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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Benefits to Faculty who Lead SoTL Research Teams with Students

Written by: Phyllis McCluskey-Titus, Professor of Educational Administration and Foundations at Illinois State University

Students can gain a number of important outcomes through participation in SoTL research teams with faculty. These outcomes include: enhanced research skills (Kardash, 2000); increased satisfaction with group learning (Panelli & Welch, 2005); helpful out-of-class contact between faculty and students (Cotten & Wilson, 2006); and increased connections between students and their discipline (Wayment & Dickson, 2008).

There are also significant benefits to faculty who facilitate SoTL research teams with students as co-researchers. As someone who has now led three different teams of students that studied teaching and learning, I can attest that there are some real benefits to faculty who invest time and energy into this process.

As a program coordinator as well as a faculty member, having willing student researchers allowed me to conduct a significant program evaluation that assessed student learning outcomes using national guidelines. The students developed and administered surveys, conducted interviews, and served as a review panel to rate and make recommendations from the information collected. Their assistance with writing the final report allowed the evaluation to be completed significantly faster than if I had been responsible for the entire process.

As a senior faculty member, conducting SoTL research with “learners” allowed me to keep the process fresh, and to examine different ways of conducting, publishing, and presenting research about teaching and learning with others who were not faculty. The students wanted to know why we used certain methods to collect or analyze data and forced me to reconsider and offer a rationale for what we were doing. One of the teams which was assessing learning outcomes contributed to the development of a survey instrument by asking not only what outcomes were achieved, but where and how students believed these outcomes were learned (class, graduate assistantship, volunteer experiences, professional associations) and this allowed our team to make stronger recommendations to faculty, supervisors, and other students about how to best direct their energies within the program to maximize their learning.

New faculty can certainly use a SoTL research team as “research support” when graduate research assistants are not available. For a small investment of time in teaching the team members, this group of student volunteers can be trained to help with any part of the SoTL research process. In exchange for authorship opportunities or presentation experience, even if funding is not available, SoTL research team members who are students can be more beneficial than finding a faculty mentor or partner to assist you. As the expert about SoTL and how to conduct research, you have to make sure you are very clear about the process and organization of your study in order to have students assist you. This forces you to be organized and prepared, and not put off research in favor of other responsibilities. Having the students involved will help you stay on task and on a specific timeline. By dividing the different tasks among the team members, everyone is able to contribute and learn in the process, and you may be able to be more productive and able to submit more research for publication or presentation.

Leading a SoTL research team is an important form of teaching, and a way to develop strong relationships with students outside the classroom. These relationships may allow a faculty member to better understand students in their program and classes and to adapt teaching methods accordingly. By conducting SoTL research with a team of students outside of class, faculty can learn about how students in their classes are making meaning of material covered and how they respond to teaching methods used. This information can assist in revising and updating syllabi, readings, assessments, and classroom activities to enhance the learning that students report or demonstrate.

Although the development of a SoTL research team takes time, the benefits to faculty in terms of possible enhanced productivity, nurturing relationships with students, developing new motivation and methods for teaching and conducting research, and being able to assess students’ learning are benefits that make this process worth it.


Cotton, S.R., & Wilson, B. (2006). Student-faculty interactions: Dynamics and determinants. Higher Education, 51(4), 487-519.

Kardash, C. M. (2000). Evaluation of an undergraduate research experience: Perceptions ofundergraduate interns and their faculty mentors. Journal of Educational Psychology,92(1), 191–201.

Panelli, R., & Welch, R.V. (2005). Teaching research through field studies: A cumulativeopportunity for teaching methodology to human geography undergraduates. Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 29(2), 255– 277.

Wayment, H.A., & Dickson, K.L. (2008). Increasing student participation in undergraduateresearch benefits students, faculty, and department. Teaching of Psychology, 35(3), 194-197.


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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.

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Graduate Students and SoTL: Informing, Encouraging, and Supporting

By Kathleen McKinney, Cross Endowed Chair in SoTL, Illinois State University

Many campuses work to involve graduate students in reading, assisting, conducting, and applying scholarship of teaching and learning projects/research. At Illinois State University, through the Office of the Cross Endowed Chair in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, we also do this via several mechanisms. We believe it is critically important for graduate students to learn about and have the opportunity to participate in SoTL as both an opportunity for more research experience and as a way of understanding and improving their teaching as graduate students and/or future faculty members. In this brief blog post, I summarize some of the mechanisms we have used. I encourage blog readers to comment and add ideas for other readers.

