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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Pedagogical Triage, Parallel Universities, and Leading with SoTL

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 (jfribe@ilstu.edu)

Just the other day, I was trying to type the phrase “parallel universe” in an email to a friend and colleague. Instead, I typed “parallel university.” That seems really quite perfect to describe where we are now in higher education, doesn’t it? So many things are so very different, yet our ultimate goal is unchanged: to challenge our students as thinkers and learners and facilitate growth and change through that process. Thus, we are headed toward the same destination, but on an unfamiliar trajectory. Parallel universities…one we expected, one we did not.

Back in March, when the world started changing so very quickly, I was invited by Nancy Chick (Director of Faculty Development at Rollins College) and Lee Skallerup Bessette (Learning Design Specialist at Georgetown University) to collaborate on a project that helped transform my thinking about Covid-19 and its impact on teaching and learning in higher education — then and now. Inspired by a need to make SoTL more public, we crafted a document titled “What the Research Tells Us about Higher Education’s Temporary Shift to Remote Teaching: What the Public Needs to Know from the SoTL Community,” which was shared and read widely. This work spoke to our faith in our colleagues engaged in pedagogical triage and our faith in SoTL to lead the way. Our main assertion in this document? Evidence exists that can lead us *now* to successfully support our students as learners and as human beings at a scary and stressful time.

We created an accompanying “Public Statement of Response to Higher Education’s Temporary Shift to Remote Instruction,” to invite others to support the need to think carefully about evidence-informed, student-centered teaching at this moment in time. The invitation to endorse this statement is still open, for anyone who wishes to be included!

We and our faculty colleagues around the world recognize–and acutely feel–the anxiety that students are feeling. Implementing effective learning practices wherever possible, while remaining flexible in doing so, is our best way forward. Every effort is being made to design activities based on the best of what we know about good teaching and learning. These are unprecedented and extraordinary times. Faculty are working tirelessly for their students, and this work is informed by decades of research. These are the conversations we are all having (and will continue to have) within our institutions, with our colleagues and students, and in a glocal academic community as we work together in the coming weeks and months. 

From Chick, Friberg, & Skallerup Bessette’s Public Statement

Why do I share these documents/processes here? They help me make what I think is a critical point about leading with SoTL in uncertain times. As asserted in the excerpt above, conversations about the future are ongoing. Most institutions are struggling with the balance between returning to campus and the need to protect the welfare of students, staff, and faculty. I would argue that as SoTLists, we have the potential to lead right now and contribute to the conversations being had about the future.

I would suggest that leading with SoTL in this moment may best be accomplished through the sharing of SoTL resources with decision-makers who stand to influence operations at societal, institutional, and/or single classroom levels. SoTL scholars are uniquely positioned with specialized understanding about teaching and learning that can help our institutions plan for the forthcoming weeks and months. To this end, the documents above make a case for SoTL’s role in thinking about priorities and possibilities in a higher education enterprise that is, without doubt, forever changed as a result of the current global pandemic.

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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.


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Code Switching: Understanding Perspectives and Motivations for SoTL Advocacy

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

In last week’s blog, I proposed five ideas for purposeful and thoughtful SoTL advocacy. One of these suggested that something called code switching be operationalized to help a larger group of stakeholders to better understand SoTL. As I feel that a bit more unpacking about this phenomenon would constitute a positive contribution to discussions on SoTL advocacy, code switching is the focus of this week’s post. 

Here’s how I explain code switching to my students: as children develop adult-like language skills, they learn how to manipulate their message to fit their audience. A two-year-old child might ask anyone around her for something she needs in a singular way (“I want juice!”), but a four-year-old knows how to do this differently, choosing to ask her brother for juice by saying “give me juice” but using a more respectful “I want juice, please,” to ask the same of her mother. In doing so, the child shows that he understands that communication needs to be modulated and adapted for particular audiences in order to maximize the chance that communication attempts will be successful in meeting his or her own needs. Like the giraffe with the binoculars (in the image to the left), children find a communication target and focus their messages to be clear and successful.

