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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Neil deGrasse Tyson and Community-Based SoTL Advocacy — Recommendations Inspired by a Popular Science Icon

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

Last week, the online version of The Chronicle of Higher Education published a piece by Vimal Patel titled “What Neil deGrasse Tyson Thinks Higher Ed Gets Wrong.” The article featured an interview with Tyson, a scientist and frequent media contributor/commentator, and discussed his perception that higher education is lacking a reward system (intrinsic or extrinsic) for communicating the work of researchers to the public. In his remarks, Tyson argued that teaching and public service are undervalued in most colleges and universities, relative to research. He posits that this fact contributes to public misunderstandings about science and research, as few researchers are actively and regularly engaged in sharing the findings of their scholarship outside their disciplines or institutions.

While the entirety of this interview focused on Tyson’s feelings toward science-based research, there were evident ties to the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL), as well, particularly in terms of Tyson’s thoughts on advocacy for research. As Tyson spoke of the need to regularly communicate research findings to the public, I was reminded of the idea that taking our SoTL work to the communities around our colleges and universities has been discussed by many as a vital, but often missing, component of SoTL advocacy. Tyson’s ideas tied directly to this notion. In sum, I noted three big takeaways from this article that inform opportunities for community-based SoTL advocacy:

Bring unexpected partners into discussions of SoTL. In his comments, Tyson shares that he interviewed singer Katy Perry on his radio show, much to the dismay of many who viewed Perry as a bad match for the typical science focus of Tyson’s shows. His response?

Why would [I] waste my time? She has more than 100 million Twitter followers. And if I can have a conversation with her about how science has touched her craft, then that brings science to her following. As far as I’m concerned, that adds value.

Why not look at SoTL in a similar fashion? Who can we bring to our craft to expand the reach and value of what we do? What groups of stakeholders can help spread the purpose and benefit of SoTL to others? Digging down, how do each of us identify targets for such advocacy in our own contexts and how might we connect with others for support and help?

Get better at communicating our SoTL research to the public.

Tyson argues that communicating research to the public is something that isn’t valued in higher education, particularly in the United States. He states:

Oxford has a tenured-professor line for the public understanding of science. I know of no such counterpart in the United States. Cambridge has a tenured-professor line for the public understanding of risk. Where is that here? These are [positions] where your ability to communicate is added to your academic chops.

I would argue that by virtue of our interest in SoTL, we are natural communicators. We are fluent in our disciplinary research but we are fluent in SoTL, as well. We translate to advocate, though this mostly occurs in our own institutional or disciplinary contexts. But, how many of us leave those contexts to enter the public sector? If we agree that groups outside our institutions might benefit from expanded SoTL advocacy, how do we get that message out? Might advancement centers, alumni networks, or research offices help? Should we do this work together in a cross-institutional manner? How might we engage established groups (i.e., ISSoTL) in a supportive or leading role for this work?

Keep it simple.

Tyson shared that part of his own development as a science commentator was understanding how his messages about science were most effectively shared. He reported that he believes his popularity in the media and with his followers lies in his ability to distill complex topics into digestible tidbits:

…the press can ask an academic question, and you can give an answer that you might give in a lecture hall. That’s not really the answer they want…I said, why don’t I just give them sound bites? So I went home and practiced in front of [my family]. They’d just randomly bark out questions about the universe, and I would deliver a two- or three-sentence reply. The anatomy of a soundbite has to be tasty, and you have to say, Wow, I’m glad I heard that. It has to…be so interesting that you want to tell someone else.

It’s likely true that once we endeavor to engage with stakeholders outside academia, we need to adapt how we communicate. As a speech-language pathology professor, I have often taught my students about a concept called “code switching,” wherein a speaker adapts how they deliver a message based on their audience. An example I frequently use to show how differently messages can be crafted via code switching is, “how would you ask the following people to open a window;”

When with a friend, you might ask “Dude, would you open the window?”

When with your younger brother, you might more directly say “open that window now!”

In the same room with your boss, you’d likely ask, “do you mind if I open that window?”

