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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Taking a Scholarly Approach to the New Academic Term

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

screen-shot-2017-01-09-at-12-42-50-pmMany of us have are anticipating (or maybe already experiencing!) a new academic term. My fellow Redbirds have one more week before we are back in the classrooms of Illinois State University. Recent conversations with colleagues have revolved around course design/prep and general thoughts about the upcoming semester. I’m guessing this is the case at most colleges and universities.

For me, the weeks before a new term are always times of reflection and consideration. I ask myself questions like: What worked last time I taught this class? What didn’t work? How can I engage more students in a way that makes sense for my course and my course design? Again, I’m guessing that I’m not alone in pondering these topics. And, while we can choose answer these questions via SoTL inquiry, that isn’t always possible for a number of different reasons (resources, competing priorities, etc.). Thankfully, there is ample research on teaching and learning that we can apply to help answer these questions — we just have to access it!

The following resources each describe the evidence base for common beginning of the academic term issues: How do I construct a syllabus? How will my students best learn? What is the advantage of various grouping strategies for my students? What are “best” practices for the first day of class? Happy reading and have a great term!

The Center for Teaching and Vanderbilt University constructed a very useful webpage to highlight important, evidence-based considerations for syllabus construction, addressing questions such as:

  • What are the most important elements of a learner-centered course syllabus?
  • What is the relationship between syllabus construction and course design?
  • How can the tone of the syllabus impact learners?
  • What other resources are available to support faculty in constructing “good” syllabi?

Indiana University of Pennsylvania have gathered a reference list of “what to do on the first day of class,” with cross-disciplinary research and evidence from several different disciplines (e.g., sociology, psychology, calculus, English), as well.

Kathleen McKinney collated a sampling of things we know about learning from SoTL research, outlining findings from seminal texts in teaching and learning from the last decade.

Rick Reis from Tomorrow’s Teaching and Learning offers suggestions — grounded in evidence — for establishing collaborative groups for students, and in so doing, offers pros and cons for random, instructor generated, self-selected, and mixed groups.

 

Public domain photo downloaded from: https://pixabay.com/en/teach-word-scrabble-letters-wooden-1820041/

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Reflecting on Phase One of ISU’s New CSI-SoTL Program

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

Screen Shot 2016-06-29 at 10.18.48 PMEarlier this year, I wrote a blog describing the Certificate of Specialized Instruction in SoTL (CSI-SoTL) program I co-developed in concert with my colleague, Amy Hurd, Director of the Graduate School at Illinois State University. Amy was interested in developing certificate or badging programs in various areas of focus for ISU’s graduate students; I was interested in developing a long-term effort to engage graduate students in the pursuit of scholarly teaching and engagement in the scholarship of teaching and learning. Thankfully, a collaboration was timely for both of us and the CSI-SoTL program emerged.

Quite honestly, Amy and I were unsure what type of interest students would have in our CSI-SoTL program. We created marketing flyers and sent information describing the program to all graduate students at ISU. Students with “a strong interested in teaching at the college/university level following graduation” were encouraged to participate. No stipends or course credit were offered as “carrots.” Rather, we hoped that students truly interested in learning about SoTL would join the program. Our goal was 10 participants; 13 enrolled. The breakdown of participants was as follows:

  • 7 males, 6 females
  • 8 doctoral students, 5 Master’s students
  • 12/13 students were involved in teaching within their discipline
  • Representation from the following disciplines (n): sociology (1), communication (2), English (3), politics and government (1), information technology (1), special education (2), economics (1), chemistry (1), and agriculture (1)

As conceptualized, the CSI-SoTL program was developed to help graduate students understand the purpose, definition and applications of SoTL to support current and future teaching, learning, and research efforts. Students enrolled in the CSI-SoTL program just completed the first of three phases:

  1. A three-workshop series on the topics of SoTL and My Teaching and Learning, Methods for SoTL, and Sharing My SoTL Work (October-December, 2016)
  2. Developing a SoTL project in consultation with a faculty SoTL research mentor (January-March, 2017)
  3. Systematic reflection during and after completion of workshops and project planning (Completed in April 2017)

Following the completion of Phase One, students were asked to evaluate their experiences across all three workshops the attended. Students indicated the following with quantitative data based on a Likert-type scale where 1=strongly disagree and 5=strongly agree:

