The SoTL Advocate

Supporting efforts to make public the reflection and study of teaching and learning at Illinois State University and beyond…


Leave a comment

How Are We SoTL-ing?

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

In the run-up to ISSoTL 2017 last week in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, it might have been easy to miss that the latest issue of Teaching and Learning Inquiry (TLI), the journal of the International Society of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, has just been published. I had the opportunity to read several articles in this issue prior to traveling to the conference and was particularly interested in one article, Survey of Research Approaches Utilised in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Publications, which was co-authored by Aysha Divan (U. of Leeds), Lynn Ludwig (U. of Wisconsin-Stevens Point), Kelly Matthews (U. of Queensland), Phillip Motley (Elon U.), and Ana Tomljenovic-Berube (McMaster U.).

Why the interest? As a SoTL faculty/student developer, I am forever asked if there is a “preferred” method for engaging in SoTL. I have always addressed this topic from an anecdotal perspective, simply telling novice SoTL scholars that qualitative, quantitative, and/or mixed methods are all equally appropriate for SoTL, depending on the “fit” of the method to the study aims/design. With this paper, a bit more clarity was offered as a result of systematic study of three years of published SoTL journal articles.

Honestly, I imagined that there were far more qualitative methods employed in SoTL research than quantitative; however, I was incorrect. Overall, 223 articles from the following journals were studied: International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, the International Journal for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, and the Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. Across these articles, there was an almost even balance of quantitative, qualitative, and mixed methods research (see graphic below).

methods breakdown

Of even greater surprise to me were the following findings:

  • 84% of papers utilized a single data source for reporting (primarily students), which leaves the need for triangulation of data open for consideration in terms of future project planning.
  • Data from mixed methods studies were often times poorly integrated with only 30% of studies fully integrating qualitative and quantitative data as part of the discussion of findings.
  • 65% of studies relied on a single “snapshot” of data (data collected at one time only), which leads to thoughts on the value of/need for collecting longitudinal data to study student learning over time.

At ISSoTL last week, Gary Poole delivered a plenary address reminding us all that as professionals interested in SoTL, we have a choice to facilitate or hinder as we collaborate and mentor. As a professional developer for faculty and students interested in SoTL, I intend to share this information as a facilitative effort to grow SoTL at ISU (and beyond), helping future SoTL scholars to be mindful of trends, needs, and considerations in SoTL publishing. Specifically, I will urge SoTL researchers to:

  1. Seek out a “goldilocks” fit to connect their research questions to the type of data they collect. Why? This allows a researcher to determine whether research question(s) being posed are best answerable with qualitative, quantitative, or mixed methods approaches. A good fit is critical for a study to make sense to interested stakeholders.
  2. Ensure that data come from as many direct data sources as are necessary to form a strong foundation for any discussion of results/implications.
  3. Use indirect data sources primarily as support/triangulation for data collected from direct sources.
  4. Think carefully and critically about how data from a study is discussed. If the design selected has a mixed methods approach to data collection, then all aspects of data should be explored in an integrated manner to identify trends and accurately interpret and report data across the board.
  5. Consider whether data collected at multiple data points might be more appropriate for a study than a “one-time” data collection effort in order to best answer the research question(s) being posed.

 

Blog References:

Divan, A., Ludwig, L. O., Matthews, K. E., Motley, P. M., & Tomljenovic-Berube, A. M. (2017). Survey of research approaches utilised in the scholarship of teaching and learning publications. Teaching and Learning Inquiry, 5(2).

Advertisements


Leave a comment

Musings on SoTL Peer Mentorship

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

pointRecently, I worked with faculty at Bradley University to develop a framework for and guidance in SoTL peer mentoring. Bradley is working diligently to increase engagement in SoTL and have adopted a “grow their own” approach to this effort, selecting faculty who have been SoTL-productive to mentor other faculty members interested in becoming SoTL scholars. The process of preparing for this undertaking led me to (over time) merge my anecdotal experiences as a SoTL mentor with evidence about peer mentoring (in and out of SoTL). I’ve tried to organize some of these reflections below:

  • In preparing my session, I looked toward existing research on peer mentorship in SoTL, finding little. One study I did find was from Hubbal, Clark, and Poole (2010), who analyzed ten years of data on SoTL mentoring to identify three critical practices of SoTL mentors : modeling of SoTL productivity, facilitation of mentees’ SoTL research, and engagement in SoTL networking with other SoTL scholars. In terms of my SoTL mentee/mentor experiences, I think the last practice, that of connecting mentees with other SoTL scholars, is critical and often neglected. Introducing novice SoTL scholars to the “commons” of SoTL has the potential to sustain interest, broaden perspectives, and increase engagement in the SoTL movement as a whole.
  • Often times, when I do “intro” workshops to explain SoTL to new students and faculty, there is a perception that SoTL research is very different from disciplinary research. I always explain that while it can be, it really isn’t in many ways! Similarly, I have found that faculty who have extensive disciplinary experience mentoring students and peers struggle to understand that SoTL mentorship really isn’t all that different. The same practices applied to a differently-focused research project can be very successful in helping a novice SoTL researcher gain confidence in conducting research on teaching and learning.
  • Zellers, Howard, and Barcic (2008) found that benefits to mentees engaged in mentorship programs included assimilation to campus culture, higher career satisfaction, higher rate of promotion, and increased motivation to mentor others. While this work was not focused on SoTL, I can easily see how the same tenets might apply to research on teaching and learning, as well. In terms of SoTL research, I’d add that benefits could include opportunities for assimilation to SoTL culture at and beyond the single institutional level as well as the chance to work with mentors and faculty across varied fields of study in a way that isn’t always customary in disciplinary research.
  • Clutterbuck and Lane (2016, xvi) state “to some extent the definition of mentoring does not matter greatly, if those in the role of mentor and mentee have a clear and mutual understanding of what is expected of them and what they should, in turn, expect of their mentoring partner.” This is so true! The most successful peer mentoring relationships I’ve witnesses have strong foundations in clear and regular communication of expectations, progress, bottlenecks, etc.
  • I’ve encountered two types of SoTL peer mentorship frameworks: formal (set framework for participation and, often, assignment of mentor/mentee pairs) and informal (relationships that develop by happenstance due to opportunity and shared interests). I feel that there are likely benefits to each. Formal mentorship programs are more likely to have stronger administrative support and integration of the program within a strategy for professional development, both characteristics of successful mentoring programs (Hanover Research, 2014). Conversely, informal peer mentoring frameworks allow for voluntary participation, participant involvement in the mentor/mentee pairing process, and the ability for participants to co-develop goals, expectations, and desired outcomes of the mentorship paring, each also components of successful mentoring programs (Hanover Research, 2014). So, which is better and why? This might be a very interesting area for future study, as currently, we just don’t know.
  • What makes a successful peer mentor? Awareness of adult learning principles/teaching strategies/techniques, and understanding/acknowledgement of differences in orientation and stage of development between themselves and their mentees, and ability to plan/observe/facilitate discussion (Knippelmeyer & Torraco, 2007). It would seem that many folks engaged in SoTL, then, would make excellent peer mentors, as these characteristics are as endemic to SoTL as they are to mentorship!

Blog References:

Clutterbuck, D. & Lane, G. (2016). The situational mentor: An international review of competences and capabilities in mentoring. London: Routledge.

Hanover Research. (2014). Faculty mentoring models and effective practices. Author.

Hubball, H., Clarke, A., & Poole, G. (2010). Ten-year reflections on mentoring SoTL research in a research-intensive university. International Journal for Academic Development, 15(2), 117-129.

Knippelmeyer, S. A. & Torraco, R. J. (2007). Mentoring as a developmental tool for higher education. University of Nebraska-Lincoln teaching center publication.

Zellers, D. F., Howard, V. M., Barcic, M. A. (2008). Faculty mentoring programs: Reenvisioning rather than reinventing the wheel. Review of Educational Research, 78(3), 552-588.

 


Leave a comment

College Rankings, Student Learning, and SoTL : An Unlikely Trio?