If we are seeking to share our SoTL with folks who aren’t academics, we need to learn to code switch a bit and use those communication skills I mentioned above in a slightly different way. We need to craft brief, summative, and engaging messages to appeal to folks unfamiliar with our work in an effort tot draw them in and hold their interest. We don’t need to give a forty minute paper. Rather, we need to make the case for how our SoTL work is important to them and how it might be in the future.

Blog Reference:

Patel, V. (2018). What Neil deGrasse Tyson thinks higher ed gets wrong. The Chronicle of Higher Education, 65(3). Retrieved from https://www.chronicle.com/article/What-Neil-deGrasse-Tyson/244522.

 

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Study Design and Data Analysis in SoTL

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

In June, I visited the University of South Alabama (USA) and worked with Raj Chaudhury and Sue Mattson to get a group of faculty started with their year-long SoTL Academy efforts. Approximately 30 faculty from across USA’s campus came together to learn about SoTL and plan a SoTL project. We spent two days together in workshops and consultations and all participants left with a draft plan for SoTL work they hoped to conduct this current academic year.

This was the second year I was able to join the USA crew for this two-day educational and research development event. Sue and I agreed that a resource that would be valuable for the USA faculty for the second iteration of the SoTL Academy would be something that helped social science-oriented researchers see how SoTL might dovetail with concepts and ideas they already understood well. Thus, the following grids focused on descriptive, correlational, and experimental/quasi-experimental design were drafted and used in discussions about how SoTL might look like participants’ own disciplinary research — and how it might not. This resource is being shared here now, in the hopes that others might find this information valuable, as well.

Should you wish to obtain a copy of this information in PDF form, please feel free to email me at jfribe@ilstu.edu. I’m happy to share!

Descriptive Research
Description of Study Design Descriptive research characterizes a group of people, a context, or a phenomenon. These studies do not seek to establish a causal relationship; rather, they provide information about “what is” occurring or being observed regarding the focus of study.

Descriptive studies include observational, case study, and survey methods.

Exemplar SoTL Projects
  • Survey students’ re: practices in using print vs. online textbooks to support learning.
  • Observe how students’ use of technology in the classroom impacts attention span.
  • Study high achieving students in a course to predict practices/variables of success to share with future students.
Qualitative Analysis Options Qualitative data in a descriptive study is reported as narrative, reflection, open-ended response, field note, etc. Such data will need to be further analyzed for themes, categories, or patterns.

Common qualitative approaches in descriptive SoTL research include: case studies, action research processes, analytic induction, ethnography, comparative analysis, frame analysis, grounded theory, and interpretive phenomenology, among others.

Quantitative Analysis Options Quantitative data in a descriptive study is often reported in the form of descriptive statistics (e.g., mean, median, mode) along with standard deviations. Statistics might be used here, depending on the data collected and the topic being studied.

These data might emerge from test scores, grades on a course assignment or project, survey data, or frequency data.

 

Correlational Research
Description of Study Design Correlational research seeks to determine whether a relationship exists between two or more variables, but cannot determine if one variable causes another. Variables aren’t manipulated; rather, they are observed to determine any relationship that might exist between them.

Note that some sources identify correlational research as a quantitative-only subset of descriptive research, as some descriptive research might suggest a correlation found via grounded theory or other qualitative methods of research.

Exemplar SoTL Projects
  • Determine the relationship between number of hours studying and success on a quiz/test.
  • Identify whether there is a link between the use of peer editing and performance on a writing assignment.
  • Understand whether the use of social media helps students to summarize course content effectively.
Qualitative Analysis Options Qualitative data analysis is not undertaken for correlational research, as numerical data is needed to calculate a correlation coefficient.
Quantitative Analysis Options Correlational research is a quantitative method of inquiry. Correlation can only be determined for quantifiable data. These are data in which numbers are meaningful, usually quantities of some sort. It cannot be used for purely categorical data, such as gender, brands purchased, or favorite color.

Statistics are used to determine a correlation coefficient to identify positive, negative, or zero correlation. One thing to keep in mind is that any identified correlation does not mean that one variable caused the other to react. Instead, correlations simply define that a relationship exists.

