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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Reflecting on Reflection

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

I find it interesting that when I run across something in one part of my life, it often pops up in others. Perhaps it’s an enhanced awareness of a topic that makes me more sensitive…or not. Whatever it is, it’s happened again around the topic of reflection. You could call it contemplation, introspection, rumination, or even musing, but it’s been omnipresent at work and at home these days.

I had the good luck to do some professional reading that was based on individual reflections, some personal, some professional. Rhonda A. W. Breit wrote a reflective piece for the most recent publication of SoTL in the South, wherein she bravely detailed her experiences around work, life, illness, and the academy. This piece inspired me to think carefully about the fragility of professional identity and the contexts and conditions that, when changed, can modify how we see ourselves as teachers and learners across mere minutes, days, or weeks.

In talking with a colleague about SoTL, we had a discussion about the fact that some days, we’re simply “mourning for a story.” This is not a sad thing, but rather, we decided, human nature. Experiences tied to emotions are often those we recall most successfully. Conventional scholarship seeks to remove as much emotion from systematic study as possible, which can limit access to the story behind the work (caveat — if vignettes or case studies are used, this lack of story access can be mitigated!). You can be a passionate advocate for/of SoTL and still like to know the stories that inspired that work. To that end, my colleague and I agreed that reading about others’ thinking processes to solve teaching/learning problems often influenced us to think differently about our own teaching praxis. This recent special issue of the Journal for Research and Practice in College Teaching provides a perfect resource for this: a compendium of systematic reflections organized around a variety of topics, telling the stories of unique contexts and individuals.

Finally, as an editorial board member for a disciplinary SoTL journal (Teaching and Learning in Communication Sciences & Disorders), I am working with three colleagues to establish a new framework for peer review of reflective manuscripts. We have been pondering various questions, such as: Who decides what reflections are valuable and worth sharing? Do all reflections that lead to change have merit? Does scale matter? How should decisions about what reflections are “publication-worthy” be made? What is a systematic approach to evaluating reflections for rigor, reader interest, and such? These aren’t all easy questions to balance, particularly in a discipline that has not conventionally published reflective pieces as scholarly work. I find the question of how to approach reflection systematically intriguing, and wonder if there’s any one approach that is better than another. Thus far, I have found a few resources in my early readings that touch on this topic, its components, and its considerations.

Shmuel Ellis, Bernd Crette, Frederik Anseel, and Filip Pievens published a paper in 2014 titled Systematic Reflection: Implications for Learning form Failures and Successes, detailing essential components of systematic reflection: self-explanation, data verification, and feedback. From this resource, we can learn possible components of systematic reflection, though perhaps these components won’t work on all types of reflection (abstract below):

Drawing on a growing stream of empirical findings that runs across different psychological domains, we demonstrated that systematic reflection stands out as a prominent tool for learning from experience. For decades, failed experiences have been considered the most powerful learning sources. Despite the theoretical and practical relevance, few researchers have investigated whether people can also learn from their successes. We showed that through systematic reflection, people can learn from both their successes and their failures. Studies have further shown that the effectiveness of systematic reflection depends on situational (e.g., reflection focus) and person-based (e.g., conscientiousness) factors.

The most recent issue of Teaching & Learning Inquiry features an article by Allison Cook-Sather, Sophia Abbott, and Peter Felten on the topic of legitimating reflective writing in SoTL. This article comes at exactly the right time for the work I’m doing with and for my disciplinary journal. This piece builds a case for reflective writing in SoTL to be embraced as meaningful and legitimate for four main reasons (tho I’d add to this, reflection tells the stories of teaching and learning, which is important to capture and celebrate!):

  1. The process of reflection is an essential component of learning.
  2. Reflective writing captures the complexity of learning.
  3. Reflection is an accessible form of writing for both new and experienced SoTL authors.
  4. Reflective writing is accessible to a wide range of readers.

So my next steps?