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

ratingLast Friday (9/8/2017), the Chronicle of Higher Education published an interesting article written by Richard M. Freeland titled “Stop Looking at Rankings. Use Academe’s Own Measures Instead.” Ostensibly, this piece discusses the role and utility of college rankings such as those published annually by U.S. News and World Report. Freeland explains that there are some measures reported in these rankings that are “legitimate indicators of academic quality,” such as “graduation rates, faculty qualifications, and investment in academic programs.” He goes on to say that other rankings (the federal government’s College Scorecard, extant Integrated Postsecondary Education System data, and the Voluntary System of Accountability) have added important data to the conversation of what makes a college “good” in a world where it’s hard to determine institutional quality. He is undeniably correct. However, for years I have felt as though we have been missing the boat with our current reporting of college rankings, as we seem to in no way account for student learning as part of these metrics. Due in large part to my background in teaching and learning (and my status as the parent of a high school junior seeking a future university home!), this is very frustrating to me, for I want to know more about student learning outcomes at institutions than about many other data points. This is a huge void and something I’ve considered an opportunity for SoTL for a long, long time.

Freeland writes of a “deep resistance within academe to publishing data about what students learn,” providing a historical overview of various standardized measures of intellectual achievement that have been proposed – and rejected — as universal measurements of student learning. And, so, the void in the reporting of student learning as a important data point in college rankings remains. Freeland remarks:

While many colleges have developed programs to assess student learning (often because of accreditation requirements), few systematically collect and even fewer publish quantitative data that allow readers to compare student intellectual achievement across institutional lines. Until this gap is filled, higher education’s systems of accountability will continue to be data-rich but information-poor with respect to the quality to actual learning. The public will be left to rely on commercial rankings as indicators of institutional quality.

Based on all of this, my overarching question is this: as advocates for the scholarship of teaching and learning – the very research that CAN help provide information about student learning in higher education to the public – is it important that we promote SoTL as a potential valuable contributor to the college rankings discussion?

I’ve struggled with this question all weekend. Here’s where my thinking is at this point:

  • I believe that SoTL does belong in the college ranking discussion. Student learning is our wheelhouse. We need a seat at this table to advocate for and honor outcomes of a diverse and rich field of scholarship on student learning. SoTLists cannot allow student learning to be assessed via a standardized test or any other “one look” measure of performance and expect to tell the whole story. Scholars of teaching and learning recognize this well and can advocate accordingly.
  • I don’t believe that student learning should be ranked. I can see dangers in how this could happen if we start talking about which school has better learning outcomes than others might. Student learning varies by context and discipline, creating a number of limitations on “best learning outcome” data that could be reported. There is no universal curriculum for higher education. As such, any ranking system of student learning would lack reliability and validity.
  • Years and years of research on teaching and learning has led to the understanding of high-impact practices for undergraduate education, and more such information is shared regularly in cross-disciplinary and discipline-specific publications.

So, then, perhaps what we are looking to capture in college rankings shouldn’t specifically focus on student learning outcomes. Every institution of higher education is looking to support student learning, but we must acknowledge that this is accomplished in a manner that honors contextual differences as well as institutional missions and ideologies. With this in mind, any comparison of student learning across institutions may well be akin to comparing apples to oranges.

That said, you CAN measure the use of evidence-based approaches in higher education (e.g., undergraduate research, service learning/community-based learning, internships, and first-year seminars and experiences; Kuh, 2008) to measure quality of instruction. SoTL scholars add to the evidence-based for scholarly learning daily. We have solid evidence that certain instructional methods work and data could be collected to reflect how often these pedagogies are used in college classrooms. That might be a metric of interest to various stakeholders. I’m confident there are others, as well. I’m still stewing on this and am curious what others are thinking. I think this is an important discussion and one that we, as SoTL advocates, should be a part of, to explore this idea some more. To that end, feel free to comment below or continue the discussion on social media (@ISU_SoTL).

Blog References:

Freeland, R. M., (2017, September 8). Stop looking at rankings. Use academe’s own measures instead. Chronicle of Higher Education. Downloaded from: http://www.chronicle.com/article/Stop-Looking-at-Rankings-Use/241140?cid=at&utm_source=at&utm_medium=en&elqTrackId=4eadfa107c984352bd8664bf86cba24d&elq=869cd22487394fe88b84eb2d7904a1d2&elqaid=15516&elqat=1&elqCampaignId=6640#comments-anchor

Kuh, G. D. (2008). High-impact educational practices: Why they are, who has access to them, and why they matter. Washington, DC: AAC&U.

