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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ISSOTL Down Under!

By Erin Mikulec, SoTL Scholar-Mentor at Illinois State University, Spring 2016

Back in October, I had the opportunity to attend and present at the ISSOTL Conference in Melbourne, Australia. Although I have participated in this conference in the past, this year’s event was an incredible display of the SoTL work being carried out in universities throughout Australia. In addition, there were also a number of plenary speakers and sessions by scholars from around the world, including the United Kingdom, South Africa, and China. Nonetheless, there were a number of common themes that emerged through plenary sessions, roundtables and paper presentations that made me think of the SoTL work being done at Illinois State University.


For the opening plenary keynote, Dr. Katarina Mårtensson discussed the importance of supporting SoTL at the local level. Dr. Mårtensson discussed three levels of investigation within the area of scholarship, including the purpose of the investigation, by whom conclusions are made, and the extent to which the knowledge is shared. It was in this last category that I was able to make many connections to the SoTL work that is carried out at Illinois State University, and the many ways in which it is supported in order to disseminate this knowledge both locally, for instance our journal Gauisus, this blog, and the annual Teaching and Learning Symposium and beyond, such as the Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning and the SoTL Commons Conference.

Many sessions also focused on internationalization efforts within institutions and their impact on students. These efforts included institutional commitments to promote internationalization through professional development opportunities, small project grants, and collaborative partners and networks outside of the institution. These resources were centralized within their respective universities and made available to faculty interested in starting their own international projects, with the ultimate goal of providing opportunities for student engagement and assessing student learning. There were also several sessions in which faculty had incorporated international perspectives and projects into coursework. One in particular was done at LaTrobe University among business students, who were tasked with opening a new fashion store in Japanese and English markets. This required students to consider both the market potential and cultural differences and similarities in apparel marketing and consumer culture in each location. They did this through interactions with business students in universities in the U.K. and Japan. The researchers used multiple methods of data collection to determine the student learning outcomes, such as reflections, online discussions with peers in Japan and England, and the culminating project that was a video ad campaign to be used in the respective markets. The students reported that at times there was limited communication with their international peers, which made it difficult to obtain all of the information they needed and wanted in order to carry out the assigned tasks. This is consistent with findings of my own research in these areas and the researcher discussed how this might be addressed in future iterations of the project, such as having students research communication styles across cultures as well as working with the cooperating faculty in other institutions to establish clear expectations for the project. Nonetheless, the project, although it had its challenges, was largely a success. It was exciting to hear the instructor present the findings of this project in terms of how it impacted student learning as well as informed her teaching. Again, it was encouraging to see this work kind of work being carried out in institutions around the world and knowing that the same kinds of support for similar endeavors are growing at Illinois State, such as the Go Global with SoTL! Mini-grant program.

Finally, I attended a session that focused on an international grant team that was examining the concept of student leadership. The discussion in this roundtable led to questions such as, what do we mean when we talk about student leadership? Is the goal to develop a small number of student leaders or is it to develop leadership skills in all students? And, finally, what is the role of institutions in developing leadership in university students? The discussion was rich with multiple perspectives that encouraged further discussion and reconstruction of ideas. However, the focus of the discussion was primarily defining student leadership and the role of the institution, and the idea of how to measure the impact of leadership seemed to be a question for the future. Although no definitive answer was found, the discussion yielded even more questions and it made me reflect on the amount of out-of-class learning also taking place at ISU through various students clubs and organizations. We likely need more SoTL research on the student outcomes from such out-of-class experiences.

However, the most powerful aspect of the ISSOTL conference is that it is a forum that fosters and encourages academics to reflect on their teaching, the learning of students, and how this can inform classroom practice. This was made clear through the variety of sessions I attended in which instructors were taking risks with their teaching and reporting the results, empowered by the positive energy of a supportive environment. This made me reflect on an earlier session in which the speakers discussed the need to “reshape” teaching and learning into SoTL in light of the changing role of the modern teaching academic. The emphasis was on the benefits of SoTL for faculty who are experts in their discipline and therefore may not be familiar with educational research practices. Furthermore, the speakers argued that SoTL provides research opportunities for faculty who are in teaching-intensive institutions. However, there is still a need for the support of chairs and deans, and a consistent understanding of the value of SoTL within the institution. These sessions helped to remind me of the importance of SoTL for scholars in disciplines across the university, whether they are in Illinois or Australia.