SoTL Reading Circle

We offer a SoTL reading circle to graduate students. We provide a book on SoTL (and sometimes other readings). In the past, we have used The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in and Across the Disciplines (McKinney, 2013, IU Press). Students do reading ahead of attending two required, facilitated group discussion meetings. At those meetings, particpants explore ideas about SoTL research, understand the value of SoTL in the role of professor, and consider opportunities that exist at ISU to support scholarly productivity as a SoTL researcher.  Generally, we limit each reading circle to 8-10 students. Participating students also earn a $150 stipend for reading the text and for active participation in both sessions. The stipend is applied to their student account at ISU (any funds remaining in a student’s account after account is paid in full are refunded to the student). And, of course, we feed the students as well!

SoTL Toolbox Session via Graduate School Toolbox Program

Our Graduate School offers regular professional development sessions, one hour in duration, on a wide range of topics to graduate students on campus. This year, we were able to add a SoTL Toolbox session to that list of offerings. About a dozen graduate students signed up for the session. We created a power point presentation about SoTL, its uses, making it public, and support on campus. We shared some SoTL related handouts. There was no monetary compensation for the graduate students but we did feed them!

Require Student Co-researcher on SoTL Grants

We offer a variety of SoTL related grants during the year for faculty members and academic staff. These include travel grants, mini-grants, and SoTL University Research Grants (URGs up to $5,000). For many of these grants, but especially the URGs, faculty/staff applicants must include at least one student (can be an undergraduate but is most often a graduate student) in meaningful roles on their research team. Doing so and outlining the non-trivial research duties in which the student will engage is one criterion for funding. This often leads to SoTL research presentations and papers co-authored by the PI and the student. Students have also presented on their experience working on the SoTL grant.

Selected SoTL Development Events Open to Graduate Students or Special SoTL Workshop for Graduate Students

Sometimes our office is able to offer space in SoTL workshops or other opportunities to graduate students. This depends, however, on the purpose of the workshop or opportunity, funding issues, timing, demand from faculty and staff, etc. Occasionally, we will offer a SoTL workshop just for graduate students and are able to target their interests, needs, and experience.

Opportunities for Involvement in SoTL Support Work by Our Office

A few years ago, when ISU was a leader in the Carnegie Foundation CASTLE Program, 2-4 graduate students were involved on the campus teams for these initiatives including traveling to CASTLE events and co-authoring chapters in a book on student voices in SoTL. More recently, graduate students in Art, English, and Communication have been hired to use their professional skills in our SoTL support efforts including designing the original cover of Gauisus (our online, multimedia SoTL journal), copyediting and formatting papers for Gauisus, designing PR material for events, and planning a major on-campus SoTL event.

Encourage/remind Graduate Students how to Make their SoTL Public Locally

Finally, we offer a variety of ways anyone on campus, including graduate students, can share their individual or team SoTL research and products locally. We inform graduate students about these opportunities via fliers, information to Chairs/Directors, FaceBook, Twitter, the graduate school, and so on.  The opportunities include writing very brief ‘articles’ for the SoTL at ISU Newsletter or The SoTL Advocate Blog, submitting a representation of their SoTL work to Gauisus, presenting at the annual Teaching-Learning Symposium, or having a poster at the annual University Research Symposium.



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Students Learning Research Skills Outside of Class: Benefits of Working on Research Teams

Written by: Phyllis McCluskey-Titus and Anne McDowell, Illinois State University (Department of Educational Administration and Foundations)

Dr. McCluskey-Titus and her student, Anne McDowell describe a SoTL study to track student learning as a result of out-of-class research experiences:

Introduction to the research study

This SoTL grant-funded study was undertaken to understand what type of learning occurs when graduate students participate with classmates in faculty-led research or assessment projects outside their structured curriculum. According to Jiang and Roberts (2011), graduate students who engaged in research opportunities outside of class reported learning more about conducting research and research methods, increased content knowledge about the topics being studied, and that learning research by actually doing it was active and engaging. This study involved ten master’s program alumni from two previous research teams and four current students as a part of the third research team, all directed by the same faculty member, who reflected on their experiences in writing and in one-on-one interviews about what they learned from conducting and presenting research with a team of their classmates. Some of the early findings about what students reported learning from their research experiences with teams are presented here.