McKinney, K. (n.d.). A sampling of what we know about learning from scholarship of teaching and learning and educational research. Downloaded from: http://sotl.illinoisstate.edu/downloads/materials/A%20Sampling%20of%20What%20We%20Know.pdf


Leave a comment

Outside the Box Pedagogies Supported by Emerging Evidence

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

Screen Shot 2017-08-21 at 11.04.16 AM.pngIt’s back…syllabus construction season! I have spent the last several weeks considering various instructional approaches for a class I’m teaching for the first time. My class — Assessment Across the Lifespan — is a clinically-based course intended to round out ISU’s two-year speech-language pathology graduate program. I’ve been planning the semester carefully these last several weeks, focusing on important “take aways” for students. As I matched instructional approaches with various course topics, I struggled to find a pedagogy that would allow me to facilitate the development of high-caliber observation skills — a critical tool in any clinical toolbox — in my students. To figure this out, I started looking toward relevant evidence to see what types of strategies/pedagogies were being used effectively to teach observational skills.

While I learned of varied evidence-based approaches to students learn to be better observers, there was one that resonated strongly with me. Jasani and Saks (2013) studied the impact of using visual art to help enhance the observational skills of medical students at their institution. Their study used a pre/post-test design to evaluate student observations before and after a three-hour visual observation strategy module that focused on using art to sharpen visual observation skills. While the number of observations did not differ from pre- to post- measures, students perceived they developed stronger clinical skills (content understanding and clinical mindfulness) as a result of this activity. I’m thinking I may use this approach to help my students sharpen their observational skills this term…and perhaps evaluate the impact of this pedagogy on student learning in speech-language pathology.

As I was reading about the arts-based approach for clinical teaching, I came across a blog that detailed the use of one of my favorite TV shows, the Amazing Race, to teach cultural geography to students. Sarah Smiley reflected on the use of this approach in a recent issue of the Journal of Geography (2017). In great detail, Smiley explained her reasoning for selecting various shows (e.g., to teach about language or religion) and discussed how her course structure allowed for active in- and out-of-class learning experiences. She identified student learning barriers and work-arounds for subsequent applications of this pedagogy. Overall, while no learning data was provided, Smiley allowed for a very honest look into the development of and reflection on an “out of the box” pedagogy. A bit of digging turned up a similar type of course autopsy by Smiley and Post (2014) in which the use of popular music to engage students in the study of introductory geography is studied.

Thinking about one more, evidence-based, “out of the box” approach to teaching, I was reminded of the work my ISU colleagues Bill Anderson, Sarah Bradshaw, and Jennifer Banning (2017). They studied a “twist” on case-based learning that yielded interesting possibilities for course instructors focused on change or development over time. This pedagogy, the interrupted case study (ICS), allows for case studies to unfold over time, with course instructors releasing selected and organized parts of each case progressively to disclose important aspects of the case as a sort of problem-based learning experience over time (Anderson et al, 2017). For this investigation, researchers used a video case study in a human development course to follow a cohort of individuals through their lifetimes for a period of 50 years. Segments of the video case study were played over the course of the semester. In between video segments, students were tasked with applying, discussing, and comparing/contrasting relevant developmental theories germane to the videos they watched. Students were also asked to make predictions of what they might see during the next video segment that was released. Student reflections from across the semester were studied systematically to understand the impact of ICS. Preliminary findings indicated that the use of ICS has the potential to create the “need to know” in students, to connect theory to practice, and to raise students’ levels of critical thinking.

The instructional approaches discussed in this blog certainly are “outside the box” and have presented emerging evidence for their efficacy which provide a foundation for future inquiry to understand the comprehensive impacts of these pedagogies. I am appreciative of the work of innovators in teaching and learning such as those featured above. Their efforts often change my perspective and provide new ways of thinking about my teaching and my students’ learning, which is always a good thing, particularly at the start of a new semester! Happy fall term to all!

Blog References

Anderson, J. W., Bradshaw, S., & Banning, J. (2017). Using interrupted video case studies to teach developmental theory: A pilot study. Gauisus, 4.

