Written by Jennifer Friberg, Cross Endowed Chair in SoTL and Professor of Communication Sciences & Disorders at Illinois State University
Back in April, I wrote a blog regarding the impact of SoTL that was inspired by my reading of this article by Nancy Chick. I’ve thought a lot about the notion of impact since that time, considering how we encourage changes in teaching and learning as a result of our SoTL efforts. I’ve engaged in conversations with numerous colleagues (on my campus and at others) about how they adapt their teaching praxis in the presence of good evidence to do so. As a result of these exchanges, I feel at least somewhat confident that our SoTL work IS making change; however, these conversations have left me wondering if we aren’t missing a huge opportunity to truly increase the impact of our SoTL efforts and outcomes. In no conversation about how SoTL has changed our teaching and learning did anyone I spoke with discuss sharing SoTL with their students. There was discussion about changing course content, assessment, or management, but each of these things was described as occurring in relative solitude as part of next generation course design.
I find it curious that we study our students to understand the components of meaningful learning and teaching experiences, but in doing so, (at least some of us) miss out on purposeful sharing of SoTL outcomes with our students so they can make changes to THEIR praxis as learners. We have generated so much evidence that shows us how students learn (and learn well!). They should have access to this information and it’s my strong opinion that we should help facilitate that access.
Here are a few thoughts as to how we might be more purposeful in bringing students into the SoTL loop — feel free to share other thoughts and ideas in the comments below:
- Share information about relevant, evidence-based learning strategies as part of your class. Many course instructors have “syllabus review day” during the first course meeting of a new term. While there are great suggestions about alternative ideas for that first course meeting circulating social media this time of year, perhaps a focus on successful learning strategies might be a worthy way to spend that first class together. Share what you know about evidence-based learning strategies that might be useful for your students in your context. Let them know that you’re a resource and would be interested in answering questions about evidence-based strategies for learning. Provide resources for students to access this information themselves.
- Mediate! Tell your students WHY you’ve designed your course or assignment or assessment in the manner that you have – share your evidence! I do this frequently with my students and have found that if I can provide the rationale for what they are doing, and that research has shown a pedagogical approach to be impactful, I have more buy-in and (anecdotally) more active engagement in the task(s) at hand.
- Share what others in your discipline have identified as evidence-based learning strategies for emerging professionals. How do sociologists develop a sociological imagination? How do mathematicians generalize concepts to varied contexts? How do historians read a text and assess primary sources? How do speech-language pathologists, nurses, or dieticians transfer theory to clinical practice? SoTL has helped us understand these discipline-specific phenomena. Unlock these connections for students to visualize a path toward professional practice that is grounded in evidence.
- Use your social media smartly. Does your university have a Twitter or Instagram account where you could populate content about evidence-based ways to learn or study? Can you feature links to and/or summaries of the work of SoTL scholars on your campus to highlight what you know about learning in your own institutional context? Can you manage (or co-manage) an account yourself that does this?
- Offer to guest “lecture” about evidence-based learning at a meeting of a student organization tied to your discipline or some other movement. Talk to students about research on teaching and learning and how outcomes of such research can support their work as students. There is evidence that out-of-class learning through student organizations, service learning, and civic engagement have efficacy. Let students know the benefits of these efforts!
- Take care in making assumptions about what students know. Based on the fact that our students are enrolled at our colleges/universities, it would be easy to think that they have unlocked the mysteries of learning deeply and well. They wouldn’t be college students if they hadn’t accomplished that, right? I’m not convinced this is actually the case. I have spoken to numerous students who engage in low utility learning strategies to master material who are frustrated with their lack of ability to make connections and applications across topics and classes. My bias? Assume that your students would be interested to know more about teaching and learning until you know differently.
Writing on a similar topic, McKinney (2012, p. 3) suggested the following strategies for bringing students to SoTL, specifically by discussing the “how” and the “why” of SoTL research and findings emerging from such inquiry:
- Make SoTL public at conferences students attend and in publications students read.
Create a local SoTL journal or newsletter aimed specifically at college students at
your institution or a national/international one for students in a specific major or
- Use SoTL publications as required readings in courses where they are appropriate
such as a disciplinary/department new majors‟ orientation class, a research methods course, a capstone course, or a professional socialization course.
Facilitate and invite students to sessions on learning on campus that share, and
discuss implications of, local SoTL results.
- Volunteer to create a session at your disciplinary meetings focusing on key SoTL
results and explicitly involve and invite students.
- Add a section of relevant SoTL study results and any implications for students to
your department website within the web pages for students.
- Help organize a panel where SoTL researchers present and lead a discussion with
students at a meeting of your student disciplinary/department club.
- Include in your courses, when appropriate, reflective and meta-cognitive
assignments that help students relate SoTL literature and findings to their own
learning opportunities and behaviors.
McKinney, K. (2012). Increasing the impact of SoTL: Two sometimes neglected opportunities. International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 6(1).