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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Sources, Types, and Analysis of Data in SoTL

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

A few weeks ago, I published a blog titled “Study Design and Data Analysis in SoTL,” which provided a resource for viewing different types of research designs and their application for the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL). This resource was developed as a part of preparations for a two-day “intro to SoTL” workshop at the University of South Alabama. Today’s blog shares a related resource created for the same workshop series.

dataWhile research design is a really important consideration in the planning of SoTL projects, I would argue that an equally important consideration is the determination of the type(s) of data that could be collected to address an identified research purpose/question, as different types of data can provide different types of narratives to describe teaching and learning. The tables below explore eight different data types commonly utilized by individuals completing SoTL studies. Each describes a data type, talks about the data yielded from each type, indicates whether qualitative and/or quantitative analysis is possible for the data source in question, and provides extra information to consider possible to using any of these data sources. Please note that this is not an exhaustive list of possible data sources for SoTL research!

Should you wish to obtain a copy of this information in PDF form, please feel free to email me at jfribe@ilstu.edu. I’m happy to share!

Survey Data

Description Surveys collect data to reflect participant perceptions or knowledge about a particular phenomenon at one point in time.
Data Potentially Yielded Data generated via a survey are answers to specific questions drafted and administered. Survey questions can be closed ended (e.g., multiple choice answers or Likert-type scale data) or can be open ended in nature. Different question types yield different data.
Quantitative Analysis Possible? Yes
Qualitative Analysis Possible? Yes
Miscellaneous Thoughts on Data Type
  • Look for previously validated surveys to use as part of your study to increase validity/reliability of data collected.
  • For non-validated surveys, consider soliciting 2-3 expert reviewers to provide feedback re: survey content and format.
  • If survey is collecting indirect data (e.g., student perceptions), consider a plan to triangulate these data with a different, more directly objective source of information.

Interviews/Focus Groups

Description Considered a subset of survey research, these methods gather information about participant knowledge and feelings individually or with a group of people in a manner that allows (in some designs) for follow-up questions and non-standard data collection.  Interviews are generally conducted with a single person, while focus groups are group interviews.
Data Potentially Yielded Interactions occurring within interviews and focus groups are typically audio or video recorded. Orthographic transcriptions of these interactions can be created and analyzed to identify relevant trends across participants. Observations of specific behaviors might be quantified, as well, depending on the intent of the study’s design.
Quantitative Analysis Possible? Yes, but less frequent than qualitative analysis
Qualitative Analysis Possible? Yes
Miscellaneous Thoughts on Data Type Collection of interview and focus group data often causes extra human subjects review board scrutiny due to threats to confidentiality and/or anonymity. Consider how you will protect and explain protections for your study participants as part of your IRB development process.

Think Alouds

Description Think alouds are specific types of interviews where participants are asked to verbalize thoughts for internal cognitive processes in a sequential manner (e.g., how to complete a professionally-oriented task)
Data Potentially Yielded Like with interviews/focus groups, think alouds are typically audio or video recorded so that orthographic transcriptions of these interactions can be created and analyzed to identify relevant trends across participants.
Quantitative Analysis Possible? Yes, but less frequent than qualitative analysis
Qualitative Analysis Possible? Yes
Miscellaneous Thoughts on Data Type Similar to interviews and focus groups, collection of think aloud data often causes extra human subjects review board scrutiny due to threats to confidentiality and/or anonymity. Consider how you will protect and explain protections for your study participants.

Pre-/Post-Tests

Description Pre/post tests allow for collection of data to reflect changes resulting from some sort of intervention or experience over a pre-determined span of time.
Data Potentially Yielded Data collected is intended to reflect any changes (either positive or negative) resulting from an intervention or experience. Pre-/post-test data could be collected via a survey, reflection, or interview/focus group. The key here is that there are two (or more) sets of data to reflect differences across time.
Quantitative Analysis Possible? Yes
Qualitative Analysis Possible? Yes
Miscellaneous Thoughts on Data Type
  • Look for previously validated instruments to use for pre/post test designs.
  • For non-validated surveys, consider soliciting 2-3 expert reviewers to provide feedback re: survey content and format.
  • If pre/post test collects indirect data (e.g., student perceptions), consider a plan to triangulate these data with a different source.

