Summer break is well underway for many of us. Here at The Novice Professor, we have given ourselves a summer SoTL reading list for June. We’ve discussed SoTL research in the past, including my post on ethics within classroom research, and our posts about the research discussed at NITOP’s 2018 meeting this past January (see posts here, here, and here).
The goal of SoTL research is to help educators improve their classrooms and better understand how their students learn. With that in mind, we are dedicating our June posts to reviewing SoTL articles, in hopes that it will inspire us (and our readers!) as we design our fall courses. Keep a look out on twitter and follow the hashtag #TheNoviceProfessor to catch all of our SoTL posts this month.
To jump-start this month, I decided to review an article by Harry Hubball, Anthony Clarke, and Gary Poole from the University of British Columbia.
As a psychology researcher, I often take for granted how much I understand about social science research. However, SoTL research isn’t limited to social science classrooms. For non-social scientists, pursing SoTL research means that they need to become familiar with an entirely new field, filled with new jargon, ethical practices, and methodology. Hubball, Clarke, and Poole (2010) review these difficulties in a reflection on a 10-year SoTL mentoring program develop to help overcome some of these issues.
At the onset of the article, the authors emphasize that all faculty members can pursue a scholarly approach to teaching and learning by making positive changes to their curriculums through standard course evaluations and their own personal observations. However, SoTL research is more involved in that it requires a theoretical approach inspired by previous research, an implementation of stricter methodology in the classroom, and finally a peer-reviewed dissemination of research findings. To conduct SoTL research, one needs to have a vested interest in improving their classroom, as well as a deep understanding of social science research methodology. Moreover, they also need the time and resources to collect and analyze data, then synthesize their findings into a manuscript. Enter the need for cross-discipline collaborations and mentorships.
Typically, mentoring between experienced faculty and new faculty members is informal, to facilitate the transition to the new institution and help them get their research established. Formalized communities of practice (COPs) can help both the mentor and the mentee set clear goals that benefit both parties. The University of British Columbia created a COP through the implementation of a Faculty Certificate Program (FCP), which paired experienced SoTL researchers with new faculty mentees. Over the course of 10 years, data was collected from numerous sources, such as student work and course evaluations, syllabi, and interviews with FCP board members, mentors, and mentees. Through this data, the authors identified key challenges that the mentees experienced, as well as the benefits that the mentorship provided.
Faculty mentees new to SoTL research noted that the biggest obstacles they faced were familiarizing themselves with the human subjects ethical review process, as well as diving into an entirely new area research. Learning new jargon and research methodologies was a challenge, but this was made easier by working with experienced mentors. Mentors were able to guide their mentees’ literature search to help streamline their introduction into the new field of SoTL research. They worked with the mentees in developing research questions, and guided them as they worked through projects pursuing these questions. Mentors also helped their mentees engage within the broader SoTL community by facilitating networking between their new faculty mentee and other likeminded SoTL researchers.
While the findings of the article seem intuitive, it highlights the need for greater collaboration among disciplines and faculty members. If you are at an institution that values SoTL research, consider reaching out to other fields. These collaborations not only open up new research opportunities, but also help facilitate your own research interests.
Hubball, H., Clarke, A., & Poole, G. (2010). Ten-year reflections on mentoring SoTL research in a research-intensive university. International Journal for Academic Development, 15 (2), 117-129.
Written by Karly Schleicher