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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What SoTL Has Meant to Me

Written by: Kathleen McKinney, Outgoing Cross Endowed Chair in SoTL, Illinois State University

On June 30, 2016, I will fully retire from Illinois State University as well as from the many roles I have played within various institutions, my discipline more broadly, professional organizations, formal and informal collaborations, and the field of SoTL.

Similar to many others, I will leave with mixed feelings. On the one hand, I am ready to hand over the reins to the very competent and qualified Dr. Jennifer Friberg, the incoming Cross Endowed Chair in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning at Illinois State University. I am ready to not be the ‘responsible one’ in terms of initiatives, budgets, planning, education, persuasion, development, grants, meetings, PR…related to SoTL on campus and, often, elsewhere. On the other hand, I will miss the “work” and, especially, the people. Thus, though officially retiring, I am beginning two collaborative SoTL writing projects that I will do without any official affiliation: an invited paper on what those in Psychology might learn from SoTL in Sociology (with Maxine Atkinson and Tyler Flockhart) and an edited book on Conducting and Applying SoTL Beyond the Individual Classroom (with Jennifer Friberg). Yes, it can be hard to completely let go of ones work and identity!!

In a brief blog post such as this, I can’t really begin to describe what SoTL has meant to me over the last 30 plus years or so but I would like to highlight seven areas of positive impact of SoTL on my life. Through this reflection, I am hoping blog readers will get a sense of the potential value of SoTL to their careers, their lives, their institutions, their discipline and their students, and be encouraged to increase their own involvement in SoTL now and in the future. I hope others will be as lucky and as blessed as I have been to have these amazing experiences, opportunities, and outcomes.

  1. Collaborations and Relationships, new and old, exciting and creative with colleagues, students, and administrators at my institution, in my discipline more broadly, at the Carnegie Foundation, and in ISSOTL and other organizations.
  2. Opportunities to make a positive difference (I hope) in teaching, learning, faculty careers, and students’ lives in my discipline and institution, and beyond.
  3. Chances to learn many new things about SoTL, teaching, learning, research, other disciplines, faculty development, and administration.
  4. Chances to work with amazing students on SoTL projects, in class, in the office, in student organizations, on others’ SoTL grants, and in the student voices movement of the SoTL field.
  5. Successes and achievements in a joyful career filled with meaning, status, advancement, choice, and autonomy… full of intrinsic rewards (and, yes, certainly some extrinsic ones as well).
  6. An identity, a self-image, a sense of who I am and who I want to be.
  7. Opportunities to travel in the US, Canada, the UK, Australia… and to network with others in other cities and nations who do, support, and share SoTL.

I want to conclude by thanking many people. I didn’t experience or achieve these things on my own; it was all about advice, assistance, collaboration, and relationships. With a few exceptions, I won’t name individual people as there are far too many and I would not want to miss anyone. But I am eternally grateful to the colleagues, staff, and students in these groups or networks:

  • Colleagues in the American Sociological Association especially the Teaching Learning/SoTL movement, the Section on Teaching and Learning, the other editors, reviewers and authors of Teaching Sociology, and the many sociology colleagues in SoTL around the globe. And a special thanks goes to Carla Howery…lost to us far too early.
  • Staff at The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching especially during its decade focus on and support of SoTL, as well as my cohort of Carnegie SoTL scholars.
  • Faculty, staff, students, and administrators at Illinois State University. And a special thanks goes to Robert Walsh…also gone far too ‘young’.
  • K. Patricia Cross for her insight and future thinking about higher education, as well as her support of the ISU Endowed Chair in SoTL.
  • Colleagues in the International Society of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning.

I look forward to working on my new SoTL writing projects, to hearing about future trends in SoTL, and to seeing the successes of other ‘SoTLlers’, in every discipline and around the globe, and their positive impact on teaching and learning in higher education. I urge readers to take advantage of the amazing challenges and opportunities of SoTL in their careers and lives!




