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

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!

 

Advertisements


Leave a comment

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.


Leave a comment

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. 

 


Leave a comment

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!


1 Comment

Neil deGrasse Tyson and Community-Based SoTL Advocacy — Recommendations Inspired by a Popular Science Icon

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

Last week, the online version of The Chronicle of Higher Education published a piece by Vimal Patel titled “What Neil deGrasse Tyson Thinks Higher Ed Gets Wrong.” The article featured an interview with Tyson, a scientist and frequent media contributor/commentator, and discussed his perception that higher education is lacking a reward system (intrinsic or extrinsic) for communicating the work of researchers to the public. In his remarks, Tyson argued that teaching and public service are undervalued in most colleges and universities, relative to research. He posits that this fact contributes to public misunderstandings about science and research, as few researchers are actively and regularly engaged in sharing the findings of their scholarship outside their disciplines or institutions.

While the entirety of this interview focused on Tyson’s feelings toward science-based research, there were evident ties to the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL), as well, particularly in terms of Tyson’s thoughts on advocacy for research. As Tyson spoke of the need to regularly communicate research findings to the public, I was reminded of the idea that taking our SoTL work to the communities around our colleges and universities has been discussed by many as a vital, but often missing, component of SoTL advocacy. Tyson’s ideas tied directly to this notion. In sum, I noted three big takeaways from this article that inform opportunities for community-based SoTL advocacy:

Bring unexpected partners into discussions of SoTL. In his comments, Tyson shares that he interviewed singer Katy Perry on his radio show, much to the dismay of many who viewed Perry as a bad match for the typical science focus of Tyson’s shows. His response?

Why would [I] waste my time? She has more than 100 million Twitter followers. And if I can have a conversation with her about how science has touched her craft, then that brings science to her following. As far as I’m concerned, that adds value.

Why not look at SoTL in a similar fashion? Who can we bring to our craft to expand the reach and value of what we do? What groups of stakeholders can help spread the purpose and benefit of SoTL to others? Digging down, how do each of us identify targets for such advocacy in our own contexts and how might we connect with others for support and help?

Get better at communicating our SoTL research to the public.

Tyson argues that communicating research to the public is something that isn’t valued in higher education, particularly in the United States. He states:

Oxford has a tenured-professor line for the public understanding of science. I know of no such counterpart in the United States. Cambridge has a tenured-professor line for the public understanding of risk. Where is that here? These are [positions] where your ability to communicate is added to your academic chops.

I would argue that by virtue of our interest in SoTL, we are natural communicators. We are fluent in our disciplinary research but we are fluent in SoTL, as well. We translate to advocate, though this mostly occurs in our own institutional or disciplinary contexts. But, how many of us leave those contexts to enter the public sector? If we agree that groups outside our institutions might benefit from expanded SoTL advocacy, how do we get that message out? Might advancement centers, alumni networks, or research offices help? Should we do this work together in a cross-institutional manner? How might we engage established groups (i.e., ISSoTL) in a supportive or leading role for this work?

Keep it simple.

Tyson shared that part of his own development as a science commentator was understanding how his messages about science were most effectively shared. He reported that he believes his popularity in the media and with his followers lies in his ability to distill complex topics into digestible tidbits:

…the press can ask an academic question, and you can give an answer that you might give in a lecture hall. That’s not really the answer they want…I said, why don’t I just give them sound bites? So I went home and practiced in front of [my family]. They’d just randomly bark out questions about the universe, and I would deliver a two- or three-sentence reply. The anatomy of a soundbite has to be tasty, and you have to say, Wow, I’m glad I heard that. It has to…be so interesting that you want to tell someone else.

It’s likely true that once we endeavor to engage with stakeholders outside academia, we need to adapt how we communicate. As a speech-language pathology professor, I have often taught my students about a concept called “code switching,” wherein a speaker adapts how they deliver a message based on their audience. An example I frequently use to show how differently messages can be crafted via code switching is, “how would you ask the following people to open a window;”

When with a friend, you might ask “Dude, would you open the window?”

When with your younger brother, you might more directly say “open that window now!”

In the same room with your boss, you’d likely ask, “do you mind if I open that window?”

If we are seeking to share our SoTL with folks who aren’t academics, we need to learn to code switch a bit and use those communication skills I mentioned above in a slightly different way. We need to craft brief, summative, and engaging messages to appeal to folks unfamiliar with our work in an effort tot draw them in and hold their interest. We don’t need to give a forty minute paper. Rather, we need to make the case for how our SoTL work is important to them and how it might be in the future.

Blog Reference:

Patel, V. (2018). What Neil deGrasse Tyson thinks higher ed gets wrong. The Chronicle of Higher Education, 65(3). Retrieved from https://www.chronicle.com/article/What-Neil-deGrasse-Tyson/244522.

 


Leave a comment

An Idea for the First Days of the Fall Term – Share SoTL with Your Students!

