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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Making Global Learning Connections: Sydney, Australia and Illinois State University

Written by Judith Briggs, Associate Professor in the School of Art at Illinois State University

briggs blogI received SoTL travel funds from the Office of the Cross Endowed Chair in SoTL to present a best practice lecture at the National Art Education Association Convention that was held in Chicago, Illinois in March 2016 in conjunction Karen Profilio, Head Visual Arts Teacher, North Sydney Girls High School (NSGHS), Sydney, Australia, and Sarah Schmidt an Illinois State University (ISU) art teacher alumnus who participated in in the 2015 ISU Art Education in Australia summer course that I taught. This presentation is summarized below.

Students’ Out-of-Class Learning Opportunities

Within this course ISU art teacher candidates (TCs) visited the visual arts departments of nine New South Wales (NSW) secondary schools, attended a Visual Arts and Design Educators Association workshop that focused on educating students about Aboriginal art, attended a graduate visual arts education class at the University of NSW, visited galleries and places of interest, and reflected on the effective manner in which NSW visual arts educators incorporated art historical and critical study and contemporary artists’ practice into their art classrooms. NSW visual arts educators demonstrated techniques for analyzing and asking in-depth questions about artwork, writing informed reflections, and developing guided student inquiry within art production. They shared curriculum and teaching practices. Profilio tutored the ISU TCs in recognizing big ideas within contemporary artwork and in seeing art as a transformative medium that can address social issues. ISU TCs watched North Sydney girls in action within lectures, digital media performances, and artwork critiques. TCs viewed student work and student visual arts process diaries. Profilio suggested ways that U.S. art educators could work collaboratively to explore new art forms, such as installation and relational aesthetics.

Within the conference lecture Profilio detailed a Year 7 unit “The Artic Pops!” that asked the overarching question, “Is art transformative?” to highlight the qualities of resilience, connection, and innovation, which shape aware, effective global citizens. The ISU TCs saw all elements of this unit in progress when they visited North Sydney Girls School in 2015, and came to understand that a unit of lesson plans should have depth, discuss the meaning behind artists’ work, connect this meaning to the world, include writing and reflection, and enable a class to work collaboratively to develop ideas. Profilio shared unit materials with the ISU TCs, and TCs recorded their observations in visual process diaries and through photographs.

Students’ Reflections

When TCS returned to ISU, they reflected on their experiences and collaboratively developed the following observations concerning the NSGHS approach to visual arts education:

  • The NSGHS visual arts teachers collaborate to create rich, multi-layered units, especially for older students.
  • At NSGHS there is an emphasis on the transformative nature of art and on its ability to speak to wider social and cultural concerns outside of the art classroom.
  • At NSGHS there is an emphasis on student research and on an understanding of the concerns that drive the artists whom the students are studying.
  • At NSGHS there is a push to move outside of the classroom and into the wider world through the study of diverse artistic practices, such as installation art and relational aesthetics.
  • At NSGHS there is a focus on student empowerment, especially concerning girls.
  • The NSGHS visual arts educators use innovative artistic practices, such as time-based work, that are inspired by contemporary artists’ practices.

My students and I concluded that the NSGHS visual arts educators and students practiced arts-based research (Marshall & D’Adamo, 2011; Rolling, 2011) that stressed the creative process, rigor, concept, research, and technical skills. This research has student autonomy as its goal and encourages interdisciplinary thinking and making connections across disciplines. Arts-based research encourages critical thinking while engendering a range of experiences, and it depends upon visual arts teachers, who act as guides, to channel students’ interests.

Operationalizing Students’ Reflections

I incorporated the following ideas from student reflections of their NSGHS experience into the curriculum of the ISU art education methods courses that I taught the subsequent semester:

  • I changed the curriculum from being theme-based to one that stressed the big idea.
  • I stressed that TCs could convey the message that art can be empowering and transformative.
  • My curriculum stressed that investigating artists and artwork was a way to interpret and to understand contemporary society.
  • I emphasized that artistic practice was an intellectual practice that taught students to think.
  • The curriculum drew attention to the fact that TCs and their students could be both artists and researchers, and emphasized researching artists and their practice to ask critical questions for higher-level understanding.