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Getting Started in SoTL: Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Annotated Literature Database

Written by: Nicola Simmons, Brock University

The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) focuses on improving student learning through scholarly inquiry into teaching and learning practices. Scholars of teaching and learning come from all disciplines and often bring their disciplinary lenses to studying these processes. (For a wonderful overview about SoTL, please see

These postsecondary practitioners and researchers are not always familiar with the research literature about learning and may have no point of entry for their investigations (Weimer, 2010). A frequent challenge is finding ‘point of entry’ literature around a particular topic that will provide a starting point for further inquiry. In addition, it can be challenging to grasp the ongoing scholarly debates in literature with which one is not yet familiar. Further, as Christensen Hughes and Mighty (2010) note, “researchers have discovered much about teaching and learning in higher education, but … dissemination and uptake of this information have been limited. As such, the impact of educational research on faculty-teaching practice and the student-learning experience has been negligible” (p. 4). Disseminating teaching and learning research in ways that connect it to practice continues to be a challenge (Poole, 2009).

These assertions are supported by my own experiences: For many years I worked with faculty members on their SoTL projects, and now work with both colleagues and graduate students. These consultations made me realize that finding point-of-entry literature in a field not one’s own is both difficult and daunting.

The release of a new open-access website – – aims to address that challenge. The website compiles key literature on SoTL topics to support postsecondary scholars and students from across all disciplines to improve their practice or conduct research pertaining to these topics. Each entry comprises a topic heading, a brief overview of the topic, and a short list of annotated key literature, highlighting ongoing debates in the literature.

A SoTL resources page provides a number of websites, books, articles, and videos that provide excellent background for those engaging in SoTL. While both they and the annotations are geared towards those entering SoTL, feedback thus far has suggested that SoTL scholars at any stage will find the site a useful place to begin or extend their literature searches.

Want to get involved?

The website is a work in progress (you will see a limited number of entries have been completed – though a team of dedicated graduate students is working on more as I write). I invite you to not only use it, but to consider whether:

  • You could contribute an entry or two based on your work in progress
  • You could ask a graduate pedagogy class to contribute annotations for a class assignment

All entries will be attributed to the contributing author. Contact Nicola Simmons at Please see the annotation process tab for further details.


Christensen Hughes, J., & Mighty, J. (2010). Taking stock: Research on teaching and learning in higher education. Kingston, ON: McGill-Queen’s University Press.

Poole, G. (2009). The pursuit of the scholarship of teaching and learning in Canada: Good, but not good enough. Keynote presentation at the Canadian Society for Studies in Higher Education annual conference, Ottawa, Ontario, May 25-27.

Weimer, M. (2008). Positioning scholarly work on teaching and learning. International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 2(1).


Author Bio:

Nicola was the SoTL Canada Founding Chair and previously served as VP (Canada) for ISSoTL, VP (SoTL) for the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, and Chair of the Canadian Educational Developers Caucus. She is the author of the SoTL annotations website and the editor of a forthcoming special issue of New Directions for Teaching and Learning, “The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Canada: Institutional Impact (release summer 2016).

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SoTL as Women’s Work

Written by Kathleen McKinney, Cross Endowed Chair in SoTL, Illinois State University

This post consists of edited excerpts from the following article:

McKinney, Kathleen and Chick, Nancy L. (2010) “SoTL as Women’s Work: What Do Existing Data Tell Us?,” International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning: Vol. 4: No. 2, Article 16.

In this essay on the field of SoTL, we reported on an exploratory, descriptive study of the levels of participation of men and women in various types of scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) activities. For the purposes of the study, we defined SoTL
as the evidence-informed study of teaching and learning by disciplinary specialists that is made public. Anecdotally, we had both noticed what appears to be disproportionate involvement of women in most SoTL activities. In addition, both of us have had other people express to us their curiosity about this apparent fact. Thus, in an exploratory and descriptive study, we looked at some existing data relevant to this issue. While we acknowledged that other factors (e.g., discipline, institutional context, and academic rank) may also affect participation in SoTL research and other activities, we focused on the gender of SoTL participants.

