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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SoTL Methods Series #2: Content Analysis

Written by Jennifer Friberg, CSD/SoTL Scholar-Mentor at Illinois State University

Content analysis is defined as systematic and replicable analysis of written, spoken or visual data in order to make inferences from that data with regard to a particular context (Friberg & Cox, 2014). Fraenkel and Wallen describe content analysis as follows (2003, p. 482):

“Content analysis as a methodology is often used in conjunction with other meds, in particular historical and ethnographic research. It can be used in any context in which [a] researcher desires a means of systemizing and (often) quantifying data. It is extremely valuable in analyzing observation and interview data.”

Content analysis can be conducted in an inductive or deductive manner. Both inductive and deductive content analyses involve the arrangement of data into categories for interpretation; however, there are differences in how this occurs. Bishop-Clark and Dietz-Uhler (2012) describe the types of content analysis as follows:

  • Inductive content analysis occurs by sifting through data to identify themes that emerge organically from the data being analyzed.
  • Deductive content analysis occurs when researchers utilize categories established in earlier research, often in an effort to formulate, support, or refute a theory.

The determination of whether to use inductive or deductive content analysis is typically guided by the topic being studied. Data analyzed through content analysis is coded for interpretation. Content analysis is often used in conjunction with other research methods as part of a mixed-method project.

Exemplar articles using a case study methodology include the following:

Gelbman, S. M. (2011). A qualitative assessment of the learning outcomes of teaching introductory American politics in comparative perspective. Journal of Political Science Education, 7(4), 359–374.

Maldoni, A., Kennelly, R. & Davies, D. (2009). Integrating discipline-based reading to improve intercultural and international learning. International Journal for the Scholarship of teaching and Learning, 3(1), article 8.

Blog References:

Bishop-Clark, C. & Dietz-Uhler, B. (2012). Engaging in the scholarship of teaching and learning: A guide to the process, and how to develop a project from start to finish. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.

Fraenkel, J. R. & Wallen, N. E. (2003). How to design and evaluate research in education (5th ed). New York: McGraw-Hill.

Friberg, J. & Cox, M. (2014, October). Selecting methodologies for your SoTL research projects workshop: Supplemental workshop resource. Unpublished paper.


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More on SoTL ‘Stories’: Motivations for and Roles in SoTL

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

In a recent post on this blog, Jennifer Friberg, SoTL Scholar-Mentor at Illinois State University, shared a bit of her SoTL story –why she does SoTL, how she came to be involved in SoTL, how her SoTL career developed over time. Jennifer was responding to a blog post by Janice Miller-Young, director of the Institution for Scholarship of Teaching and Learning at Mt. Royal University titled “How to tell the story of SoTL.” In her post, Janice suggested that faculty engage in SoTL research for three main purposes (quoting Jennifer): “to generate and study innovations in teaching, to apply and study innovative pedagogies, and to better understand the complexities in teaching and learning.” In this post, I add to these SoTL stories by summarizing highlights from my SoTL story then, based on this story as well as observations of, and conversations with, others in the field, I list 1. motivations for doing SoTL and 2. SoTL roles.

Thirty years ago, in 1985, I published with a colleague about our sociology curriculum and advising practices. Though our ideas were based in past literature, the work was in the ‘we tried it, we liked it’ anecdotal genre. My SoTL work stayed discipline-specific and somewhat ‘tips’ oriented as I shared what I believed were best teaching practices. I had the privilege of meeting excellent role models and mentors in the teaching-learning movement of the American Sociological Association beyond my institution. Over time, my SoTL work became focused on questions that arose from my lived experiences helping students learn inside and outside the classroom, and was evidence-based and peer-reviewed. In the mid 1990s I had the opportunity to serve as Editor of Teaching Sociology and learning so much from every submission I had the joy of reading. As I moved into an institutional role as director of our teaching center, I began to do more and ‘better’ SoTL work on sociology student learning and to help others do SoTL. I had the chance to work with amazing folks as a Carnegie SoTL Scholar, meeting more wonderful people from many disciplines and around the globe. I became an Endowed Chair in SoTL at my institution, began to write about the field of SoTL, and increased my involvement in SoTL research and service in my discipline and in the international, cross-discipline SoTL field through ISSOTL among other organizations and contexts. My focus now, as a (mostly) retired faculty member, is to provide service, mentoring, and support to others doing SoTL. I also continue to learn from others doing SoTL and writing about SoTL.

