1.2 SoTL and ‘methodologically sound’ research
In Session 1, you saw that one of the principles of SoTL is that it has ‘rigorous and methodologically sound research design’. A SoTL inquiry requires rigorous application of research design that helps to answer the question(s) of the SoTL inquiry (Ciccone, 2018).
The research design primarily pertains to choosing data collection and data analysis methods guided by the research question(s), and justifying the decisions.
The methods employed in SoTL are shaped by the methods of individual disciplines because these are familiar to SoTL researchers, and disciplinary methods are warranted by peers in the discipline who might build on the work (Hutchings, 2000).
Felten (2013) also notes that SoTL practitioners bring their disciplinary expertise, which influences their research question(s) and distinct ways of collecting and analysing data (evidence) of student learning, but points out methodological borrowing and influence across disciplines when he says the ‘social science research methods became particularly influential [in SoTL]’ (p. 123). For example, focus groups, a method developed in marketing, are often used in SoTL.
Developing a broader, more sophisticated repertoire of methods is clearly one of the challenges and a necessary step in advancing SoTL practice. Poole (2013) proposes interdisciplinarity as a reasonable and useful goal for SoTL to be able to apply research methods from a variety of disciplines. Interdisciplinarity, Poole states, features a useful sharing of responsibility for research outcomes and it does not require that researchers become entirely versed in the methods and beliefs of other disciplines, a requirement that would be unmanageable for many.
However, Felten (2013) affirms that regardless of the methods employed, good practice in SoTL requires the intentional and rigorous application of research methods that connect the question(s) at the heart of a particular inquiry to student learning. In fact, Felten shifts the measure of quality from the type of methodology applied to how it’s applied, calling for ‘methodologically sound’ SoTL, not ‘sound methodologies’ (Chick, 2014).