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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Call for Chapters: Applying the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Beyond the Individual Classroom Level

We invite our blog readers to consider submitting a chapter proposal or to share this call with colleagues for a planned SoTL text:

Applying the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Beyond the Individual Classroom Level

Jennifer Friberg and Kathleen McKinney, Editors, Illinois State University

We are seeking brief chapter proposals for editorial review and possible inclusion in this volume. The purpose of this book is to share with others in higher education examples of applying scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) results to teaching and student learning beyond the individual classroom level. The focus is on the use of SoTL–practitioner, action reflection/research (usually on the researchers’ own students and/or students in their discipline at a local level)–and its application at the multi-section course, program, department, college, co-curricular, institutional, or disciplinary level(s). The SoTL results or implications applied could be from the author’s own SoTL project(s) and/or from application of a synthesis of others’ SoTL work on a given topic or in the discipline.

We are seeking expert authors with high quality ideas from diverse disciplines, institutions, and nations to propose chapters that discuss such an application. Proposals should include:

  • a description of the SoTL project(s) and literature from which it came
  • strategies, mechanisms or processes used to apply SoTL results
  • outcomes or future implications
  • lessons learned in applying SoTL and/or advice for others seeking to apply SoTL
  • other novel ideas on the application of SoTL beyond the individual classroom level.

To submit, send a one to two-page chapter proposal summarizing the ideas for your chapter as they fit the requirements above by February 15, 2016 to jfribe@ilstu.edu and kmckinne@ilstu.edu. Our tentative time frame is to select chapters/authors by April 2016 and immediately submit our book proposal to multiple publishing companies. As soon as a book contract is obtained, authors will be notified and given about 4-5 months to submit the chapter for editorial review, followed by about 2-3 months for revisions.

Editors: Dr. Jennifer Friberg is an Associate Professor of Communication Sciences and Disorders and SoTL Scholar-Mentor at Illinois State University. Friberg has been active in her disciplinary SoTL movement though her research and service to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association and the Council on Academic Programs in Communication Sciences and Disorders. She is the co-author of the first text focused on SoTL in her profession: Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology: Evidence-Based Education, and editor of The SoTL Advocate Weblog. Dr. Kathleen McKinney is Professor Emeritus of Sociology and the Cross Chair in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning at Illinois State University. McKinney was a 2003-2004 Carnegie SoTL Scholar and served three years as editor of Teaching Sociology. She has been active in the SoTL movement locally, nationally, and internationally for decades doing her own SoTL research, engaging in service to the field of SoTL, and assisting others with their SoTL work. She has published two other books on SoTL: Enhancing Learning through the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning: The Challenges and Joys of Juggling and The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning In and Across the Disciplines.

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Beyond the Psychological and Individualistic in SoTL Research

By Kathleen McKinney, Cross Endowed Chair in SoTL, Illinois State University

As a sociological social psychologist, I believe in (from theoretical perspectives) and know (from research data) the importance of demographic/sub-cultural, interpersonal, and situational factors in human behavior. This is not to say that individual traits or states and individual behaviors are irrelevant; they play critical roles as well. But I think we tend to be psychologically focused and individualistic (in the U.S. at least) in our understandings and explanations of behavior and outcomes.

It seems to me that this applies to our views and research on teaching and learning as well. We focus on the role of teacher traits, attitudes, actions or best practices in the classroom. Our addition of an explicit concern with student learning is rather recent and it is my sense that much SoTL work does not systematically include measures of, or theorizing about, student characteristics, interpersonal or relational factors, environmental variables, and institutional characteristics and context.

I realize that this is likely due, in part, to SoTL most often being practitioner research and action research. Thus the perspective on ‘causes’ or correlates of learning is that of the instructor and his/her actions with his/her students. In addition, SoTL is very often classroom or course based. Thus the perspective is on an assignment or technology or intervention by the instructor and its’ role in learning. These perspectives are, in part, what separate SoTL from more traditional educational research. But, I believe SoTL researchers can also take a broader view of what is going on in and around their classrooms, their courses, and with their students in terms of learning.

