As Metropolitan State University of Denver moves back toward some version of “normal,” faculty members are asking: How can we do effective and efficient professional development while bearing the post-pandemic burden? The answer: The struggle is real! Faculty and staff members have all experienced the emotional and physical stress of teaching, service and scholarship during the pandemic. How can faculty and staff members become more efficient and reduce this stress while still managing to produce professional scholarship?
Take a SIP of this: what is Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, and why do it?
See Figure 1 above for an illustration of what SoTL entails.
The Center for Engaged Learning at Elon University says Scholarship of Teaching and Learning “involves faculty (sometimes in partnership with their students) undertaking systematic inquiry about student learning – informed by prior scholarship on teaching and learning – and going public with the results.”
There are several reasons why faculty members engage in SoTL. First, it allows faculty members to gain perspective and understanding of our students that enhances their learning and informs our teaching. It also improves the quality of education and instruction within departments, schools and the University. Third, it catalyzes teaching by providing an implicit indicator of commitment and focus on teaching, and it involves and empowers students in their learning. As MSU Denver is a teaching-focused institution, SoTL allows faculty members to scientifically approach improving the practice, which will in turn retain students and even increase enrollment.
Most important, conducting SoTL allows faculty members to “double-dip” and even “triple-dip” in the RTP and PTR (Reappointment, Tenure and Promotion and progress through the ranks) processes. For instance, a faculty member could do a small-scale SoTL project on strategies for advising students on career readiness. This could improve teaching evaluations. The results of the in-class study could be published, increasing faculty members’ likelihood to receive promotion and/or tenure. The findings could be shared within a faculty member’s academic department and used to improve advising practices. This type of professional efficiency can improve time management and reduce some of the stress that has accompanied professional development during the pandemic and the return to campus.
How to do SoTL? The big picture
So just how is SoTL conducted? This is a large question with a large answer. But in a nutshell, it starts with a question: How do you increase rapport with students? Next, investigate the research on rapport (look up SoTL journals such as the International Journal of SoTL). Then, design a study (if you are new to SoTL, ask someone who has done SoTL research successfully to collaborate with you). Apply for and get Institutional Review Board approval. Collect data in your course. Analyze the data and then present it at a conference with the hopes of publishing it in a journal or as a book chapter. Finally, reflect on your results to see how it may inform your teaching practice. See Figure 2 for a summary of the process.
See Figure 2. Cyclical Process of SoTL (below)
A SIP of SoTL
- Read some SoTL research: There are many discipline-specific journals (e.g., Teaching of Psychology, Anatomical Sciences Education, International Journal of Music Education, Journal of Political Science Education, etc.) and general SoTL journals (e.g., College Teaching, International Journal of SoTL, ). For a comprehensive list, click here (https://guides.library.utoronto.ca/SOTL_journals_databases/Discipline_Specific).
- Talk to your students and colleagues about how to improve your class. Ask specific questions, such as: What would make this class more engaging? What would make this class more practical for you in terms of post-graduate preparation? What would make you feel more of a connection to your professor and peers? What would make discussions in our class more fulfilling for you? Why is this specific assignment or activity working well for some of my students but not for others?
A slurp of SoTL
Once you have read a bit about SoTL, it is time to engage. Take baby steps. Start with a small idea and create a small-scale study. Collaborate with someone who has experience designing, implementing and publishing this type of research.
A gulp of SoTL
Now that you have dabbled in the SoTL waters, start to conduct a few SoTL studies each year. Reflect on how your results inform your personal pedagogy and even curricular designs and programmatic assessment issues within your department or school or the University. Consult your departmental guidelines or talk with your chair about how to use these studies for promotion and tenure and what requirements your department, school or college has for presenting and publishing your work. And finally, let your students know you are conducting SoTL research and ask if and how they would like to be involved. Knowing that you care enough about their learning and your teaching may have a positive impact on their engagement in your class and at MSU Denver.
Check out these fabulous resources on SoTL:
- Jhangiani et al., (2015). A Compendium of Scales for use in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning.
- Bartsch (2013). A Guide to the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning
- Designing SoTL studies—part I: validity.
- Bartsch (2013). Designing SoTL Studies—Part II: Practicality.
- Bishop-Clark & Dietz-Uhler (2012). Engaging in the scholarship of teaching and learning: A guide to the process, and how to develop a project from start to finish.
- Fleck & Ropp (2015). Using students as participants: Gaining IRB approval for SoTL Research.