- SoTL is Educational Research
- Methodology is the same as Methods
- There is no Literature
- It’s not real research
SoTL is Educational Research
SoTL is intrinsically linked to your teaching practice. Whatever this practice may look like from traditional classroom teaching, to supporting learning, and supervision. You are a core part of this process, both in influencing pedagogy as well as in gathering data, analysing it and implementing changes. You might however, beg, borrow, steal methodologies and research methods from education, sociology, psychology to explore your practice.
Educational research is a step removed. You are exploring not just your own practice but a wider phenomenon.
- SoTL: you explore an educational phenomenon through your own practice
- Does flipped classroom work for my students (or students in my school) in my context?
- EdRes: you explore an educational phenomenon in a wider context (institution, subject, nationally)
- Does flipped classroom work for first year students in the social sciences?
Methodology is the same as Methods
(Even our ethics form gets this wrong!)
Methodology is the approach you take to answer your research questions (prove hypothesis). Ideally, you would make use of a theoretical framework or discuss your philosophical stance, such as you are assuming that social reality is co-constructed by people interacting with one another.
In the least there needs to be a convincing argument that explains to the reader how the data you collect is going to answer your questions, how you are going to collect data what tools (methods) you are going to use, and how many participants you expect to be involved. You also should explain ethical concerns and risk mitigation.
Methods are your research tools the instruments with which you collect data, such as questionnaires, interviews, nominal group technique, making collages.
Sometimes there are set (okay relatively set) methodologies that come with a history of accepted (and even expected) methods. Ethnography (methodology) for instance usually comes with the expectation of fieldwork observations (method), in-situ conversations (method) or interviews (method), research diaries (method), and needs a certain amount of time for situations to occur and patterns to discern.
There is no Literature
“This has never been done before.” or someone calling something a “new research method” when it has been around for decades, in the majority of cases indicates that there is a lack of reading not a lack of existing literature.
However, think before you judge!
Finding the right literature can be tricky. I am entirely blaming some of the doctoral training for this. There is quite a bit of unlearning to do.
When looking for literature on SoTL my first go is usually in Google Scholar. This a habit from my PhD as non-native speaker the search engine was more forgiving if I didn’t get the English word quite right, than the databases were. And the little “~” in front of a word afforded the search for synonyms.
Why do I talk about this? If you are from a non-cognate discipline. Learning SoTL is like learning a new language. There are so many phrases, terms, concepts you will never have come across before that it genuinely can feel like learning a new language.
How do I find the right vocabulary?
Here are some tips:
- First rule: look beyond your discipline/subject area (always!)
- You might want to try standard search before hitting Google Scholar or Databases
- This is because SoTL and scholarship around SoTL topics are not purely published in academic journals but can be in blog posts, magazines, working groups online, YouTube videos, OER repositories
- This also often results in a wider variety of related phrases and helps narrowing down the exact wording
- “allintitle: search term” … will help with results that are more specific and the search engine doesn’t cull the whole contribution for specific phrases
- Explore the publication list at the end of an article/book and note some of the words and phrases
- Use plain language, if you don’t know the “technical term” try a generic description of the issue
- Keep track of the words you used in the search engine
- Pay attention to alternatives the algorithms suggest
- If you (like me) are bilingual sometimes it helps using a dictionary for finding alternative English terms
- If you are native speaker, try thesaurus or an English/English dictionary
- A faster way, google: “synonym: word”
- or even “antonym: word”
- Don’t forget that even in English there are differences. You might want to include a variation of terms, for example: college, university, higher education institutions
- There is a really good blog post with more tips by Nancy L. Chick
It took me several years to learn that my job is called Faculty Development or Staff Development in other countries, instead of Academic Development. For a German it is very bizarre to speak about Learning Design when we are thinking about Didaktik. So sometimes our first language conceptualisation of a word actually hinders our search.
It’s not real research
What comebacks would you use? Let’s collect some for colleagues who have to defend themselves, please comment on the post:
- What is real research? Define it please!
- It’s not supposed to be!
We are in the business of knowledge creation; this process is varied and complex and might be unrecognisable from what we learned in your doctoral training. While we are talking about “being SoTL” (see Anne Tierney), practitioner inquiry, or projects we also expect a transparent process, that makes critical use of literature, uses an ethical approach to data collection, and recognises the limitation of its inquiries.
- “Inquiry into student learning
- Grounded in context
- Methodologically sound
- Conducted in partnership with students
- Appropriately public”
To the first point I would add: “and teacher practice”, while considering the word teacher in its widest sense including educational technologists, learning support colleagues, librarians, and more as long as it is in higher education context.
The point about partnership with students has the capacity to open up further, truly exploring the potential for decolonising knowledge creation, interrogating power-position and biases in data collection (designing quantitative questionnaires much?). So, there is a lot to unpick and develop.
If anyone ever uses that silly phrase on you to put you down, what does this tell you about the person doing it?
Photo by Min An on Pexels.com
PS: We could technically postulate that some SoTL is also EdRes if we are for instance looking at autoethnographic approaches to SoTL. But that’s for another time.