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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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.


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Finding the Goldilocks fit for your SoTL manuscript: It’s a question of content, voice, and application!

Written by Jennifer Friberg, Cross Endowed Chair in SoTL and Professor of Communication Sciences and Disorders at Illinois State University (contact email: jfribe@ilstu.edu)

As is the case with disciplinary research, SoTL research is carried out carefully and systematically. Data is analyzed, results are presented, and a compelling case is made for the implications of the outcomes of SoTL research process. For those of us for whom a peer-reviewed journal article is the “currency” of academic productivity, we think about where we might eventually send our work for review and (hopefully!) publication throughout our project’s life. We search lists of SoTL publication outlets seeking the Goldilocks “fit” for our research, carefully reviewing the aims, scopes, and missions of SoTL journals as part of this process. As these efforts unfold, there is a foundational question that must be asked as part of the search for a journal “home” for your SoTL work: Does my SoTL best fit in a disciplinary journal or a cross-disciplinary journal?

To make sure we are all on the same page semantically, I’d define a disciplinary SoTL journal as one that focuses primarily on one discipline. Teaching and Learning in Communication Sciences and Disorders is one that is a great example of this, with its focus on SoTL for the connected disciplines of speech-language pathology and audiology. Teaching and Learning Inquiry would be an ideal example of a cross-disciplinary SoTL journal, as manuscripts selected for publication potentially apply to a variety of disciplines across the academic spectrum.

The question of disciplinary versus cross-disciplinary fit has to do (mainly) with the potential reach for your work. For instance, if you conduct a rigorous SoTL project to understand how art history students’ learning is impacted through study abroad experiences in Italian museums, it’s possible that your findings might have primary interest and impact within the discipline of art history. As such, a journal like Art History Pedagogy & Practice would be a wonderful outlet for your work. A study on intrapersonal learning as a result of students’ involvement with an array of campus student organizations might have a broader disciplinary appeal, with publication in the cross-disciplinary Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning one potential outcome.

That said, it’s often how a manuscript is written that truly influences its fit for publication. With this in mind, three primary considerations become evident:

  • The content of your manuscript is extremely important. Is the topic being explored centered on questions from a single discipline? Or, might the content of your paper be of interest to people representing a variety of disciplines and contexts?
  • Your writing voice is also critical. When you constructed your manuscript, did you use accessible terminology or did you employ disciplinary jargon to best make your points?
  • How have you described the potential applications of your work? Did you tie your findings to uses and impacts in one discipline or did you make an effort to extend your research outcomes to a variety of fields and contexts?

The decision tree below operationalizes the notions of content, voice, and application through the lens that the more linguistically accessible and contextually inclusive your manuscript seeks to be, the more likely it is to find a fit in a cross-disciplinary SoTL journal.

SoTL decision tree

I have one last thought for your consideration. Some SoTL is simply so focused on one discipline that its contributions to the pedagogical content knowledge of that discipline must be honored with publication in a disciplinary journal. Similarly, some SoTL cannot be tied to only one discipline, or perhaps it’s so applicable to other disciplines that publishing in a cross-disciplinary outlet is its best fit. Thus, SoTL is not “better” or “worse” if its published in a disciplinary rather than a cross-disciplinary journal — or vice versa. Rather, it’s knowing where your SoTL belongs that helps it to have value to your audience. 

 


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Engaging in SoTL – Sounds Great, but Where Do I Start?

Written by Rebecca Achen, Assistant Professor of Sport Management at Illinois State University (rmachen@ilstu.edu)

ideaWhen you first heard of SoTL, were you interested, but had no idea where to start? What would you study? How would you study it? Who can help you? With so many questions, you may have felt overwhelmed. Maybe, you decided you do not do anything in your classes worth researching. Maybe, you felt worried the results of research on your teaching and students’ learning would be unfavorable, frustrating, or not actionable. Guess what? All these questions and fears are normal! Often, one of the most difficult parts of a SoTL project is generating an idea. Here is a list of places to start.

  1. Review the open-ended comments on your teaching evaluations. What are students often saying challenges them? What are they frustrated by in your courses? What suggestions do they have for improving your courses?
  2. Take time to reflect on each course at the end of the semester and physically write down your thoughts. After a few semesters, take a look at the reflections from your courses all at once. What challenges are you consistently facing? What frustrations do you have? What types of assignments do you find yourself questioning or being excited by? What have you continued to use in your courses that you want to better understand in terms of your students’ learning?
  3. Borrow a book from the SoTL library at ISU and take notes while you read it. Which parts of the book excite you? What concepts or theories interest you? Which ones do you think apply to your students?
  4. Take SoTL workshops offered on your campus or nearby institutions (if you’re able). At ISU, we have access to help with SoTL! Not only are there several workshops offered each year on various SoTL topics, but you can make an appointment with Jen Friberg to talk about what you might want to research and work out your ideas through conversation. There may well be a SoTL professional developer/mentor at your university, too!
  5. Attend pedagogy workshops offered by your teaching and learning center. Often, these are catalysts for trying new things in your courses, which you can then study to learn if the changes to your courses were effective in accomplishing the course goals.

What does this look like in practice? Let me tell you about what prompted my most recent SoTL project. In the graduate courses I teach, students have semester-long projects that are designed to assess their learning and understanding over the entire semester. Over the last few years, students across courses have consistently commented (in course evaluations) that they struggled to meet project deadlines, felt overwhelmed by the enormity of the projects, and were unable to stay engaged with the projects. While I have made small changes in my courses to help them be more successful, including more effectively scaffolding projects and providing individual mentoring for students, students have still been consistently frustrated. So, in the spring of 2018, I implemented weekly progress reports where students responded to five questions each week about their progress on their projects. My own observations led me to believe this approach was generally effective, and it allowed me to be more connected to student progress on the projects. On course evaluations, students commented these check-ins were helpful and allowed them to reflect on their projects, keep each other accountable, and meet deadlines. However, some students stated the reports felt like busy work and admitted they were not always honest in their evaluation of their progress.

When I was planning my fall 2018 classes, I decided that based on student feedback, I wanted to implement weekly progress reports again. As I was writing my rubrics and assignment sheets, the light bulb went off – this could be a SoTL project! Because of the courses I teach in the first year of the graduate program, I was able to set up a multi-phase project to explore student perceptions of and reflections on using progress reports to complete major course projects. By the end of the 2018-2019 academic year, I will have evidence that will allow me to make an informed decision on how weekly progress reports function in my classes and whether they are accomplishing my intended teaching and learning goals. Then, I can share this information through SoTL outlets to help others evaluate whether this type of assignment could work in their classes and expand general understanding of supporting student learning through scaffolding and formative assessment. By putting in a little extra time and effort (getting IRB approval, creating a survey, and being intentional in course design and delivery with this research in mind), I will not only potentially improve my teaching and students’ learning, but I will contribute to an important body of scholarly work. We are all doing things in our classrooms that are worthy of scholarly inquiry. Use the tips above to start brainstorming ideas. Together, we can improve teaching and positively influence student learning!