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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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.

 

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ISU Fall SoTL Workshops & Funding

STATE_YourLearningA variety of funding and training opportunities exist for ISU faculty and students interested in SoTL this fall! Contact Jen Friberg (jfribe@ilstu.edu) with questions.

 

Workshops:

Intro to SoTL (Mon 9/25/17 from 12:30-3:30pm): Do you have an interest in studying your students’ learning as a way to improve your teaching? The scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) is a type of scholarship that can help you expand your research to include systematic study of teaching and/or learning. This workshop is designed to introduce attendees to SoTL, describe ways to engage in SoTL inquiry, and examine the benefits of SoTL as part of a productive research agenda. Examples of SoTL work will be provided. Resources to support SoTL work will be reviewed. These workshops have been designed for an audience with little to no prior experience with SoTL.

SoTL Forum: Changes to IRB Processes Coming in 2018 (Weds, 10/25/2017 from 1-2:30pm): The Office of the Cross Chair in SoTL is hosting an open forum for ISU faculty and students interested/engaged in SoTL research to discuss changes to federal policies and internal ISU procedures that will be implemented in January of 2018. John Baur (Associate Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies), Kathy Spence (Director of Research and Ethics Compliance), and Jen Friberg (Cross Chair in SoTL) will facilitate this session and address your SoTL IRB questions.

CSI-SoTL: The Certificate of Specialized Instruction in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (CSI-SoTL) was co-developed by the Office of the Cross Endowed Chair in SoTL and the Graduate School at ISU to provide an opportunity for graduate students to engage in study and reflection of research on teaching and learning to facilitate successful work as students and as future faculty. As many future college/university teachers lack opportunities for purposeful study and reflection on teaching and learning as part of their graduate school experience, this program provides a unique opportunity to gain knowledge and skills in these areas. All participants will attend three seminars on SoTL then work with a mentor to plan a SoTL project.

 Funding:

SoTL Travel Grants: Applications are currently being accepted for the SoTL Travel Grant Program – FY18. The program is designed to encourage public sharing of SoTL work related to the teaching and/or learning of ISU students. The program provides partial funding 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 FY18. 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 the 2017 International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (ISSoTL) conference. 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 2, 2017. Applications for the spring award cycle will open October 9, 2017 and must be submitted by 5pm on February 5, 2018.

SoTL Seed Grants for New SoTL Scholars: Applications for seed grant funding to get SoTL projects up and running will be accepted starting in early September, 2017. 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 10 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 1, 2017 through May 15, 2018, with awards granted throughout the 2017-18 academic year until funds are exhausted.

 


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Direct vs. Indirect Evidence of Student Learning

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

measure2Later this week, I have the opportunity to facilitate a workshop on peer mentorship in SoTL at a nearby university. I solicited questions from mentor faculty as part of my workshop planning process. In doing so, one of the most interesting questions I received was the following: In studying student learning, how can teacher/learner perceptions be considered a reliable data source?

This question gets at an important consideration in the planning of a SoTL project. What is my source of evidence? Will I use data from focus groups, surveys, student reflections, or something else? Will this evidence focus on student self-reports/perceptions of learning or will the evidence be more objective? The best guidance is that your evidence should match the purpose of your SoTL study. If you are seeking to understand students’ perspectives on a learning experience, then the evidence you collect should align with this. If, however, you are seeking to measure student learning, other forms of data may be more advantageous.

When SoTL-ists talk about their data, they can generally ascribe one of two labels to their evidence: direct or indirect. Direct evidence comes from objective sources such as classroom artifacts (e.g., exams/quizzes, projects/assignments), systematic observations (e.g., video/in-person observations, photographs), or student reflections that tell the story of their own attitudes or beliefs. Indirect evidence is sourced from more subjective sources – student reports of their own learning, teacher reflections of student learning (Vanderbilt, 2013). So, to return to the excellent question posed to me above, teacher/learner perceptions CAN be a reliable data source if the SoTL work in question seeks to understand how teachers/learners feel about their learning. That said, if a researcher is seeking to identify changes in student learning, perceptions alone are not a strong form of evidence to study (see this blog post from 2015 for an expanded discussion of this notion).

One of the best resources I’ve found to explain the difference in various evidence types in SoTL was published by Vanderbilt University’s Center for Teaching. This resource, Gathering Evidence: Making Student Learning Visible, outlines the difference between direct and indirect evidence clearly and cogently, providing examples and brief explanations to understand these concepts well. For my upcoming workshop, I adapted and converted the information shared on this resource (giving ample credit to Vanderbilt!) into a decision tree to share with the SoTL mentors I’ll be working with. As SoTL mentors, they will need to be well informed as to the pros and cons of direct and indirect evidence. I’m hopeful this visual will give us a good starting point for that discussion!

Direct vs indirect decision tree

As a plug for upcoming blogs, additional information is coming in October and November on methods to consider evidence in new and different ways…stay tuned! I am certain that most of the methods that will be covered will apply predominantly to analysis of direct evidence in the study of teaching and learning.