  • Keep reading, reflecting, and learning about this topic.
  • Consider ways in which systematic reflections might be best reviewed by peers as part of the publishing process for my disciplinary journal.
  • Listen closely to future discussions of reflection’s place in SoTL as a way of sharing perspectives and experiences across the broad variety of disciplines and institutions and individuals engaged in SoTL.
  • Advocate in support of reflective writings as necessary to tell the whole story of SoTL, teaching, and learning.

Blog References

Breit, R. A. W. (2019). Work, life, illness, and the academy: A personal reflection. SoTL in the South, 3(2), 121-126.

Cook-Sather, A., Abbot, S., & Felten, P. (2019). Legitimating reflective writing in SoTL: “Dysfunctional illusions of rigor” revisited. Teaching & Learning Inquiry, 7(2).

Ellis, S., Carette, B., Anseel, F., & Lievens, F. (2014). Systematic reflection: Impolications for learning from failures and successes. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 23(1), 67-72.

Journal for Research and Practice in College Teaching, 3(2). Special issue, entire issue cited in blog.

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SoTL as Public Scholarship: Call for Chapter Proposals

Shared by: Nancy Chick & Jennifer Friberg, Project Editors     

Proposals due Dec 15, 2019

The ISSOTL19 conference theme, “SoTL Without Borders: Engaged Practices for Social Change,” was a field-changer that foregrounded intentional conversations that have only popped up here and there at previous conferences.   It challenged some to view SoTL in new ways, and invited others to bring their backstage SoTL goals into the spotlight. This moment helped us more fully consider SoTL’s potential to effect change. The conference ended with a closing plenary that called for an amplification of the field by exploring how we might conceive of “SoTL as Public Scholarship,” how we might extend its purpose toward advocacy, its audiences toward a broader public, its products toward more public forms of communication, and its influence beyond courses and academic programs.

ISSOTL19 participants left Atlanta committed to continuing the conversation and, more importantly, making things happen.  ISSOTL is “building on the ideas and optimism” of the conference by sponsoring a new “public SoTL” model of its International Collaborative Writing Groups (see here) to support the development and capacity for this work among SoTL practitioners and supporters. 

We are also eager to “build on the ideas and optimism shared in Atlanta” by more fully articulating the vision of SoTL as public scholarship.  We are editing a book under contract with Stylus Publishing to feature innovative, forward-thinking, field-amplifying work that guides SoTL in its potential for reaching “the public.”  

We here call for proposals for two key chapters in SoTL as Public ScholarshipSee below for the description of each.

  1. SoTL and traditional media:  Though platforms such as weblogs and social media are used to publicly share various aspects of SoTL, it is unknown to what extent SoTL scholars are using more traditional media such as radio, newspapers, magazines, or television to share work publicly.  These are among the most public-facing ways of reaching a large, non-academic audience, yet they are also among the most challenging for SoTL scholars. We seek proposals for a thoughtful and useful chapter that both address the significance of this type of media for SoTL and guide readers in communicating through these less familiar venues.  The chapter will be 4,000 words.
  2. The international contexts of SoTL in considering the influence of geography, culture, and politics in public sharing: While this project might appear to presume that public scholarship is accessible to all potential stakeholders equally, we acknowledge that is likely untrue. Various social media platforms are inaccessible to citizens in certain countries, and some socio-cultural practices and political influences also impact how scholarship can be made public. This chapter will explore ways in which public factors such as these might impact the work of creating SoTL as public scholarship. The chapter will be 4,000 words.

750-word proposals are due on December 15. Please include CVs with relevant experiences highlighted for all authors.  Submit materials to both editors at  &

The first full drafts of these two chapters will be due by April 1, 2020.  The timeline for the book’s publication process is as follows:

  • Early April, 2020: Feedback on first drafts
  • June 1: Final drafts due
  • July 1: Manuscript submitted to Stylus
  • February 2021: Book publication

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Creating Visually Accessible Presentations

Written by Jennifer Friberg, Cross Endowed Chair in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning and Professor of Communication Sciences & Disorders at Illinois State University (contact email:

It’s fairly well acknowledged that for SoTL to be SoTL, is needs to be shared in some form or fashion…and I use the term “shared” here with a broad vision (e.g, writing a blog, publication in a peer-reviewed outlet, conference presentation, completion of a creative endeavor, etc). That said, it’s not whether SoTL is shared that is the topic of today’s blog, rather, it’s HOW it is shared.