These changes to my approach to this class led to a curriculum development project for students emphasizing research-based approaches to pedagogy. ISU TCs, consequently, created art education curriculum units that:

  • encouraged transformative thought by questioning racial stereotypes, using the artwork of Kara Walker and Kehinde Wiley as examples
  • used a NSGHS unit of study to explore the painting of artist Marlene Dumas, who questioned societal notions of race and appearance
  • engaged students with the community via message boards, post-it notes, sidewalk chalking, and house painting and led her students out of the art classroom in the process, following the work of Candy Chang
  • focused on girls’ and women’s empowerment and taught a unit based on the work of artist Verimus who altered public magazine advertisements of models to question the media ideal of perfection
  • featured the work of artist Nina Katchadourian and helped students decode artifacts for their cultural resonance.

All ISU TCs created curriculum, using constructs from the NSW Visual Arts Syllabi, the Frames and the Conceptual Framework, along with the U.S. National Visual Arts Standards that promote creating, presenting, responding and connecting, to guide question creation and investigation of artists’ practice.

Overall, the conference lecture emphasized that global teaching and learning connections could be forged over continents to broaden teaching and learning possibilities. NSW visual arts educators’ practices informed those of ISU and helped to broaden teaching practices through reflection, integration of in- and out-of-classroom learning, and collaboration.

Blog References:

Board of Studies NSW. (2013). Visual arts stage 6 syllabus. Retrieved from   

Marshall, J., & D’Adamo. (2011). Art practice as research in the classroom: A new paradigm in art education. Art Education, 64(5), 12-18.

National Art Education Association. 2016. Convention resources. Retrieved from

North Sydney Girls High School. (2015). Year 7: The artic pops!

Rolling, J. (2011). Art education as a network for curriculum innovation and adaptable          learning. (National Art Education Association Advocacy White Paper for Art Eduation). Retrieved from National Art Education Association website:


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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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Reflective Writing: Students’ Monitoring of Their Own Learning Goals

Written by: Sandra Osorio, Assistant Professor, Early Childhood Education at Illinois State University

Recently, I redesigned my science methods course to include instruction on working with students from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, developing a unique out-of-class learning experience for students enrolled in this course. Upon completion of the redesign, I developed a SoTL research project to answer the following question: How do the experiences provided in my redesigned course affect pre-service teachers’ cultural awareness? This SoTL study took place in my science methods course with 26 students, all of whom were female. While the majority of participants were White, one student self-identified as Latina.  All were preservice teachers.

Participants were enrolled in this course during the final semester of classes before student teaching.  As part of the redesigned course and it’s out-of-class learning component, participants visited a local classroom which included Spanish-English bilingual students for a total of twelve times to teach science lessons. After each session in the classroom and at the end of the entire experience, participants completed weekly reflections. The focus of this blog will be on initial findings from the written reflections and final reflective papers with a focus on changes in cultural awareness as a result of this new learning experience.

At the beginning of the semester, participants set personal learning goals they were expected to use as a basis for their weekly reflections. Participants’ goals related to teaching science and working with students from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.  Reflection on these goals allowed participants to connect their learning to their prior knowledge and monitor their own learning each week.

All participants’ goals related to working with students from culturally and linguistically diverse background were similar, reflecting aspirations such as:

  1. becoming more comfortable working with ELL students
  2. incorporating their cultures and previous knowledge into lessons
  3. using appropriate accommodations for those ELL learners
  4. connecting with culturally and linguistically diverse students to make them feel important and included

At the conclusion of all twelve clinical experiences, data were analyzed and interpreted. Initial reflections indicated that participants had some misconceptions related to working with bilingual students. Many of the pre-service teachers made the assumption that bilingual, really meant Spanish only, as can be seen from these student reflections:

  • “students might not be proficient in English, so when I was speaking I made sure to speak clearly and slowly enough so they could understand”
  • “being able to use my Spanish background if needed to assist them at any time”

In reality, participants were able to see that Spanish-English students were on a continuum between the languages with varying degrees of proficiency and that their assumptions about bilingual language use were not accurate.