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

Screen Shot 2018-08-13 at 2.01.02 PMBack in April, I wrote a blog regarding the impact of SoTL that was inspired by my reading of this article by Nancy Chick. I’ve thought a lot about the notion of impact since that time, considering how we encourage changes in teaching and learning as a result of our SoTL efforts. I’ve engaged in conversations with numerous colleagues (on my campus and at others) about how they adapt their teaching praxis in the presence of good evidence to do so. As a result of these exchanges, I feel at least somewhat confident that our SoTL work IS making change; however, these conversations have left me wondering if we aren’t missing a huge opportunity to truly increase the impact of our SoTL efforts and outcomes. In no conversation about how SoTL has changed our teaching and learning did anyone I spoke with discuss sharing SoTL with their students. There was discussion about changing course content, assessment, or management, but each of these things was described as occurring in relative solitude as part of next generation course design.

I find it curious that we study our students to understand the components of meaningful learning and teaching experiences, but in doing so, (at least some of us) miss out on purposeful sharing of SoTL outcomes with our students so they can make changes to THEIR praxis as learners. We have generated so much evidence that shows us how students learn (and learn well!). They should have access to this information and it’s my strong opinion that we should help facilitate that access.

Here are a few thoughts as to how we might be more purposeful in bringing students into the SoTL loop — feel free to share other thoughts and ideas in the comments below:

  • Share information about relevant, evidence-based learning strategies as part of your class. Many course instructors have “syllabus review day” during the first course meeting of a new term. While there are great suggestions about alternative ideas for that first course meeting circulating social media this time of year, perhaps a focus on successful learning strategies might be a worthy way to spend that first class together. Share what you know about evidence-based learning strategies that might be useful for your students in your context. Let them know that you’re a resource and would be interested in answering questions about evidence-based strategies for learning. Provide resources for students to access this information themselves.
  • Mediate! Tell your students WHY you’ve designed your course or assignment or assessment in the manner that you have – share your evidence! I do this frequently with my students and have found that if I can provide the rationale for what they are doing, and that research has shown a pedagogical approach to be impactful, I have more buy-in and (anecdotally) more active engagement in the task(s) at hand.
  • Share what others in your discipline have identified as evidence-based learning strategies for emerging professionals. How do sociologists develop a sociological imagination? How do mathematicians generalize concepts to varied contexts? How do historians read a text and assess primary sources? How do speech-language pathologists, nurses, or dieticians transfer theory to clinical practice? SoTL has helped us understand these discipline-specific phenomena. Unlock these connections for students to visualize a path toward professional practice that is grounded in evidence.
  • Use your social media smartly. Does your university have a Twitter or Instagram account where you could populate content about evidence-based ways to learn or study? Can you feature links to and/or summaries of the work of SoTL scholars on your campus to highlight what you know about learning in your own institutional context? Can you manage (or co-manage) an account yourself that does this?
  • Offer to guest “lecture” about evidence-based learning at a meeting of a student organization tied to your discipline or some other movement. Talk to students about research on teaching and learning and how outcomes of such research can support their work as students. There is evidence that out-of-class learning through student organizations, service learning, and civic engagement have efficacy. Let students know the benefits of these efforts!
  • Take care in making assumptions about what students know. Based on the fact that our students are enrolled at our colleges/universities, it would be easy to think that they have unlocked the mysteries of learning deeply and well. They wouldn’t be college students if they hadn’t accomplished that, right? I’m not convinced this is actually the case. I have spoken to numerous students who engage in low utility learning strategies to master material who are frustrated with their lack of ability to make connections and applications across topics and classes. My bias? Assume that your students would be interested to know more about teaching and learning until you know differently.

Writing on a similar topic, McKinney (2012, p. 3) suggested the following strategies for bringing students to SoTL, specifically by discussing the “how” and the “why” of SoTL research and findings emerging from such inquiry:

  • Make SoTL public at conferences students attend and in publications students read.
    Create a local SoTL journal or newsletter aimed specifically at college students at
    your institution or a national/international one for students in a specific major or
    discipline.
  • Use SoTL publications as required readings in courses where they are appropriate
    such as a disciplinary/department new majors‟ orientation class, a research methods course, a capstone course, or a professional socialization course.
    Facilitate and invite students to sessions on learning on campus that share, and
    discuss implications of, local SoTL results.
  • Volunteer to create a session at your disciplinary meetings focusing on key SoTL
    results and explicitly involve and invite students.
  • Add a section of relevant SoTL study results and any implications for students to
    your department website within the web pages for students.
  • Help organize a panel where SoTL researchers present and lead a discussion with
    students at a meeting of your student disciplinary/department club.
  • Include in your courses, when appropriate, reflective and meta-cognitive
    assignments that help students relate SoTL literature and findings to their own
    learning opportunities and behaviors.

 

Blog References:

McKinney, K. (2012). Increasing the impact of SoTL: Two sometimes neglected opportunities. International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 6(1).