 

Experimental/Quasi-Experimental Research
Description of Study Design Experimental and quasi-experimental research designs seek to manipulate one variable and control all others to investigate cause/effect relationships. All participants are assigned to either a control or experimental group. An intervention is applied to the experimental group. The control group has no intervention applied.

The key difference between experimental and quasi-experimental designs is the concept of randomization. If participants are assigned to control and experimental groups randomly, the research design is experimental. Non-random group assignment yields a quasi-experimental research design. True experimental research is considered the gold standard of research by many researchers, because random group assignment leads to optimal internal validity. In situations where random group assignment is not possible or ethical, quasi-experimental designs offer an alternative that allows the research to continue and still produce valid results.

Almost no SoTL qualifies as truly experimental in nature due to inherent ethical and logistical characteristics of SoTL that makes this type of research difficult to conduct (e.g., true randomization). One of the most common quasi-experimental designs for SoTL research is the pre-test/post-test with no control group design.

Exemplar SoTL Projects
  • Does the use of simulated patients help nursing students improve observational skills?
  • Do architecture students who initially design structures by hand understand the concept of space more deeply?
  • Do history students exposed to guided reading demonstrate a deeper understanding of historical imagination?
Qualitative Analysis Options Experimental and quasi-experimental designs may yield data that is descriptive (e.g., surveys, interviews, observations) that require qualitative analyses. Similar to information provided above for descriptive research, any qualitative data will need to be further analyzed for themes, categories, or patterns.

Common qualitative approaches to data analysis in SoTL include: case study, action research processes, analytic induction, ethnography, comparative analysis, frame analysis, grounded theory, and interpretive phenomenology, among others.

Quantitative Analysis Options Experimental design lends itself to more straightforward and simpler types of statistical analysis. Primarily due to the lack of randomization, quasi-experimental studies usually require more advanced statistical procedures. Quasi-experimental designs may also utilize surveys, interviews, and observations which may further complicate the data analysis.

Quantitative analysis requires several steps. First numeric data is assigned a level (nominal, ordinal, interval, or ratio). Next, descriptive statistics are calculated for data (e.g., means, standard deviations). For some studies, descriptive statistics may be adequate; however, if you want to make inferences or predictions about your population, inferential statistics (e.g., t-test, ANOVA, regression) may be indicated.

Blog References:

Bishop-Clark, C. & Dietz-Uhler, B. (2012). Engaging in the scholarship of teaching and learning: A guide to the process and how to develop a project from start to finish.        Stylus: Sterling, VA.

Campbell, D. T. & Stanley, J. (1963). Experimental and quasi-experimental designs for research. Cengage: Boston.

Cresswell, J. W. (2012). Qualitative inquiry and research design: Choosing among five approaches (3rd ed.). Sage: Thousand Oaks, CA.

Gurung, R. A. R. & Wilson, J. H. (Eds.). (2014). Doing the scholarship of teaching and learning: Measuring systematic changes to teaching and improvements in learning. Jossey-Bass: San Francisco.

 

 


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An Idea for the First Days of the Fall Term – Share SoTL with Your Students!

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

Screen Shot 2018-08-13 at 2.01.02 PMBack in April, I wrote a blog regarding the impact of SoTL that was inspired by my reading of this article by Nancy Chick. I’ve thought a lot about the notion of impact since that time, considering how we encourage changes in teaching and learning as a result of our SoTL efforts. I’ve engaged in conversations with numerous colleagues (on my campus and at others) about how they adapt their teaching praxis in the presence of good evidence to do so. As a result of these exchanges, I feel at least somewhat confident that our SoTL work IS making change; however, these conversations have left me wondering if we aren’t missing a huge opportunity to truly increase the impact of our SoTL efforts and outcomes. In no conversation about how SoTL has changed our teaching and learning did anyone I spoke with discuss sharing SoTL with their students. There was discussion about changing course content, assessment, or management, but each of these things was described as occurring in relative solitude as part of next generation course design.