Onlooker/Participant Observations

Description Specific, systematic observations conducted to collect behavioral data about participants within a teaching or learning context. In onlooker observations, the observer is not a part of the intervention/ experience. In participant observation, observers are active participants in the intervention/ experience.
Data Potentially Yielded Data collected from trained observers will quantify or describe the behaviors of participants at one or at multiple time frames. These data might be tallies of observed behaviors, descriptive notes describing behaviors, or time-managed tracking of behaviors in an environment.
Quantitative Analysis Possible? Yes
Qualitative Analysis Possible? Yes
Miscellaneous Thoughts on Data Type
  • All observers should be carefully trained to collect data that reflects the intent of the study.
  • Observations can be made in real time or via videotaped sample.
  • Consider gathering inter-rater reliability data if more than one reviewer is operating within the context or project.

Course Assignments/Projects/Assessments

Description Course assignments, projects, or assessments are any tasks students complete as a part of your class which can be used to understand participant mastery of content or performance at a given point in an academic term or program. This might include: writings, journals, projects, online assignments, quizzes, tests, etc.
Data Potentially Yielded Data reflects a wide array of possibilities, but commonly would reflect participant knowledge and/or understanding of course content at a specific point in time during the course’s duration.
Quantitative Analysis Possible? Yes
Qualitative Analysis Possible? Yes
Miscellaneous Thoughts on Data Type
  • Any artifact that is part of a course you regularly teach or a course you have taught in the past can be used in a SoTL study. Consider the use of archival data to compare groups with and without a particular intervention or experience.
  • If you can no longer obtain consent from past students as they are gone from campus or you lack contact information for them, you can ask your IRB for a waiver of informed consent, so long as you have a plan to protect participant identity.

Written Student Reflections

Description Written student reflections are comprised of student thoughts and ideas presented that are expressed to demonstrate deep thinking and consideration (e.g., reflective journals).
Data Potentially Yielded Generally, data are journal entries or responses to specific reflection questions. Written data is analyzed to identify changes or trends across study participants.
Quantitative Analysis Possible? Yes, but less frequent than qualitative analysis
Qualitative Analysis Possible? Yes
Miscellaneous Thoughts on Data Type
  • Reflection data is almost always derived from some sort of prompt (e.g., journal prompt, reflective question). Craft these prompts carefully to ensure that you’re collecting the data most valuable for your study.
  • Analysis of written reflection data is almost always a qualitative endeavor. There are a variety of valid approaches to this sort of work, so consulting with a qualitative researcher if this is a new form of method for you is a good idea.

Visual Student Reflections

Description Visual student reflections are comprised of student thoughts and ideas presented that are expressed to demonstrate deep thinking and consideration (e.g., concept maps, drawings, figures, photos).
Data Potentially Yielded Visual reflection data provide representations of knowledge, skills, or learning at a given point in time to identify changes or trends across study participants.
Quantitative Analysis Possible? Yes
Qualitative Analysis Possible? Yes
Miscellaneous Thoughts on Data Type
  • Visual reflection data is almost always derived from some sort of classroom project or activity. Craft these experiences carefully to ensure that you’re collecting the data most valuable for your study.
  • Consider various visual data analysis methods as a lens for understanding your data.

 

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Study Design and Data Analysis in SoTL

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

In June, I visited the University of South Alabama (USA) and worked with Raj Chaudhury and Sue Mattson to get a group of faculty started with their year-long SoTL Academy efforts. Approximately 30 faculty from across USA’s campus came together to learn about SoTL and plan a SoTL project. We spent two days together in workshops and consultations and all participants left with a draft plan for SoTL work they hoped to conduct this current academic year.

This was the second year I was able to join the USA crew for this two-day educational and research development event. Sue and I agreed that a resource that would be valuable for the USA faculty for the second iteration of the SoTL Academy would be something that helped social science-oriented researchers see how SoTL might dovetail with concepts and ideas they already understood well. Thus, the following grids focused on descriptive, correlational, and experimental/quasi-experimental design were drafted and used in discussions about how SoTL might look like participants’ own disciplinary research — and how it might not. This resource is being shared here now, in the hopes that others might find this information valuable, as well.

Should you wish to obtain a copy of this information in PDF form, please feel free to email me at jfribe@ilstu.edu. I’m happy to share!

Descriptive Research
Description of Study Design Descriptive research characterizes a group of people, a context, or a phenomenon. These studies do not seek to establish a causal relationship; rather, they provide information about “what is” occurring or being observed regarding the focus of study.

Descriptive studies include observational, case study, and survey methods.