Jasani, S. K. & Saks, N. S. (2013). Using visual art to enhance the clinical observation skills of medical students. Medical Teacher, 35(7). dx.doi.org/10.3109/0142159X.2013.770131

Smiley, S. L. (2017). Teaching cultural geography with the Amazing Race. Journal of Geography, 116(3), 109-118.

Smiley, S. L. & Post, C. W. (2014). Using popular music to teach the geography of the United States and Canada. Journal of Geography, 113(6), 238-246.


Leave a comment

Class Discussions – Ideas for Use and Study

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

At EuroSoTL in June, I had the opportunity to attend a workshop session titled “Construction as a tool for reflection – A LEGO workshop,” developed by Dr. Staffan Andersson and Dr. J. Andersson Chronholm of Uppsala University in Sweden. The workshop allowed attendees to use LEGO Serious Play in exploring and discussing issues related to SoTL. I can certainly say we did discuss issues that are important in the SoTL world. But in doing so, we had FUN meaningfully engaging with each other as we told our SoTL stories (stay tuned – Dr. Andersson has agreed to write a blog on the experience with photos of our LEGO work in an upcoming SoTL Advocate blog!). On my plane ride home from the conference, I pondered the LEGO workshop, wondering how I could similarly engage my students in thinking about important disciplinary issues in unexpected ways.

Discussion bookBack in my office, I recalled a book I had purchased recently by Stephen Brooksfield and Stephen Preskill titled The Discussion Book: 50 Great Ways to Get People Talking – and sat down to read. Different from more familiar teaching/learning handbooks and resources, this book focuses exclusively on engaging in discussions across a variety of contexts for a wide range of purposes – a topic with an appeal to both public and private sector stakeholders: managers, employees, volunteers, teachers, and students. Looking at the techniques explained in the book, I noted some overlap (e.g., Think-Pair-Share or Critical Debate) with popular teaching/learning books such as Collaborative Learning Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty (Barkley, Cross, & Major, 2005); however, plenty of “new to me” ideas also were set forth by the authors.

In terms of organization, Brookfield and Preskill’s book includes ideas to accomplish the following:

  • Get discussion going with new groups
  • Promote good questioning
  • Foster active listening
  • Hold discussions without speaking
  • Get people out of their comfort zone
  • Engage in a text-based discussion
  • Democratize participation
  • Transition from small to large groups
  • Building group cohesion
  • Making group decisions

Each technique is presented in a formulaic manner within its own chapter in the book. Each chapter contains the following sections:

  • Purpose of technique
  • How it works
  • Where and when it works well
  • What users appreciate
  • What to watch out for
  • Questions that fit the technique

While I found several techniques that look promising for use with my classes and students this term (particularly a technique termed “single word sum-ups” to help my students speak briefly, concicely, and find themes across classmates), I was struck by the lack of any real evidence presented to accompany these. Great ideas? The book has many. Evidence to suggest that the techniques explained are effective? That was most definitely lacking.

What does that mean for us as SoTL enthusiasts? Well, thinking specifically of McKinney’s (2007) teaching continuum, this book could appeal to good teachers who apply these techniques with thought and care, scholarly teachers who seek evidence elsewhere to support the use of these strategies prior to applying them, and scholars of teaching and learning who take the opportunity to engage in classroom-based SoTL to systematically study the effectiveness of the techniques they choose to apply. From a teaching and learning standpoint, it is the case that this book offers potential benefit to many (students, teachers, scholars). So perhaps it truly does offer something for everyone. However, I DO hope that some instructors are tempted to study the outcomes of using any techniques they try! Such a study might be the perfect opportunity for a student or faculty member looking to engage in their first (or 50th!) SoTL experience.

 

Blog references:

Anderson, S. & Anderson Chronholm, J. (2017, June). Construction as a tool for reflection: A LEGO workshop. Presentation at EuroSoTL in Lund, Sweden.

Barkley, E. F., Cross, K. P., & Major, C. H. (2005). Collaborative learning techniques: A handbook for college faculty. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Brookfield, S. D. & Preskill, S. (2016). The discussion book: 50 great ways to get people talking. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

McKinney, K. (2007). Enhancing learning through the scholarship of teaching and learning: The challenges and joys of juggling. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.