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Publishing SoTL Work: Directions for the Future and Tips for the Present

Written by: Jennifer Friberg, SoTL Scholar-Mentor at ISU

While I was at ISSOTL, I attended a panel discussion on the evolution SoTL research publishing. Editors in attendance represented the following journals:

  • Canadian Journal of Scholarship of Teaching and Learning
  • Journal of Excellence in College Teaching
  • Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning
  • Journal of Teaching and Learning with Technology
  • College Teaching
  • Teaching and Learning Inquiry

Panelists discussed the changing face of publishing for each of their journals. Most have segued to an open access format successfully; several indicated a strong preference for inter-disciplinary SoTL work to be submitted for review. Looking towards the future, editors recognized a need to increase the involvement of researchers from around the globe through recruitment of SoTL work from other countries, publishing in languages other than English, and increased collaborations with international SoTL colleagues.

All panelists agreed that they have maintained a strong emphasis on providing thorough, but constructive reviews of all submitted manuscripts, indicating a distinct preference for reviewers to treat submitting authors professionally and supportively. Attendees asked questions related to how researchers could maximize their success in having work accepted by these journals for publication. Editor responses centered on a few main themes which can be best summarized as follows:

  1. Think of ways your SoTL work can appeal to a broad readership. While your research might be in one discipline, there are ways to write your manuscript to be inclusive and applicable to other fields of study. Broad disciplinary appeal adds to publishability.
  2. Carefully consider the evidence you present in your study in data-based SoTL work. While data can be quantitative , qualitative or a mix of the two, data should clearly provide evidence for readers to consider which provides novel insights into teaching and/or learning.
  3. Share your work with peers prior to submitting to a journal for consideration. Provide them with the mission and specific criteria for publication for the journal you plan to target for publication. Request feedback and consider making improvements to maximize the flow, content, and style based on feedback you receive.

In 2011, Patricia Rogers published the following recommendations for authors titled: What Makes a Great Article for IJ-SoTL. Those seeking to publish their SoTL research might find this article helpful, as well!

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From October 22-25, 2014, the annual meeting of the International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (ISSOTL) was held in Quebec City, Canada. Approximately 500 faculty members from all over the globe attended this conference which focused on “nurturing passion and creativity in teaching and learning.” The program for this conference can be found at the ISSOTL conference website.


Various sessions and meetings were held for attendees:

  • Individual Papers: 200+ sessions featuring faculty presenting SoTL research in 30-minute time slots.
  • Plenary Presentations: Five sessions for all conference attendees to focus on creativity and passion in teaching and learning
  • SIG meetings: meetings for affiliates of ISSOTL’s 10 special interest groups (Advancing Undergraduate Research, Arts and Humanities, General Education, National Teaching Fellows/Teaching Award Winners, Pedagogy and Research for Online and Blended Teaching and Learning, Problem-Based Learning, Scholarship of Leading, Sociology, Students as Co-Enquirers, and Student Engagement)

One interesting feature of the plenary presentations was the “live scribing” completed by Brianna Smrke. She worked to conceptualize the content of each plenary visually, and managed to do so quite uniquely! The example below comes from George Bordage’s plenary titled, Three Lessons from Educational Psychology: Spacing, Deliberate Mixed Practice, and Formative Testing.


ISU faculty attending and/or presenting at ISSOTL this year included Kathleen McKinney (Cross Chair in SoTL), Heidi Harbers (CSD), Jen Friberg (CSD), and Maria Moore (COM). All travel to ISSOTL was funded, in part, by the office of the Cross Chair in SoTL at ISU. Information about funding sources for travel to SoTL conferences can be found at