Blog Reference

Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching. (2013). Gathering evidence: Making student learning visible. Available at: https://my.vanderbilt.edu/sotl/files/2013/09/4SoTLEvidence.pdf

 

 

 


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Call for University-Wide SoTL Award Open

Applications are sought for the 2018 Dr. John Chizamr & Dr. Anthony Ostrosky Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Award. This award recognizes faculty and academic staff at ISU who have contributed to the field of SoTL, the SoTL body of knowledge, improved teaching, and enhanced learning.

Applications should be submitted by Monday, November 13, 2017. Requirements for application are detailed below. Information about past award recipients and application procedures can be found on the Cross Chair website, as well. Please contact Jen Friberg (jfribe@ilstu.edu) with questions about this award.

SoTL Award18

 


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SoTL Podcasts

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

headphonesDuring the last academic year, the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Technology (CTLT) at ISU has introduced a podcast series called “Let’s Talk Teaching.” This podcast series brings members of the CTLT team together with guests from across campus for discussions about teaching, learning, and professional development opportunities for faculty at ISU and beyond. While new episodes are generally available on Fridays, bonus episodes are featured from time to time. Topics for podcasts represent a broad range of foci important to faculty. Each run approximately 20 minutes.

While the Let’s Talk Teaching podcasts focus mainly on practices for good teaching, several focus on scholarly approaches to teaching or SoTL including these:

There’s even an upcoming podcast that discusses SoTL that should be available in the next several weeks. A link to that podcast will be added as it becomes available.

This podcast series sparked an interest in searching for other SoTL-related podcasts that might be out there as good resources for those interested in SoTL. I found several that I will share below. There is no way this is an exhaustive list, so please feel free to add others you may know about in the comments below!

In addition, the following podcast series offer regular podcasts dealing with issues in higher education, which can occasionally discuss research on teaching and learning:


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Seeking Blog Contributors for Fall 2017 SoTL Methods Series

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

searchIn the early days of the SoTL Advocate, I featured a short-lived methods blog series that provided overviews of three research methods common to SoTL inquiry: case study, content analysis, and survey. These blogs functioned as brief overviews of each method and provided readers with resources to better understand these methods and exemplar articles to access, as well. Recently, several readers have asked for this series to be expanded, which I think is a wonderful idea! To that end, this fall, I plan to offer a multi-week continuation of the SoTL methods series, with specific methods included in this series to be determined.

Why are the topics yet to be determined? I hope to feature guest blog contributors in this series to represent the interesting and broad approaches to SoTL across disciplines and countries. It is my aim that each submitted blog will:

  1. Define/describe the method of focus for the blog.
  2. Provide an overview of a project where this method was used, along with a reflection on WHY this method was selected over others.
  3. Offer resources for readers to view other examples or descriptions of this method in SoTL (preferred) or discipline-specific scholarship.
  4. Cite references for all resources noted in the blog.
  5. Provide affiliations and contact information for all blog contributors.

Do not feel as though you have to be a recognized “expert” on the method you write about — you just have to be willing to share what you’ve learned through reading or using the method you have chosen. Single author contributions from students or faculty are welcome, but please feel free to invite colleagues and/or students to co-contribute, as well.

Blogs should be approximately 750 words in length and should be written in a friendly and accessible manner, absent unneeded disciplinary jargon that might make a general SoTL readership unable to benefit from accessing the content of the post. Visuals (e.g., open source pictures, photos, videos) are encouraged, as more people will “click” on a blog link if a visual is attached!

If you are interested in submitting a blog for this series, please email me, Jen Friberg (jfribe@ilstu.edu), with a brief statement of interest by August 1, 2017 as I want to ensure we do not have unnecessary overlap in topics. Final blogs should submitted to me by September 15, 2017 for review and formatting. It is anticipated that this methods series will be featured in the SoTL Advocate from October-November, 2017.

A bit of information about the SoTL Advocate blog (i.e., history and reach) is presented below:

About the Blog: The SoTL Advocate was established by the Office of the Cross Endowed Chair in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning at Illinois State University (ISU) to highlight interesting SoTL work and encourage discussion within the SoTL community on various topics of interest to those working on SoTL at ISU and beyond. It is the goal of the SoTL Advocate that blogs will feature viewpoints of a diverse authorship, discussing SoTL projects, reflections, ideas, and topics that are representative of the global nature of the study of teaching and learning.

Blog Reach: Since November 2014, over 7000 visitors (representing 56 countries) have viewed blog content. On average, the SoTL Advocate is accessed over 40 times a week by unique viewers. All blog posts are publicized via the Twitter (250 followers) and Facebook (75 followers) accounts managed by the Office of the Cross Endowed Chair in SoTL. Blog authors can request specific hashtags/attributions for these posts, as appropriate.

Blog Post Guidelines: Blogs should be approximately 750 words (500-1000 word range is acceptable). Blogs should be written in a friendly and accessible manner, absent unneeded disciplinary jargon that might make a general SoTL readership unable to benefit from accessing the content of the post. Visuals (e.g., open source pictures, photos, videos) are encouraged, as more people will “click” on a blog link if a visual is attached!

Submission of a blog does not guarantee acceptance for publication. All blog submissions are reviewed by the SoTL Advocate editor for content and form prior to notification of acceptance status. Please note that blog posts may be conditionally accepted for publication pending revision/clarification. Blogs accepted for publication under this call for contributors will be published between October and November of 2017 as part of the SoTL Methods Series.


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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/