I offer nine forms of motivations as to why people do the scholarship of teaching and learning.

  • It builds our vitae and our cases for rewards and promotions.
  • It is valued by others in our institution and/or discipline.
  • To improve our teaching.
  • To improve our students’ learning outcomes.
  • To involve students as co-researchers in SoTL–a high impact teaching-learning practice.
  • To help our department, discipline or institution with high priority initiatives, assessment, accreditation, and program review.
  • Because we cherish our interactions with other SoTLers.
  • Because it becomes part of our professional, and even personal, identity.
  • Because we enjoy the specifics of the ‘work’ itself.

I think there are several types of roles in which we choose to engage within the field of SoTL. Of course, many of us engage in more than one of these roles at the same time and/or over the course of our SoTL careers. These roles include consuming SoTL (read, listen to, adapt, use others’ SoTL work); producing SoTL (conduct and make public original SoTL work); being an active colleague in the SoTL community in your institution and beyond and in your discipline and beyond (e.g., attend conferences, join organizations, use SoTL beyond your classroom…); and/or serving the SoTL field (e.g., editor, mentor, committee member in a SoTL professional organization…).

I look forward to hearing some other SoTL ‘stories’, including examples of these or other motivations for and roles in SoTL.


SoTL Methods Series #1: Case Study Research

Written by Jennifer Friberg, CSD/SoTL Scholar-Mentor at Illinois State University

Case study research is any inquiry which involves careful description and analysis of a specific individual, group or event. Bishop Clark and Dietz-Ulher (2012, p. 50) explain:

“While many SoTL projects involve hundreds of students, the work involved in a case study has a sample size, or n, of one – whether it be one classroom or one student. However, the work involved in something as simple as an investigation of a single student processing a single assignment can be substantial and complex.”

Why might a researcher decide to select a case study methodology for a research study? Case studies can provide rich, descriptive data of a single case, yielding understating of a phenomenon more deeply (Patton, 2002). Case studies are appropriate to adopt as a research method in conditions where a researcher seeks to fully and deeply understand the complexities of a single phenomenon. Researchers should be cautioned, however, that due to a case study’s intense focus on a single source of data, results from case study research might not be easily generalizable to a larger population.

Soy (1997) suggested several suggestions for conducting case-study research. These have been adapted below to focus specifically on the design of case study-based SoTL research, but readers can access the original source here for the complete reference. Important considerations in the design of case study research are as follows:

  1. Determine your case to study and define your research question. To engage in SoTL research using a case study methodology, the researcher must first determine the entity to be studied. Perhaps this is a single assignment or one classroom of students. It could be a single student or a single teacher. Any single agent involved in the teaching and learning process can be studied as a discreet “case” in some fashion. The focus of the case study is then studied in depth in light of research questions posed by the researcher. These questions can be specific or general in nature, depending on the purpose and audience for your study.
  2. Determine data gathering and analysis techniques. Depending on the research questions to be answered over the course of a particular SoTL study, case study data can be collected in a variety of ways (i.e., interviews, observations, reflections). Data should be collected after advanced planning of how data will be analyzed to ensure that data is collected to appropriately and adequately address various research questions. Analysis of data can be qualitative or quantitative, depending on researcher preferences.

Researchers pondering the use of a case study methodology for a SoTL project can refer to these exemplar articles to better understand how case study research is conducted and reported:

Moore, M. A., & Bruckner, I. M. (2010). A case of collaboration: Faculty experiences within a multidisciplinary, multimedia, multi-campus learning community in an urban community college district. MountainRise, 6(2).

Weller, S., Domarkaite, G. K., Lam, J. L. C., & Metta, L. U. (2013). Student-faculty co-inquiry into student reading: Recognizing SoTL as pedagogic practice. International Journal for the Scholarship of teaching and Learning, 7(2), article 9.