I do want to acknowledge an exception to the psychological and individualistic emphasis in SoTL research that I have argued exists. It is expected in good SoTL presentations, publications, and other representations of SoTL projects that researchers will describe the context (usually student characteristics and/or institutional variables) of their SoTL studies. This is, in fact, often done by many of us. Such factors, however, are most often shared for comparability, generalizability, and replication rather than as explanatory factors of or correlates to learning.

Thus, I urge you as SoTL researchers to consider and measure –depending on your research question, theoretical perspectives, and your own practitioner knowledge– three sets of factors or variables in your research and their roles in student learning. These are in addition to teacher traits, states, or behaviors and the existence of a course intervention (broadly defined). Taking a look at some of these factors in your SoTL research can give a more complete picture of what is happening and why as well as add to your understanding and knowledge about future application of your SoTL results.

  • demographic/sub-cultural (examples include student gender, age, year in school, social class, race/ethnicity, background knowledge/experiences, goals for the class)
  • interpersonal/relational (examples include amount or type of class interaction, teacher immediacy, level of rapport or conflict among students and between teacher and students, peer relationships or interaction opportunities, student roles in the classroom)
  • situational/environmental/context (examples include number of students, physical aspects of the classroom such as size, technology, seating arrangement, etc., time of the class, purpose or role of the class in the major or the institution, connections to any co-curricular learning opportunities or institutional teaching-learning initiatives)


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Using Social Media in Higher Education: An Opportunity for SoTL Inquiry

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

Last fall, in response to intense student interest, I created a private Facebook group for a graduate course I was teaching in my department. I invited all students to join and 100% did, much to my surprise. Initially, my intent in using this Facebook group was to post course information (duplicated from our institutionally-sponsored course management site); however I found myself sharing links to disciplinary news, information related to our course, and other sources that I thought might be of interest to my students. These were all things that I might not have had the chance to cover in class in a traditional sense; Facebook afforded me easy, convenient access to my students. At the end of the semester, open-ended student evaluation comments indicated that due to our Facebook group, students felt more connected to their instructor, learned information about our discipline that they wouldn’t have looked into independently, and extended their learning by searching for additional information based on links I had shared. At the start of the semester, I would never have anticipated this outcome.

I would imagine that most faculty would agree that social media (e.g., blogs, wikis, social networking sites, video sharing sites) is something students and faculty seem to be increasingly aware of and (perhaps) increasingly adept at using. There may even be an expectation on the part of some students that such technologies be a part of their undergraduate and/or graduate experience. Dabbah & Kitsantas (2012) and a report that a large number of students are currently using social media to create personal learning environments (PLEs) as part of the learning process (33% currently use wikis and 50% use social networking sites). These numbers are expected to rise.

Based on my experience with the course Facebook trial described above, coupled with the growing use of social media in the higher education classroom, I wanted to investigate the impact of social media on student learning as (admittedly) I was a bit skeptical of its potential impact. A bit of searching yielded some interested outcomes:

While it seems that there have been some positive gains in student engagement and learning that can be attributed to the use of social media in the higher education classroom, I found the following caveat that seems appropriate to share:

…successful integration of social media interventions may stand or fall on the basis of a complex interaction between a number of factors, including timing of content delivery, the integration of social media content with course assessment, and the students’ own perceptions of using social media for academic purposes (Dyson, Vickers, Turtle, Cowan & Tassone, 2015, p. 303).

I would argue that from my preliminary review, there is work yet to be done to study the impact of social media as a pedagogical tool. The quote above provides direction in terms of important variables to consider. Currently, much of what we know about the impact of social media on student learning is reported incidentally in blogs and other online communications. While this is a start, carefully-planned studies investigating the impact of social media on student learning are needed. With that in mind, I would urge any reader of this blog planning to use social media to support student engagement or learning in a class this coming academic year to study the implementation of the social media in a systematic way and share your findings with others in and beyond your institution. This is a huge opportunity for SoTL work across and within disciplines. To those of you who have studied the impact of social media on your students’ learning, we would love to hear from you here! If you’re planning a study, we’d love to hear from you, as well. Please comment below and share your experiences!

Blog references:

Blessing, S., Blessing, J., & Fleck, B. (2012). Using twitter to reinforce classroom concepts. Teaching of Psychology, 39(4), 268-271.

