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Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in STEM
Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in STEM

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3.2 Research questions for a SoTL inquiry

Watch the video in the next activity, which may help guide the kinds of questions you should be asking for a SoTL inquiry.

Activity 4 Taxonomy of questions

Timing: Allow approximately 10 minutes

As you watch this Center for Engaged Learning video of 3 minutes and 48 seconds, reflect on the taxonomy of questions that Pat Hutchings is proposing.

You may like to think of this taxonomy of questions in the context of your teaching and student learning and make notes on the possible question(s) you would like to formulate for your SoTL inquiry.

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Video 3 Taxonomy of questions
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Taxonomy of Questions from the Intro to Opening Lines [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] video by Center for Engaged Learning, Elon University, licenses/ by-nc-nd/ 4.0/

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A first kind of question is an ‘Is it working?’ question; that is, is whether an intervention or initiative in teaching and learning achieving the goals or the learning that an educator was aiming for. For example, if they are using problem-based learning for the first time, the educator may want to know whether the educator’s goals for student learning are being met.

Another kind of question is a ‘What does it look like?’ question. Pat gives an example of colleagues who started out with an ‘Is it working?’ question and then realised that they didn't really know what they were looking for, and began instead with a descriptive question, for example, just looking at what went on in a seminar. So, they started by exploring – ‘How do you even describe the dynamics of a seminar and the kind of intellectual community that characterises a seminar – and makes it a seminar rather than something else?’ So they developed a kind of descriptive framework for thinking about a seminar. And then they could ask an ‘Is it working?’ question. The descriptive question was a precursor to their actual research question.

A related third kind of question is a ‘What would it look like?’ question. That is, what would it look like if you were to teach a course in a completely different way? What would be the effect on student learning?

The fourth kind of question is a theory or concept building kind of question, where the notion is to build a different way of making meaning out of the things that educators and students do together in the classroom. Pat gives an example where an English educator was looking at how students and faculty think about moments of difficulty in the classroom. So, this educator wasn't asking, ‘Does it work?’. She wasn't asking, ‘What does it look like?’. She was really theorising about moments of difficulty in the classroom and how to make sense of them.

The webpage at Centre for Engaged Learning, Elon University, Asking Inquiry Questions, gives more details of Pat Hutchings’ taxonomy of questions along with examples.