Structure of the research team process

Students volunteered to be a part of an out-of-class SoTL research project that would allow them to write and edit a grant proposal and be trained on writing an IRB and completing CITI training. Students also learned how to:

  • develop appropriate research methodologies (including interview protocols and survey instruments)
  • conduct interviews
  • analyze quantitative and qualitative data
  • write proposals
  • present programs for conferences
  • write articles to be submitted for publication.

The teams met regularly (weekly or bi-weekly) over a year’s time for training and to complete work associated with the research projects. In between the meetings, everyone had assignments to be completed including literature searches, data collection, data analysis, writing and sharing drafts of the grant/IRB/surveys/interview questions/program proposal/article.

Learning outcomes reported by students working on research teams

For graduate students engaged in SoTL, there is compelling evidence that exposure to research experiences can enhance learning and other beneficial outcomes when the content is specifically designed to educate learners about scholarship or research. According to Schram and Allendoerfer (2012), SoTL “has the potential to train graduate students to be reflective teachers, gain research experiences, and integrate their teaching and research skills” (p.8). Many of the participants involved expressed that their learning expectations were met or exceeded as a result of participation in the research project teams.

“I hadn’t had any grant writing experience, but I knew that grants are important to education” (Adam, pg. 1). He goes on to state, “My expectations for learning were high to be totally honest, but those high expectations were met and exceeded as I got farther and farther into the project and I was able to articulate better what I had learned, what I was researching, the process that we were doing and the methodology that we used” (Adam, pg. 5).

Another student reflected,

“I’m really glad I participated in the project and had the opportunity to work with a professor and my cohort members on something that wasn’t required for a class assignment, but just for the sake of learning and experience” (Kaitlin, pg. 4).

Insights such as these support other research related to the relevance of engaging students in SoTL projects as part of a research team. According to McKinney, Jarvis, Creasy and Herrmann (2010), “When students seize such opportunities, they tend to find these experiences highly motivating and often demonstrate improvements in basic research and scholarly skills (p. 83).

Benefits reported by students working on research teams

In addition to the practical learning outcomes gained by the participants in this study, every participant in all three projects discussed the perceived benefits from participating in the out-of-class research opportunities. These included understanding the process of conducting assessment and research, having an opportunity to work closely with and redefine relationships with faculty and peers outside of the classroom, and the opportunity to give back or contribute to the profession.

For many, the experience also transformed their views about research as a valuable skill set.

“This project has definitely changed my view on research as a whole…Being part of this team has sparked an interest in research for me that I plan to continue” (Sean, p. 4).

Another member of the team stated,

“I never saw myself as one who would engage in research opportunities because I thought it was something only clinicians and professors pursued. After this experience I know this is not the case” (Anne, p. 3).

One of the unexpected discoveries realized by participants was the impact of research on the student affairs profession and their role in influencing work in the field. Using research in their day-to-day work was mentioned by members of the research team.

“I learned that, when done correctly, research data could be used to greatly improve parts of my job, said (Jeff, p. 4), and “I have gained such a large appreciation for research and assessment and hope to continue to give back to the field in these ways” (Janelle, p. 5).

The value of these findings solidifies the importance of exploring and engaging students in research for the betterment of themselves now, as well as their future work in their chosen profession.


Blog References

Jiang, F. & Roberts, P. J. (2011). An investigation of the impact of research-led education on student learning and understandings of research. Journal of University Teaching & Learning

Practice, 8(2). Available at:

McKinney, K., Jarvis, P., Creasy, G., Herrmann, D. (2010). A range of student voices in the scholarship of teaching and learning. In C. Werder & M. Otis (Eds.), Engaging student voices in the study of teaching and learning. (pp. 82-95). Sterling (VA): Stylus.

Schram, L.N.& Allendoerfer, M.G. (2012). Graduate student development through the scholarship of teaching and learning. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 12(1), 8-22.



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SoTL Graduate Student Reading Circle at Illinois State

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

Last week, the office of the Cross Chair in SoTL at Illinois State University hosted its first SoTL Reading Circle for graduate students. Nine students representing five academic disciplines participated to understand the contributions SoTL can make in and across disciplines. Jen Friberg organized and facilitated this reading circle.