Dabbagh, N. & Kitsantas, A. (2012). Personal learning environments, social media, and self-regulated learning: A natural formauls for connecting formal and informal learning. The Internet and Higher Education, 15(1), 3-8.

Dyson, B., Vickers, K., Turtle, J., Cowan, S., & Tassone, A. (2015). Evaluating the use of Facebook to increase student engagement and understanding in a lecture-based class. Higher Education, 69(2), 303-313.

Harrison, D. (2011). Can blogging make a difference? Campus Technology. Downloaded from http://campustechnology.com/articles/2011/01/12/can-blogging-make-a-difference.aspx

Lampe, C., Wohn, D., Vitak, J., Ellison, N., Walsh, R. (2011). Student use of Facebook for organizing collaborative classroom activities. International Journal of Computers to Support Collaborative Learning, 6(3), 329-347.

Skiba, D. J. (2008). Nursing education 2.0: Twitter and tweets. Nursing Education Perspectives, 29(2), 110-112.


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Ideas for Engaging Students in SoTL: Notes from a Panel at the Annual Teaching-Learning Symposium at ISU

At the 2015 Illinois State University Teaching-Learning Symposium, we held a panel discussion on involving students in SoTL projects beyond being subjects/objects of the research. Panelists were Lydia Kyei-Blankson, Educational Administration and Foundations, Phyllis McCluskey-Titus, Educational Administration and Foundations, and Maria Moore, Communication. The author of this symposium submission was Jennifer Friberg, Communication Sciences and Disorders. Below is a summary of the presentation notes from this panel as well as some resources.

Lydia Kyei-Blankson presented on ‘Engaging Students in SoTL Research: Student-Faculty Partnerships’. She offered the following 5 overlapping sets of reasons for engaging students in SoTL.

  • “Bringing student voices into the process of teaching and learning has an undeniably transformative effect” (Manor, Bloch-Schulman, Flannery, & Felten, 2010, p. 4).
  • Provides an opportunity to “socialize” students into the profession and increase knowledge about research, teaching, and learning (McKinney, Jarvis, Creasey, & Herrmann, 2010).
  • Provides learning experiences that go beyond the physical classroom.
  • Students have a lot to contribute to an instructor’s understanding of how students learn; “more authentic and more meaningful” work; richer inquiry and student-centered instead of faculty-centered research. Students bring the student’s perspective to the study. Participatory research and education. Students bear more responsibility for their learning.
  • Distributed educational power and decentralized classroom. “Instead of authority, expertise, power, and responsibility being highly concentrated in the teacher, they are disaggregated among all participants more equally” (Manor, Bloch-Schulman, Flannery, & Felten, 2010, p. 11).

Lydia also argued that students can be engaged in syllabi development, course redesign, and specific SoTL research projects. For the latter, Lydia has had students involved in projects on ‘Examining Interaction and Presence in online Courses’ and ‘Practice, Challenges, and Lesson Learned from Faculty-Student Research.’ Finally, she offered suggestions of what faculty members can do to enhance these collaborative research experiences: be sure the student is interested in the project; know the student’s strengths and weaknesses; be mindful of the student’s time and other commitments; keep the student engaged in all stages of the project from brainstorming ideas to making the findings public; be mindful and fair of credit and authorship; and don’t be too controlling.

Phyllis McCluskey-Titus and doctoral student, Brandon Hensley, shared ideas about ‘What Students Learned as Research Team Participants for SoTL Grant-Funded Studies.’ From past literature, they summarized student outcomes including enhancing students’ research skills (Kardash, 2000); facilitating opportunity/ability to present/publish research (Galbraith & Merrill, 2012); actively engaging students in challenging and anxiety-provoking courses (Micari & Pazos, 2012); establishing positive mentoring relationships (Cox, McIntosh, Terenzini, Reason, & Quaye, 2010); providing “extra-classroom” interaction with professors (Cotton & Wilson, 2006); and helping students understand disciplinary nuances of research (Ryser et al., 2007).