As participants gained more experience with their bilingual students, I was able to see areas of growth and change with regard to cultural awareness. An example of such growth is Madison, who demonstrated that she was able to apply course content to her teaching experience:

“While I was working with two of the students, one asked me if he could describe the objects in Spanish.  I knew that it was important for the students to practice their English, but this activity wasn’t about the language, it was about exploring the properties of objects.  I told the student to try his best to use English, but if he couldn’t think of the word Spanish was okay.”

Similarly, Kacey wrote in the following in one of her reflections, applying the need to use active learning to facilitate vocabulary growth:

“Specifically, hands-on learning is critical for ELL students.  By providing ELL children with the opportunity to experience the learning and construct his or her own knowledge, he or she is more likely to comprehend and retain the information.  As teachers, it is important to allow ELL students various ways to learn.  By using a hands-on activity with Hannah and I’s lesson, we will be catering to the students’ needs.”

Data reflected that participants were constantly reflecting deeply on their experiences. Anna noticed that students were only using basic words such as colors to describe the objects they were given in the lesson. She said,

“Since majority of the students are ELLs they would have benefitted from explicit vocabulary instruction about how to describe and what words to use.  When working with the children I noticed that students didn’t use a variety of adjectives to describe objects.  Being able to critically reflect and think about this lesson will help me strive to reach the goals that I have set for myself.”

Anna’s reflection actually led to some changes when the lesson was retaught.  Participants decided that the first lesson of each unit would concentrate on a wider range of descriptive words. For subsequent lessons, one of the participants developed a reference word list for students which (based on participant reflections) supported not only ELL students, but all students in the classroom, as well.

The most important aspect of this redesigned course was the real world experience.  This allowed participants to change some of the common misconceptions they held and also put into practice what they were reading and learning.  This was expressed in one of Kacey’s final reflections,

“Throughout college I always felt very unprepared for having ELL students in my future classroom. I felt as though I was having a hard time comprehending the strategies without getting the chance to practice them. Therefore, getting the opportunity to be in classroom with ELL students every week was very beneficial for me. I was able to take all of the ELL teaching strategies that I have learned in my past courses and see them in action.”

Reading the reflections, I found participants still made some negative assumptions about ELL students, but they also made important strides towards their own personal learning goals and those of the course, in terms of increasing cultural awareness. These initial findings demonstrate the effectiveness of this activity within my course redesign.  Exposing participants to real-life scenarios working with culturally diverse students was an effective technique to encourage changes in thinking and application of learning.  Growth was likely facilitated by having participants write their own learning goals, so learning was differentiated to meet their individual needs.

Overall, data collected for this project helped inform changes for the next time I work with students in a similar fashion. By having students write about how they are working towards their goals and reflecting on their awareness of culture, I was able to see the connections students make to prior learning and how to better support them in the future.

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Knowing Who We Are

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

I have spent the last two decades of my life as a speech-language pathologist (SLP), working directly with children who have communication disorders, teaching/mentoring SLPs-in-training, and contributing to the evidence base for clinical practice and pedagogy in my profession. From the onset of my career as an SLP, I’ve answered the question, “what exactly do you do?” hundreds of times. As friends and family understood my professional life a bit better, this question was asked less frequently. That all changed this year, however, when I accepted the role of Cross Endowed Chair in SoTL at ISU. I’ve been asked “what exactly do you do?” more often than ever…and I can completely understand the confusion! Providing a 35,000’ overview of my role is difficult, but this description is usually a good start:

I work with students and faculty who are interested in research and reflection on teaching and learning in higher education. I foster opportunities for networking, funding, completion, and dissemination of teaching and learning research at ISU and beyond.