What changes in those two years of development? The easy answer is that in neurotypical children, cognitive and linguistic development allows children to understand the Piagetian concept of means-end (how to get what they want) as well as how to perspective-take in conversations. So, with time, children learn that they can meet their needs best if they can understand the perspectives of the individuals they speak with. I would argue that the same notion can and should be applied to SoTL advocacy efforts, particularly when SoTL advocates understand the myriad motivations that might apply to various stakeholders in higher education.

As SoTLists, we must discern why SoTL might be meaningful to students, other faculty, or campus administration, not by telling these individuals why SoTL is important to US, but by crafting a message that makes SoTL important to THEM. This level of perspective-taking allows for stakeholders’ own needs and interests to be harnessed as a mechanism for SoTL advocacy. Consider the graphic below, which illustrates the wide array of potential stakeholders that exists for SoTL, connected to various motivations that could be accessed to encourage engagement in/with SoTL. Without doubt, I believe that the most successful SoTL advocacy efforts meet stakeholders at the level of their own motivations.

Once potential stakeholder motivations have been identified, code switching comes into play, as it becomes necessary to communicate about SoTL clearly with stakeholders in an individualized manner, identifying ways to modulate our messages about SoTL to be understandable, accessible, and useful to the individuals we engage with. Thus, while our underlying message of SoTL advocacy will likely always be one of the importance of evidence-informed teaching and learning, we might orient our conversational approaches differentially to meet our own SoTL advocacy aims.

For instance, students are often unaware of the SoTL work we do, but have a vested interest in SoTL that is largely unexplored in terms of optimizing their practices as learners. By explaining what SoTL is, giving examples of/encouraging the use of evidence-based learning strategies, explaining our own SoTL work, we pave the way for students to become involved in SoTL. This is SoTL advocacy. We start with students’ motivations to be better learners and work towards increased understanding and involvement in our SoTL efforts.  

For faculty who are unaware of the potential impact of SoTL, we engage in conversations about how SoTL can be used to help solve problems with course design/implementation, how SoTL can be undertaken to better understand our own teaching/learning context, and what sorts of supports exist to get started in SoTL. This, too, is SoTL advocacy, but it’s advocacy work that’s done in a different manner than with the student example above. While the main message with both stakeholder groups is that SoTL is important to them, the conversations about how and why this is the case are necessarily different. 

Code switching to access administrators’ motivations might include discussions based on SoTL’s utility for formative/summative assessment for program review, external accreditation efforts, evidence-based curriculum development, increased faculty/student research productivity, or increased student retention/engagement. Again, the heart of the advocacy message is that SoTL is important, but the conversations are necessarily different, based on stakeholder motivations.

I’d argue that code switching allows SoTL advocates the opportunity to advance SoTL across audiences in our local contexts and more broadly, as well. As such, it’s one tool in our advocacy toolbox — taken straight from child language development theory — that we might consider. 


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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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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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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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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!

 


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SoTL, ER, and DBER: Thoughts Inspired by a Twitter Conversation

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

A few weeks ago, I published a blog post titled “Finding the Goldilocks fit for your SoTL manuscript.” As always, I publicized the new blog post on my Office of the Cross Chair Twitter account (@ISU_SoTL). Who knew that a really great question from Erin Whitteck (@EWhitteck) would engender such a great conversation over the following days?

tweetstorm

Folks contributing to the subsequent tweet stream offered the suggestion that there is overlap between disciplinary-based educational research (DBER), SoTL, and educational research (ER), but that the lines between these types of inquiry could be a bit blurry. Questions were raised about rigor, methodological differences, and resources for better understanding. Since then, I’ve been pondering. To get us into the same semantic sandbox, consider the following definitions:

SoTL “involves the systematic study of teaching and/or learning and the public sharing and review of such work. ‘Study’ is broadly defined given disciplinary differences in epistemology and the need for interdisciplinary SoTL…SoTL focuses on teaching and learning at the college level, and is primarily classroom based. Ideally, SoTL also involves application and use” (McKinney, 2007, p. 10).

“ER is the scientific field of study that examines education and learning processes and the human attributes, interactions, organizations, and institutions that shape educational outcomes. Scholarship in the field seeks to describe, understand, and explain how learning takes place and how formal and informal contexts of education affect all forms of learning. Educational research embraces the full spectrum of rigorous methods appropriate to the questions being asked and also drives the development of new tools and methods” (AERA, 2018).