In their own research on student outcomes from participating in SoTL research, students reported developing/learning/experiencing the following:

  • Cognitive, affective, career/life, and interpersonal skills.
  • The value of collaboration.
  • The importance of flexibility in adapting to changes, surprises, and diverse perspectives/styles.
  • The centrality of reflection (debriefing).
  • A sense of struggling when learning to be a researcher.
  • Socialization into the rigors of the field, discipline, and research process.
  • The emergence of a process orientation in addition to a focus on products.

Finally, they shared students’ suggestions for enhancing learning through involvement in SoTL. Students said they needed to have a clear understanding of expectations, be aware of the benefits of their involvement, and better understand SoTL and how it relates to them.

The third panel member was Maria Moore who focused on student involvement in a specific and, perhaps, unusual form of SoTL –‘Student/Faculty Collaboration through Documentary Production.’ Maria began with an overview to documentary as research method pointing out that it is a qualitative method where reality is never captured but is represented and the observer is located in the world represented (Denizen and Lincoln, 1998). This method is also a form of action research and there is full collaborative inquiry by all participants. The researcher is active and involved with the participants (Marshall and Rossman, 2010). More specifically, it has the characteristics of participatory action research. That is, it is a social process, participatory, practical and collaborative, emancipatory, critical, recursive, and aims to transform both theory and practice (Kemmis, McTaggart, and Retallick, 2004).

Numerous documentary benefits were highlighted by Maria including that it is publicly accessible; has “rich, nuanced” levels of information; gives agency and authentic voice to participants; allows concepts to be visualized; captures nonverbal communication, allows for demonstrations in addition to explanation, allows music or animation to underscore key concepts, and can include the role of emotion and aesthetics in the creation and expression of knowledge. In summary, she pointed out “reader participation is different from viewer participation.” Finally, Maria noted several considerations for student collaboration through documentary including resources (people, equipment, time, budget), having “expertise from a champion”, commitment, using brainstorming/feedback/review/support, and remembering to celebrate and honor the documentary and people involved.

Resources Cited above and Other Selected Sources on Involving Students in Research, in SoTL and in Improving Teaching and Learning

Ahmed, J. U. (2010). Documentary research method: New dimensions. Indus Journal of Management & Social Sciences4(1), 1-14.

Bohnsack, R., Pfaff, N., & Weller, W. (Eds.). (2010). Qualitative analysis and documentary method in international educational research. Barbara Budrich.

Bulcroft, K., Werder, C., and Glenn G. (2002). “Student Voices in the Campus Conversation,” Inventio: Creative Thinking About Learning and Teaching. June. http://www.doit.gmu.edu/inventio/ George Mason University, Fairfax, VA.

Cook-Sather, A., Bovill, C. and Felten, P. (2014). Engaging Students as Partners in Learning and Teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Cotton, S.R., & Wilson, B. (2006). Student-faculty interactions: Dynamics and determinants. Higher Education, 51(4), 487-519.

Cox, B.E., McIntosh, K.L., Terenzini, P.T., Reason, R.D., & Quaye, B.R. (2010). Pedagogical signals of faculty approachability: Factors shaping faculty-student interaction outside the classroom. Research in HigherEducation, 51(8), 767-788.

Denizen, N. K., & Lincoln, Y. S. (1998). Strategies of qualitative inquiry.

Galbraith, C.S., & Merrill, G.B. (2012). Faculty research productivity and standardized student learning outcomes ina university teaching environment: A Bayesian analysis of relationships. Studies in Higher Education, 37(4), 469-480.

Healey, M., Flint, A., and Harrington, K. (2014). Engagement through Partnership: Students as Partners in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education. York,UK: The Higher Education Academy.

Kardash, C. M. (2000). Evaluation of an undergraduate research experience: Perceptions of undergraduate interns and their faculty mentors. Journal of Educational Psychology, 92(1), 191–201.

Kemmis, S., McTaggart, R., & Retallick, J. (2004). The action research planner.

Little, S. (ed.) (2011). Staff-Student Partnerships in Higher Education. London: Continuum.

Marshall, C., & Rossman, G. B. (2010). Designing qualitative research. Sage.

McKinney, K., Jarvis, P., Creasey, G., & Herrmann, D. (2010). A range of student voices in the scholarship of teaching and learning. In C. Werder & M. Otis (Eds.). Engaging student voices in the study of teaching and learning (pp. 81-95).

