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

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2.6 An action agenda for SoTL to make an impact

The following actions may help in the growth of SoTL and accelerate its impact in HE (Huber and Hutchings, 2005; Hutchings et al., 2011).

  • Establish occasions and structures for sustained, substantive and constructive discussions about learning and how to improve it: for example, seminars, working groups, regular meetings.
  • Include students in discussion about learning while serving as peer mentors, tutors of other students, collaborators in SoTL projects and as participants in department and university-wide forums on learning.
  • Recognise teaching as substantive, intellectual work by providing resources of time, funds for SoTL, rewards in alignment with SoTL activity and strong campus infrastructure to support teaching.
  • Connect the SoTL activity to larger, shared agendas for student learning and success.
  • Encourage new genres and forms to document the work of teaching and learning such as use of social media (e.g. blog posts), videos and open access reports.
  • Build and maintain the infrastructure needed to make pedagogical work of high quality available and accessible to all, such as via institutional repositories for SoTL outputs.
  • Develop a plan and timeline for integrating SoTL into campus culture, and monitor progress.

Verwood and Poole (2016) found that leadership positions (both appointed and emergent) at the micro, meso and macro levels are required to support and champion SoTL. For example, leadership at macro level can catalyse an institutional culture that fosters SoTL growth. Williams et al. (2013) proposed that for SoTL to take root in organisational cultures, there must be: a) effective communication and dissemination of SoTL activity across all levels; b) social networks and links between the three levels; and c) sustained support by senior administration. Hutchings et al. (2011) caution that development of an institution-wide culture that is conducive to conducting SoTL is a long-term process.

In the following case study, a SoTL initiative conducted in the School of Life, Health and Chemical Sciences in the Faculty of STEM has been adopted by other modules in the faculty, and to support students in secure environments.

Case study: Online journal clubs in distance higher education

In a SoTL project in the Faculty of STEM at The Open University (OU), the project team set up student online journal clubs (OJC) using a web conferencing tool (Adobe Connect) to attempt to develop students’ digital skills, build their online confidence and to develop an academic community. Anecdotal and informal evidence from tutors had suggested that students studying at a distance sometimes lack confidence and skills of digital and information literacy.

The project team created a dedicated OJC platform, accessible to students and colleagues across the institution to support skills development and preparation for clubs. Discipline-focused biology and health clubs were offered as well as University-wide clubs, supporting an interdisciplinary community of learners. The platform had an online room for OJC events and a space for development of an OJC community. Clubs were ‘facilitated’ rather than led by tutors and had a student-centred, informal and supportive ethos. Participation was optional and events were not recorded or assessed. During the duration of this SoTL inquiry, 34 students prepared and delivered a presentation during OJC events.

Survey feedback from participants showed that students enjoyed the friendly and supportive environment, reported that their presentation skills and online confidence had improved and valued the opportunity for peer-to-peer interaction and a sense of community.

The project’s outcomes have shown that OJC can support development of core competencies, including critical evaluation, communication and collaboration. OJCs have now been included within other STEM modules. The project team has developed a user pack to provide advice and guidance to staff across the University and to offer the experience of OJC to a wider student audience.

In a follow-on SoTL project, the role of journal clubs has been explored in a face-to-face setting to develop employability skills and a sense of community amongst students in secure environments. Once again, feedback indicates students valued the opportunity to discuss their passions and be part of a community of learners.

Finally, an ongoing series of OJC events for STEM tutors provides space for these colleagues who work remotely to enjoy the community and develop academic currency.

Project details and the user pack for an OJC are available on the project’s webpage: Online journal clubs in distance higher education: an opportunity to develop skills and opportunity? [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]

Details of the follow-on project are available here: Summer Series of Journal Clubs: an opportunity to develop employability skills and a sense of community among students in secure environments.