Exemplar SoTL Projects
  • Survey students’ re: practices in using print vs. online textbooks to support learning.
  • Observe how students’ use of technology in the classroom impacts attention span.
  • Study high achieving students in a course to predict practices/variables of success to share with future students.
Qualitative Analysis Options Qualitative data in a descriptive study is reported as narrative, reflection, open-ended response, field note, etc. Such data will need to be further analyzed for themes, categories, or patterns.

Common qualitative approaches in descriptive SoTL research include: case studies, action research processes, analytic induction, ethnography, comparative analysis, frame analysis, grounded theory, and interpretive phenomenology, among others.

Quantitative Analysis Options Quantitative data in a descriptive study is often reported in the form of descriptive statistics (e.g., mean, median, mode) along with standard deviations. Statistics might be used here, depending on the data collected and the topic being studied.

These data might emerge from test scores, grades on a course assignment or project, survey data, or frequency data.

 

Correlational Research
Description of Study Design Correlational research seeks to determine whether a relationship exists between two or more variables, but cannot determine if one variable causes another. Variables aren’t manipulated; rather, they are observed to determine any relationship that might exist between them.

Note that some sources identify correlational research as a quantitative-only subset of descriptive research, as some descriptive research might suggest a correlation found via grounded theory or other qualitative methods of research.

Exemplar SoTL Projects
  • Determine the relationship between number of hours studying and success on a quiz/test.
  • Identify whether there is a link between the use of peer editing and performance on a writing assignment.
  • Understand whether the use of social media helps students to summarize course content effectively.
Qualitative Analysis Options Qualitative data analysis is not undertaken for correlational research, as numerical data is needed to calculate a correlation coefficient.
Quantitative Analysis Options Correlational research is a quantitative method of inquiry. Correlation can only be determined for quantifiable data. These are data in which numbers are meaningful, usually quantities of some sort. It cannot be used for purely categorical data, such as gender, brands purchased, or favorite color.

Statistics are used to determine a correlation coefficient to identify positive, negative, or zero correlation. One thing to keep in mind is that any identified correlation does not mean that one variable caused the other to react. Instead, correlations simply define that a relationship exists.

 

Experimental/Quasi-Experimental Research
Description of Study Design Experimental and quasi-experimental research designs seek to manipulate one variable and control all others to investigate cause/effect relationships. All participants are assigned to either a control or experimental group. An intervention is applied to the experimental group. The control group has no intervention applied.

The key difference between experimental and quasi-experimental designs is the concept of randomization. If participants are assigned to control and experimental groups randomly, the research design is experimental. Non-random group assignment yields a quasi-experimental research design. True experimental research is considered the gold standard of research by many researchers, because random group assignment leads to optimal internal validity. In situations where random group assignment is not possible or ethical, quasi-experimental designs offer an alternative that allows the research to continue and still produce valid results.

Almost no SoTL qualifies as truly experimental in nature due to inherent ethical and logistical characteristics of SoTL that makes this type of research difficult to conduct (e.g., true randomization). One of the most common quasi-experimental designs for SoTL research is the pre-test/post-test with no control group design.

Exemplar SoTL Projects
  • Does the use of simulated patients help nursing students improve observational skills?
  • Do architecture students who initially design structures by hand understand the concept of space more deeply?
  • Do history students exposed to guided reading demonstrate a deeper understanding of historical imagination?
Qualitative Analysis Options Experimental and quasi-experimental designs may yield data that is descriptive (e.g., surveys, interviews, observations) that require qualitative analyses. Similar to information provided above for descriptive research, any qualitative data will need to be further analyzed for themes, categories, or patterns.

Common qualitative approaches to data analysis in SoTL include: case study, action research processes, analytic induction, ethnography, comparative analysis, frame analysis, grounded theory, and interpretive phenomenology, among others.

Quantitative Analysis Options Experimental design lends itself to more straightforward and simpler types of statistical analysis. Primarily due to the lack of randomization, quasi-experimental studies usually require more advanced statistical procedures. Quasi-experimental designs may also utilize surveys, interviews, and observations which may further complicate the data analysis.

Quantitative analysis requires several steps. First numeric data is assigned a level (nominal, ordinal, interval, or ratio). Next, descriptive statistics are calculated for data (e.g., means, standard deviations). For some studies, descriptive statistics may be adequate; however, if you want to make inferences or predictions about your population, inferential statistics (e.g., t-test, ANOVA, regression) may be indicated.