I find it curious that we study our students to understand the components of meaningful learning and teaching experiences, but in doing so, (at least some of us) miss out on purposeful sharing of SoTL outcomes with our students so they can make changes to THEIR praxis as learners. We have generated so much evidence that shows us how students learn (and learn well!). They should have access to this information and it’s my strong opinion that we should help facilitate that access.

Here are a few thoughts as to how we might be more purposeful in bringing students into the SoTL loop — feel free to share other thoughts and ideas in the comments below:

  • Share information about relevant, evidence-based learning strategies as part of your class. Many course instructors have “syllabus review day” during the first course meeting of a new term. While there are great suggestions about alternative ideas for that first course meeting circulating social media this time of year, perhaps a focus on successful learning strategies might be a worthy way to spend that first class together. Share what you know about evidence-based learning strategies that might be useful for your students in your context. Let them know that you’re a resource and would be interested in answering questions about evidence-based strategies for learning. Provide resources for students to access this information themselves.
  • Mediate! Tell your students WHY you’ve designed your course or assignment or assessment in the manner that you have – share your evidence! I do this frequently with my students and have found that if I can provide the rationale for what they are doing, and that research has shown a pedagogical approach to be impactful, I have more buy-in and (anecdotally) more active engagement in the task(s) at hand.
  • Share what others in your discipline have identified as evidence-based learning strategies for emerging professionals. How do sociologists develop a sociological imagination? How do mathematicians generalize concepts to varied contexts? How do historians read a text and assess primary sources? How do speech-language pathologists, nurses, or dieticians transfer theory to clinical practice? SoTL has helped us understand these discipline-specific phenomena. Unlock these connections for students to visualize a path toward professional practice that is grounded in evidence.
  • Use your social media smartly. Does your university have a Twitter or Instagram account where you could populate content about evidence-based ways to learn or study? Can you feature links to and/or summaries of the work of SoTL scholars on your campus to highlight what you know about learning in your own institutional context? Can you manage (or co-manage) an account yourself that does this?
  • Offer to guest “lecture” about evidence-based learning at a meeting of a student organization tied to your discipline or some other movement. Talk to students about research on teaching and learning and how outcomes of such research can support their work as students. There is evidence that out-of-class learning through student organizations, service learning, and civic engagement have efficacy. Let students know the benefits of these efforts!
  • Take care in making assumptions about what students know. Based on the fact that our students are enrolled at our colleges/universities, it would be easy to think that they have unlocked the mysteries of learning deeply and well. They wouldn’t be college students if they hadn’t accomplished that, right? I’m not convinced this is actually the case. I have spoken to numerous students who engage in low utility learning strategies to master material who are frustrated with their lack of ability to make connections and applications across topics and classes. My bias? Assume that your students would be interested to know more about teaching and learning until you know differently.

Writing on a similar topic, McKinney (2012, p. 3) suggested the following strategies for bringing students to SoTL, specifically by discussing the “how” and the “why” of SoTL research and findings emerging from such inquiry:

  • Make SoTL public at conferences students attend and in publications students read.
    Create a local SoTL journal or newsletter aimed specifically at college students at
    your institution or a national/international one for students in a specific major or
    discipline.
  • Use SoTL publications as required readings in courses where they are appropriate
    such as a disciplinary/department new majors‟ orientation class, a research methods course, a capstone course, or a professional socialization course.
    Facilitate and invite students to sessions on learning on campus that share, and
    discuss implications of, local SoTL results.
  • Volunteer to create a session at your disciplinary meetings focusing on key SoTL
    results and explicitly involve and invite students.
  • Add a section of relevant SoTL study results and any implications for students to
    your department website within the web pages for students.
  • Help organize a panel where SoTL researchers present and lead a discussion with
    students at a meeting of your student disciplinary/department club.
  • Include in your courses, when appropriate, reflective and meta-cognitive
    assignments that help students relate SoTL literature and findings to their own
    learning opportunities and behaviors.

 

Blog References:

McKinney, K. (2012). Increasing the impact of SoTL: Two sometimes neglected opportunities. International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 6(1).


