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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The Right Questions at the Right Times

Written by Jennifer Friberg, SoTL Scholar-Mentor at Illinois State University

I was fortunate enough to attend the first EuroSoTL conference in Cork, Ireland earlier this month. Speakers addressed issues germane to SoTL in a multiude of ways, each touching upon the tremendous importance of asking the right questions at the right times. David Pace advocated for identifying “bottlenecks” where students struggled in specific courses, then using SoTL to understand and resolve these issues. While acknowledging that gaps in knowledge provide uncertainty which creates anxiety for both students and teachers, Kathy Takayama urged faculty to seek learning gaps in order to grow and improve their teaching practice, always “living the question” in a way that leads to careful reflection and analysis via SoTL. Beth Marquis asked “how do you transition students from passive to active participants in SoTL?” Ultimately, the great similarity amongst EuroSoTL presentations was the notion that the questions we ask are important for our teaching and our students’ learning — we just have to be brave enough to identify the issues we face as teachers and be willing to investigate how to best solve them.

In her closing plenary for EuroSoTL, Pat Hutchings identified future directions for SoTL, calling them “Visions of the Possible” to add to the SoTL work scholars already have underway. She urged attendees to seek answers to the following:

  1. How can we best move SoTL towards regular practices of teaching (e.g., asking contextually-based SoTL questions such as “How do you craft assignments that are evidence-based?).
  2. How can SoTL best be integrated into institutional policies and agendas (e.g., making SoTL a special program in its own dedicated place).
  3. How can students be more fully engaged as SoTL research associates and collaborators (e.g., reflecting on learning as a metacognitive experience).

What are your visions of the possible? What are the questions you are asking yourselves as you plan for the new academic year?

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Universal Characteristics of SoTL?

Written by Jennifer Friberg, SoTL Scholar-Mentor at Illinois State University

Last week, Joelle Fanghanel delivered one of three keynote presentations at the inaugural EuroSoTL conference on the campus of the University College Cork in Ireland. In an address titled, “Defining SoTL — Still a Challenge After 25 Years,” Dr. Fanghanel proposed a list of possible universal characteristics of SoTL research derived from work she is engaged in with colleagues from several other universities, indicating that those near the top of the list were most likely to be agreed upon by those involved with SoTL. These SoTL characteristics included the following:

  • SoTL is inquiry on practice.
  • SoTL involves the process of seeking review and critique by making SoTL work public.
  • SoTL is community-based in nature.
  • A global community exists to support SoTL.
  • SoTL is a potential change vehicle.
  • SoTL engages students are partners and co-researchers.
  • SoTL provides an environment for experimentation and innovation.
  • SoTL is at the same time disciplinary and interdisciplinary.
  • SoTL exists in a state of tension with discipline-specific research.
  • There are issues of recognition, career advancement, and professionalism associated with SoTL in some environments.
  • SoTL is about conveying values and beliefs.
  • SoTL is a big tent, but a tent that might need to become more inclusive.
  • SoTL is a vehicle to translate across disciplines and contexts.

In your experiences with and around SoTL, is this list inclusive of possible universal characteristics of SoTL? What modifications would you make, based on your experiences with SoTL? How would any additions to or deletions from this list make a stronger case for universal SoTL characteristics?