I have spent 20+ years as a speech-language pathologist, seeking to make various forms of communication accessible and valued for the clients I served. I’ve brought some of this disciplinary perspective to my work as a scholar who presents at conferences fairly regularly. For instance, I am very cognizant of the need for speaker voices to be amplified for folks to hear and process content effectively. I am sensitive to cultural differences in how language is used, and I know well that perspective and world experience influence how any message is comprehended. But there is more to access than this. Flash forward to ISSOTL last month in Atlanta, Georgia.

It was almost uncanny that four different conversations with four very different people at ISSOTL touched on — in some way — a need to think carefully about visual accessibility when planning conference presentations. As someone who likes graphics and color in my power point slides (when I use them!), I hadn’t before considered much other than having good contrast and easy (to me) ability to view slide content. I hadn’t considered how color choices might impact those with varied forms of colorblindness, low-vision, or other visual impairments. In reflecting on these conference conversations, it became clear that I needed to be more aware. It’s a case of “you don’t know what you don’t know…but when you know it, you have to make change.” With this in mind, I offer today’s blog with humility and a sense of purpose to improve my own efforts in the future. This blog is not expert testimony, but rather a way to share resources that have emerged from my dive into this topic since returning home.

  • Designing PowerPoint slides for Color Blindness: There are many different resources online for designing slides that individuals with various forms of colorblindness can most easily access. Of the many that I looked at, Robin Collinge’s blog post titled “How to Design for Colorblindness” was one of my favorites, sharing tips for ALL design, not just presentation slides. The blog post features several easy to implement ideas for good design AND provides a list of color combinations to avoid in order to increase the visual accessibility of your materials.
  • Microsoft Power Point offers something called an “accessibility checker,” which looks over presentation slides and suggests edits for visual accessibility (click link for usage instructions). I ran a recent PowerPoint of my own through the checker and found the feedback provided to be fascinating (image below for an example). Primarily, it was suggested that I use speaker notes and other text boxes to think about providing alternative text to explain graphics and other visual content (these annotations can be shared with those requesting them ahead of or after a presentation). Instructions for how to make my slides more accessible were provided in easy-to-follow format. Google has similar tools, to support its platform, as well.

  • This Microsoft Office reference lists in table form the types of behaviors most accessibility checkers attempt to identify, with a clear description and fix for each. It’s a good and informative read.
  • California’s Department of Rehabilitation’s division of Disability Access Services has an excellent publication called “Seven Steps to Creating an Accessible PowerPoint Slideshow” which provides a bounty of great ideas to increase the accessibility of your work.

Again, I am nowhere near being an expert on the topic of visual accessibility. Many of you may have other, better resources that might be of help to others exploring this topic…if that’s the case, I’d love for you to share them below in the comments section below.

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Defining research as an intro to SoTL: Reflections of a serial tinkerer

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

I’m willing to chat with just about anyone about the scholarship of teaching and learning – anytime, anyplace! Happily, in my role at Illinois State University, it’s my full-time job! I would have to say, though, that across the scope of topics and tasks that are a part of my day-to-day work, one of my most preferred activities is conducting workshops with stakeholders new to SoTL. Whether it’s a two-hour workshop or a two-day event, the “intro to SoTL” experience is one that fascinates me, as it presents the challenge of working with diverse groups of individuals, each with different motivations and understandings of the topics at hand. 

It’s either a strength or a weakness that I am a serial tinkerer. I constantly make large or small changes to my teaching or my educational development materials – and my intro to SoTL workshop materials do not escape this habit! Using feedback from workshop attendees, questions asked during workshops, my own personal reflections, and new/emerging resources from external sources, I seek to improve to my work in defining SoTL and mentoring the development of SoTL projects. 

