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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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). 


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Call for Contributors — Case Studies in Evidence-Based Education: A Resource for Teaching in Clinical Professions

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.

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 March 22, 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. Each invited chapter will feature the following components, standardized across all chapters for flow and consistency, describing the use of research on teaching and learning to approach instruction from a scholarly perspective:

  • A description of the teaching/learning context focused on in the manuscript
  • Brief review of original data or extant literature applied to the teaching/learning context
  • If original data, a brief report of study methods and outcomes
  • Description of how original data/extant research was applied in the teaching/learning context
  • Additional ideas for how evidence could be applied in other contexts, with a cross-disciplinary perspective
  • Resources for readers to access additional research in this area

A sample chapter is available for review upon request. Questions? Please contact Jennifer Friberg (jfribe@ilstu.edu).


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The Mind of SoTL

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

Today’s blog is a little different than most I write, but is offered as a reflection on an important part of SoTL for many of us: the people we are fortunate to work with to better understand the dynamic duo of teaching and learning. My thoughts here were inspired by a mid-morning video conference call today with two of my favorite people in the world: Sarah Ginsberg and Colleen Visconti, both SoTL enthusiasts and fellow professors of speech-language pathology. I met them almost a decade ago when we all served on a coordinating committee for a special interest group in the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Our work on that committee led to our first professional collaboration, as well as cherished, enduring friendships.

Today’s call focused on our next project together, an edited book focused on the application of research on teaching and learning in the clinically-based classroom (stay tuned for our call for submissions!). I knew before the call started that our conversation would be thoughtful, collegial, fun, and productive. I was not wrong. The thing is, though, most of my interactions with folks around various SoTL topics make me equally happy, both personally and professionally. Conversations with others have confirmed that I am not alone in this! One has to wonder why…

Since becoming involved with SoTL almost a decade ago, I have found it remarkable that cross-disciplinary groups of higher ed stakeholders can occupy the space surrounding SoTL — almost uniformly — with such positive intentionality. We are diverse in discipline, culture, language, thought, and praxis, but we are united by our passion for teaching and learning. I would offer that there’s something unique about this shared focus that transcends anything other than a true desire to advance our SoTL discipline. In that vein, we are invested both cognitively and emotionally in our SoTL work.

A few years ago, I wrote a blog post that offered: while the heart of SoTL is in the classroom* — and likely always will be — it was made clear to me last week that the mind of SoTL is focused on interactions and relationships that advance our knowledge of teaching and learning. I think that this notion of the “mind of SoTL” being focused on interactions and relationships is more crystallized for me now than it was two years ago. I’ve come to understand that even my solo SoTL work isn’t truly solo. It focuses on the intricacies of the teacher/learner dynamic in an effort to change future interactions for the better. Through my collaborative SoTL work, I’ve developed a wide network of fellow SoTLists who challenge and inspire me, and, through my interactions with them, bring joy to the work that I already love to do. Truly, I am thankful every single day to be a part of the global SoTL community.


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Hildebrandt Named 2018-19 Chizmar-Ostrosky Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Award Recipient

The Office of the Cross Endowed Chair in SoTL at Illinois State University is pleased to announce that Susan Hildebrandt (Ph.D., University of Iowa), Professor of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures, is the recipient of the 2018-19 Dr. John Chizmar & Dr. Anthony Ostrosky Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Award. Hildebrandt has been recognized for her excellence in research in the area of teaching and learning as well as her regular and enthusiastic support of the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL).

Dr. Susan Hildebrandt,
Professor of Applied Linguistics/Spanish and Coordinator of Teacher Education for the Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures at Illinois State University

At ISU, SoTL is defined as “the systematic study and/or reflection of our ISU students made public.” Throughout her academic career, Hildebrandt has used this definition to guide a great deal of her scholarly work. In doing so, she has developed a three distinctive lines of research: teaching languages to students with disabilities, use of service learning as a pedagogy, and pre-teacher knowledge and skill assessment at its intersection with educational policy. Hildebrandt’s scholarship on teaching and learning has been disseminated across a variety of venues: authored and edited books, book chapters, peer-reviewed journal articles, blogs, and numerous local, regional, and international presentations. Hildebrandt has regularly received internal and external grant funding for her SoTL work. Hildebrandt states that the scholarship of teaching and learning has “informed her teaching while pushing [her] to find and develop a scholarly voice within national conversations on teacher assessments and world language teacher education programs.” Hildebrandt’s recent SoTL projects have included:

  • Hildebrandt, S. A., & Hlas, A. C. (2018). Pedagogical content knowledge and language awareness as evidenced in the World Language edTPA. In P. B. Swanson & S. A. Hildebrandt (Eds.), Researching edTPA promises and problems: Perspectives from English as an additional language, English language arts, and world language teacher education (pp. 143-161). Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.
  • Hlas, A. C., Conroy, K., & Hildebrandt, S. A. (2017). Student teachers and CALL: Personal and pedagogical uses and beliefs. CALICO Journal, 34, 336-354.
  • Swanson, P., & Hildebrandt, S. A. (2017). Communicative learning outcomes and world language edTPA: Characteristics of high-scoring portfolios. Hispania, 100, 331-347.
  • Hildebrandt, S. A., & Swanson, P. (2016). Understanding the world language edTPA: Research-based policy and practice. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.
  • Hildebrandt, S. A., & Swanson, P. B. (2014). World language teacher candidate performance on edTPA: An exploratory study. Foreign Language Annals, 47, 576-591.
  • Scott, S. S., Hildebrandt, S. A., & Edwards, W. A. (2013). Second language learning as perceived by students with disabilities. In C. Sanz & B. Lado (Eds.), Individual differences, L2 development & language program administrators: From theory to application (pp. 171-191). Boston, MA: Heinle.

Hildebrandt’s body of scholarship on teaching and learning has been disseminated across a variety of venues: peer-reviewed journal articles, book chapters, weblogs, and presentations at numerous local, regional, and international venues.

Hildebrandt has advanced SoTL at ISU by serving as a member of the SoTL Resource Group, a reviewer for and contributor to Gauisus, and a grant reviewer for the Office of the Cross Endowed Chair in SoTL. Additionally, she served as a mentor to a graduate student in the Certificate of Specialized Instruction in SoTL program.

Hildebrandt will be recognized for her receipt of this award at the 2019 University-Wide Teaching and Learning Symposium hosted by the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Technology at ISU later this week. She will be formally recognized with a plaque and honorarium at the upcoming Founder’s Day convocation ceremony in February, as well.


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Students Describe Learning Empathy from Working with Shelter Dogs

Written by Jennifer Friberg, Cross Endowed Chair in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, and Professor of Communication Sciences and Disorders at Illinois State University

FarmerDugan

Dr. Valeri Farmer-Dougan

Last Friday, I had the great pleasure of attending a talk entitled Helping Shelter Dogs and Students: A University-Pet Shelter Collaboration. Hosted by the Department of Psychology at Illinois State University, this talk given by Dr. Valeri Farmer-Dougan was a part of an ongoing “Extending Empathy Project” slate of speaking events for the academic year. This talk became a must-see for me when it combined two of my favorite things — dogs and SoTL. I shifted my schedule around to attend, and was thrilled that I made the time to do so! See the description below that provides an abstract of the event, with the SoTL portion in red, bolded font:

Most dog owners report a special bond between themselves and their dogs. This special bond is supported by recent research with the Canis lupus familiaris. Indeed, dogs appear able to detect and respond to basic human emotions such as sadness, happiness and anger. Dogs can follow a point or eye movement, exhibit guilty behavior, understand when to steal forbidden objects, and imitate simple human responses. Dogs provide not only physical assistance to humans, but also provide emotional support and relieve some symptoms of psychiatric illness. Further, dogs elicit empathetic and altruistic behavior from humans. Why the domestic dog can form such a unique bond with humans will be explored. In addition, the Applied Canine Behavior Project, a collaboration between the ISU Canine Laboratory and Pet Central Helps Animal Rescue, will be described.

This collaboration has three major goals:

  1. Development of a teaching laboratory where students apply learning theory and behavior analysis;
  2. Provide an opportunity for students to engage in consultation, training, and behavior intervention for shelter dogs; and
  3. Provide support for applied research with the domestic canine. Students involved in the project will discuss the impact that working with shelter dogs has had on their empathetic and altruistic behavior.