Mean SD
I was well informed about the objectives of each workshop in the series. 4.53 .52
I understand the difference between scholarly teaching and the scholarship of teaching and learning. 4.62 .51
Workshop content was relevant to my role as a student. 4.54 .66
Workshop content was relevant to my role as a teacher. 4.62 .51
The content of these workshops stimulated my interest in teaching and learning. 4.62 .51
I am more likely to engage in scholarly teaching/learning as a result of my attendance at these workshops. 4.85 .38
I am more likely to engage in SoTL as a result of my attendance at these workshops. 4.85 .38

When asked to describe the most valuable aspects of the Phase One workshops, students provided the following feedback:

  • I really enjoyed learning about what SoTL is and how it’s different from just “good teaching” and “scholarly teaching.” I also appreciated the resources that were provided.
  • The most valuable aspect was the feedback from fellow members of the group. The ability to discuss your questions or concerns with a receptive, intelligent audience helped me grow in my pursuits.
  • Getting to know other people’s SoTL research ideas.
  • In-depth discussion of research interests/questions.
  • Facilitator catered information to each participant’s disciplinary background, which helped to incorporate a diversity of opinions.
  • I view these workshops as a crucial step toward effective pedagogy. All graduate teaching assistants could benefit from this certification training.
  • First session was very educational and made me wish I had learned this was a field sooner.

Students offered the following suggestions to improve Phase One:

  • It would be great to send an email out in advance outlining specifically what we’ll be covering in each section.
  • The workshops were great. The only interesting addition might be an online discussion between workshops to talk with one another.
  • I feel like they could be longer! More work time together to bounce ideas off one another.
  • Could have some materials included and distributed before meeting every session like pre-memo email with articles and links.
  • Have homework.
  • More workshops! Perhaps have this as a for-credit class.

So, what to do with all this information? Plan for next year’s CSI-SoTL program!! While I am not sure that we will offer this program for course credit in the future, Amy and I will chat about ways to integrate students’ feedback to create a better experience for the next group of enrollees. I am already planning to integrate more “out of class” work and am intrigued by having an online discussion group for “in between” workshop queries, reflections, etc.

What is to come for this year’s CSI-SoTL participants in Phases Two and Three? I am in the process of matching each student with a faculty mentor with SoTL experience from their own discipline to plan a SoTL project. Together, each student-mentor pair will develop a detailed plan for a SoTL research project including research questions, methods, ethical considerations, and dissemination outlets. Students will share their projects with each other at an end-of-program event where they will be awarded their certificate for completing the CSI-SoTL program.


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Institutionalization of SoTL: Thinking About Outcomes at Two ISUs

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

Recently, Marcketti and Freeman (2016) published an article in the Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning focused on outcomes following adoption of promotion and tenure policies that support the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) at Iowa State University. In their work, Marcketti and Freeman provide a wonderful summary of the issues impacting the institutionalization of SoTL, highlighting the need to develop consistent and visible reward structures for faculty engaging in SoTL. Specifically, these authors focus on the creation of SoTL-friendly promotion and tenure policies to acknowledge the value of SoTL work.

Marcketti and Freeman (2016) provide the language from Iowa State University’s Faculty Handbook, which offers the following guidance:

  • SoTL is valued and should be held to similar standards of rigor and peer review as other, disciplinary research and/or creative activity.
  • While all faculty should engage in scholarly teaching, not all faculty need engage in SoTL.
  • If a faculty member does choose to pursue a research agenda that includes SoTL, all SoTL work “counts” as scholarship and/or creative activity, rather than as a part of assigned teaching responsibilities.

This language serves to promote, extend, and support SoTL at Iowa State. This is evidenced by the fact that five-year averages calculated by Marcketti and Freeman (2016) for faculty engagement in SoTL have ranged from 44-52% for faculty on their campus (see article for variation by faculty seniority and type of SoTL work). I view these data as remarkable and think that those involved in the process of developing this supportive and productive environment for SoTL at Iowa State should be commended.

Thinking about this work several days after my initial read of Marcketti and Freeman’s article, I found myself wondering how typical these outcomes are at other institutions in terms of faculty involvement and engagement in SoTL. Closer to home, I considered the current SoTL support structures at my own university and have pondered what else I might do to proactively support SoTL at Illinois State University.

Harkening back to my days as a school-based speech-language pathologist, I often worked with children to help them reflect on their learning using a “KWL” chart. In doing so, I encouraged students to identify what they knew (K), what they wanted to know (W), and (after an experience) what they learned (L). In reading Marcketti and Freeman’s work, I considered the work done at Iowa State from an adapted KWL perspective to perhaps illuminate future efforts at Illinois State and other institutions:

  1. What mechanisms do you have in place to support SoTL at your institution?
  2. What processes can be developed to establish and extend support for SoTL on your campus? How can these be developed?
  3. What are the outcomes of these supports? Have they served to increase SoTL engagement and support? In what ways?

