The following infographic reflects the stages of the process I often observe in my practice supporting SoTL, and which we use in our institution to support colleagues familiarising themselves with SoTL. It also made me think more about SoTL as practitioner inquiry: institutionally we are speaking about educational inquiries–rather than educational research–which is a horse of a different colour.
A bit of Context
Skip to here for Infographic Explained
The more I think about framing SoTL as practitioner inquiry the more I seem to find parallels to my work and context. My colleague Dr Sarah Honeychurch and I had a lovely catch-up on Friday, and she mentioned again the phrase: “becoming SoTL”–I know! Isn’t this a wonderful way of thinking about it?
“Becoming SoTL” suits my own experience, and it seems to relate closely to Wall, Beck & Scott’s (2020) understanding of practitioner inquiry as a stance (versus process). We are SoTL–inquiring our own practice is an intrinsic part of our professional identity–a way of being, and perpetual becoming.
“We see two dominant standpoints on practitioner enquiry with a potential lack of transfer between the two resulting in a lack of opportunity for sustainability (Wall 2018). On the one hand we have practitioner enquiry as stance. Originating in the work of researchers such as Cochrane-Smith and Lytle (2009), this position suggests practitioner enquiry is an epistemological stance, a way of understanding the world and how it is made up, arguably a way of being that is tied up with views of democratic purpose and social justice. The other view is practitioner enquiry as project. This is far better publicised, easier to grasp, and as such is probably more dominant in the profession’s consciousness. Here practitioner enquiry tends to be driven by structures and organisations.”
(Wall, Beck & Scott, 2020)
The authors (Wall, Beck & Scott, 2020) caution that a cumulative process which connects to career-long learning is not designed into the process of practitioner inquiries. Now, I should highlight that the authors write for school context and not higher education.
This is the point where I believe our different contexts provide different affordances.
With SoTL we can actually build this bridge. Particularly in my institution we are able to utilise SoTL for career development and progression–the career-long approach–the journey–becomes pre-requisite, a necessity. I for instance run workshops on how to plan SoTL journeys, use it for career development, with the focus on connecting across projects, across instances, and localities.
Even approaching SoTL from the project (versus stance) point of view the educator’s self is not dissociated from this process.
When we are collecting evidence of impact (personally, locally, institutionally) and we share this evidence, so that even when “the module finishes, the organisation moves on”, the learning remains and is documented. It becomes part of a wider body of knowledge creation, and can be used to build on and develop further. One project ought not to be de-contextualised from another. And maybe therein lies the opportunity to promote SoTL as a stance (rather than project).
It may become just that in the end: “being SoTL” .
Which is a segue to the infographic above.
The infographic reflects the process colleagues often undergo when beginning to engage with SoTL. It begins with what we would traditionally understand as Scholarship (yet still being part of SoTL overall), and over time becomes more complex, involved, and moves into data collection, and eventually collaboration.
It is not reflective of the “being SoTL” viewpoint; and I ought to point out it is not a definition or history of SoTL. There are others that have extensively written about this (see bibliography for a couple of examples, and history). Mine is a pragmatic approach to support colleagues; helping with sometimes significant paradigm shifts, while navigating potentially oppositional demands on roles, career trajectory, and classroom realities.
Scholarship of Teaching and Learning
1 What has immediacy?
This is usually where it begins. What is of immediate concern in your (teaching) practice? Is it something that keeps coming up in student feedback, is there a session, module, course that has gone a bit stale–or never sat quite right with you? Are there processes you want to integrate in your practice?
There is one principle: Nothing in education is truly new.
It might be new in your context, new to you, new to your discipline. So go explore! Use the literature you have found to reflect on your practice (reflective practice), is there anything in the literature that has shifted your viewpoint, understanding and maybe even changed your practice (reflexive practice)? Write about it, share, ask questions.
– Explore Literature
– Reflect on questions
– Talk about teaching practice
– Write about teaching practice
– Share institutionally, or wider
2 Identify a Topic to Explore Further
This often leads to the want or need for further exploration, you might have reflected on your own practice, but now want to bring your learners’ (or colleagues’) point of view in. We are usually using a social science process for SoTL after identifying a topic to explore further.
However, keep in mind even this project approach to SoTL does need to have a strong rooting in your own practice. It needs to explore and explain how it influences your practice, your students’ learning experience. You are evidencing your own practice and contextualising it in the wider HE context. The process is not disconnected from you as educator/teacher, nor can you draw generic conclusions about a phenomenon from your student cohort. But you contribute to a wider body of scholarship.
