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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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

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

Conclusion

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 jfribe@ilstu.edu.

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. 


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Thoughts on SoTL Advocacy from the SoTL Commons Conference

Written by Jennifer Friberg, Cross Endowed Chair in SoTL and Professor of Communication Sciences & Disorders at Illinois State University (jfribe@ilstu.edu)

A few weeks ago, I had the good fortune of being invited to deliver one of two keynote addresses at the annual SoTL Commons conference in Savannah, Georgia. Happily, I was given the opportunity to select my own topic for my talk and, having thought deeply about several options, selected SoTL advocacy as my focus. This is likely not a surprise to those who know me, as I am a passionate advocate for research on teaching and learning. After developing several iterations of my talk, I chose to focus my remarks on five ideas I believe to be central to effective SoTL advocacy. I share them here, in the hopes that one or more of these might resonate with folks for use now or at a later time in their own SoTL advocacy efforts.

As a starting point, I do feel as though the above screenshot of one of the slides from my keynote hits on something very important: SoTL advocacy should be undertaken in ways that employ diverse approaches to our advocacy work. Perhaps the the word “customized” might even be appropriate as a corollary to this recommended diverse approach to advocacy, as efforts to engage an expanded group of stakeholders in SoTL should be specifically tailored to fit the contexts in which SoTL advocacy is being undertaken. With that in mind, suggestions for thoughtful and purposeful SoTL advocacy presented at the SoTL Commons included the following:

  1. Keep your SoTL “start-up” story in mind. Share it with others, as understanding your interest in SoTL might drive someone else to develop an interest, too. I have found this to be true, particularly for colleagues within your own discipline. My field of speech-language pathology has an established standard for using evidence-based practices to inform clinical decision-making. When I explain to other speech-language pathologists or audiologists that I started with SoTL because of my view that evidence to support my teaching practices is just as necessary as evidence to support my clinical work, folks can easily understand my perspective. While they might not engage in SoTL, they can conceive of how it might be important to others and to the discipline, at large.
  2. Develop an “advocative” (ad-VOCK-ah-tiv) mindset. Encourage people to think about SoTL in different ways, via a lens of provocative advocacy. The central idea to being advocative is being both thoughtful and purposeful in advancing (in this case) SoTL. Think about why advocacy is needed with a person or group. Plan a thoughtful approach to your advocacy efforts, one that makes the stakeholders you seek to engage leave their interaction(s) with you changed in their thinking about SoTL. If you find yourself having similar conversations across a variety of stakeholders, that’s okay, as being advocative can be necessarily repetitive!
  3. Consider the advantages of code switching. I have facilitated a particular undergraduate language development course over a dozen times in the last decade at my university. One of the important concepts in that course’s curriculum is that of code switching, the notion that children learn to adjust the language they use (tone, vocabulary, delivery) based on who they are communicating with. I would argue that advocacy efforts require a similar type of code switching to make SoTL matter to a given audience. As there are very different stakeholder groups for SoTL (e.g., faculty, students, administration, accreditation groups), it is important to speak to language of the individuals you seek to engage in your advocacy efforts. SoTL should be made important to individual stakeholders in individual ways.
  4. Establish semantic congruency with specificity. We often lack semantic congruency in our discussions about SoTL. Why? A variety of words and phrases are used to talk about research on teaching and learning, which can lead to confusion (as discussed in this blog post a few weeks ago!). If you’re talking with folks about SoTL, be able to identify similarities and differences between SoTL and educational research, action research, or classroom-based research. Develop ways to describe well that which you advocate for.
  5. Mentorship is a critical component of SoTL advocacy. With experience, many SoTL scholars become mentors to novice student or novice/veteran faculty SoTLists. While this is wonderful, I would argue that mentees need to observe not only the work that goes into a SoTL project, but advocacy efforts to advance that work. This type of mentorship includes the sharing of practices and processes for self-advocacy and collective advocacy at any point in a project’s lifespan (pre, during, post) to advance SoTL at micro through mega levels of impact.