I actually find it more difficult to explain my role to faculty and students, from my university or from others. This is likely due to the multitude of different approaches to/perceptions of educational development for SoTL across institutions. Timmermans and Ellis (2016) recently wrote of their work to reconceptualize SoTL programming/support at the University of Waterloo. The combination of a smaller scale needs assessment combined with a university-wide task force led these authors to support and (successfully) implement a broader view of scholarly teaching, rather than a narrower view of SoTL, to guide educational development efforts. Their data indicated that to be the “Goldilocks fit” for their institution —  not too big, not too small, but just right — to engage faculty and students in the study and reflection of teaching and learning.

The work of Timmermans and Ellis (2016) led me to think in a different yet focused way about SoTL at ISU. While SoTL support at the University of Waterloo is undertaken by the Center for Teaching Excellence, we have a different arrangement at ISU. I began to ponder the organizational structure for SoTL development and whether that might be the true driver in helping us understand and know who we are on our respective campuses. This, in turn, led me to consider the impact of the structure for teaching and learning at ISU on how SoTL support is sought and perceived.

At ISU, there is a great deal of support for teaching and learning. We have a robust Center for Teaching and Learning (CTLT) as well as a strong and growing influence in SoTL via the Office of the Cross Endowed Chair in SoTL. These entities are completely separate (different reporting and funding structures) though few realize that there is purposeful separation between the two campus units. For me, it is critical that our campus units be perceived as different. Why? Oversight for the Office of the Cross Endowed Chair is provided by the Associate Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies, which legitimizes and supports SoTL as an accepted, valued, and important form of research for our campus. This differentiates SoTL, institutionally, in a hugely positive way. Knowing who we are in terms of SoTL at ISU begins here.

Collaborations with CTLT extend from this notion, allowing an interactive and productive relationship across the continuum of good teaching, scholarly teaching, and the SoTL (McKinney, 2007). Because I am a visual person, I tried to capture the work we do graphically:

CTLT v CC image

I am thankful that the organizational structure for educational development in teaching and learning at ISU has allowed us our “Goldilocks fit.” We have good and scholarly teaching encouraged by CTLT and scholarly teaching and SoTL encouraged by the Office of the Cross Endowed Chair in SoTL. It’s a balance, but one that is working at our institution. And, that’s really the key in a world where there is no one “right” approach to encouraging and supporting SoTL, isn’t it? The ability to support research and reflection on teaching and learning to honor the uniqueness of our institutions and their needs is critical. Thanks to Timmermans and Ellis for giving me the chance to reflect on this today!


Blog References:

McKinney, K. (2007). Enhancing learning though the scholarship of teaching and learning: The challenges and joys of juggling. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Timmermans, J. A. & Ellis, D. E. (2016). Reconceptualizing the scholarship of teaching and learning at the University of Waterloo: An account of influences and impact. New Directions of Teaching and Learning, 146, 71-78.


Might the 4M Framework Support SoTL Advocacy?

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

Within SoTL, there are as many similarities as differences. As SoTL scholars, we are alternately inter- and intra-disciplinary in our focus. We operate within different areas of our big tent. We disseminate our work locally, but often seek national and global audiences. SoTL is diverse and different and context-specific but also uniformly focused on improving teaching and learning.

This dynamic orientation for SoTL impacts how we share and advocate for SoTL. With the work I have been doing the last several years, I have found that I advocate differently for SoTL based on my immediate audience: individual researchers, students, department chairs, university administration, disciplinary leaders and organizations. This is likely true for many of us, as we seek support for the important work we do with SoTL. I have often wished for a more organized – or perhaps more efficient – way to conceptualize my SoTL advocacy strategy. In my readings today, I may have found one.