Maybe it is important to note that undertaking SoTL is not about novelty, it is not about doing something that has never been done before. It is at its heart about improving your own practice through evidence, and reflection on this evidence. I often talk about teaching as data but this is for another post.
For now, know you already have everything you need. The process of undertaking SoTL is very much about learning that you already have all the tools. So this quote fits perfectly:
“Our belief is that practitioners are like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, she had everything she wanted already and the tools and potential to make the everyday an adventure. Practitioner enquiry therefore has the potential to turn ‘research work’ into an ‘absorbing game’ (Lawrence, 1929).”
(Wall, Beck & Scott, 2020)
The Evidence Gathering Process:
– Research Questions (or clear goals)
– Literature (know thy background)
The moment you collect data from learners or colleagues you have to have ethical permission. Here it is important to note that needing ethics and needing consent are not the same. You might want to use data for which your institution already has a data sharing agreement with your students, and might not have to ask the students again to use the data (Check with your ethics committee they will know which data you can use. There are local differences). However, you still will need ethics to assure an ethical use of said data.
Methodology is important. Never, ever, ever jump straight from your question to methods. Methodology is the discussion of how you are going to go about answering your questions, why the methods you have chosen are the most appropriate, how they will answer your question.–I think that should be a future post.
– Methods (the tools with which you collect data, e.g.: questionnaires, interviews, focus groups)
– Data (I am going to write a post about data, this Academic Writing Month. The question: What counts as data often causes some headache.)
– Analysis & Discussion
This needs to have a strong element of reflection in it. How did all of this help you to make sense? How will it inform your practice? What have you learned colleagues might benefit from?
Note: this is the generic social science process, there are other models out there. Some of them are specifically re-branded for SoTL. At the heart though it is the same process–personally, I don’t trust any process that doesn’t have methodology in it. But this might be from my background in Erziehungswissenschaften (Science of Education).
In further stages, colleague may go beyond their own classroom and explore further. Are there opportunities for cross-institutional, cross-disciplinary, or even cross-sector projects? Collaboration. How would this impact your practice and your learners?
– What have you learned?
– What do you want to share with whom?
– Connectivity, collaboration, sharing are key
– For better quality data and projects
– First authorship not as important as in research (REF)
– Wider variety of dissemination platforms
SoTL can also help you explore how to integrate important topics into your practice, and if you decide to share openly in form of OERs and OEP (Scholarship see above) these are both understood to contribute to Sustainable Development Goals (Lane, 2017).
Anyway, I hope this this kind of sort of makes some sense. Where are you in your journey? Or have you jumped straight into becoming SoTL?
- Hutchings, P., & Shulman, L. S. (1999). The scholarship of teaching: New elaborations, new developments. Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, 31(5), 10–15. doi:10.1080/ 00091389909604218.
- Kern, B., Mettetal, G., Dixson, M., & Morgan, R. K. (2015). The role of SoTL in the academy: Upon the 25th anniversary of Boyer’s Scholarship Reconsidered. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 1–14. https://doi.org/10.14434/josotl.v15i3.13623
- Kreber, C. (2002). Controversy and consensus on the scholarship of teaching. Studies in Higher Education, 27(2), 151–167. https://doi.org/10.1080/03075070220119995
- Lane, Andy (2017). Open Education and the Sustainable Development Goals: Making Change Happen. Journal of Learning for Development – JL4D, 4(3) pp. 275–286. URL: http://jl4d.org/index.php/ejl4d/article/view/266
- Smith, S., & Walker, D. (2022). Scholarship and teaching-focused roles: An exploratory study of academics’ experiences and perceptions of support. Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 1–12. https://doi.org/10.1080/14703297.2022.2132981
- Tierney, A. (2019). The scholarship of teaching and learning and pedagogic research within the disciplines: should it be included in the research excellence framework? Studies in Higher Education, 1–11. https://doi.org/10.1080/03075079.2019.1574732
- Trigwell, K., Martin, E., Benjamin, J., & Prosser, M. (2000). Scholarship of teaching: A model. Higher Education Research & Development, 19(2), 155–168. https://doi.org/10.1080/ 072943600445628
- Wall, K., Beck, A., & Scott, N. (2020) The Nature and Purpose of Practitioner Enquiry | University of Strathclyde. Retrieved 2 November 2022, from https://www.strath.ac.uk/humanities/schoolofeducation/blog/thenatureandpurposeofpractitionerenquiry/
Thank you to everyone who commented on the original idea for the infographic, pointing out areas that needed clarification and design feedback.