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

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2 Collaboration in SoTL

SoTL research frequently is a solo act, conducted by an individual educator. However, Bass (1999) states that instead of viewing SoTL research as a way to solve a ‘teaching problem’ all on one’s own, SoTL should rather be viewed as a collaborative activity or as a communal property (Shulman, 2004), where we engage with others to improve our craft:

Changing the status of the problem in teaching from terminal remediation to ongoing investigation is precisely what the movement for a scholarship of teaching is all about. How might we make the problematization of teaching a matter of regular communal discourse?

(Bass, 1999, p. 1)

The solitary approach of SoTL can and should be complemented by a more collaborative approach to inquiry (Felten et al., 2019). Richard Gale has argued:

For although much ground is to be gained from the work of individual faculty conducting focused inquiry into student learning, even more mileage can be achieved when two or more scholars work collaboratively, and the distance that can be covered by collective approaches to scholarship (within the department, program, school, institution, and system) is certainly significant, if not “without limits”.

(Gale, 2008, p. 40)

When a SoTL inquiry is conducted in collaboration with students and peers, SoTL practice is benefited in several ways:

  • to collaborate with and learn from colleagues who have more experience in SoTL research than you may have
  • to bring in multidisciplinary expertise to the problem being investigated; for example, virtual reality and user experience specialist collaborating with a Geology subject matter expert on a SoTL project to investigate the role of three-dimensional (3D) virtual reality field trips in supporting outdoor fieldwork
  • to work with colleagues who bring in skills that you require for the SoTL inquiry but may not have; for example, a statistician to help with the analysis of a survey
  • to be able to investigate aspects of student learning on shared pedagogical concerns beyond a particular module/local context/discipline
  • to explore questions that are broader and deeper than what is possible in studies of individual classrooms or involving your own set of students
  • to bring in perspectives of students to the formulation and design of the inquiry; involve them as co-researchers and as co-authors in dissemination (we will discuss the role of students as partners in SoTL in Session 4)
  • to have an ongoing peer review and collective reflection of the SoTL inquiry
  • to be able to disseminate the outcomes of SoTL in multidisciplinary communities.

A collaborative SoTL inquiry often yields both specific and general outcomes. Thus, the inquiry contributes towards the primary motive of SoTL by helping to improve an individual SoTL researcher’s practice, and may also have application beyond the local context of a classroom or a module, magnifying a positive change and impact at departmental or institutional levels (Felten et al., 2019).

Activity 2 Collaborative SoTL inquiry

Timing: Allow approximately 5 minutes

As you watch this Center for Engaged Learning video (from 15:32 to 16:42) on collaborative SoTL inquiry by Pat Hutchings, National Institute of Learning Outcomes Assessment and the Bay View Alliance in the USA, make brief notes on the benefits of collaborative inquiry.

Then read the case study that follows and think about how the approach taken in the SoTL inquiry is highly dependent on the collaborative enquiry approach.

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Video 2 Collaboration in SoTL
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Future Directions and Emerging Trends in SOTL [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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Pat Hutchings discusses how a collaborative SoTL inquiry facilitates investigating questions related to student learning that cut across modules, courses and disciplines, resulting in outcomes that may contribute to institutional agendas. These themes are inherent to the case study described below.

Now read the case study that follows and think about how the approach taken in the SoTL inquiry is highly dependent on the collaborative enquiry approach.

Case study: Collaborative SoTL inquiry

Supporting student academic skills development: an evaluation of an English for Academic Purposes pilot

Colleagues in two faculties at The Open University (OU) – STEM and Faculty of Wellbeing, Education & Language Studies (WELS) – have come together to set up and evaluate the English for Academic Purposes (EAP) (pilot) programme in a SoTL inquiry.

The EAP pilot provides additional support by specialist EAP tutors to students needing extra help with academic language skills. The programme is open to students in all faculties with English either as a first or additional language. The sessions also support module tutors who can recognise students needing academic skills' support, but may not have the knowledge or time to address them directly.

This EAP project builds on a previous SoTL project, How students’ use of language relates to learning, retention and performance in assessment on TU100, which was conducted on Level 1 Computing module (TU100, my Digital Life) and involved a STEM educator and a linguistics expert from Faculty of WELS to investigate students’ use of language and how it relates to learning, retention and assessment performance on TU100. Although the specialists were not able to find links between student language skills and retention, the project established the role of student language skills in assessment, on the need to support tutors in assessing and developing their students’ skills and in describing the key language challenges facing students. This project led to the current project on EAP to support tutors and students in building their language skills and awareness.

Key learning points from this case study are a) collaborative SoTL inquiry involving colleagues from two faculties who have brought requisite skills to the project; b) building on a previous SoTL inquiry which was run on one module and extending it as a pilot university-wide programme; and c) evaluation as being integral to the pilot via this current SoTL inquiry.

If you are interested in knowing more about this project, the details are available at: Supporting student academic skills development – an evaluation of an English for Academic Purposes pilot.

If you are new to SoTL, need help in getting started or help in finding collaborators, having a mentor can be helpful. You will examine this further in the next section.