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

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Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in STEM

3 Supporting and sustaining SoTL

As you come to the end of the course, watch these three videos featuring Gary Poole, The University of British Columbia, which will help you to reflect on the motivation for conducting SoTL and the challenges of supporting and sustaining SoTL.

Activity 8 Reflecting on SoTL practice

Timing: Allow approximately 10 minutes

In the first video of 3 minutes 49 seconds, Gary discusses how the process of conducting SoTL is more significant than the actual outcomes.

Institutional recognition of SoTL processes

As you watch this video, make a note of your reflections in the context of one or more of these aspects: your discipline, department, institution and country.

Download this video clip.Video player: sotl_1_s6_act8_vid1.mp4
Skip transcript: Video 5 SoTL: Institutional recognition

Transcript: Video 5 SoTL: Institutional recognition

How do you create a fertile ground in which our colleagues engage in those processes? That’s a political question, that’s an institutional question, or departmental question. It takes us to the work that we published back in 2013, with the international writing group. And trying to answer the question, "What sort of culture fosters the weaving of SoTL into an institution?" That’s a fascinating question, because it reminds us that the politics of this work and the process of this work are inextricably linked. When we reward people for teaching effectiveness, for educational leadership and for SoTL work, we need to acknowledge the value of the process.
As institutions we’re not good at that. Understandably, we look to the outcome and are less concerned about the process. The fact that someone worked hard on a research project that did not yield the results they wanted, typically causes us to say, well, that’s too bad, off you go. We spend very little time rewarding good reflection, even though we ask for it in teaching portfolios and dossiers. We aren’t very good at knowing what to do with it, when we read it. Other then say, you’re a thoughtful person.
But if you’re not getting better, whatever that means, I’m sorry it’s not enough just to be thoughtful and fair enough. But institutionally, we have to do a better job at learning how to reward reflection. To find our reflective practitioners. To make them more contagious, a word that you’ve heard me use lots of times. So that reflection becomes much more part of the modus operandi, much more part of the cultural more than it has been in the past. Part of my belief here, relies on a very optimistic assumption, that I better get on the table right away. It is that, we work with bright highly competent people. Who, when they put their money on something, typically yield something good. That’s an assumption.
So if our colleagues are thinking about something I believe they’re getting better at it. Relatedly, if they’re talking to other people about these things, I believe they’re getting better at it. It doesn’t have to be something that takes place necessarily in a very beautifully designed and organised and run workshop, as valuable as that might be. So, I really believe in the value of individual thought, and I believe in the value of individual investigation and conversation. So, Canadian institutions need to reward that, highlight that, shine lights on it, not just the outcomes, but the processes, as well.
End transcript: Video 5 SoTL: Institutional recognition
Video 5 SoTL: Institutional recognition
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Gary says when rewarding SoTL work, an institution should not only focus on the outcomes but also the processes of conducting SoTL, as the processes in SoTL practice are equally important. He says that reflective practice (which is central to SoTL) should be rewarded and should be integral to the culture of an institution.

In the second video of 2 minutes 14 seconds, Gary continues to make a case for SoTL.

Making a case for SoTL

As you watch this Center for Engaged Learning video, write down experiences and reflections from your context:

Will you have to make a case for SoTL in your department or institution? How will you do that?

Alternatively, have you or your colleagues made a case for SoTL in the past? Which strategies did you use and what were your experiences?