We considered various ideas in hypothesizing about our results: gender role socialization and structures and opportunities in disciplines and institutions (e.g., representation of women and men in various academic positions or institutions, discrimination, status and power). We expected the data to show a pattern of women being disproportionately involved in most SoTL opportunities relative to their actual representation among those who could participate in SoTL and other SoTL activities. More specifically, we believed that disproportionately larger percentages of women than men would be involved in self-selected SoTL activities, as well as in activities that are primarily self-selected but also involve some appointment or confirmation by others. We also believed the representation of men and women would be closer to proportional for the higher-status or higher-prestige SoTL opportunities that are primarily awarded or invited by others.

We began by finding existing data to help us estimate the representation of women and men with doctoral degrees and in various higher education academic faculty/staff positions in multiple nations as ‘baseline’ data. We then found and coded 25 other forms of existing data on the representation of women and men national and international SoTL activities. These activities included membership in a SoTL professional organization, holding leadership positions in SoTL organizations, presenting at a SoTL conference or event, serving on the editorial board for or publishing in a SoTL journal, and winning a SoTL award or being selected as a SoTL fellow or scholar.

Using that data, we found the following patterns:

  • Women are over-represented, relative to the numbers of men and women faculty/academic staff in higher education, in both ‘self-selected’ SoTL activities and in ‘primarily self-selected with other approval or confirmation’ activities.
  • The involvement of women and men was more representative to their numbers for activities in the ‘primarily invited, awarded, or selected by others’ SoTL category.

We noted the limitations to the research (it was a descriptive and exploratory look at the issue with some methodological weaknesses). Finally, we discussed some possible implications of these results for women and men, for the field of SoTL, and for the value and reward for SoTL. We wonder whether our findings would still hold today, many years after our existing data was found and coded. We welcome comments by blog readers on the full study and our ideas.


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A Bit of History of Centralized Support for SoTL at One Institution

Written by Kathleen McKinney, Cross Endowed Chair in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL), Illinois State University

This blog post is an effort to reconstruct the history of centralized support for the scholarship of teaching and learning at one public institution: Illinois State University. Of course, there may also have been support for such practioner research on student learning at the college, department, or discipline levels but the focus of this blog post is on support at the University level. I urge readers of this blog to consider the history of SoTL support on their campuses and to think about ways to increase or improve such support. (See August 3, 2015 post to this blog, “Become a Social Change Agent for SoTL”)

After offering a University-wide teaching workshop for graduate students for five years starting in 1990, in July of 1996 we opened the Center for the Advancement of Teaching (CAT) at Illinois State University. Though the focus of this unit was on supporting exemplary teaching practices on campus to improve student learning, the center also moved quickly to support SoTL research and related efforts on campus. At this same time, in terms of other services and faculty development related to teaching and SoTL, there was a separate unit called Faculty Technology Support (FTS) and the precursor to the present day University Assessment Services, both of which also involved a small amount of indirect, centralized support for teaching and SoTL.

In 1998, CAT organized and sponsored the first annual ISU Teaching Symposium held in October. We had, maybe, 80 people attend or present that first year. Much of the work presented was teaching tips or scholarly teaching but a small was more formal SoTL. This event, of course, has evolved over the years into the amazing campus event we have now –the January ISU Teaching-Learning Symposium held in the uptown Normal Marriott with an external keynote speaker and usually about 400 people registered!

In 1998, we also began our work–lasting over a decade until 2012– with the, now defunct, American Association of Higher Education (AAHE) and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, working on teaching-learning issues, faculty development, and on the scholarship of teaching and learning. ISU became one of 12 institutional leaders around the US and Canada in one phase of this work (2003-2006) and was very involved in all phases of this institutional SoTL initiative. Some of that work and products are documented at

At CAT, over the years, we offered and supported many teaching support initiatives but, also, supported scholarly teaching and SoTL via consulting on projects, a library, the symposium, an occasional internal publication for making local SoTL public, and an early version of a SoTL small grant program. In about 2006, CAT was combined with Faculty Technology Support (FTS) to form the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Technology (CTLT). CTLT continues to support outstanding teaching practices, scholarly teaching, and to a lesser degree, SoTL.