One of my enduring challenges with planning my intro to SoTL workshops has been figuring out a way to unite workshop attendees in viewing scholarship as being a broad endeavor, one that can be approached in a variety of ways for a variety of reasons. I truly believe that most faculty, staff, and students *think* they believe this to be true, but there are times when subsequent comments/questions about rigor and value of various forms of scholarship (and SoTL) make me wonder. So, I continue to tinker, and in doing so, work towards ways to best make the point that one discipline’s perceptions/definitions of research might not match those of another. 

To this end, one of my most recent add-ins to my intro to SoTL workshop was developed after recently re-reading Gary Poole’s excellent chapter (Square One: What is Research? in McKinney, 2013, citation below) which discussed how entrenching ourselves in disciplinary approaches to scholarship restricts SoTL engagement. So now, rather than starting intro workshops talking about SoTL, I begin them by talking about the broader topic of research. I’ve found this to be an perfect way to identify and acknowledge disciplinary perspectives (and biases) about research and to make the point that research may be a much broader enterprise than some participants recognize. 

How does this process work? I have attendees reflect for a few minutes then write a draft definition of research and share with a small group around them. After a bit of small group sharing, we turn to the larger group for consideration, comparing and contrasting our definitions for research. I’ve found that this exercise sets the stage nicely for discussions about the diversity of approaches evident in all scholarly work, SoTL included. Even in a short two-hour workshop, this has been time very well spent. One recent attendee called it an “aha moment” in really understanding his perspectives on research. 

Last Friday, I facilitated an intro to SoTL workshop for 12 faculty and staff from across my campus. Disciplines represented were: business management, politics and government, social work, speech-language pathology, education, technology, software design, finance, english, and history. Due to this array of department/school affiliations, I was not surprised when attendees defined research as:

  • the search for statistical significance to indicate relationships between variables
  • what happens when two equivalent and randomly selected groups are compared
  • the process of answering a question
  • solving a puzzle
  • the examination of artifacts and data to reach a reasonable conclusion

Discussing these wildly different definitions as a large group was truly fascinating. After time, we agreed that a broader definition of research was most assuredly more inclusive of all disciplines’ approaches to scholarly work. It made our next discussions about the purposes, characteristics, limitations, and strengths of SoTL much easier for attendees to consider and evaluate. At one point, when one attendee asked about the generalizability of SoTL, another in her group replied, “maybe it’s another difference in how we think about research and perhaps generalizability isn’t always the goal.” Insert happy dance here. I may continue tinkering with other aspects of my intro to SoTL workshops in the future, but I feel fairly confident in saying that defining research will likely remain a standard “start” to my intro workshops. 

Blog reference:

Poole, G. (2013). Square one: What is research? In K. McKinney (Ed.), The scholarship of teaching and learning in and across the disciplines. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.

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Applying SoTL Beyond the Individual Classroom: An Overview of an Upcoming Edited Book*

Written by Kathleen McKinney, Cross Chair and Professor of Sociology (Emeritus) and Jennifer Friberg, Cross Chair and Professor of Communication Sciences & Disorders at Illinois State University 

In this blog post we share an overview of a new edited book titled Applying the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Beyond the Individual Classroom (Indiana University Press, 2019). The focus of this volume is on SoTL and its application beyond one individual classroom. We define SoTL using both our institutional definition, ‘the systematic reflection/study of teaching and learning made public’, as well as with key characteristics: practitioner, action reflection/research, usually about the instructor/researchers’ own students and/or students in their discipline at a local level. The SoTL results or implications that are applied/used beyond the individual classroom are from our chapter contributors’ own, original SoTL project(s) and/or from a synthesis of others’ SoTL work on a given topic or in the discipline. These SoTL findings and implications, then, are used or applied in various ways at levels beyond one classroom. We begin by elaborating on our SLaM model for describing or categorizing applications of SoTL research and results or implications. Our thesis and framework builds on earlier discussions of this topic (e.g., Friberg & McKinney, 2015, 2016; McKinney 2003, 2007, 2012) and focuses on three questions to design, categorize, or use applications of SoTL results/knowledge in and beyond the individual classroom (for an expanded explanation, see a prior blog on the topic):

  • What is the Source of the SoTL that is applied?
  • At what Level(s) in institutions and disciplines are the research/results/implications applied?
  • What existing or newly created Mechanisms or processes in the institution or discipline are used (or could be used) to apply the SoTL results to new areas or contexts, and beyond the individual classroom?

