us a think-aloud (okay…write-aloud) about how you plan a SoTL project. Talk about how you’ve developed SoTl networks or provide examples of SoTL advocacy. The only restriction on topic is that needs to relate to SoTL. From there, the sky is the limit!

Please consider contributing a blog post. Share the opportunity with others, and please feel free to contact me (jfribe@ilstu.edu) with questions or to brainstorm ideas or thoughts that might become a future blog topic!

Blog references

Lockhart, W. & Wuetherick, B. (2019). Using SoTL to advance institutional change: Exploring student success in foundational courses. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Atlanta, Georgia, USA.