Blog References:

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

Campbell, D. T. & Stanley, J. (1963). Experimental and quasi-experimental designs for research. Cengage: Boston.

Cresswell, J. W. (2012). Qualitative inquiry and research design: Choosing among five approaches (3rd ed.). Sage: Thousand Oaks, CA.

Gurung, R. A. R. & Wilson, J. H. (Eds.). (2014). Doing the scholarship of teaching and learning: Measuring systematic changes to teaching and improvements in learning. Jossey-Bass: San Francisco.

 

 


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Fall 2018 Program and Funding Opportunities at ISU for SoTLists

Illinois State University faculty and students have a robust selection of programming and funding opportunities this fall. Information below summarizes each. Contact Jen Friberg, Cross Endowed Chair in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, for additional information or to submit information as requested below (jfribe@ilstu.edu).

Programming Opportunities for Faculty & Students

SoTL Advocate Guest Author Incentives: Faculty and students involved in SoTL are invited to submit guest blog posts for The SoTL Advocate, a blog established in 2014 to provide information about SoTL and SoTL research to stakeholders at ISU and beyond. With 14,000 readers a year in over 20 countries, this blog has a wide readership and a strong sharing network for your work. Authors of accepted blog posts will receive a $100 stipend for their contribution.

Certificate of Specialized Instruction in SoTL: Graduate students with a strong interest in teaching and researching in higher education after graduation are invited to join this year’s cohort of students seeking focused study and reflection of research on teaching and learning to facilitate their work as students and as future faculty. All graduate students will receive information about this program, but others can access details at sotl.ilstu.edu.

SoTL Abstracts: The Office of the Cross Endowed Chair in SoTL is preparing a late fall newsletter (to be disseminated campus-wide) to feature the SoTL work of ISU students and faculty. Forward the citation and abstract for any SoTL work you’ve published in 2017 or 2018 for inclusion in this compendium. Be recognized for your work!

1:1 Consultations: Considering a SoTL project, but not sure where or how to start? Arrange a consultation with an experienced SoTL researcher.

Watch for a separate notice about an upcoming half-day workshop on the topic of collecting, analyzing, and interpreting qualitative data for your SoTL study. Dr. Sarah Ginsberg of Eastern Michigan University will be joining us for a hands-on session for faculty and for 1:1 consultations afterward. Save the date – 10/26/18.

Funding Opportunities (Full RFPs, submission guidelines, and review criteria are available @ ilstu.infoready4.com)

SoTL Travel Grants: Applications are being accepted for the SoTL Travel Grant Program for travel to present SoTL work. Funds may be used toward conference registration and/or travel costs. This applies to a trip already taken (and not fully reimbursed) or to be taken, to present SoTL work this fiscal year. We expect to award 10-12 grants for FY19. Please note that faculty/staff are eligible for one travel grant (of any kind) per year. Awards of up to $700 will be available to those presenting SoTL research at disciplinary or other teaching/learning conferences. Special awards of up to $1000 will be available to those presenting at international teaching and learning conferences. There are 2 cycles for SoTL Travel Grants. Applications for the fall award cycle are currently being accepted and must be submitted by 5pm on October 1, 2018. Applications for the spring award cycle will open October 8, 2018, and must be submitted by 5pm on February 4, 2010.

SoTL Seed Grants: Applications for seed grant funding to get SoTL projects up and running will be accepted starting in early September 2018. Grant funds will be awarded (in the form of a stipend) for work toward one of the following: writing an IRB or literature review for a SoTL project, gathering/collecting/analyzing data for a SoTL project, or applying SoTL to solve a teaching/learning issue in your classroom. Up to 12 SoTL Seed Grants in the amount of $250 will be awarded to faculty conducting their first SoTL project. Applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis from September 2018 through May 2019, with awards granted until funds are exhausted.

 


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SoTL as a Piece of the Accreditation Puzzle

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

puzzle.jpgI spent last week in the Washington D.C. area for a meeting of the Council on Academic Accreditation in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology (CAA). I’ve served on the CAA for almost four years and currently serve as Chair of the Council. In that time, I’ve had ample opportunity to consider accreditation and the potential ways in which the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) might contribute to accreditation processes, evidence, and planning. I would argue that while accreditation is a complex endeavor, the use of systematic study and reflection of teaching and learning has the potential to strengthen an application for (re-)accreditation and highlight evidence-based ways in which programs are meeting their accreditation standards in ways meaningful to local academic contexts. SoTL can be used directly to gather data about a given phenomenon or indirectly to inform a scholarly approach to decision making. As a representative of an accrediting body, I believe that this sort of data – used well – can be used to verify compliance with various accreditation standards.