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SoTL as a Piece of the Accreditation Puzzle

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

puzzle.jpgI spent last week in the Washington D.C. area for a meeting of the Council on Academic Accreditation in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology (CAA). I’ve served on the CAA for almost four years and currently serve as Chair of the Council. In that time, I’ve had ample opportunity to consider accreditation and the potential ways in which the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) might contribute to accreditation processes, evidence, and planning. I would argue that while accreditation is a complex endeavor, the use of systematic study and reflection of teaching and learning has the potential to strengthen an application for (re-)accreditation and highlight evidence-based ways in which programs are meeting their accreditation standards in ways meaningful to local academic contexts. SoTL can be used directly to gather data about a given phenomenon or indirectly to inform a scholarly approach to decision making. As a representative of an accrediting body, I believe that this sort of data – used well – can be used to verify compliance with various accreditation standards.

While requirements for academic accreditation vary widely based on disciplinary needs and differences, there are several unifying considerations for most disciplinary standards attached to accreditation. I’ve explored several of these below, and have provided examples of how SoTL might be operationalized to support accreditation efforts across disciplines.

SoTL can inform strategic planning. Most accredited programs are required to have a strategic plan that is shared with all relevant stakeholders. Some accreditors prescribe that strategic plans have measurable goals and objectives. I have argued that conducting new SoTL investigations could (and maybe should!) be a strategic goal/objective for most programs. In collecting data about a teaching/learning issue, a program systematically gathers data to plan or problem-solve, potentially across a curriculum. Additionally, outcomes from completed SoTL projects can help to identify successful teaching/learning practices that could be utilized across a program or less successful practices that might need to be revised or revisioned. In sum, SoTL included as a part of the strategic planning process can identify areas of need or areas of strength.

SoTL can help determine faculty sufficiency. It is typical that a program’s faculty sufficiency is included as a component of accreditation standards. One aspect of faculty sufficiency can be represented by how well the faculty in a program are able to meet institutional requirements for teaching, research, and/or scholarship. I see SoTL as being a boost to faculty in this manner. SoTL-active faculty generally practice as scholarly teachers, potentially impacting teaching effectiveness. SoTL-active faculty produce scholarly work, increasing their overall research productivity. Finally, SoTL-active faculty have opportunities to engage in service to local, national, and international SoTL groups/organizations, which improves service productivity. Depending on the mission of an institution, any or all of these types of endeavors could help support faculty meeting institutional expectations for all aspects of academic employment.

SoTL can aid in curriculum development. A key component of many standards for academic accreditation is the idea that a curriculum must be offered to students that supports the emergence of competence, professionalism, and understanding of core disciplinary concepts. SoTL inquiry can be designed to examine part of a class or an entire course for impact. Findings can be used to tailor curriculum tweaks or (in the case of coordinated SoTL study across a program) inform wholesale curricular re-design and change. Programs can also apply extant SoTL to make curricular changes, as well, implementing practices such as service learning, study abroad, or research experiences – all evidence-based pedagogies – to design and plan innovations across the curriculum.

SoTL can be an integral component in formative and summative assessment of student learning. Accreditors might ask for ways in which a program uses or conducts formative and summative assessments of student learning to improve the program on a continual basis. SoTL is, in some ways, a true measure of formative or summative assessment, depending on how it’s designed and carried out. SoTL can help to identify aspects of a course that are impactful (or not) or whether a whole course truly meets its learning objectives. In a similar fashion, SoTL inquiry can provide data as one component of a program’s assessment agenda.

SoTL can be used to better understand reported student outcome measures. Many accrediting bodies require programs to report some sort of student outcome data as part of their regular processes. CAA standards require that programs report on time program completion rates, pass rates for our national certification exam, and employment rate of graduates one year post-graduation. High percentages on these outcome data can indicate that a program is strong and performing well. However, lower percentages might indicate that a problem exists with some aspect of the program. A well-designed SoTL investigation can help identify areas of strength and weakness in a program that might be impacting student outcome data. This might be closely tied to programmatic assessment, something most accreditors require evidence of as part of continued quality improvement efforts.