I think that attention to this last item — outcomes of the supports in place for SoTL — is critical. One basic rationale for SoTL is that we can’t assume that learning happens just because we think it does in our classrooms. Similarly, I would argue that we can’t assume that faculty engagement happens simply due to the provision of support for SoTL. Rather, we need to evaluate the mechanisms that are put into place to identify those most successful at our individual institutions.

Faculty engaged in SoTL at Illinois State University have access to research grants, travel grants, workshops/trainings, consultation, publishing opportunities, social media support, and a robust SoTL-specific website. Our institutional strategic plan, Educating Illinois, specifically mentions the need to grow SoTL on campus. With these numerous supportive mechanisms in place, I am unsure which are most helpful for faculty, individually or collectively. There is work to be done to examine outcomes from these programs and initiatives. Additionally, while I am aware that many departments/schools at Illinois State University support and value SoTL, I am not certain whether any specifically mention SoTL as part of their promotion and tenure policies and procedures. Thus, there is additional work to be done to understand the impact of supportive reward structures at my institution.

Thanks to Marcketti and Freeman for their article and their work at Iowa State University. I appreciate the fact that colleagues from the “other” ISU helped me to think about efforts to support SoTL on my campus from a new and different perspective.

Blog References:

Marcketti, S. B. & Freeman, S. (2016). SoTL evidence of promotion and tenure vitas at a             research university. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 16(5), 19-31.


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The Students-As-Partners in SoTL Movement: Wonderments from ISSoTL

Written by Jennifer Friberg, Cross Endowed Chair in SoTL at Illinois State University

notes-for-blogDespite being a devotee of technology, I am a pen and paper note taker (and probably always will be). At conferences, in particular, I take copious notes in a my “SoTL journal” of the moment, capturing whatever is of interest to me at a particular time. ISSoTL this year was no different, my handy SoTL journal was filled with pages of scrawled notes, doodles, arrows, and connections as I processed all I heard.

My notes from the session presented by Angela Kehler, Roselynn Verwoord, and Heather Smith titled Power and Voice: A Critical Analysis of the Students-As-Partners Literature were particularly interesting. Looking them over, I noticed that I only recorded questions, evidently channeling my dissertation advisor who regularly challenged his students to view curiosities as “wonderments” for future reflection and study.

Kehler, Verwoord, and Smith posed the following questions as part of their presentation:

  • How can we infuse more systematic critique into the students-as-partners literature to avoid being overly laudatory/celebratory in our reporting of outcomes?
  • How do we underestimate power in the students-as-partners movement?
  • Who is the safe space for in the students-as-partners movement? What hierarchies are being supported and/or perpetuated in the work we engage in?
  • What is the aftermath of students-as-partners work? Can students who have experienced increased autonomy/responsibility due to changing power structures be happy when they return to the “norm” after their experience is over?

Thinking about these questions led me to scrawl a variety of additional wonderments in my notes that I find myself still pondering, three weeks after the end of the conference:

  • Can value-shifts in the students-as-partners movement be likened to code-shifts used by successful communicators? Might code-shifting represent the first behavioral change in successful student/faculty partnerships?
  • When and how do important transitions in faculty/student partnerships happen?
  • Is flexibility in interpretations of traditional role structures important? How are these behaviors modeled in successful student/faculty partnerships?
  • What makes partnership “real” in terms of buy-in and experience for all stakeholders?
  • What is the intersection of collegiality and friendship in faculty/student partnerships? Is there a need for such a divide?
  • My best collaborations have emerged from long-term relationships with trusted and well-known colleagues. Is it possible to develop similar, deep collaborations in shorter-term relationships lasting one term/year?

Kehler, Verwoord, and Smith offered that the students-as-partners movement is multi-faceted and complex with many moving parts and warned of the dangers of being “uncurious” about the things happening around us. It would seem that based on the discussion at this and other sessions at ISSoTL, we are far from uncurious about student/faculty partnerships, which, I think is a very good thing.