Skip transcript: Video 6 Making a case for SoTL

Transcript: Video 6 Making a case for SoTL

So in a beautiful world, we work in environments that encourage reward, acknowledge SoTL. Those beautiful worlds are still too rare. It is actually more common that someone or some small group of people feel that they are more maverick in their work, more not just ignored, but maybe worse. Maybe ostracized in their work.
And this is puzzling, especially for the people who are passionate about doing research on teaching and learning. Why wouldn't the institution want to know this? Why wouldn't my head of department? Why wouldn't my dean? Why wouldn't the provost, and everyone around want to know about my work? It's a good question.
I think one way that you convince people of the value of your work is that- I've never met a senior administrator that's for sure, who didn't want to be able to provide evidence that their institution was doing good work educationally. This is a bit of a risky strategy because not all SoTL research shows that we're doing beautifully. As I said, SoTL research doesn't even investigate whether something is working or not, rather it simply investigates things like complexities, learner characteristics, that sort of thing. But even those things inform the institution. I've never visited an institution that didn't have some kind of office of institutional research. For the most part, this is broad brush stroke research. Data on graduation rates, employability when students graduate. Data on the existence or not of grade inflation. Important data, very important data. But it doesn't get at the granular microscopic level of what actually- what students are doing within the classroom. SoTL can provide that, and that to me is the most powerful argument. There will be people who do SoTL research who could say in their own kind and gentle way to their administrators, I know something I don't think you know.
End transcript: Video 6 Making a case for SoTL
Video 6 Making a case for SoTL
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Making a Case for 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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In the video, Gary laments that SoTL is not recognised as it should be. In fact, he finds it puzzling when senior management in some institutions don’t engage with the outcomes of SoTL activity. Gary says that SoTL in all its forms has the potential to inform the institution about student learning. An institution may have important statistical data about student performance, for example, but SoTL can provide microscopic/fine analysis of this data on what is happening at a classroom or module level.

In the third three minute video, Gary reflects on two challenges for supporting and sustaining SoTL activity.

What are SoTL’s grand challenges?

While watching this video, write down two challenges that you will experience or have experienced in supporting and sustaining SoTL in your context.

Download this video clip.Video player: Video 7
Skip transcript: Video 7 SoTL: Grand challenges

Transcript: Video 7 SoTL: Grand challenges

Well, grand challenges going forward in this country regarding SoTL.
Back in the day when we were first creating some kind of national network around this, a number of people believed it was important for our central granting agencies, SSHRC, NSERC, CIHR, others to set aside money for SoTL research, in particular SSHRC. SSHRC was the one we went after. We had conversations with people at SSHRC. And our success was marginal. And it continues to be.
How this research is funded? As much as that sounds a bit mundane and highly political and sort of the kind of conversation we end up having all the time, I realise, but how this research gets funded will, I believe, go a long way to protecting the sustainability of SoTL. Others will say, ‘Well, you can fund it, but if you don't reward it at the institutional level, it will die out,’ and that’s probably true as well.
I’ve never been overly concerned about the idea of rewards. I think we are, as people in higher education, quite intrinsically driven. It’s foolish to rely entirely on intrinsics but it's there.
And so I think there are people who regardless of whether a particular piece of work that they got published ends up having a shining place on their CV, whether that happens or not, they’ll still do the work.
But on the grander scale and for more people, we need tenure and promotion committees who understand what that work is, what that work does, and how that works sits on a CV, that may be all about SoTL. It may only be partly about SoTL. It may be partly about SoTL and partly about botany or about engineering or about law or whatever other discipline the person comes from.
Those two points – the proper acknowledgment and understanding and rewarding of SoTL research at the institutional level and national funding for SoTL are also, of course, very linked.
We will have really taken a nice leap when someone at some institution is able to brag loud and proud about having nailed a fairly major grant from a national funding agency to do SoTL research.
It’s not like that's never happened, but it certainly isn’t something that I heard of a great deal, and I want to.
End transcript: Video 7 SoTL: Grand challenges
Video 7 SoTL: Grand challenges
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Gary discusses several requirements for recognising and sustaining SoTL practice: national funding sources to support SoTL; rewards at institutional level to help the SoTL agenda even if educators are intrinsically driven; and awards and promotion committees at institutional level should understand and recognise SoTL.

Please remember that you have the option of downloading your answers for all the activities in this course by clicking on the link (‘Download your answers for the documents on this course’) which appears on the left-hand side of each course page.


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