 


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Updated Advice for New SoTL Researchers

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

Screen Shot 2018-06-23 at 6.48.06 PM.pngAlmost three years ago, I penned a blog post titled Advice for New SoTL Researchers. In that post, I offered seven suggestions for those just getting started with a SoTL research agenda. In the last few months, I’ve had the good fortune to work with several cohorts of faculty and students who are part of “Intro to SoTL” cohorts. In working with them, I realize that the advice I offer to new researchers has changed. So, the following is my best effort at updating a list of things that new SoTL scholars might want to keep in mind.

  1. Design your project carefully. Examine the macro (classroom-level) context around you, looking for problems, opportunities, or wonderments that might be the basis for a SoTL project. Do you have a new technology that you’re wanting to integrate in your class, but aren’t sure it will work? Are you teaching an evening section of a very large class and you have an idea about improving student engagement? Might there be a way to study an out-of-class learning experience you’ve set up for your students? All of these – and many others! – could be a great place to start!
  2. Once you have a glimmer of an idea of the topic you might like to study, search for teaching and learning research in your field or another that might demonstrate how your topic has been studied in the past. Because SoTL research functions to provide a snapshot of your teaching/learning context at a point in time, it is fine to replicate a project that has already been done to see if similar outcomes are evident in your context. That said, reviewing past literature might drive you in a different research direction or provide an idea of how other scholars have approached research design in the past.
  3. Talk to a person who has completed a SoTL project and ask for advice or consultation. I have found individuals involved in teaching and learning research to be some of the most giving and collaborative colleagues I’ve encountered. Most would be quite happy to share lessons learned or chat about your idea(s) for a project. Seek out experienced SoTL scholars and learn with and from them. Then, when it’s your turn to be the experienced mentor, offer your wisdom often and broadly.
  4. Choose your data source wisely. There are SO many options in terms of potential data sources for SoTL work. As we are studying teaching and learning, SoTL scholars frequently use class artifacts, assessments, or reflections as a source for data. Other surveys, interviews, or focus groups beyond the typical business of your course might be useful. You are only limited by your own lack of creativity here. Carefully asses the focus of your project to suss out the richest sources of data for your study. Think about direct vs. indirect sources and the impact of your data on the overall rigor and quality of your work. Identifying a data source for your work should not be a quick decision, but rather, a careful deliberation.
  5. Consider more than one data source. As there are inherent biases in SoTL (e.g., it’s not meant to be inherently generalizable in most cases, we study our own students, true randomization or control is hard to exert), it’s optimal to have at least two data sources to compare and contrast to help validate the conclusions that you draw.
  6. Analyze and interpret your data appropriately. This piece of advice likely doesn’t need a lot of explanation; however, I would simply offer that you should think carefully about whether a qualitative, quantitative, or mixed methods approach to data analysis and interpretation is best for your corpus of data. Don’t force a fit, just finesse what you have so that the path to understanding your teaching/learning question is clear.
  7. Think about the audiences most suited for your work as you plan to share it with peers and others. Don’t assume that the potential audience for your work is broad and cross-disciplinary if your project only studies a phenomenon that is part of your discipline. Conversely, if your SoTL project focuses on a topic that has multi-disciplinary appeal, don’t narrow your audience unnecessarily. Share, publish, and promote your work in meaningful contexts with the individuals who will find it valuable!
  8. Put students at the heart of your SoTL. It has been well-stated that the heart of SoTL is the classroom. I choose to interpret this sentiment as not just a reminder that the single classroom context is the typical and intended focus of SoTL. Rather, I believe that the heart of SoTL subsumes the entire classroom environment and all the stakeholders within. Yes, you may study your students as research participants, but does that preclude you from sharing what you’ve learned with them? That is an opportunity that is often missed, in my view. Also, why not invite students to assist with your SoTL with the same frequency that you invite them into your disciplinary research? From my experience, it’s valuable for your students AND for you.