Finally, the following non-research reference might be helpful to any scholars seeking more information about case study-based research:

Yin, R. K. (2008). Case study research: Design and methods. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Blog References:

Bishop-Clark, C. & Dietz-Uhler, B. (2012). Engaging in the scholarship of teaching and learning: A guide to the process, and how to develop a project from start to finish. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.

Friberg, J. & Cox, M. (2014, October). Selecting methodologies for your SoTL research projects workshop: Supplemental workshop resource. Unpublished paper.

Patton, M. Q. (2002). Qualitative research & evaluation methods (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Soy, S. (1997). The case study as a research method. Retrieved from

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SoTL Research Methodology Series

Over the next several weeks, six blog entries will be posted to discuss research methodologies common to SoTL research. These posts were inspired by a workshop given for Illinois State faculty and students in the fall of 2014. As we chatted with personnel from across campus about methodologies common in SoTL research, it became evident that faculty from different disciplines might vary as to the definition and preferences for implementation of the research methods identified for discussion in this SoTL Methods Series. We honor and celebrate those differences and offer the following caveat: the content of this blog series is meant to be a general introduction to research methods for faculty or students who might be interested in learning about common SoTL research methods. We would also offer that any of the research methods presented could be used in conjunction with one another to triangulate data and craft a mixed methods study.

As always, ISU faculty and students are encouraged to contact the office of the Cross Chair in SoTL at ISU ( with questions or to schedule a consultation to discuss or brainstorm SoTL research projects.

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Making a Difference with SoTL: Excerpts from a Published Essay

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

In this post, I want to briefly suggest several strategies to help us make a greater difference with our scholarship of teaching and learning. This post consists of excerpts from McKinney, K. 2012. “Making a Difference: Applying SoTL to Enhance Learning.” The Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning 12 (1): 1-7.

By definition, we should be making our SoTL work public. We need to make our work public for multiple audiences using multiple mechanisms. It is important to share our work with academic colleagues in our institution and our discipline as well as members of tenure and promotion committees. SoTL, however, will not have the impact we desire, and our students deserve, without also reaching out to colleagues in other disciplines, students, accreditation staff, administrators, and members of the larger community or public. We can draw on traditional tools such as conferences, journal articles, or books but must also make greater use of public/press interviews, newsletters, web representations, performances, readings, videos, and structured conversations.

It is important to continue building the commons (Huber and Hutchings, 2005). Much SoTL work still occurs in various forms of isolation: the one SoTL scholar in each department; a scholar engaging in only one SoTL project or a series of unconnected projects; some departments or disciplines in an institution active in SoTL while others have little or no SoTL tradition. This isolation limits our impact as we fail to learn from applying and building on our own and others’ work via connected and collaborative studies. Thus, to a greater degree than we are currently doing, we need to synthesize our SoTL work across individual efforts or projects, and replicate or adapt the SoTL work of others to new contexts.

As in any field, one way to move the field forward and increase impact is to engage in projects that help to fill the gaps in the existing literature and knowledge base. I urge you to think about the gaps you see in the field of SoTL both within your discipline and across disciplines. These include insufficient attention to co- and extra-curricular learning experiences, learning by graduate students, the explicit use of “theory,” the intervening processes or why/how, longitudinal SoTL, and the ‘big’ or common questions (cross-discipline, cross-national, and cross-institutional).

In the early years of SoTL, students were our research participants –the subjects of our projects. We have moved toward involving students, and benefiting from their lived expertise, as collaborators, engaging student voices in the study of teaching and learning. This may involve a range of roles from providing basic research assistance to full partnerships to students as lead or sole SoTL researchers. And, student voices can be better heard when we take students seriously as an audience for SoTL work.

Though the original nature, perhaps the heart, of SoTL was disciplinary and classroom based, another way to increase impact is to move beyond the classroom level to the program, department, college, and institutional levels. There are many existing mechanisms or processes as well as partnerships we can use to apply our SoTL work at these levels. Some of these include assessment, curriculum design/reform, accreditation, strategic planning, program review, faculty development, budget requests, general education, and student affairs.

Finally, we can –and must if we want to make a greater difference and increase our impact– take on the role of social change agent. We can each work to push the SoTL.

Huber, M. T. and Hutchings, P. (2005). The Advancement of Learning: Building the Teaching Commons. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.