Wuetherick and Yu (2016) recently shared their study exploring the state of SoTL in Canada, reporting input on practices and trends from the perspective of 140 respondents, each SoTL scholars in Canada.  Input from these individuals (gathered via survey) was organized across a four-level framework, which I will term the 4Ms for efficiency: mega, macro, meso, and micro. Use of this 4M framework allowed interpretation of data important to understanding SoTL from a variety of viewpoints, representing individuals and groups. Each of these levels is defined below:


Data from the Wuetherick and Yu (2016) study provided focused perspectives on each of these levels of influence, alerting readers of interesting trends such as these:

  • While SoTL research influenced 99% of respondents to change the design and implementation of their course, only 52% worked in institutions where SoTL is encouraged via promotion and tenure policies.
  • Different academic/disciplinary departments/units valued SoTL inconsistently, with 50% of respondents indicating that their departmental culture encouraged participation in SoTL.
  • Two-thirds of respondents felt as though there have been increases in the quality and quantity of venues for sharing SoTL work, but only 35% reported adequate campus-level funding for SoTL work.

While these data (and the rest contained within the study) help to inform the state of SoTL in Canada, they also provide a very solid foundation for SoTL advocacy in that country. There is a clear starting point in terms of where attention could be drawn to benefit the micro level (increase funding for SoTL work), the meso level (encourage meaningful changes in departmental culture for greater support of SoTL), the macro level (adapt promotion and tenure policies to support the work of SoTL scholars), and the mega level (continue to increase the profile of dissemination outlets for SoTL work).

Others could use a similar model. Single institutions could survey faculty or others could band together in a more collaborative effort (as was seen in Canada) to outline regional or national priorities for advocacy based on available data. All in all, it would seem as though the 4M framework might give an important starting place for purposeful and strategic advocacy across shareholders to advance and grow SoTL.

Blog Reference:

Wuetherick, B. & Yu, S. (2016). The Canadian teaching commons: The scholarship of teaching and learning in Canadian higher education. New Directions in Teaching &

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Reflections on ISU SoTL Scholar-Mentor Program

Written by: Kathleen McKinney, Cross Chair in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, Illinois State University

For the last three years, at Illinois State University, we have had a program called the “SoTL Scholar-Mentor Program.” I have served as the facilitator of these scholar-mentors. This program overlaps somewhat with scholar programs at other institutions that either fund SoTL researchers/grants or use faculty members as SoTL faculty developers. We also fund a variety of faculty/staff SoTL grants and research. We also use paid and volunteer faculty to assist others with learning about SoTL or SoTL projects. We believe our additional SoTL Scholar-Mentor Program, however, is somewhat unique. In this blog post, I summarize the goals and features of the program, share links to some scholar-mentor reflections, and reflect on the program from my point of view.

The ISU SoTL Scholar-Mentor Program

There are two main goals of the SoTL Scholar-Mentor program. The first goal is to nurture faculty members who are interested in SoTL– but who also have SoTL experience– in terms of furthering their own SoTL work, strengthening their experience as SoTL mentors and faculty developers, and connecting them to the SoTL field beyond campus. The second goal is to provide additional and valuable ‘personnel’ to the Office of the Cross Chair in SoTL so that we can achieve our goals of SoTL support, research, and advocacy.

All tenured or tenure-track Illinois State University faculty members with experience in the scholarship of teaching and learning are eligible to apply to be a SoTL scholar-mentor. Scholar-Mentors receive a course reassignment to the Office of the Cross Chair for the semester(s) for which they are accepted and $3,000 in travel and/or research funds for the fiscal year they are a scholar-mentor. Scholar-mentors were eligible for other SoTL funds open to any faculty/staff member as well. SoTL Scholar-Mentors work directly with the Cross Chair in SoTL and any other scholar-mentors. They have some time to work on their own SoTL project and to travel to SoTL conferences. In addition, they take responsibility for certain SoTL support and mentoring services depending on their expertise, interest, and initiative.

Reflections from Scholar-Mentors

Over the course of the three years, we have had six different SoTL Scholar-Mentors; four of whom served more than one semester. The scholar-mentors represented three colleges and six departments or schools within our university. Several of the scholar-mentors made brief reflective comments about their experiences (Dr. Erin Mikulec of the School of Teaching and Learning, is still serving as a scholar-mentor). I share these below.