Of course, this is in NO way an exhaustive list of recommendations for new SoTL researchers. What is represented here is a continued starting place, on that will likely continue to evolve. Maybe three years from now, I’ll feel obligated/motivated to revise this list again! Until then, happy SoTL-ing! J


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Giving the Reading of SoTL Impact

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

On my flight home from a conference in sunny Austin, Texas last week (as I type this it’s snowing in Illinois, so the “sunny” descriptor is a happy recollection!), I had the opportunity to catch up on some journal reading that had accumulated. One piece I was interested in reading was an editorial from the most recent issue of InSight: A Journal of Scholarly Teaching. Written by Nancy Chick, this work (titled Does Reading SoTL Matter? Difficult Questions of Impact) discussed the issue of impact in SoTL and questioned the influence of reading SoTL on a practitioner’s teaching and on student learning. In doing so, Chick raised a troubling question in the minds of her readers: what if reading SoTL doesn’t lead to any change in teaching or learning practice? I’m fairly certain that SoTL researchers don’t produce their work to have it NOT inform future teaching and learning practices. So, are we missing the “application” boat where we take what we read and use it to solve teaching and learning problems?

readI hate to think that SoTL reflects the trend identified in medical fields (“journals are not good at getting doctors to change and improve their practice”). However, I do feel as though the impact of reading SoTL research could easily be diminished without some sort of purposeful process of reflection, discussion, and/or integration – in the same manner that research says our students learn new skills. What might that look like, though? Chick suggests several wonderful options (a SoTL Journal Club, the use of small networks to discuss SoTL, and greater access to SoTL research via open access mechanisms to make discussions about our SoTL readings possible).

The overarching suggestion in this article was that those of us who read SoTL should “talk with others about what these readings make [us] think about.” I agree, for in that practice, there IS impact. Honestly, think about it. If you read SoTL research and then engage in discussions about what you’ve learned with others, you (very likely) consider your readings more deeply and puzzle over application of the study’s outcomes more thoroughly. Sharing leads to a deeper understanding — and perhaps use — of what we’ve read.

After reading Chick’s article, I spent the remainder of my plane ride thinking about other ways in which conversations about our own SoTL readings might be encouraged –beyond those suggested in the article. I have a few suggestions, across a variety of stakeholder groups/levels. These look a lot like general advocacy suggestions for SoTL, though each is tied to the specific practice of reading SoTL, with subsequent advocacy (aka: sharing) building impact over time:

  • Help peers develop an awareness of SoTL. If they don’t know a body of research about teaching and learning exists, they will never attempt to read it! Share resources where evidence on teaching and learning can routinely be accessed. Explain – explicitly — how you’ve used SoTL readings to alter your teaching practice(s). Take it one step further and detail how reading SoTL led you to conduct your own SoTL study.
  • Seek out formal and informal ways to share new knowledge derived from reading SoTL with colleagues or other stakeholders such as students, department or campus administrators, disciplinary leaders, and/or community members. Summarize what you’ve learned in newsletters, staff meetings, emails…any communication mechanism that allows for an exchange of this information. Approach your institution’s teaching and learning center to suggest programming based around reading SoTL to inform a scholarly approach to teaching.
  • Mentor students in reading and applying SoTL research. Share insights about learning with students to help them develop scholarly approaches to learning as well as scholarly approaches to teaching.
  • Add value to what you share with campus administrators about the SoTL you read by tying new knowledge from your SoTL readings to updates to the mission/vision of the institution or to its strategic plan. Advocate for evidence-informed thinking about next steps for your campus.
  • Use social media to share summaries of SoTL research with relevant stakeholders. Give an overview of what you read, then provide a link to the primary source for further exploration. Ask questions to encourage discussion among your “followers” to further develop ideas related to your SoTL readings.
  • Network at conferences to share case studies of how reading SoTL research has led to pedagogical change. This is particularly important at disciplinary conferences as widespread understanding of SoTL research is less obvious in those contexts than is typically evident at a teaching/learning conference.

These ideas in no way constitute an exhaustive list! Please feel free to add suggestions from your own context/practice below in the comments section! Happy SoTL reading – and sharing!

Blog References

Chick, N. L. (2017). Does reading SoTL matter? Difficult questions of impact. InSight: A Journal of Scholarly Teaching, 12, 9-13.

 

 

 


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Problems, Opportunities, and Wonderments: Possible Subsets of “What works?”