Our focus on SoTL applications beyond the individual classroom should not be interpreted as a critique of, or effort to decrease, SoTL at the individual classroom level. Classroom-based SoTL was the original nature of SoTL and remains the heart of SoTL in our view. In the edited book, however, we take the “big tent” view of SoTL (Hutchings & Huber, 2005:4). We hold a broad conception of SoTL in terms of questions asked, research methods used, and ways to make the work public. We also believe that conducting and using SoTL that moves beyond the individual classroom level is important for greater impact of SoTL on teaching, learning, and institutional and disciplinary cultures. Such research and applications are most often collaborative involving teams and networks of SoTL scholars and other stakeholders. SoTL beyond one classroom may include interdisciplinary, interinstitutional, and/or international research and applications thus broadening involvement, connections, and networks. SoTL beyond the micro level may be more likely to use multiple-methods and diverse theoretical frameworks. The application of SoTL findings at more macro levels should encourage, and provide the data for, evidence-informed decision-making within and across institutions. We also believe SoTL research and applications at a broader or more macro level, then, add to the field in terms of providing more information about the role of context and generalizability for SoTL work. Finally, SoTL at these other levels is often connected to department or institutional missions or goals and, thus, has the potential to increase its legitimacy, use, and impact.

To obtain material for the volume, we sought, via a widely circulated Call for Chapter Proposals and an editorial review process, detailed chapter ideas/proposals. After two rounds of reviewing chapter proposal abstracts, we selected our expert contributors based on their quality chapter ideas, fit to the theme of the book, and diversity. The authors represent a range of disciplines, institutions, and nations/cultures.  In addition, the levels, areas, and methods of their SoTL work and applications are purposely varied in order to demonstrate diversity of SoTL application across chapters. Chapters involve collaborations of researchers and authors in various roles. Though all chapters do both, some focus more on ‘conducting’ a SoTL project beyond the individual classroom; others on ‘applying’ more traditional SoTL beyond that level. Chapters report on SoTL about student learning and/or about SoTL related to faculty members’ teaching and learning. Chapters represent an array of SoTL questions and applications by authors from five nations and over a dozen institutions of higher education, who represent nine fields or disciplines, and administrative roles in ‘teaching-learning’ or ‘writing’ or ‘first-year’ centers or programs. (See the Table of Contents below.)

We hope readers of this post will be challenged to read the book and to consider and discuss with others our SlaM framework and where the example projects and applications in the book fit in the field of SoTL as well as in the use of SoTL research, results and implications in their disciplines and on their campuses.

Table of Contents


Introduction to Applying SoTL Beyond the Individual Classroom: Overview, Framework, and Two Examples. Kathleen McKinney, Jennifer Friberg, and Maria Moore

Part I: Applied SoTL with a Focus on Student Learning, Outcomes, Program

  1. Reflexivity in the Field: Applying Lessons Learned from a Collaborative Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Study Exploring the Use of Reflexive Photography in Field Education. Brent Oliver, Darlene Chalmers, and Mary Goitom,
  2. Making a Graduate English Course an Organic and Integrated Learning Process. Radhika Jaidev and Tan Su Hwi
  3. User Perspectives on Simulation in Educational Practice. Andrew Creed and Ambika Zutshi
  4. A Bigger Bang for your Book: SoTL, High Impact Practice, and Common Reading
  5. Programs. April Tallant and Glenda Hensley
  6. The Collaborative for Understanding the Pedagogy of Infant/toddler Development: A Cross-University, Interdisciplinary Effort to Transform a Field through SoTL. Claire Vallotton, Gina A. Cook, Rachel Chazan-Cohen, Kalli B. Decker, Nicole Gardner-Neblett, Christine Lippard, and Tamesha Harewood