Leave a comment

Business and Cultural Experiences in Peru

Written by: Dr. Aysen Bakir, Professor of Marketing at Illinois State University

Editor’s note: Dr. Bakir received a “Going Global with SoTL” Mini-grant in the 2015-16 academic year. Here, Dr. Bakir reports on the project she designed for her students, with feedback from several students as to their perceptions of learning as part of their short-term study abroad experience.

redbirdperuAs we become more connected in the world, it also becomes more important to our students to have good understanding of different cultures and have the skills that would help them to function successfully in the workplace. Accordingly, it is important that our students have the skills and the experiences to differentiate them in the global marketplace. Studying abroad (whether short term or long term) can be one of those experiences that can help our students to have better understanding of the different cultures. Study abroad can also help the students to gain the skills and knowledge needed in their development as global citizens. In fact, business schools recognized the importance of globalization and have been implementing more global curriculum in the last two decades (Toncar and Cudmore, 2000; Lamont and Friedman, 1997). Studies also show that business-study abroad programs can lead to meaningful changes in students’ intercultural development (Payan, Svensson and Hogevold 2012). I developed a short-term study abroad program to address some of these issues. The study abroad experience included company visits and cultural excursions. These activities aimed to provide exposure to how businesses operate in different cultures, types of challenges they have, and the strategies companies implement in Peru. Additionally, students were exposed to Peru’s very rich history providing a great exposure to a culture that is significantly different from that of the United States.

Students who participated in the program reported learning in disciplinary content as well as in cultural knowledge. Requirements for the study abroad experience included several elements, notably a presentation assignment that have the students reflect on some of their experiences. The following excerpts from presentations of the study abroad participants provided some perspectives regarding to their professional and personal experiences:

  • “This trip has helped me learn a lot of how business is affected by culture.”
  • “The Inca Market allowed me apply my sales strategies I have been learning in the classroom to a real life situation. It was interesting to apply these skills and see how they are similar across the world. Although it might vary due to language barrier, sales practices are almost universal.”
  • “Being in a country that did not predominantly speak English was an eye opening experience. There were many times where I relied on hand motions and body language to communicate what I was trying to say. It’s amazing how we can still communicate with people without speaking”
  • “… Peru taught me a lot of life lessons… I loved becoming more culturally aware of how Americans can actually be different and can benefit from seeing how other people live… I have learned that I need to travel more and put myself outside of my comfort zone because that is how an individual grows.”

Overall, this short-term study abroad program seemed successful in enhancing students’ professional and personal knowledge by exposing them to a different culture than they are familiar with and engaging them in new learning opportunities beyond the classroom. This out-of-class experience helped students gain business, historical and geographical knowledge to enhance their intercultural skills for more agile professional functioning in their professional futures.

References Cited

Lamont, Lawrence M. and Ke Friedman (1997), “Meeting the Challenges to Undergraduate Marketing education,” Journal of Marketing Education, 19 (Fall), 17-30.

Payan, Janice M., Goran Svensson and Nils M. Hogevold (2012), “The Effect of Attributes of Study Abroad and Risk aversion on the Future Likelihood to Study Abroad: A Study Of U.S. and Norwegian Undergraduate Marketing Students,” Journal for Advancement of Marketing Education, 20 (3), 70-81.

Toncar, Mark F. and Brian V. Cudmore (2000), “The Overseas Internship Experience,” Journal of Marketing Education, 22 (1), 54-63.

 

 

 

 

 


Leave a comment

A Sampling of What Psychologists (and Some of You in Other Disciplines!) Engaged In SoTL Might Learn From Sociology

Written by Kathleen McKinney, Professor of Sociology & Cross Endowed Chair in SoTL, Emeritus, Illinois State University; Maxine Atkinson, Professor of Sociology, and Tyler Flockhart, Graduate Student, North Carolina State University

We were honored to be invited to write, and submit for review, a paper for the journal, Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology, for their special section of ‘Cross Fertilization’ papers. In these papers, SoTL researchers from a discipline other than psychology offer ideas that might be of interest and use to psychologists doing or considering doing SoTL. Though our focus was on this sociology to psychology idea transfer, we believe some of what we discuss and illustrate in the paper might be of use to those in other disciplines as well. Thus, in this blog post, we briefly outline the content of our paper and provide a reference to the full paper.[1]

Recognizing the overlap between the disciplines of sociology and psychology as well as the significant contributions of psychologists to the research on learning and SoTL, we focus in the full paper on three areas in sociological scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) and sociology that offer potential contributions to psychologists (and others) engaged in SoTL research. Though our suggestions come directly from the heart of theory and method in our discipline in general, we began by offering some grounding of our ideas in the history and literature on teaching and SoTL, specifically, in sociology as well as in the field of SoTL more generally. To do this, we offer example citations of early (1980’s) writing in the sociology teaching-learning movement and more recent writing in the field of SoTL that support the importance of both context and qualitative methods in SoTL research.