Micari, M., & Pazos, P. (2012). Connecting to the professor: Impact of the student-faculty relationship in a highly challenging course. College Teaching, 60(2), 41-47.

Manor, C., Bloch-Schulman, S., Flannery, K., & Felten, P. (2010). Foundations of student-faculty partnerships in the scholarship of teaching and learning: Theoretical and developmental considerations. In C. Werder & M. Otis (Eds.). Engaging student voices in the study of teaching and learning (pp. 3-15).

Roth, W. M. (2013). The documentary method. In On Meaning and Mental Representation (pp. 169-186). SensePublishers.

Ryser, L., Halseth, G., & Thien, D. (2009). Strategies and intervening factors influencing student social interaction and experiential learning in an interdisciplinary research team. Research in Higher Education, 50(3), 248-267.

Teaching & Learning Inquiry. (2015). A special issue of this journal on “Engaging Students as Co-Inquirers”. Teaching and Learning Together in Higher Education.

http://teachingandlearningtogether.blogs.brynmawr.edu. (Alison Cook-Sather, journal editor).

Werder, C. and Otis, M. (eds.) (2010). Engaging Student Voices in the Study of Teaching and Learning. Sterling, VA: Stylus.

Werder, C. and Skogsberg. E. (2013). “Trusting a Culture of Dialogue with Students as Co-Inquirers” in Student Engagement Handbook: Practice in Higher Education. Elisabeth Dunne and Derfel Owen, (eds). UK: Emerald Group Publishing.


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‘Gaps’ in SoTL Research and Reflection

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

It would be interesting and useful to hear what you, our subscribers, believe are ‘gaps’ in SoTL reflection and research (i.e., under considered or under studied areas, methods, disciplines, contexts…). Someone’s views of what these gaps are depend, in part, on their definition of SoTL. Such views also reflect what SoTL work one happens to hear, see, or read. Keeping such caveats in mind, a few suggestions of ‘gaps’ in the field of SoTL that we might want to try to fill follow.

In terms of disciplines, more practitioner work could be done on our students’ learning in all fields but much extant SoTL is done by those in the social sciences and sciences. The Humanities have a growing presence. What about technical fields? What about the fine arts? In addition, it is wonderful that much of higher education SoTL focuses on undergraduate students. Yet, it seems we may neglect the learning experiences and outcomes of graduate students. Is there an assumption that we know how to teach and mentor graduate students and that they know how to learn?

It is also key to, perhaps the heart of, SoTL that it is practitioner reflection or research made public that focuses on the learning of one’s own students often in a particular classroom. Yet, teaching, learning opportunities, and learning take place in contexts other than our individual classrooms. We need more SoTL at the course and program levels. We need more SoTL looking at participation in co- and extra-curricular activities and learning outcomes from such activities. And, related to this, there are SoTL questions shared by those in the same discipline but at different institutions or those at the same institution but in different disciplines. Thus, we might consider more multi-institutional and/or multi-discipline SoTL projects.

In terms of ‘design’ of SoTL work, at least two gaps can be noted. First, we lack sufficient longitudinal SoTL work. We need more SoTL work that has multiple ‘data’ points over time and/or follow-up of students’ learning for longer than one semester or term. Such work offers us more information by which to speculate about causation, allows us to consider issues of transfer and retention of learning or impact, and strengthens the validity of our understandings/findings. Second, much SoTL involves an ‘intervention’ (new assignment, new technology, change in pedagogy…) and reflection or research data on learning outcomes from that ‘intervention’. It is certainly exciting to see increased learning or development after some intervention but this is not the most important part of the picture. To make improvements, to encourage adaptations, to understand, we must gather data/information about the intervening processes that occur between any ‘intervention’ and learning. We need to know more about the ‘why’, ‘how’, ‘when’, ‘where’, and ‘for whom’ of any intervention-outcome relationships.

Finally, we could do a better job applying –and sharing such applications of –SoTL results, findings, and implications. And, these applications should be, not just at the level of our classroom but beyond, as appropriate, to your discipline, a course or module, a program or department, general education, student affairs, and academic decision- making in the institution.