Finally, students will discuss how working with the dogs prepares them for work with human populations.  The presentation will end with an opportunity to interact with some of our dogs.

The talk started out with Dr. Farmer-Dougan, Director of ISU’s Canine Behavior and Cognition Lab, providing an overview of research on the various positive impacts of the use of service and therapy dogs with targeted human populations, explaining that the roles that dogs have taken on to support their human counterparts are both numerous and beneficial. Students who participated in the Applied Canine Behavior Project were present to answer questions and provide insights on their learning at the end of the hour-long event. Their experiences as part of a credit-earning independent study included working with dogs from animal rescue and shelter environments, training of service dogs, caring for dogs being raised by inmates at a local prison as part of a “weekend furlough socialization effort” for the dogs, and work with entities such as the University of Illinois shelter medicine program and Youth Build of McClean County. Specific *intended* learning outcomes for students involved in this project were identified as follows:

  1. gain experience with applied behavior analysis to teach/modify canine behavior
  2. gain research skills working in a research lab
  3. develop patience in working with dogs and people

shelter2

Students with dogs “furloughed” for the weekend from a local jail where they are being raised by inmates. Dogs are released to be socialized outside of the environment of the jail.

Before moving forward with my summary of this event, it must be noted that in the world of research on teaching and learning, there is a robust body of work focused on (largely) positive impacts of service-learning involvement for college and university students (one list of such scholarly work can be found on the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Annotated Literature Database in the service learning section). That said, while there is a good deal of SoTL work that looks at various types of student learning that results from service-learning involvement, few studies focus on development aspects of interpersonal competency such as empathy via such experiences. To say that I was curious what the students involved with the Applied Canine Behavior Project would report is a huge understatement.

When it was their turn to contribute, Dr. Farmer-Dougan asked the students to describe their learning as a result of their work with the Applied Canine Behavior project. Their contributions to the presentation were unscripted and occurred as a quasi-focus group as the students reflected together. What did they report as part of their reflections? Largely, student reflections largely could be placed into two categories: development of empathy transferred from working with dogs to thinking about humans and development of empathy from working with people and dogs together. Specifically, students contributed the following to the discussion:

Development of empathy transferred from working with dogs to thinking about humans

  • Understanding a dog’s story helps us know how to work with them…and how to be more patient. The same applies to people.
  • Having dog has taught how to deal with persons in need. We work with a lot of anxious dogs and have learned that anxious people aren’t all that different.
  • We are more sensitive to non-verbal messages that people share after working with dogs, as that’s all they have to give us.
  • People can be having lots of emotions but just not be showing them, just like is the case with dogs.
  • Working with abused dogs has increased our empathy towards people in the same situation.
  • We don’t talk about human behavior like we do about dogs’ behavior. We should. With dogs, we consider their past and what they’ve gone through—their full history. We need to be more wholistic like that with people. Behaviors hide things.
  • Working with dogs makes us feel more connected to people as we are better able to “read” them in terms of what are people really saying
  • Dogs teach us to listen in a very different way. You can use that to listen to people differently, too.

Development of empathy from working with people and dogs together

  • Watching dogs develop bonds with people has been amazing and inspiring.
  • Our work with dogs has changed our perceptions of persons with disabilities — working with service dogs and their new persons has helped us see people with disabilities as more able than we had before.
  • We watch people realizing mistakes they have made with their dogs and and see them trying to make things better, which makes it easier to interact with them. They want to improve things and we want to help them.
  • Involvement in this program has made students more likely to adopt shelter dogs themselves, knowing more about the dogs, their stories, and their potential.
  • We realized time and effort in training changes dogs and gives them a second chance at life.
  • Working with dogs can help anyone heal old grief (loss of dog, persons).
  • Doing this work is a very emotional experience – it pushes you to be patient, be a better person, and change your own behavior.

Dr. Farmer-Dougan reports that she’s kept data from students over the last several semesters about their learning, so this may not be the last you hear of this project! Stay tuned!