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The Mind of SoTL

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

Today’s blog is a little different than most I write, but is offered as a reflection on an important part of SoTL for many of us: the people we are fortunate to work with to better understand the dynamic duo of teaching and learning. My thoughts here were inspired by a mid-morning video conference call today with two of my favorite people in the world: Sarah Ginsberg and Colleen Visconti, both SoTL enthusiasts and fellow professors of speech-language pathology. I met them almost a decade ago when we all served on a coordinating committee for a special interest group in the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Our work on that committee led to our first professional collaboration, as well as cherished, enduring friendships.

Today’s call focused on our next project together, an edited book focused on the application of research on teaching and learning in the clinically-based classroom (stay tuned for our call for submissions!). I knew before the call started that our conversation would be thoughtful, collegial, fun, and productive. I was not wrong. The thing is, though, most of my interactions with folks around various SoTL topics make me equally happy, both personally and professionally. Conversations with others have confirmed that I am not alone in this! One has to wonder why…

Since becoming involved with SoTL almost a decade ago, I have found it remarkable that cross-disciplinary groups of higher ed stakeholders can occupy the space surrounding SoTL — almost uniformly — with such positive intentionality. We are diverse in discipline, culture, language, thought, and praxis, but we are united by our passion for teaching and learning. I would offer that there’s something unique about this shared focus that transcends anything other than a true desire to advance our SoTL discipline. In that vein, we are invested both cognitively and emotionally in our SoTL work.

A few years ago, I wrote a blog post that offered: while the heart of SoTL is in the classroom* — and likely always will be — it was made clear to me last week that the mind of SoTL is focused on interactions and relationships that advance our knowledge of teaching and learning. I think that this notion of the “mind of SoTL” being focused on interactions and relationships is more crystallized for me now than it was two years ago. I’ve come to understand that even my solo SoTL work isn’t truly solo. It focuses on the intricacies of the teacher/learner dynamic in an effort to change future interactions for the better. Through my collaborative SoTL work, I’ve developed a wide network of fellow SoTLists who challenge and inspire me, and, through my interactions with them, bring joy to the work that I already love to do. Truly, I am thankful every single day to be a part of the global SoTL community.


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SoTL, ER, and DBER: Thoughts Inspired by a Twitter Conversation

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

A few weeks ago, I published a blog post titled “Finding the Goldilocks fit for your SoTL manuscript.” As always, I publicized the new blog post on my Office of the Cross Chair Twitter account (@ISU_SoTL). Who knew that a really great question from Erin Whitteck (@EWhitteck) would engender such a great conversation over the following days?

tweetstorm

Folks contributing to the subsequent tweet stream offered the suggestion that there is overlap between disciplinary-based educational research (DBER), SoTL, and educational research (ER), but that the lines between these types of inquiry could be a bit blurry. Questions were raised about rigor, methodological differences, and resources for better understanding. Since then, I’ve been pondering. To get us into the same semantic sandbox, consider the following definitions:

SoTL “involves the systematic study of teaching and/or learning and the public sharing and review of such work. ‘Study’ is broadly defined given disciplinary differences in epistemology and the need for interdisciplinary SoTL…SoTL focuses on teaching and learning at the college level, and is primarily classroom based. Ideally, SoTL also involves application and use” (McKinney, 2007, p. 10).

“ER is the scientific field of study that examines education and learning processes and the human attributes, interactions, organizations, and institutions that shape educational outcomes. Scholarship in the field seeks to describe, understand, and explain how learning takes place and how formal and informal contexts of education affect all forms of learning. Educational research embraces the full spectrum of rigorous methods appropriate to the questions being asked and also drives the development of new tools and methods” (AERA, 2018).