A reflection by Politics and Government Professor, Dr. Michaelene Cox can be found at She summarizes some of her work as a scholar-mentor and notes that “…the less tangible, but no less important, result of serving as a SoTL Scholar-Mentor is that I met a host of smart and delightful colleagues from diverse disciplines that I might not have run across otherwise. The position gave me practice and greater appreciation for teamwork and collaborative problem solving. It broadened my understanding of SoTL, and boosted my confidence and experience in mentoring others about this work. And lastly, the past year in service as a Scholar-Mentor provided a unique perspective on the spirit of teaching and learning that forms the foundation of ISU’s mission. “

Dr. Maria Moore, a professor in our School of Communication, offers a brief reflection of her SoTL Scholar-Mentor experience at She explains what she brought to our SoTL support efforts and some of the tasks she performed. She also said that “One of the best parts of the SoTL Scholar-Mentor experience was the collaborative nature of working with the other mentors and with Kathleen McKinney as our leader. As the other scholars came from different disciplines, I was able to learn a great deal from them and through their own mentor activities. There was such a wonderful creative spirit to our collaborative work, and it was deeply rewarding to see the success they had in their own initiatives.”

Drs. Jen Friberg (CSD) and Anu Gokhale (Tech) share summaries of their Scholar-Mentor work in a joint brief article at . Similar to other scholar-mentors they highlighted benefits of their experience including the chance to learn new things, form new networks and partnerships, and collaborate with others. Dr. Friberg, in a personal communication to me, indicated that “her experiences as a SoTL Scholar-Mentor have been instrumental in developing a ever deepening interest in SoTL, peer mentoring, and advocacy for SoTL at and beyond ISU. Work in this capacity allowed me to develop the skills and knowledge I will need to be successful in my role as the Cross Endowed Chair in the coming years.”

Phyllis McCluskey-Titus, professor in Educational Administration and Foundations, in a personal communication to me, wrote “Some of my best experiences doing research relate to SoTL. Helping others design their projects or offering feedback on how they have written their findings was a very rewarding part of my role as a SoTL Scholar-Mentor. I find that SoTL researchers tend to be a lot like my disciplinary colleagues, collaborative and interested in students and their learning, so I enjoyed talking with “SoTL people” about effective teaching and incorporating suggestions from their research into my own classes. Working with Kathleen McKinney and the other SoTL Scholar-Mentors was never work, but always good quality time spent designing programs and services in support of SoTL on our campus with wonderful, thoughtful people from whom I learned a great deal.”

Reflections from the Cross Chair in SoTL

As I look back on the three-year program, several anecdotal conclusions occur to me.

  • All the Scholar-Mentors and all the applicants were women.
  • Scholars indicated several positive outcomes from their experience including learning new things related to SoTL and/or faculty development, meeting new people including in other disciplines and institutions, forming new partnerships sometimes with students, and having new opportunities for collaboration and team-work.
  • Though not mentioned in the above brief reflections, scholar-mentors also worked on their own SoTL research or writing, and traveled and presented their work. All the scholar-mentors attended international SoTL conferences. All the scholars also had previous, current, and/or later funding for SoTL research or travel through this office.
  • Most SoTL Scholar-Mentors became more involved in SoTL in their disciplinary association and/or in the international, multi-disciplinary SoTL field in terms of joining new organizations or professional service.
  • I tried to ‘match’ scholar-mentors with their interests, strengths, or desire to learn new things when negotiating the SoTL support/development tasks on which they would each take the lead or assist. This seemed to work out well for everyone in terms of motivation and success at task completion.
  • I, the Office of the Cross Chair, and those doing SoTL on campus benefited greatly from this program as the Scholar-Mentors often had strengths I did not (e.g., making video documentaries, using social media to promote SoTL and the office; working with external grant agencies…). In fact, most of the scholars came up with new and/or innovative programs or initiatives on which they took the lead and that I most likely would not have accomplished alone.
  • Scholar-mentors generally seemed to be very busy, possibly over-committed, professionally, yet most often were able to complete the support/development work on time and with quality. A few tasks were not completed to the extent I may have had in mind but this occurred rarely and not, necessarily, as the result of any scholar-mentor ‘failures’.
  • I enjoyed my interactions with these women tremendously. We had many successes and accomplishments as well as enjoyed some social time.