The reading circle was organized in two sessions over the course of one week. Sessions were organized as follows:

  • Session 1 served as an introduction to SoTL for graduate students. ISU’s definition of SoTL and several foundational readings were discussed to assist students in understanding the difference between scholarly teaching and the scholarship of teaching and learning. Resources were presented to help students find disciplinary and cross disciplinary SoTL research to support their pedagogical choices. Students brainstormed possible SoTL research questions based on their own teaching experiences and talked about ways to develop relationships with SoTL research mentors.
  • Session 2 focused on readings from The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in and Across the Disciplines (edited by Kathleen McKinney). Students read 4 chapters of the text and discussed issues facing SoTL scholars, including acceptance of varied research methods and the need for both disciplinary and cross-disciplinary SoTL research. Students drafted an informal action plan for how they could move towards scholarly teaching and build capacity towards SoTL research involvement.

Student reactions to the reading circle experience were overwhelmingly positive. Comments indicated that all participants felt that it was a good “crash course” in SoTL and scholarly teaching and appreciated constructive discussion and problem solving. Many indicated an interest in establishing a SoTL research project over the next academic year. The Office of the Cross Chair in SoTL at ISU hopes to repeat this experience for a new cohort of graduate students in the fall of 2015 or spring of 2016.

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“Like a Fish Out of Water Coming Together” — What Students Learned as Research Team Participants for SoTL Grant-Funded Studies

Written by: Brandon Hensley, doctoral student and Phyllis McCluskey-Titus, Associate Professor, Department of Educational Administration and Foundations

At Illinois State University (ISU), grants are awarded to research teams that include students conducting Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) studies. There hasn’t been an assessment of students’ learning as members of these research teams, so this project was undertaken to understand what students learned from their experience conducting SoTL research with faculty. We hope this research contributes to knowledge of student-faculty research team learning outcomes on our campus.

We conducted a face-to-face focus group and email survey for data collection. Student participants involved in these teams since 2010 (n=7, 5 female and 2 male) were contacted and asked to participate. Only 3 students were able to be on campus for a face-to-face audio-taped discussion, but 4 students agreed to respond via email to the same discussion prompts. Two participants were undergraduates at the time of participation and five were graduate students.

The written email responses and transcription were analyzed using the constant comparative method. We engaged in thematic analysis of the data, reading the documents separately and then coming together for several sessions to identify patterns/clusters, meaningful quotes, and possible themes from the responses.

Students involved on these research teams had different responsibilities, like writing the literature review or IRB protocol, managing and analyzing data, or reviewing draft surveys. Some students were co-researchers, compiling research notes, analyzing and interpreting results, co-authoring or presenting conference papers, posters, peer-reviewed articles or book chapters.

Insights we gained from the results of this research included:

How much the students valued the collaborative process gained from conducting research with a team. “I think the most valuable thing I learned was how to be a part of a research team…and that’s tremendously valuable to me because I feel like now if I want to go forward and do more team research, I’ll probably walk in with more confidence…”

The value students placed on being able to “talk-through” or “reflect” about their learning. If reflection and communication did not occur between students and faculty, students reported feeling “undervalued, misinformed, and confused about their roles on the research project team.”

How students felt more socialized into their discipline by “…expanding the scope of my own academic pursuits and becoming more involved in the academic community.”

How students learned to struggle with theoretical concepts. A feeling of struggling “like a fish out of water” when learning and applying theory was expressed by a few respondents, with almost all of them noting some degree of difficulty in connecting theoretical frameworks to their research and their larger projects.

Students recognized research as a process rather than a destination. Students expressed learning the journey can be as significant as the outcome. “I also learned about how much work goes into the research process and what that process includes.”

In addition to the themes noted, we grouped students’ perceived learning outcomes into four clusters and used some of their own words to illustrate what they meant.

Cognitive/intellectual learning: “I think being a [research] partner made me a better thinker, made me a better writer. You persevere through these projects…that process of coming together, of thinking out loud, working toward end goals, made me a much better student and… a better researcher.”

Affective/interpersonal learning: this project “…increased my awareness of my own biases in working with diverse folks from different ethnicities, socioeconomic backgrounds, as well as academic fields (i.e. nursing, political science, etc.).”

Life/career skills: “I think this experience helped me gain more confidence in my talent and knowledge on certain subjects. This allowed me to step out of my comfort zone and learn that I am capable of doing research and presenting it to other professionals.”

Self-awareness: “I developed the ability to judge my own performance and abilities based on my limited knowledge of the type of research I entered into as a graduate student.”

What students did as members of their research teams and what meaning they made from these experiences was underscored by most of the participants as critical to their learning in college. Taken together, the findings in this study strongly suggest that SoTL research teams offer rich terrain to study student learning and development in ways that are engaged, critically reflective, and out of the traditional, often passive classroom lecture setting.