“DBER is grounded in the science and engineering disciplines and addresses questions of teaching and learning within those disciplines…DBER investigates teaching and learning in a discipline using a range of methods with deep grounding in the discipline’s priorities, worldview, knowledge, and practices…DBER is informed by and complementary to general [educational] research on human learning and cognition” (Singer, Neilsen, & Schweingruber, 2012, p. 9).

In response to the suggestion that there is overlap between SoTL, ER, and DBER, I believe that to be an undeniable truth. Each focuses on research on teaching and learning, serves to add knowledge to better understand educational processes, demands rigor, and has the potential for impact across contexts (e.g., micro, meso, macro, mega). SoTL, DBER, and ER also each purport to embrace a wide array of research approaches, including qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods designs.

So, then, what about the differences? Here are a few that are important to consider:

  1. Both DBER and ER apply to K-12 research in addition to research in higher education. SoTL is focused on higher education.
  2. DBER is a form of ER, with a focus on science and engineering disciplines.
  3. The purpose of SoTL is to advance the practices of teaching and learning through systematic study and reflection (Larsson, Martensson, Price, & Roxa, 2017). The purpose of ER and DBER is to create generalizable knowledge about teaching and learning (Felten, 2015), though it should be noted that DBER scholars acknowledge a need to translate DBER findings to classroom practice, in line with SoTL (Singer, Neilsen, & Schweingruber, 2012).
  4. A common tenant of SoTL is that scholars study their unique learning contexts to better understand their teaching and/or their students’ learning. Most ER removes the investigator from the context being studied.
  5. While ER and DBER seek to create generalizable findings, most SoTL is not inherently generalizable as it often studies a single learning context and might study a small(ish) number of individuals. Rather, SoTL should be inherently replicable through the explanation of a systematic approach to investigation that is reported when results are disseminated. SoTL seeks to build generalizability over time as different constructs are studied in different places by different people at different times.
  6. SoTL embraces a “big tent” philosophy with a wide array of disciplines and diverse approaches to inquiry recognized as making important contributions to research on teaching and learning. As ER and DBER typically focus on education or STEM fields, theories, methods, and practices for these disciplines are typically utilized in those types of inquiry.

ER, DBER, and SoTL are all valuable forms of teaching and learning research. While there is overlap between and across these categories of research, they are not competitors. They exist on a continuum that encourages scholarly approaches teaching and further research on teaching and learning. I would argue that it is the interpretation of the similarities and differences of SoTL, ER, and DBER that friction might emerge, as we typically consider research through our own disciplinary lenses. That might be topic for a future blog all on its own…

So, Erin, I’ll try to answer Twitter question from earlier in November that launched this discussion: “what is the difference between a disciplinary SoTL journal and a DBER journal?” Honestly, there may not be a difference. In some fields, SoTL and DBER might both be published in the same journal. In others, it might be one or the other. I’d suggest that you look at the aims and scope statements for your discipline’s SoTL and DBER journals. Identify which aligns with the work you’ve done in terms of purpose (e.g., add or apply knowledge). If you’re not sure, editors LOVE getting emails from prospective contributors. I really mean this! Send an abstract of your work and ask if it’s suitable for their journal or ask a question or two to guide your efforts. Good luck!

Blog References:

American Educational Research Association. (2018). What is educational research? Downloaded from http://www.aera.net/About-AERA/What-is-Education-Research.

Felten, P. (2015). Principles of good practice in SoTL. Teaching & Learning Inquiry, 1(1), pp. 121-125.

Larsson, M., Martensson, K., Priace, L. & Roxa, T. (2017). Constructive friction? Exploring patters between educational research and the scholarship of teaching and learning. Paper presented at the 2nd EuroSoTL Conference, Lund, Sweden.

McKinney, K. (2007). Enhancing learning through the scholarship of teaching and learning: The challenges and joys of juggling. Anker Publishing: Boston, MA.

Singer, S. R., Nielsen, N. R., & Schweingruber, H. A. (Eds.). (2012). Discipline-based education research: understanding and improving learning in undergraduate science and engineering. National Academies Press: Washington, D.C.