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The Mind of SoTL: Quotes from ISSoTL 2016

Written by Jennifer Friberg, Cross Endowed Chair in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning at Illinois State University

It’s Sunday night and I’m sitting in the airport in Minneapolis on my way home from the annual meeting of the International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (ISSoTL) in Los Angeles. Using my ridiculously long layover to reflect on my conference experiences, I am happy to report that ISSoTL this year was packed with intriguing ideas, great conversation, and many opportunities to learn. Looking over my notes from the past week, I’m struck by the number of speaker/contributor quotes that I recorded to reflect on in the coming weeks — each of which illustrate the diversity of thoughts and ideas typical of ISSoTL and celebrate SoTL’s big tent quite well. The following is a sampling for your consideration:

We are influenced by narratives of constraint in SoTL. – Karen Manarin (Mount Royal University) during the CUR Pre-Conference Symposium

How do we underestimate power in the students-as-partners movement? — Heather Smith (University of Northern B. C.) during the session titled “Power and voice: A critical analysis of student-as-partners literature”

When things become logical, they become real and then they become second nature. — Tom Klein (Loyola Marymount University) during his plenary titled “Visual logic as a thought structure for framing stories”

Is SoTL about doing better or is it about doing better things? — Tony Ciccone (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee) in remarks at the closing plenary titled “Oh the places you’ll go! Imagining the future of and with SoTL”

We speak SoTL as a second language….those of us who know it well need to be translators. — Margy MacMillan (Mount Royal University) in comments to the panel during the closing plenary.

Each of these quotes reflect on important relationships in the scholarship of teaching and learning and focus on key inter- and intra-personal concepts intrinsic to SoTL across a variety of stakeholders: engagement, advocacy, contingency, expression, balance, reflection, mentorship, and integration. 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’m thankful to my SoTL colleagues for their contributions last week and look forward (already) to ISSoTL in Calgary in 2017. More to come on ISSoTL 2016 in the coming weeks. Stay tuned!


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Finding the “Sweet Spot” Across a Continuum of Student Roles/Voices in SoTL

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

Last week in her blog post, my colleague Phyllis McCluskey-Titus discussed the benefits for faculty who engage in SoTL work with students. She identified a variety of outcomes that make SoTL mentorship with students a reflective and productive endeavor, and explained each from her perspective as a mentor and facilitator of SoTL work with students. It was clear from her reflections that Dr. McCluskey-Titus’ work with students favored the establishment of strong connections with students through the development of collaborative research relationships. My read of this blog post led me to recall the continuum of the range of student voices developed by McKinney, Jarvis, Creasey and Herrmann (2010) which outlined the spectrum of possibilities for student voices to be heard in the context of SoTL work. This continuum is summarized in the following graphic:

continuum visual

As a Commons, we are seeking to increase student voices in SoTL – an initiative that I fully support! I think it’s necessary, timely, and right to engage students in SoTL in a similar manner as we do in our disciplinary inquiry. That said, it’s not always easy! The above continuum yields a host of potential stopping points for students engaged in SoTL, from acting as a research subject to helping with clerical work, to helping with analysis, to co-development/independent project development. All forms of engagement in SoTL can potentially be of benefit to students and faculty, but perhaps some more so than others. This continuum would suggest that to be the case.

In my experience, there are faculty-driven and student-driven contextual factors that influence the ability to involve students as more than just research subjects in any given SoTL project. The following represents a non-exhaustive list of questions/bottlenecks that I’ve pondered in terms of developing a faculty mindset for student inclusion in SoTL research:

  • Time – Does a student have ample, focused time to allocate to a SoTL project in the midst of a busy semester? If so, does a faculty member have the freedom to spend a great deal of time mentoring a student over the course of a project? Is this expenditure of time honored/valued as part of the teaching/research/service trifecta?
  • Timing – Is a student seeking involvement in a project right as a faculty member is in the process of developing one? Is it feasible for a student to be engaged with an entire SoTL project across multiple semesters in terms of his/her plan of study? Can a student contribute to a SoTL project on a short-term basis in a way that is meaningful to his/her learning and the aims of the faculty co-researcher?
  • Depth – What level of student involvement in SoTL work yields benefits for students and faculty?

These questions lead to more. Where is the “sweet spot” for student engagement in SoTL research? How do you find it? I would offer that perhaps the best fit for student involvement in SoTL is quite literally a moving target, dependent on contextual factors (considerations of time, timing, depth, etc.) that impact the ability to engage students across the continuum McKinney and colleagues describe above. There will be times where all the variables fall into place and a faculty/student research team can develop and study a teaching and learning question together collaboratively with complexity from start to finish. More often, there will be times where a student can work with a faculty member on a SoTL project in a more limited fashion, necessitating a need for less complex or active involvement in the work being done.

We know that students can benefit in a variety of ways from engagement in SoTL work. I would argue that knowing these potential benefits, we can work to adapt even short-term “lower continuum” involvement in a SoTL project to be a positive learning experience for students if we mediate the experience well. We need to talk to our students, explain the genesis of our research wonderments, describe the choices we made as researchers in terms of methods/analysis, and discuss what we might do with the outcomes of our SoTL work. In doing that, we have the opportunity to turn a less active/less complex student role in a SoTL project into one with a strong connection to the project and instructor, therein tying the student experience to both ends of the student voices/roles continuum and (hopefully) maximizing student learning/engagement in the process.