While requirements for academic accreditation vary widely based on disciplinary needs and differences, there are several unifying considerations for most disciplinary standards attached to accreditation. I’ve explored several of these below, and have provided examples of how SoTL might be operationalized to support accreditation efforts across disciplines.

SoTL can inform strategic planning. Most accredited programs are required to have a strategic plan that is shared with all relevant stakeholders. Some accreditors prescribe that strategic plans have measurable goals and objectives. I have argued that conducting new SoTL investigations could (and maybe should!) be a strategic goal/objective for most programs. In collecting data about a teaching/learning issue, a program systematically gathers data to plan or problem-solve, potentially across a curriculum. Additionally, outcomes from completed SoTL projects can help to identify successful teaching/learning practices that could be utilized across a program or less successful practices that might need to be revised or revisioned. In sum, SoTL included as a part of the strategic planning process can identify areas of need or areas of strength.

SoTL can help determine faculty sufficiency. It is typical that a program’s faculty sufficiency is included as a component of accreditation standards. One aspect of faculty sufficiency can be represented by how well the faculty in a program are able to meet institutional requirements for teaching, research, and/or scholarship. I see SoTL as being a boost to faculty in this manner. SoTL-active faculty generally practice as scholarly teachers, potentially impacting teaching effectiveness. SoTL-active faculty produce scholarly work, increasing their overall research productivity. Finally, SoTL-active faculty have opportunities to engage in service to local, national, and international SoTL groups/organizations, which improves service productivity. Depending on the mission of an institution, any or all of these types of endeavors could help support faculty meeting institutional expectations for all aspects of academic employment.

SoTL can aid in curriculum development. A key component of many standards for academic accreditation is the idea that a curriculum must be offered to students that supports the emergence of competence, professionalism, and understanding of core disciplinary concepts. SoTL inquiry can be designed to examine part of a class or an entire course for impact. Findings can be used to tailor curriculum tweaks or (in the case of coordinated SoTL study across a program) inform wholesale curricular re-design and change. Programs can also apply extant SoTL to make curricular changes, as well, implementing practices such as service learning, study abroad, or research experiences – all evidence-based pedagogies – to design and plan innovations across the curriculum.

SoTL can be an integral component in formative and summative assessment of student learning. Accreditors might ask for ways in which a program uses or conducts formative and summative assessments of student learning to improve the program on a continual basis. SoTL is, in some ways, a true measure of formative or summative assessment, depending on how it’s designed and carried out. SoTL can help to identify aspects of a course that are impactful (or not) or whether a whole course truly meets its learning objectives. In a similar fashion, SoTL inquiry can provide data as one component of a program’s assessment agenda.

SoTL can be used to better understand reported student outcome measures. Many accrediting bodies require programs to report some sort of student outcome data as part of their regular processes. CAA standards require that programs report on time program completion rates, pass rates for our national certification exam, and employment rate of graduates one year post-graduation. High percentages on these outcome data can indicate that a program is strong and performing well. However, lower percentages might indicate that a problem exists with some aspect of the program. A well-designed SoTL investigation can help identify areas of strength and weakness in a program that might be impacting student outcome data. This might be closely tied to programmatic assessment, something most accreditors require evidence of as part of continued quality improvement efforts.

 


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Cool SoTL Stuff to Peruse…

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

Through suggestions from friends and via email notifications from various groups and organizations, I’ve been privy to quite a bit of really interesting SoTL stuff lately. Some of my favorites are shared below with relevant links and attributions provided!

Teaching with Metacognition

Improve

One of my favorite blogs, Improve with Metacognition, has just released its second issue of Teaching with Metacognition. Arranged in two categories (Applying Metacognition Practices Beyond the Classroom and Developing Metacognition Skills in our Students), the issue features six articles from a variety of SoTL-ists with interesting perspectives.

SoTL in the South

SotlSouthAt the end of May, the Volume 2, Issue 1 of SoTL South, a journal dedicated to the scholarship of teaching and learning in the “global south.” This special issue was born from work presented at the first ever SoTL in the South Conference in South Africa in July, 2017. This issue presents 10 articles with investigations and reflection topics relevant on a global scale (e.g., decolonizing the classroom, pedagogy, and educational development).

Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Annotated Literature Database

annotated

Nicola Simmons has done a wonderful job designing and sharing a SoTL-focused annotated literature database with references for a wide array of topics — as of this morning, 99 individual topics are features. This is a resource I share with faculty at my university and others constantly! New content has been popping up here routinely. Readers are encouraged to email Nicola at nsimmons@brocku.ca with suggestions for topics, annotations, etc.

Let’s Talk Teaching

ISU’s Center for Teaching, Learning, and Technology hosts a podcast series called Let’s Talk Teaching. In the most recent podcast, Dr. Bill Anderson, an associate professor in the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences (and 2017 Outstanding University Teaching Award winner) explores the power of interrupted case studies as an evidence-based way to foster students’ creative thinking by giving them structured opportunities to engage in inference and prediction.

The Contemplative Mind in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning

contem

I’ve just stared reading a new text from IU Press’ SoTL Series. Authored by Patricia Own-Smith, the Contemplative Mind in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning discusses the potential space contemplative practices and research might have in higher education. I’m especially enjoying the fourth chapter (titled “Contemplative Research”) and it’s review of common SoTL methods through a new lens.

ISSoTL Opportunities

ISSoTL is seeking co-leaders for the International Collaborative Writing Group (ICWG) for 2019. With aims to build the capacity of participants to work and write in international collaborative groups and contribute to the literature of a range of SoTL topics from an international perspective, this program seeks to extend the successes of two prior ICWGs, with an initial meeting planned in Atlanta, GA, prior to the 2019 ISSoTL Conference. Expressions of Interest outlining applicants fit to the ICWG criteria (viewable via link above) and timeline in no more than 2 pages should be emailed to Kelly Matthews (k.matthews1@uq.edu.au) by July 31, 2018 along with a brief CV (5 pages) for each applicant.

Additionally, the call for student applications to ISSoTL’s Emerging Scholars Fund is open. This Fund provides conference fee waivers to students attending the ISSoTL conference. Students must be registered for the 2018 ISSoTL conference to apply. Questions should be directed to Sam L Dvorakova, ISSOTL Student Representative, using the Contact Form and selecting Student Representative VPs from the Area of FocusTo apply, please complete the online application form by August 1st, 2018.


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Updated Advice for New SoTL Researchers

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

Screen Shot 2018-06-23 at 6.48.06 PM.pngAlmost three years ago, I penned a blog post titled Advice for New SoTL Researchers. In that post, I offered seven suggestions for those just getting started with a SoTL research agenda. In the last few months, I’ve had the good fortune to work with several cohorts of faculty and students who are part of “Intro to SoTL” cohorts. In working with them, I realize that the advice I offer to new researchers has changed. So, the following is my best effort at updating a list of things that new SoTL scholars might want to keep in mind.