Drawing from analyses of content in the journal Teaching Sociology, we then offer a brief overview of the ‘face of SoTL in sociology’ that might be of interest to others by reviewing some of the recent trends in SoTL in sociology including what research methods are used, the topics covered, and a few common findings. This overview of SoTL in sociology shows, empirically, that sociologists value critical thinking and deep learning as important learning objectives, that active learning and strong relevance of content to students are both useful pedagogies, and that student attitudes as well as student demographics or group membership can be related to student learning. SoTL research in sociology is also evidence-based, is very often at the classroom level, and uses multiple methods or measures to gather data, though often including student self-perceptions of learning.

Next, we address the utility of the ‘sociological imagination’—as well as two related, example theories that involve social structure, stratification, and social interaction—as a perspective for further understanding of teaching, learning, and SoTL. The sociological imagination is the key threshold concept (Meyer and Land, 2006) of our discipline and this paradigm tells us that human behavior exists in social context. C. Wright Mills (1959) defined the sociological imagination as the intersection of individual biography and historical context and emphasized the importance of distinguishing between personal troubles and public issues. Thus, sociologists argue that viewing learning as something that happens within individuals without consideration of the historical and social context within which these individuals learn is a limited and problematic view. Based on the sociological imagination and sociological level theories, we then urge psychologists and others doing SoTL to include three sets of variables and measures in their SoTL research: demographic or sub-cultural, interpersonal, and contextual. Including such variables and measures, we argue, will improve SoTL research and our ability to understand findings, as well as increase teacher effectiveness and student learning. We briefly summarize several SoTL in sociology studies that include one or more of these types of variables. We also apply the sociological imagination to a concrete example of a psychological construct and a teaching-learning issue– that of studying self-efficacy for learning statistics– to illustrate the types of research questions and variables to measure that would stem from such an analysis.

We then discuss the value, and sociological examples, of qualitative methods for SoTL research. As many of you know, qualitative methods– such as ‘think-alouds’, interviews and focus groups, observation, open-ended survey questions, and qualitative analysis of student writing and other products –have a variety of characteristics that fit well with many SoTL research questions. “Qualitative data are data in verbal or textual or visual form. Such data are more detailed and more directly reflect the voice of the participant. Qualitative work generally uses a naturalistic and interpretive strategy. The participants’ understanding of the meaning of the phenomenon is critical. You can obtain rich and elaborate data, look for emergent themes, draw some ideas about process, and quote the actual words of your respondents.” (McKinney, 2007, p. 68). Qualitative methods and data may also be especially useful for including ‘student voices’ in our SoTL research and providing data to help us understand process and intervening variables– the how, when, why– in our studies. We end this section of our paper with a brief summary of several SoTL in sociology studies that use qualitative methods.

Finally, we conclude the article by offering numerous additional sociologically-based research ideas that stem from the sociological imagination and the use of qualitative methods. Though the paper focuses on what psychologists might learn from our ideas, we hope that some of you in other disciplines will enjoy the full paper and find some uses for our suggestions.

Blog References

McKinney, K. (2007). Enhancing learning through the scholarship of teaching and learning: The challenges and joys of juggling. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Meyer, J. H. F., & Land, R. (Eds.). (2006). Overcoming barriers to student understanding: Threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge. London: Routledge.

Mills, C.W. (1959). The sociological imagination. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

 

[1] This post includes original text as well as edited excerpts from the full article: McKinney, K., Atkinson, M., & Flockhart, T. (2017). A Sampling of What Psychologists Engaged in SoTL Might Learn from Sociology: Cross-fertilization article. Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology. (in press, June). http://psycnet.apa.org/psycinfo/2017-19187-001/