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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How Are We SoTL-ing?

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

In the run-up to ISSoTL 2017 last week in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, it might have been easy to miss that the latest issue of Teaching and Learning Inquiry (TLI), the journal of the International Society of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, has just been published. I had the opportunity to read several articles in this issue prior to traveling to the conference and was particularly interested in one article, Survey of Research Approaches Utilised in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Publications, which was co-authored by Aysha Divan (U. of Leeds), Lynn Ludwig (U. of Wisconsin-Stevens Point), Kelly Matthews (U. of Queensland), Phillip Motley (Elon U.), and Ana Tomljenovic-Berube (McMaster U.).

Why the interest? As a SoTL faculty/student developer, I am forever asked if there is a “preferred” method for engaging in SoTL. I have always addressed this topic from an anecdotal perspective, simply telling novice SoTL scholars that qualitative, quantitative, and/or mixed methods are all equally appropriate for SoTL, depending on the “fit” of the method to the study aims/design. With this paper, a bit more clarity was offered as a result of systematic study of three years of published SoTL journal articles.

Honestly, I imagined that there were far more qualitative methods employed in SoTL research than quantitative; however, I was incorrect. Overall, 223 articles from the following journals were studied: International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, the International Journal for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, and the Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. Across these articles, there was an almost even balance of quantitative, qualitative, and mixed methods research (see graphic below).

methods breakdown

Of even greater surprise to me were the following findings:

  • 84% of papers utilized a single data source for reporting (primarily students), which leaves the need for triangulation of data open for consideration in terms of future project planning.
  • Data from mixed methods studies were often times poorly integrated with only 30% of studies fully integrating qualitative and quantitative data as part of the discussion of findings.
  • 65% of studies relied on a single “snapshot” of data (data collected at one time only), which leads to thoughts on the value of/need for collecting longitudinal data to study student learning over time.

At ISSoTL last week, Gary Poole delivered a plenary address reminding us all that as professionals interested in SoTL, we have a choice to facilitate or hinder as we collaborate and mentor. As a professional developer for faculty and students interested in SoTL, I intend to share this information as a facilitative effort to grow SoTL at ISU (and beyond), helping future SoTL scholars to be mindful of trends, needs, and considerations in SoTL publishing. Specifically, I will urge SoTL researchers to:

  1. Seek out a “goldilocks” fit to connect their research questions to the type of data they collect. Why? This allows a researcher to determine whether research question(s) being posed are best answerable with qualitative, quantitative, or mixed methods approaches. A good fit is critical for a study to make sense to interested stakeholders.
  2. Ensure that data come from as many direct data sources as are necessary to form a strong foundation for any discussion of results/implications.
  3. Use indirect data sources primarily as support/triangulation for data collected from direct sources.
  4. Think carefully and critically about how data from a study is discussed. If the design selected has a mixed methods approach to data collection, then all aspects of data should be explored in an integrated manner to identify trends and accurately interpret and report data across the board.
  5. Consider whether data collected at multiple data points might be more appropriate for a study than a “one-time” data collection effort in order to best answer the research question(s) being posed.


Blog References:

Divan, A., Ludwig, L. O., Matthews, K. E., Motley, P. M., & Tomljenovic-Berube, A. M. (2017). Survey of research approaches utilised in the scholarship of teaching and learning publications. Teaching and Learning Inquiry, 5(2).


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Student Stories of Free Speech Acts on Campus: a Digital Documentary Film

Written by Maria A. Moore, Associate Professor and Mass Media Program Coordinator in the School of Communication at Illinois State University

free-speechI was thrilled to receive a SoTL Research Mini-Award for June 2016 funding in support of my documentary film exploring the lived experiences of students committing Free Speech Acts at Illinois State University. The grant allowed me to complete eight segments for this documentary and to prepare it for exhibition. Funded work involved additional scripting, voice tracking, graphic design, and final editing for the documentary.

The documentary follows the Free Speech Act experiences of twenty undergraduate communication students in the School of Communication at ISU. The speech acts were based on a topic of the student’s choosing and were conducted in person and in public. Topics included testing on animals, body image, Black Lives Matter, the misrepresentation of women in the media, mental health awareness, and various aspects of state and federal politics. The students spoke about the context and experience of their speech acts, as well as participating in interviews about their topic and about the learning they gained about Free Speech itself.

The documentary will be publicly screened for the first time in Los Angeles in October 2016 at the annual conference for the International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching & Learning (ISSoTL). The conference Telling the Story of Teaching and Learning, accepted the film for the topic threads of ‘learning to tell stories’ and ‘student stories’.

The project may have implications for other SoTL scholars. While this particular digital documentary film specifically follows a variety of student participants in Free Speech Acts at one Illinois State University, this model of inquiry may be practical or inspirational to others who wish to infuse their institution with a different campus-wide Free Speech concept or to document student story and voice through documentary filmmaking techniques.

Questions? Contact Maria at

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SoTL Methods Series #3: Survey

Written by Jennifer Friberg, SoTL Scholar-Mentor at Illinois State University

Survey research is that which uses directed questioning (via interviews, focus groups, or written questionnaire) to understand the perceptions, knowledge, or attitude held by a group of people about a given topic. In SoTL research, surveys are used to gather perceptions of stakeholders to better understand a particular teaching or learning question. Each of the types of survey research are briefly defined below:

  • Interviews and focus groups are types of surveys that allow face-to-face conversations between researchers and participants in a study to answer a variety of questions about a topic. Whereas interviews are typically conducted with a researcher and a single participant, focus groups typically involve a larger participant group (e.g., one researcher and a group of 6-8 participants).
  • Written questionnaires are a type of survey that allows participants to answer a variety of standardized questions about a topic for analysis and interpretation. Written questionnaires can be paper-based or electronically-based. There is no direct, face-to-face interaction between researcher and participant when using a written questionnaire.

Trochim (2006) indicates that there are two critical steps in conducting a survey-based research study: selection survey method to be used and construction of the actual survey instrument. A very helpful list of considerations for these steps can be found at

One of the primary considerations of survey research is how to best reach your intended pool of participants in order to increase your overall response rate. Written questionnaires can be distributed via paper-based or electronic-based (email, course management software, or direct link to survey software such as Survey Monkey) methods. Increasingly, researchers are using social media (e.g., Twitter, Facebook) to assist in recruiting participants for all types of survey-based research. Suggestions are offered on several sites to maximize participant recruitment for surveys and focus groups.

Benefits of survey research include: low cost to researcher, typically better demographic representation in participant group than with other methodologies, less subjectivity in administration with good survey design, and increased precision in data collection (Bishop-Clark & Dietz-Uhler, 2012). Drawbacks of survey research include less flexibility in data interpretation and a need to ask questions carefully to minimize inconsistencies in participant interpretation of questions.

Exemplar SoTL research articles using survey methodologies include the following:

Gaston, S. & Kruger, M. L. (2014). Students perceptions of volunteering during the first two years of studying a social work degree. International Journal for the Scholarship of teaching and Learning, 8(2), article 11.

McNamara, T. & Bailey, R. (2006). Faculty/staff perceptions of a standards-based exit portfolio system for graduate students. Innovative Higher Education, 31(2), 129-141.

Finally, the following non-research reference might be helpful to any scholars seeking more information about case study-based research:

Fowler, F. J. (2009). Survey research methods. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Blog References:

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

Friberg, J. & Cox, M. (2014, October). Selecting methodologies for your SoTL research projects workshop: Supplemental workshop resource. Unpublished paper.

Trochim, W. M. K. (2006). Survey research. Downloaded from