  1. Design your project carefully. Examine the macro (classroom-level) context around you, looking for problems, opportunities, or wonderments that might be the basis for a SoTL project. Do you have a new technology that you’re wanting to integrate in your class, but aren’t sure it will work? Are you teaching an evening section of a very large class and you have an idea about improving student engagement? Might there be a way to study an out-of-class learning experience you’ve set up for your students? All of these – and many others! – could be a great place to start!
  2. Once you have a glimmer of an idea of the topic you might like to study, search for teaching and learning research in your field or another that might demonstrate how your topic has been studied in the past. Because SoTL research functions to provide a snapshot of your teaching/learning context at a point in time, it is fine to replicate a project that has already been done to see if similar outcomes are evident in your context. That said, reviewing past literature might drive you in a different research direction or provide an idea of how other scholars have approached research design in the past.
  3. Talk to a person who has completed a SoTL project and ask for advice or consultation. I have found individuals involved in teaching and learning research to be some of the most giving and collaborative colleagues I’ve encountered. Most would be quite happy to share lessons learned or chat about your idea(s) for a project. Seek out experienced SoTL scholars and learn with and from them. Then, when it’s your turn to be the experienced mentor, offer your wisdom often and broadly.
  4. Choose your data source wisely. There are SO many options in terms of potential data sources for SoTL work. As we are studying teaching and learning, SoTL scholars frequently use class artifacts, assessments, or reflections as a source for data. Other surveys, interviews, or focus groups beyond the typical business of your course might be useful. You are only limited by your own lack of creativity here. Carefully asses the focus of your project to suss out the richest sources of data for your study. Think about direct vs. indirect sources and the impact of your data on the overall rigor and quality of your work. Identifying a data source for your work should not be a quick decision, but rather, a careful deliberation.
  5. Consider more than one data source. As there are inherent biases in SoTL (e.g., it’s not meant to be inherently generalizable in most cases, we study our own students, true randomization or control is hard to exert), it’s optimal to have at least two data sources to compare and contrast to help validate the conclusions that you draw.
  6. Analyze and interpret your data appropriately. This piece of advice likely doesn’t need a lot of explanation; however, I would simply offer that you should think carefully about whether a qualitative, quantitative, or mixed methods approach to data analysis and interpretation is best for your corpus of data. Don’t force a fit, just finesse what you have so that the path to understanding your teaching/learning question is clear.
  7. Think about the audiences most suited for your work as you plan to share it with peers and others. Don’t assume that the potential audience for your work is broad and cross-disciplinary if your project only studies a phenomenon that is part of your discipline. Conversely, if your SoTL project focuses on a topic that has multi-disciplinary appeal, don’t narrow your audience unnecessarily. Share, publish, and promote your work in meaningful contexts with the individuals who will find it valuable!
  8. Put students at the heart of your SoTL. It has been well-stated that the heart of SoTL is the classroom. I choose to interpret this sentiment as not just a reminder that the single classroom context is the typical and intended focus of SoTL. Rather, I believe that the heart of SoTL subsumes the entire classroom environment and all the stakeholders within. Yes, you may study your students as research participants, but does that preclude you from sharing what you’ve learned with them? That is an opportunity that is often missed, in my view. Also, why not invite students to assist with your SoTL with the same frequency that you invite them into your disciplinary research? From my experience, it’s valuable for your students AND for you.

Of course, this is in NO way an exhaustive list of recommendations for new SoTL researchers. What is represented here is a continued starting place, on that will likely continue to evolve. Maybe three years from now, I’ll feel obligated/motivated to revise this list again! Until then, happy SoTL-ing! J


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Perspectives on the Intro to SoTL Experience: An Invitation to Share and Collaborate

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

introductionIn the last few years, I’ve learned that there are a variety of ways that institutions of higher education introduce faculty and students to the scholarship of teaching and learning. At Illinois State, we have traditionally offered at least one “Intro to SoTL” workshop each semester (so, typically one in the spring and one in the fall) along with a variety of supports throughout the year to support SoTL work: 1:1 consultations, use of a SoTL Resource Group of disciplinary SoTL mentors, grants for research and travel, a robust website, etc. These opportunities have mostly focused on faculty; however, opportunities such as University Research Grants (which require student involvement as a co-investigator) and the certificate program in SoTL for graduate students do allow students access, as well.

Looking toward the future, I’m wondering what the most effective ways might be to “read” new folks into research on teaching and learning. I have feedback from colleagues on my campus on this topic, in addition to input from other institutions I’ve visited to provide intro to SoTL workshops and experiences. That said, I am eager to understand such experiences across a broader group of stakeholders and contexts.

To this end, I am wondering if any faculty, students, or SoTL professional developers might be interested in writing or contributing to a blog to explore the intro to SoTL process a bit. Specifically, I’d be interested in hearing from individuals who can:

  • describe an innovative model for intro to SoTL professional development opportunities or supports
  • discusses the sometimes tricky topic of explaining research methodologies in the context of an intro to SoTL experience
  • describes mechanisms to involve multiple campus units to support an intro to SoTL opportunity
  • shares data to assess the impact or outcomes of intro to SoTL professional development
  • profiles how advocacy for SoTL is integrated into an intro to SoTL experience
  • provides “lessons learned” from their first SoTL study or first SoTL mentorship experience
  • explain how a SoTL mentor supported and/or encouraged SoTL development or productivity

Other ideas are welcome, as well, as the list above is certainly not exhaustive.

If there’s interest, I’ve also been thinking about putting a group of SoTL professional developers together to share ideas and materials for intro to SoTL efforts. 

Folks interested in sharing their experiences and/or perspectives (through either a blog post, blog collaboration, or Intro group) are invited to contact me via email with ideas or questions (jfribe@ilstu.edu). Potential contributors should read conventions for blog posts on the SoTL Advocate, which were highlighted in a recent blog.