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

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1.3.1 Control groups in SoTL research

If a SoTL inquiry involves investigating the effectiveness of an intervention, the research design will aim to explain causal relationships between the intervention and the effect on student learning. One of the ‘gold standard’ ways of setting up a SoTL project would be to set up an experimental design where participants are randomly assigned to an experimental group and a control group (who don’t receive the intervention).

Since SoTL research questions often arise from an educator’s own teaching practice, and investigations are often undertaken in the educator’s own classroom, meeting the ‘gold standard’ can be difficult or impossible in SoTL research (Dewar et al., 2018).

There is no practical (or correct) procedure to randomly place students into different sections of the same class and, furthermore, there may be ethical issues surrounding withholding some potentially beneficial teaching practices from a subset of students (McKinney, 2007). A different approach to the lack of a control group when trying a new intervention is to rely on comparison data obtained from a prior cohort of students.