In 2002, Dr. K. Patricia Cross provided a gift to Illinois State University to endow a University Chair in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. The Provost created the Office of the Cross Chair in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. CTLT continued(s) to offer some support for SoTL but most centralized SoTL support comes from the Office of the Endowed Chair. In 2003-2004, the Endowed Chair in SoTL was selected as a Carnegie Foundation SoTL scholar and was able to spend time in residence at Carnegie working on a SoTL project and bring back what she learned to campus. A wide range of SoTL support has been offered through the Office of the Endowed Chair over the last fourteen years including, for example, workshops on doing SoTL, consulting, SoTL books, this blog, grants to travel to present SoTL projects, SoTL university research grants, an internal SoTL publication, a university-wide SoTL award, a newsletter and web page with resources, incentives for sharing SoTL projects external to the campus, a faculty SoTL Scholar-Mentor program, teaching graduate students about SoTL, and much more.

We continue to offer such support today (! What is your institution doing to support SoTL to enhance student learning and development on your campus and in your discipline? What more could be done?




Application of SoTL: Strategies to Encourage Metacognition in the Classroom

Written by Jen Friberg, SoTL Scholar-Mentor, Illinois State University

Metacog pic

Recently, I have been doing a good deal of reading about various evidence-based strategies to teach for metacognitive understanding in my graduate and undergraduate courses, knowing that when students are explicitly “thinking about their thinking,” they have the capacity to learn more, extend learning beyond the classroom, and integrate information across contexts more easily.

In 2012, Kimberly Tanner published a paper titled: Promoting Student Metacognition. Within this paper, Tanner reviews strategies for explicit teaching of metacognitive strategies to build a culture of “thinking about thinking” within her biology classes. She posits that thinking like a professional requires students to be metacognitive, making teaching about thinking arguably as important as teaching specific course content.

In terms of specific strategies, Tanner provides “sample self-questions to promote student metacognition about learning” (p. 115). She categorizes these into three categories (planning, monitoring, and evaluation) across four specific contexts (class session, active learning task/homework assignment, quiz/exam, and overall course) for a total of 51 specific questions that students can ask themselves to evaluate their learning processes. These include:

  • What resources do I need to complete the task at hand? How will I make sure I have them?
  • What do I most want to learn in this course?
  • Can I distinguish important information from details? If not, how will I figure this out?
  • To what extent am I taking advantage of all the learning supports available to me?
  • Which of my confusions have I clarified? How was I able to get them clarified?
  • How did the ideas of today’s class session relate to previous class sessions?
  • What have I learned about how I learn in this course that I could use in my future courses? In my career?

The utility of providing these questions to students for their use is undeniable, but we cannot be certain that students will take the opportunity to become more metacognitive on their own. Tanner advocates for sharing these questions with students AND embedding them into existing assignments and learning opportunities to build a habit of reflection, which can lead to more routine thinking about learning.

It is with a more explicit intention to directly encourage metacognitive thought that Ron Ritchhart, Mark Church, and Karin Morrison wrote the text Making Thinking Visible: How to Promote Engagement, Understanding and Independence for All Learners in 2011. Ritchhart, Church, and Morrison advocate for having students think about their own thinking through the implementation of thinking routines to make thinking more “visible” as part of the learning process. The suggest different levels of routines to drive different sorts of thinking: introducing/exploring ideas, synthesizing/organizing ideas, and digging deeper into ideas. All in all, 21 different strategies for classroom use are described, including:

  • See-Think-Wonder (p. 55): A strategy for introducing and exploring information that has students asking themselves three questions when observing a new object/artifact — What do you see? What do you think is going on? What does it make you wonder?
  • Connect-Extend-Challenge (p. 132): A strategy for encouraging synthesis and organization of ideas that asks student to consider what they have just read/seen/heard, then ask themselves: how are the ideas and information presented connected to what you already knew? what new ideas did you get that extended or broadened your thinking in new directions? What challenges or puzzles have come up in your mind from the ideas and information presented?
  • Circle of Viewpoints (p. 171): A strategy to digger deeper into ideas that requires students to consider different perspectives that could be present of affected by a given topic by considering the following: 1) I am thinking of [name of the event/issue] from ______ point of view, 2) I think [describe topic form your viewpoint] because _______, and 3) A question/concern I have from this viewpoint is ________ .

Do you think these strategies could be useful in your teaching context? When working with your students in academic, clinical, or outside the classroom/clinic situations, what strategies are you using to encourage metacognition? Have you studied these strategies in any way? We’d love to hear more in the comments below!

Blog References:

Ritchhart, R., Church, M., & Morrison, K. (2011). Making thinking visible: How to promote engagement, understanding, and independence for all learners. Jossey-Bass: San Francisco.

Tanner, K. D. (2012). Promoting student metacognition. CBE – Life Sciences Education, 11, 113-120.

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Awardee Announced for the 2015-16 Dr. John Chizmar & Dr. Anthony Ostrosky Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Award

Dr. Jennifer Friberg (Ed.D., Illinois State University), an Associate Professor of Communication Sciences and Disorders (CSD) at Illinois State University, is the 2015-16 recipient of the Dr. John Chizmar & Dr. Anthony Ostrosky Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Award. She teaches in the area of speech-language pathology, and has published SoTL research based on her experiences with students on topics such as student engagement, diagnostic decision making, and the impact of cross-curricular integration. This SoTL research has been presented at international SoTL conferences such as ISSOTL and EuroSoTL and published in journals such as Perspectives on Issues in Higher Education and Contemporary Issues in Communication Sciences and Disorders. Along with three colleagues from CSD, Friberg was an inaugural recipient of the “Walk the Talk” Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) award at ISU.


Friberg has served as a SoTL Scholar-Mentor at ISU for three years, working closely with the Cross Endowed Chair in SoTL to mentor faculty and students in conducting teaching and learning research, deliver numerous SoTL-focused workshops, develop and edit The SoTL Advocate blog, and present original SoTL work locally, nationally, and internationally. She has served as a co-editor for Evidence-Based Education Briefs and is an editor of Gauisus, the internal SoTL publication at ISU.

Friberg has been a strong advocate for SoTL, co-authoring a position statement on SoTL in her discipline, co-founding a disciplinary SoTL journal, and co-authoring the first-ever text on SoTL in communication sciences and disorders: Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology: Evidence-Based Education. She has served as the chair of the SoTL Committee for the Council of Academic Programs in Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology and was the four-year national chair of Issues in Higher Education, a special interest group focused on SoTL within the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. She is a current member of the Advocacy & Outreach committee for the International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning.

Additional information related to the Dr. John Chizmar and Dr. Anthony Ostrosky SoTL Award can be found here or by emailing Kathleen McKinney at for additional details.

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Winter Break News & Opportunities for Feedback

The SoTL Advocate is officially on winter break! We will return with weekly posts, beginning January 11, 2016. The editors of this blog would like to wish you all a wonderful, restful winter break and a happy and very productive 2016.

Perhaps as you have some reflective moments during winter break, you might:

  1. Suggest an idea or two for future blogs/blog topics in the comments below. Let us know what content you’d like to see here on The SoTL Advocate in the new year!
  2. Author a 500-800 word blog post, describing:
    • a SoTL project you’re considering or implementing
    • a reflection on SoTL and it’s role at your university, in your discipline, or as a global effort
    • resources to support the application of SoTL for scholarly teaching

Please feel free to email Kathleen McKinney ( or Jen Friberg ( with any questions about blog content or contributions.

Thank you for your readership this year! See you in 2016!