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Why SoTL Matters

Written by Erin Mikulec, Associate Professor (School of Teaching and Learning) & SoTL Scholar-Mentor at Illinois State University

As the semester draws to a close, I have been reflecting on how SoTL has impacted my teaching and research.  This semester has been different than others for me in terms of SoTL as I have had the wonderful opportunity to serve as a SoTL Scholar-Mentor and to participate in the SoTL Commons Conference in Savannah, Georgia. These activities have led me to think about how SoTL has shaped the work that I do, both in terms of teaching and research.

One valuable aspect of SoTL is that it provides insight into how class projects and activities are effective…or not. For instance, one of my first SoTL projects examined the learning outcomes of 4-week peer-teaching and classroom management project that I have had my students do for several years.  While I had always felt strongly that the project was an impactful experience for my students, it wasn’t until I analyzed their work and reflections as data that I was able to identify not only the strengths of the project, but also where it could be improved.  Of course, not all projects go as planned or have the outcomes that one would hope for.  This became clear during a subsequent SoTL project in which I studied the learning outcomes of an online international experience. My students communicated via online discussion forums with students at a university in Japan, and while the students were excited about the project, it fell short due to differences in communication styles and beliefs about the role of educational technology which varied across the two cultures. While it would have been possible to simply conclude that the project was not as successful as I had hoped, it was the analysis of the student work, both from the U.S. and Japan, which led me to understand those two important pieces, and to not simply chalk it up to “logistics”.

SoTL research not only identifies learning outcomes, but it also informs instruction.  The data generated by the two projects described above, one successful and one less so, impacted my classes significantly. In the class with the peer-teaching project, I was able to place greater emphasis on certain aspects, such as preparing students for the experience and providing more opportunities for discussion and reflection. This made the project even stronger. In my class with the international experience, I worked closely with my university partner in Japan to identify ways in which we might support and encourage more interaction and communication amongst both groups of students.  In both instances, it would have been easy to simply say that one project worked and the other didn’t. However, it was through SoTL that I was able to take the results of my research and apply them to my practice.

In addition to supporting classroom practices, SoTL serves as a means for instructors and advisors to work effectively with university students. In my first semester at Illinois State, I began working with the ISU Equestrians.  As a faculty co-advisor, I attended meetings, accompanied riders to horseshows, and provided administrative support as well as conflict management.  This led to my very first SoTL study in which my co-author and I examined the learning outcomes of participation in a Registered Student Organization (RSO).  It was through this project that I realized the importance of recognizing that university students are in a constant process of transitioning from student to professional and that our role as instructors and RSO advisors is instrumental in supporting this process, through learning to work with others on the team, working with external stakeholders, problem solving, and communication.  Our research, which began with our own ISU team, eventually led to collecting data regionally and nationally.  What’s more, making our research public through conference presentations and publications, allowed others to begin to look at these processes as well.

Finally, SoTL conferences and events provide a venue for instructors and researchers to share their work in a supportive environment. I have attended a number of such conferences, such as ISSOTL and SoTL Commons, and am always impressed and inspired by the work that others are doing.  Often, I believe that in the College of Education we take for granted the validity of researching our teaching and using the results to inform our practices.  It was at my first SoTL conference that I understood that this is not necessarily shared in all colleges and departments. This only reinforced for me the importance of SoTL and encouraging SoTL researchers to participate in conferences and make their work public.  It is through these venues that SoTL researchers have a voice that will hopefully encourage them to continue in their work. Furthermore, having served as a SoTL Scholar-Mentor this semester has been a wonderful experience in working with colleagues across campus to develop their own SoTL work.  All in all, while I have always believed strongly in the power of SoTL, this semester has helped me to understand the multiple ways in which SoTL matters.