“DBER is grounded in the science and engineering disciplines and addresses questions of teaching and learning within those disciplines…DBER investigates teaching and learning in a discipline using a range of methods with deep grounding in the discipline’s priorities, worldview, knowledge, and practices…DBER is informed by and complementary to general [educational] research on human learning and cognition” (Singer, Neilsen, & Schweingruber, 2012, p. 9).

In response to the suggestion that there is overlap between SoTL, ER, and DBER, I believe that to be an undeniable truth. Each focuses on research on teaching and learning, serves to add knowledge to better understand educational processes, demands rigor, and has the potential for impact across contexts (e.g., micro, meso, macro, mega). SoTL, DBER, and ER also each purport to embrace a wide array of research approaches, including qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods designs.

So, then, what about the differences? Here are a few that are important to consider:

  1. Both DBER and ER apply to K-12 research in addition to research in higher education. SoTL is focused on higher education.
  2. DBER is a form of ER, with a focus on science and engineering disciplines.
  3. The purpose of SoTL is to advance the practices of teaching and learning through systematic study and reflection (Larsson, Martensson, Price, & Roxa, 2017). The purpose of ER and DBER is to create generalizable knowledge about teaching and learning (Felten, 2015), though it should be noted that DBER scholars acknowledge a need to translate DBER findings to classroom practice, in line with SoTL (Singer, Neilsen, & Schweingruber, 2012).
  4. A common tenant of SoTL is that scholars study their unique learning contexts to better understand their teaching and/or their students’ learning. Most ER removes the investigator from the context being studied.
  5. While ER and DBER seek to create generalizable findings, most SoTL is not inherently generalizable as it often studies a single learning context and might study a small(ish) number of individuals. Rather, SoTL should be inherently replicable through the explanation of a systematic approach to investigation that is reported when results are disseminated. SoTL seeks to build generalizability over time as different constructs are studied in different places by different people at different times.
  6. SoTL embraces a “big tent” philosophy with a wide array of disciplines and diverse approaches to inquiry recognized as making important contributions to research on teaching and learning. As ER and DBER typically focus on education or STEM fields, theories, methods, and practices for these disciplines are typically utilized in those types of inquiry.

ER, DBER, and SoTL are all valuable forms of teaching and learning research. While there is overlap between and across these categories of research, they are not competitors. They exist on a continuum that encourages scholarly approaches teaching and further research on teaching and learning. I would argue that it is the interpretation of the similarities and differences of SoTL, ER, and DBER that friction might emerge, as we typically consider research through our own disciplinary lenses. That might be topic for a future blog all on its own…

So, Erin, I’ll try to answer Twitter question from earlier in November that launched this discussion: “what is the difference between a disciplinary SoTL journal and a DBER journal?” Honestly, there may not be a difference. In some fields, SoTL and DBER might both be published in the same journal. In others, it might be one or the other. I’d suggest that you look at the aims and scope statements for your discipline’s SoTL and DBER journals. Identify which aligns with the work you’ve done in terms of purpose (e.g., add or apply knowledge). If you’re not sure, editors LOVE getting emails from prospective contributors. I really mean this! Send an abstract of your work and ask if it’s suitable for their journal or ask a question or two to guide your efforts. Good luck!

Blog References:

American Educational Research Association. (2018). What is educational research? Downloaded from http://www.aera.net/About-AERA/What-is-Education-Research.

Felten, P. (2015). Principles of good practice in SoTL. Teaching & Learning Inquiry, 1(1), pp. 121-125.

Larsson, M., Martensson, K., Priace, L. & Roxa, T. (2017). Constructive friction? Exploring patters between educational research and the scholarship of teaching and learning. Paper presented at the 2nd EuroSoTL Conference, Lund, Sweden.

McKinney, K. (2007). Enhancing learning through the scholarship of teaching and learning: The challenges and joys of juggling. Anker Publishing: Boston, MA.

Singer, S. R., Nielsen, N. R., & Schweingruber, H. A. (Eds.). (2012). Discipline-based education research: understanding and improving learning in undergraduate science and engineering. National Academies Press: Washington, D.C.