Part II: Applied SoTL with a Focus on Faculty/Instructor Learning, Development

  1. Catalyzing the Exchange and Application of SoTL Beyond the Classroom: An Analysis of Two Types of Community Spaces. John Draeger, and Lauren Scharff
  2. Multi-Institutional SoTL: A Case Study of Practices and Outcomes. Peter Felten, Jessie L. Moore, and Tim Peeples
  3. “Feedback First Year”- A Critical Review of the Strengths and Shortcomings of a Collective Pedagogical Project. Dominique Verpoorten, Laurent Leduc, Audrey Mohr, Eléonore Marichal, Dominique Duchâteau, and Pascal Detroz
  4. The Scholarship of Teaching, Learning, and Student Success: Big Data and the Landscape of New Opportunities. George Rehrey, Dennis Groth, Carol Hostetter, and Linda Shepard


Circles of Inquiry and Impact: Expanding the Teaching Commons. Pat Hutchings, National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment; former VP of the Carnegie Foundation for Teaching

*This blog post uses edited excerpts from the Introduction chapter by McKinney, K., Friberg, J., and Moore, M. titled “Introduction to Applying SoTL beyond the Individual Classroom: Overview, Framework, and Two Examples” in our forthcoming edited book, Friberg, J. and McKinney, K. (Eds.) 2019. Applying the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Beyond One Classroom. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press. (Publication is expected about August, 2019.)

Blog References

Friberg, Jennifer C., and Kathleen McKinney. 2016. “Creating Opportunities for Institutional and Disciplinary SoTL Advocacy and Growth.” Presentation. SoTL Commons Conference, Savannah, GA, USA.

Friberg, Jennifer C., and Kathleen McKinney. 2015. “Strengthening SoTL at the Institutional and Disciplinary Levels.” Poster presentation. EuroSoTL, Cork, Ireland.

Hutchings, Pat., and Mary T. Huber. 2005. The Advancement of Learning: Building the Teaching Commons. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.        

McKinney, Kathleen. 2012. “Making a Difference: Applying SoTL to Enhance Learning.” The Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning 12(1): 1-7.

McKinney, Kathleen. 2007. Enhancing Learning through the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning: The Challenges and Joys of Juggling. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

McKinney, Kathleen. 2003. “Applying the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning: How Can We Do Better?” The Teaching Professor August-September:1,5,8.

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Thinking more about data sources for SoTL projects

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

In late January, I gave a presentation at the SoTL Commons conference that focused on the need to carefully select data sources for SoTL projects that are both deep and comprehensive in addressing the topic(s) being investigated. Specifically, my talk had three distinct components:

  1. An overview of potential SoTL data sources (featured in another recent blog)
  2. A discussion about the pros and cons of direct vs. indirect evidence for SoTL work.
  3. A framework for working through the decision process for selecting the “best” data source(s) for a SoTL project.

The framework described above was presented in the form of a decision tree to help SoTL scholars guide their thinking about data sources, their fit for the topic being investigated, and overall preparation to appropriately utilize any data collected. This decision tree was shared in “draft” form and remains as such, though with a few recent tweaks, it’s edging itself ever closer to being finalized. 🙂 Below I share that decision tree as well as another resource I shared at the conference presentation, a visual representation of an excellent direct vs indirect data reference created by Vanderbilt University’s Center for Teaching in 2013. I hope you (or someone you know) might find these resources helpful now or in the future! If you’d like a higher quality .pdf file for either visual aid, please email me at

Direct vs. Indirect Evidence:

Data Source Decision Tree (as it’s still a draft…feedback is welcome!)