Blog Reference:

McKinney, K., Jarvis, P., Creasey, G., & Herrmann, D. (2010). In Werder, C. & Otis, M. M. (Eds). Engaging student voices in the student of teaching and learning. Sterling, VA: Stylus.

 


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One Idea for Introducing Graduate Students to SoTL: An Interactive Reading Circle

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

SoTL Reading Group 1

In May and June of this year, the Office of the Cross Chair in SoTL sponsored its second annual SoTL Reading Circle for graduate students. Eight students representing varied disciplines (special education, English, sociology, psychology, history, politics and government, geology, and women’s and gender studies) met to learn about the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) and to consider how scholarly teaching and/or SoTL might fit into their lives. The goal of this reading circle was to help students to understand SoTL and its contributions to classrooms, programs, institutions, and disciplines through:

  • exploration of the definitions of scholarly teaching and SoTL
  • identification of possible student roles in scholarly teaching and SoTL
  • discussion of how knowledge of SoTL can enhance teaching and learning
  • conversation centered around topical assigned readings.

I acted as the facilitator for the reading circle and worked to structure our meetings to invite discussion about teaching and learning. Adhering to Gutman, Sergison, Martin, and Berstein’s (2010, p. 36) conceptualization of ownership as a “linchpin for collaboration,” it was a priority for students to understand that SoTL was important to them as both students and as prospective faculty. We talked at length about their roles as scholarly teachers/learners and as scholars of teaching and learning and together generated the following lists of tips for both roles:

Tips for Scholarly Teaching and Learning

  • Find out if your discipline has its own pedagogical journal. Seek it out. Read articles of interest to you. Think about how the research on teaching and learning that you read about is similar to or different from “traditional” research in your discipline. Reflect on these similarities and differences.
  • Think about potential faculty mentors who engage in scholarship on teaching and learning. Set up opportunities to talk with them about their experiences. Ask them to be “meta” and walk you through their thought processes in terms of setting up or reading scholarship on teaching and learning.
  • Consider scholarship on teaching and learning with a “consumer’s mindset.” Even though SoTL is contextualized, reflect on outcomes from scholarship with an eye towards application to support your own teaching and/or learning efforts and use what you learn to improve your practices.

Tips for Scholars of Teaching and Learning

  • Think carefully about your teaching and learning wonderments. Look toward past inquiry to see what has been studied and consider how your research question(s) can be adapted to make new contributions.
  • Seek out mentors to help you structure your project. Invite them – or others – to collaborate with you.
  • Don’t feel as though your SoTL needs to look like the scholarship done by other individuals. Design a project that reflects your interests (in terms of your research question), methods that make sense within your discipline, and ways to share your outcomes that are appropriate to the work you’ve done.
  • Use the resources around you to work smarter and find support for your scholarship (we discussed specific resources here at ISU via the Office of the Cross Chair, including grants, trainings, blog, website).
  • Consider SoTL from a “producer’s mindset,” and think about strategic ways to share your work with others to improve teaching and learning on your campus and beyond.

We engaged in discussions across multiple shared readings from journal articles as well as from The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in and Across the Disciplines (McKinney, 2013). Students drafted possible research questions and collaborated to determine ways in which their questions could be studied. All in all, we spent five hours together having really interesting conversations about teaching and learning. Two students from this summer’s reading circle cohort are currently seeking disciplinary mentors for a SoTL project, to which I say, “hooray!”

Student interest in this past summer’s reading circle opportunity was immense and led to an upcoming collaboration with ISU’s Graduate School for the 2016-17 academic year. My office will be co-piloting a Certificate of Special Instruction in SoTL for graduate students, providing systematic study of scholarly teaching and SoTL as well as a guided experience in planning a SoTL project under the direction of a mentor (hopefully from the student’s discipline…stay tuned!). We are excited to have a new mechanism to introduce graduate students to SoTL and look forward to sharing outcomes from this endeavor in the not-too-distant future.

Blog References:

Gutman, E. E., Sergison, E. M., Martin, C. J., & Bernstein, J. L. (2010). Engaging students as scholars in teaching and learning: The role of ownership. In Werder, C. & Otis, M. (Eds.). Engaging student voices in the study of teaching and learning. Sterling, VA: Stylus.

McKinney, K. (2013). The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in and Across the Disciplines. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.