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

what worksWhen I talk to people new to SoTL — students, faculty, other interested folks — I am sometimes asked what a “typical” SoTL research question might be. Part of my description of SoTL details that a fair amount of SoTL is context-specific and is meant to gather information or data about a fairly restricted population: the students (or teachers) in the course or experience being studied. I explain that while SoTL is not inherently generalizable, if enough people in enough different contexts study similar questions, we can develop standards for high-impact teaching and learning practices that CAN transfer across classrooms, disciplines, and/or institutions. Kuh (2008) wrote of high-impact practices for undergraduate education that exemplify this idea very nicely.

But back to those “typical” SoTL questions…it’s not always easy for those new to SoTL to identify one thing to study in their first SoTL project. In Opening Lines: Approaches to the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, Pat Hutchings (2000) laid out a wonderful taxonomy of questions to characterize the main foci evident in most scholarship of teaching and learning work: what works, what is, visions of the possible, and theory building questions. She describes “what works?” questions as being the typical starting place for most new SoTL researchers, as topics falling into this part of Hutchings’ taxonomy focus on investigating the effects of different approaches to teaching and learning. Having facilitated numerous “Intro to SoTL” experiences for faculty and students, I wholeheartedly agree with Hutchings that this “what works?” level of inquiry often is the first explored by new SoTL scholars. It is on that level of Hutchings’ taxonomy that I focus my thoughts today.

I have found that it’s helpful to break down “what works?” concepts into three subcategories in an effort to encompass possible areas of SoTL study. I use the following terms, though many others could be substituted easily:

  • Problems exist in the teaching and learning contexts of most instructors, and typically involve doubt, insecurity, or difficulty in some form or fashion. Problems exist when any aspects of classroom environment, course content, or course management cause trouble for students or for the course instructor. Potential problems that could be studied in a SoTL project include:
    • determining how to use problematic classroom space most effectively,
    • managing active learning with large course enrollment,
    • figuring out why a particular class/lab/experience seems to be very difficult for students.
  • Opportunities are variables that become a part of your learning context, whether you placed them there or they occur via happenstance. These are usually perceived by students and course instructors as more positive in nature than are problems. Opportunities that might be studied as part of a SoTL project include:
    • identifying the impact of a study abroad experience,
    • measuring the differences between flipped and traditional teaching designs,
    • analyzing student learning as a result of a service learning associated with a particular course.
  • Wonderments* lead to pedagogies that are integrated into a course/learning context in a creative manner. Wonderments begin with the question “what would happen if we did ___________?” adding something that otherwise wouldn’t exist in a course to address an instructor-conceived idea. Examples of potential wonderments that might be studied in a teaching/learning context are:
    • implementing pre-course modules designed to decrease math anxiety for students in a chemistry course,
    • using arts-based observation methods to help doctors, nurses, or other clinical professionals be more effective diagnosticians,
    • creating a new pedagogy (or merging others together) to see if they support student learning (e.g., combining case study teaching with perspective-taking to encourage students to understand clinical cases more comprehensively).

The examples above are obviously not exhaustive, but are meant to illustrate each of these terms as I use them. Is it possible that overlap exists across the categories of problems, opportunities, and wonderments? I would think so, particularly in terms of wonderments, as a creative idea might be used in addressing a problem or in creating an opportunity. That said, as wonderments occur on their own as well, I thought them to be deserving of their own descriptor.

Why do these possible subcategories of Hutchings’ “what works?” question matter? I have consistently found that using subcategories makes it easier for new SoTL researchers to identify the focus of their first study – and to understand why they are interested in studying that topic. As a SoTL faculty developer, anything that facilitates research on teaching and learning and helps crystalize ideas about SoTL is something worth using!

*The term wonderment was inspired by Dr. Ken Jerich, my dissertation adviser, who regularly used this term in his teaching and research. Obviously, I do now, as well.

 

Blog References:

Hutchings, P. (2000). Opening lines: Approaches to the scholarship of teaching and learning. Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching: Menlo Park, CA.

Kuh, G. (2008). High-impact educational practices: What they are, who has access to them, and why they matter. AAC&U: Washington, DC.