Terms used in the decision tree are defined as follows:

  • existing artifact: a project, assignment, assessment, or experience that is part of the current teaching/learning context you are seeking to study or compare
  • archived artifact: a past project, assignment, assessment, or other artifact from a past teaching/learning context you are seeking to study or compare
  • extraneous data: information (e.g., interview, survey, pre/post test) collected in a manner that is that is “above and beyond” what typically happens in the learning context(s) you are seeking to study

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Code Switching: Understanding Perspectives and Motivations for SoTL Advocacy

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

In last week’s blog, I proposed five ideas for purposeful and thoughtful SoTL advocacy. One of these suggested that something called code switching be operationalized to help a larger group of stakeholders to better understand SoTL. As I feel that a bit more unpacking about this phenomenon would constitute a positive contribution to discussions on SoTL advocacy, code switching is the focus of this week’s post. 

Here’s how I explain code switching to my students: as children develop adult-like language skills, they learn how to manipulate their message to fit their audience. A two-year-old child might ask anyone around her for something she needs in a singular way (“I want juice!”), but a four-year-old knows how to do this differently, choosing to ask her brother for juice by saying “give me juice” but using a more respectful “I want juice, please,” to ask the same of her mother. In doing so, the child shows that he understands that communication needs to be modulated and adapted for particular audiences in order to maximize the chance that communication attempts will be successful in meeting his or her own needs. Like the giraffe with the binoculars (in the image to the left), children find a communication target and focus their messages to be clear and successful.

What changes in those two years of development? The easy answer is that in neurotypical children, cognitive and linguistic development allows children to understand the Piagetian concept of means-end (how to get what they want) as well as how to perspective-take in conversations. So, with time, children learn that they can meet their needs best if they can understand the perspectives of the individuals they speak with. I would argue that the same notion can and should be applied to SoTL advocacy efforts, particularly when SoTL advocates understand the myriad motivations that might apply to various stakeholders in higher education.

As SoTLists, we must discern why SoTL might be meaningful to students, other faculty, or campus administration, not by telling these individuals why SoTL is important to US, but by crafting a message that makes SoTL important to THEM. This level of perspective-taking allows for stakeholders’ own needs and interests to be harnessed as a mechanism for SoTL advocacy. Consider the graphic below, which illustrates the wide array of potential stakeholders that exists for SoTL, connected to various motivations that could be accessed to encourage engagement in/with SoTL. Without doubt, I believe that the most successful SoTL advocacy efforts meet stakeholders at the level of their own motivations.

Once potential stakeholder motivations have been identified, code switching comes into play, as it becomes necessary to communicate about SoTL clearly with stakeholders in an individualized manner, identifying ways to modulate our messages about SoTL to be understandable, accessible, and useful to the individuals we engage with. Thus, while our underlying message of SoTL advocacy will likely always be one of the importance of evidence-informed teaching and learning, we might orient our conversational approaches differentially to meet our own SoTL advocacy aims.

For instance, students are often unaware of the SoTL work we do, but have a vested interest in SoTL that is largely unexplored in terms of optimizing their practices as learners. By explaining what SoTL is, giving examples of/encouraging the use of evidence-based learning strategies, explaining our own SoTL work, we pave the way for students to become involved in SoTL. This is SoTL advocacy. We start with students’ motivations to be better learners and work towards increased understanding and involvement in our SoTL efforts.  

For faculty who are unaware of the potential impact of SoTL, we engage in conversations about how SoTL can be used to help solve problems with course design/implementation, how SoTL can be undertaken to better understand our own teaching/learning context, and what sorts of supports exist to get started in SoTL. This, too, is SoTL advocacy, but it’s advocacy work that’s done in a different manner than with the student example above. While the main message with both stakeholder groups is that SoTL is important to them, the conversations about how and why this is the case are necessarily different. 

Code switching to access administrators’ motivations might include discussions based on SoTL’s utility for formative/summative assessment for program review, external accreditation efforts, evidence-based curriculum development, increased faculty/student research productivity, or increased student retention/engagement. Again, the heart of the advocacy message is that SoTL is important, but the conversations are necessarily different, based on stakeholder motivations.

I’d argue that code switching allows SoTL advocates the opportunity to advance SoTL across audiences in our local contexts and more broadly, as well. As such, it’s one tool in our advocacy toolbox — taken straight from child language development theory — that we might consider.