Leave a comment

Assessing the Integration of SoTL in Your Discipline: Four Questions

Written by Kathleen McKinney, Professor of Sociology and Cross Endowed Chair in SoTL, Emeritus at Illinois State University

mixI view the integration of SoTL in a discipline in terms of four questions: 1. To what degree are theories, methods, and general findings of a discipline, if relevant, used in SoTL research in the discipline? 2. Is there strong disciplinary support, respect, and reward for SoTL? 3. What are the forms and degree of involvement in SoTL in the discipline? 4. To what extent do colleagues in the discipline actually use or apply SoTL findings to the practice of teaching and understanding learning in that discipline? I have attempted to answer these questions and suggest strategies to increase integration in my own discipline of Sociology (McKinney, 2018). I hope this blog post will encourage others to do the same for their own disciplines.

I offer a few possible factors to measure in your attempt to answer these four questions about integration of SoTL in your discipline. I encourage blog readers to comment on this blog post with additional ideas of ways to answer these questions.

  1. The first question about the integration of SoTL concerns the extent that perspectives, theory and/or methods from your discipline in general are used in SoTL research, specifically, in your discipline. Of course, the extent to which this form of integration is possible varies by discipline. For example, those of us in Education or the Social Science fields are especially likely to have disciplinary theory or methods that work for SoTL. To assess this question, you could count and analyze the content of presentations or publication outlets that discuss discipline-specific theory or method and how these might be used in disciplinary SoTL. Finding existing, or conducting, research studies on SoTL that gather data and draw conclusions about the actual use of disciplinary theory and/or methods in SoTL research in your field would be another strategy.
  2. The second question of integration is to what extent there is support for SoTL projects and making those projects public including resources, respect and reward within your discipline. Such support should be at both the academic department or unit level and in your professional organizations or similar structures. To assess support at the department level, faculty and graduate students could complete surveys or be interviewed about department funding and assistance for SoTL; the status of SoTL compared to other research and scholarship in the department; how Chairs, Directors or senior faculty view SoTL; in what ways graduate students are taught about or encouraged to do SoTL; and how SoTL is rewarded in the department both informally and formally. Additional variables to measure or find include grant dollars for SoTL research, number or prestige of awards/recognitions for SoTL involvement or products, outlets for making SoTL public, explicit statements of support for SoTL in strategic plans or mission statements or similar documents, and availability of opportunities to learn about SoTL. Similarly, such data should be collected at the level of disciplinary professional organizations.
  3. The third question to assess integration of SoTL in your discipline is to what degree and in what ways are colleagues involved in disciplinary SoTL in your department or in the discipline as a whole. Quantitative data on the number of SoTL presentations and publications by those in your discipline during a given time frame could be gathered and compared to other research in the discipline. Measuring involvement could also include finding out what percent of faculty, staff and graduate students in your department or in your discipline (across departments or institutions) participate in various SoTL activities. For example, how many conduct SoTL studies, serve as reviewers of the SoTL work of others in the discipline, mentor others or teach about SoTL, and serve in leadership positions in SoTL organizations, etc. A related measure would be how much time colleagues spend in such SoTL activities relative to other disciplinary work.
  4. The fourth question is to what extent SoTL is integrated in your discipline through the process of applying the findings of disciplinary SoTL studies to practice: teaching and learning in your discipline at classroom, course, program, department, and cross-department levels. One way to assess this integration is to find out whether disciplinary organizations or task forces have used SoTL results to come up with best practices for teaching/learning or curriculum in the discipline. Related to this is to study the extent to which such best practices in the derived from SoTL are followed within and across disciplinary departments. Another way to get a sense of the extent to which and at what levels SoTL findings are being applied in your discipline is to look at the foci of disciplinary SoTL work perhaps by analyzing the content of disciplinary SoTL publication outlets or coding the content of SoTL presentations in the discipline. More specifically, you could measure at what levels SoTL is conducted and results are applied? What percent of these publications and presentations include explicit discussions of how the authors have applied their or other’s SoTL disciplinary findings to make changes in teaching or curriculum or other practices? You could also survey department leaders for concrete examples of changes made and the SoTL research findings that led to these changes.

My belief is that SoTL is not sufficiently integrated in many disciplines despite the suggestion and use of numerous strategies to increase such integration over the last two-three decades. I do think some general mechanisms have more promise than others at this juncture in the development of the field of SoTL. These include choosing disciplinary leaders who support¾or educating and co-opting leaders to support SoTL; using social change strategies involving both grassroots and top-down techniques; socializing future generations of graduate students and new faculty to the value of SoTL before or early in their careers; linking SoTL research to existing priorities of the discipline at various levels (e.g., department, cross-institutions, professional organizations); connecting more disciplinary colleagues to the networks, organizations and activities of the cross-discipline and international field of SoTL; conducting and using SoTL beyond one’s own individual classroom; and encouraging a focus on application and impact of SoTL results in the discipline. All of these, I believe, can help to make SoTL normative and expected in your discipline.

McKinney, K. 2018. “The Integration of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in to the Discipline of Sociology.” Teaching Sociology 46(2): 123-134.