By Leslie Lewis, Reference and Instruction Librarian at Gumberg Library
The How-To’s of SoTL
Have you ever experimented with a different teaching technique? Or created a new kind of assignment for one of your classes? And it worked really well? Your students seemed more engaged; they did better on their tests; their final research papers or projects were much better than in previous years? And you wanted to share what you learned with others? But you were not sure how.
Would you like to experiment with a new teaching technique or try a different type of assignment or capstone project in one of your courses? And see how it impacts your students’ learning?
Well, if you are not already involved in this growing field of research and scholarship, then you are a prime candidate for doing the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, or SoTL, as it is affectionately known.
Kathleen McKinney (2003), a faculty developer at Illinois State University renowned as a pioneer in SoTL, defines the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning as “systematic reflection on teaching and learning made public” (p. 6).
Did you know that you can turn your classroom into a research lab where you are the Primary Investigator (PI) and your students, who consent to voluntary and anonymous participation, are the subjects in your research? Because your students are, of course, “human subjects,” you will need to get Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval, if you plan to use the results of your research outside your institution.
If you have done discipline-related “human subject” research before, then you are probably well-acquainted with the IRB process at your institution. If not, your local IRB Office – and likely your teaching and learning center or faculty development office, will be ready and eager to assist you as you begin to write your IRB protocol.
Once you have IRB approval, you teach your course, incorporating your new techniques or assignments. At the end of your course, after final grades are in, you may then begin analyzing and evaluating your students’ performance, assignments, reflection, and/or feedback, as delineated in your protocol. You will, of course, need to do a literature review to see if and how others have used this same or similar technique or assignment both within and outside your discipline.
You are very pleased by what you have learned, and, more importantly, by how much more engaged your students were and how they seemed to understand concepts better and/or learn skills more easily. You then write up your findings.
Now, what? You want to share these findings, publicly, outside of your institution. So you write up an article and submit it to a scholarly journal that focuses on education in your field or on SoTL in general. Or you submit a presentation or poster proposal to one of your professional associations in order to try to present your findings at one of your professional conferences.
If all goes well, and pending any necessary revisions, six months to a year or so later, you find that your article is being published in a peer reviewed journal and/or you are presenting on your SoTL research before your peers at a conference.
Wow! Congratulations. You have just completed and published/presented (or maybe even both!) your Scholarship of Teaching and Learning research and findings. And hopefully, others will learn from your research and incorporate similar – or even slightly different – techniques or assignments in their classrooms all around the country, or the world, and their students will be more engaged and learn more, too.
SoTL Projects Examples
Faculty at your institution may well have been publishing and presenting their SoTL research for quite some time, and you might just not be aware of it. Here, at Duquesne University, for example, faculty from multiple disciplines have been actively engaged in SoTL research in recent years.
Dr. Jason Ritter in the School of Education did IRB-approved research on pre-service elementary teacher views on the relationship between diversity and democracy and then presented at the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) Annual Conference in 2012. In 2013, he had an article on his research published in Social Studies Research and Practice.
Dr. Elisabeth Vasko and Dr. Anna Scheid in the Theology Department of the College of Liberal Arts presented on their research, “Critical Reflection: Lessons Learned from Teaching Racism and White Privilege in the Theology Classroom,” at the 2012 Annual Meeting of the College Theology Society and then later had an article published in Teaching Theology and Religion.
Cynthia J. Lennox and Kathleen S. Barnard, both instructors in the English as a Second Language Program, recently presented at the Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) International Conference on enhancing cross-cultural skills and self-awareness through interactive interventions.
I myself have done and am doing SoTL research here at Duquesne. My first project was an interdisciplinary one with Dr. Autumn Stewart in the School of Pharmacy. She helped me tailor one of my freshman core Research and Information Skills sections, which was composed mostly of pre-professional pharmacy freshmen, so that students were exposed to appropriate pharmacy resources and topics. The students loved this aspect of the class and were far more engaged because we were exploring resources and topics relevant to their future discipline, one in which they would not begin taking discipline-specific courses until their third year. This interdisciplinary partnership evolved into a peer-reviewed poster at a national pharmacy conference.
While most faculty feel very confident doing research within their disciplines, many, depending on discipline, are often flummoxed at first by research in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. For one thing, they are accustomed to doing literature reviews within their disciplines but often are not familiar with doing literature reviews on SoTL or SoTL within their disciplines. Secondly, SoTL research tends to be qualitative in nature or a mixture of qualitative and quantitative, and faculty who have never done qualitative research before are sometimes a bit hesitant to make this leap. This is particularly true for faculty in natural or health sciences disciplines or ones where research is primarily quantitative in nature.
Faculty should not, however, be hesitant to do SoTL research just because it is something they have never done before. The staff at college/university teaching and learning centers, like the Center for Teaching Excellence (CTE) here at Duquesne University, are on hand to assist faculty with getting started in their SoTL research. In addition, CTE has sponsored very productive SoTL faculty learning groups over the past several years. The examples of SoTL scholarship by DU faculty mentioned above all grew out of participation in CTE SoTL faculty learning groups, and several of the faculty who have gone on to publish/present their SoTL research have also won creative teaching awards. This fall CTE will be sponsoring an Interdisciplinary SoTL Faculty Learning Group for those who are interested in doing SoTL research for their interdisciplinary courses, which are increasing in number not only at Duquesne but also nationally.
For those who are not sure where to begin literature reviews for their SoTL research, I encourage you to contact a reference librarian at your college/university library. Your library may even have a librarian on staff with specific experience assisting faculty with SoTL research. I am a Reference and Instruction Librarian here at Gumberg Library and provide library outreach to our CTE. I have been an integral part of the SoTL faculty learning groups and have provided one-on-one assistance to many faculty members who are just getting started with literature reviews for their SoTL research. Just like I do, reference librarians at almost any academic library can assist faculty in finding relevant literature in both SoTL journals and disciplinary journals and advise them on which journals are appropriate for SoTL scholarship in their disciplines. Librarians love working with faculty and assisting them in the literature review aspect of their research!
Please check out our SoTL guide for more information and resources on SoTL; publishing and presenting SoTL research; and gaining IRB approval. And get started on the road to original SoTL research today!
McKinney, K. (2003). What is the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) in higher education? Teaching/Learning Matters, 33(1), 6–7.
Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (2014, September 29). Retrieved from Gumberg Library website: http://guides.library.duq.edu/sotl