Kathleen McKinney, July 2002
I must begin, of course, with some “thank yous.” First, I want to thank Dr. K. Patricia Cross for both her vision and her generous donation making the Cross Endowed Chair in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning possible. In addition, I want to thank President Boschini, past Provost Goldfarb, Vice President for University Advancement, Susan Kern, Associate Vice President, Sharon Stanford, Associate Provost Betty Chapman, as well as former Illinois State staff, Margaret Haefner and Laura Pedrick, Interim Provost, Al Bowman, and the many staff members in their offices who helped make the Cross Chair a reality. I want to thank my Sociology colleagues here and around the nation who have nurtured my interest in SoTL over the years. Finally, I want to thank all my past and current students; they are the impetus for my SoTL work.
Part of the SoTL movement, and it is, in many ways, a social movement, has been the refinement and public discussion of the SoTL concept (e.g., Cross and Steadman, 1996; Glassick, Huber, and Maeroff, 1997; Hutchings and Shulman, 1999; Kreber, 2001; Kreber and Cranton, 2000; Richlin, 2001). For example, at Illinois State University, we have agreed to conceptualize SoTL as “systematic reflection on teaching and learning made public."
Formal ideas about the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) have been discussed in the field of higher education for over a decade (Boyer, 1990). Discussions and theorizing have focused on issues such as the definition of the SoTL; the differences among excellent teaching, scholarly teaching, and the scholarship of teaching; supports and barriers for the SoTL; methodologies for doing SoTL; and the public nature of SoTL. Yet SoTL work has existed, in many disciplines in higher education, for decades. Consider, for example, the many college-level, disciplinary teaching journals with long histories. In my discipline, this journal is Teaching Sociology, which has been around for about 30 years. The increased prominence of the SoTL in the national higher education arena can be seen through efforts such as the Carnegie Academy for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning or CASTL program, a growing number of local, regional and national conferences on college teaching and/or SoTL (e.g., Lilly Conferences, AAHE), and new SoTL journals, both online and traditional, both general and discipline based. Disciplinary societies are also showing more interest in supporting SoTL work.
At Illinois State University, we have a long history of the SoTL due, in part, to our history as a “Normal” school, our position in the Carnegie classification system as a Doctoral/Research-Intensive, and our mission, which emphasizes teaching and undergraduate education. Illinois State University has been an active participant in the CASTL campus program since 1998. More recently, the Center for the Advancement of Teaching has offered a variety of programs and resources to support the SoTL, such as an internally focused teaching-learning symposium and a SoTL small grants program. Many individual faculty members at Illinois State University engage in SoTL work in their disciplines, presenting, reviewing, and publishing such work. Several faculty members have recently edited, or currently edit, the pedagogical or SoTL journal in their discipline. The University has also recently increased training and financial support for classroom and program assessment research, a form of SoTL, through a reorganized University Assessment Office (UAO). Recently, of course, is our commitment to the Cross Endowed Chair for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning! Finally, in just a few days, a team of six Illinois State faculty and students are headed to the American Association of Higher Education Summer Academy where we will work on a plan for further encouraging and using SoTL work on campus.
I would like to discuss some of the current challenges we face related to the SoTL in higher education. First, we still struggle with the meaning of SoTL and related terms. Is there a “best” definition? Do we need consensus on a definition? Is SoTL a “field?” How is SoTL related to traditional educational research? The challenge here is to both continue this conversation and to find a common ground that allows understanding and collaboration.
Second, a challenge closely related to the first is to negotiate distinctions between related key terms: distinctions that impact support, evaluation and rewards. That is, though there are close connections among them, it is important to distinguish good teaching from scholarly teaching from the scholarship of teaching and learning. Briefly, good teaching is that which promotes student learning and other desired student outcomes. Good teaching will support department, college, and institutional missions and objectives. Decades of SoTL and other educational research provide us with a great deal of information on the practices that help promote learning (e.g., Astin, 1993; Chickering and Gamson, 1987; Pascarella & Terenzini, 1991). Scholarly teaching involves taking a scholarly approach to teaching just as we would take a scholarly approach to other areas of knowledge and practice. Thus, scholarly teachers do things such as reflect on their teaching, use classroom assessment techniques, discuss teaching issues with colleagues, try new things, and read and apply the literature on teaching and learning in their discipline and, perhaps, more generally. The scholarship of teaching and learning involves systematic study of teaching and/or learning and the public sharing and review of such work through presentations or publications. “Study” is broadly defined given disciplinary differences in epistemology and the need for interdisciplinary SoTL. SoTL, then, shares established criteria of scholarship in general, such as that it is made public, can be reviewed critically by members of the appropriate community, and can be built upon by others to advance the field (Shulman, 2001).
Third, we have the challenge of synthesizing what we know, what we don't know, and what we need to know. That is, we have the challenge of setting appropriate SoTL research agendas both within and across disciplinary boundaries.
Fourth, there remain many barriers to doing and applying quality SoTL work. These barriers include, for example, conflicting institutional messages about the value and rewards for SoTL, insufficient training and development, lack of funding and other rewards, lack of knowledge by peers about how to evaluate SoTL work, colleagues who are “hostile” to SoTL work, and isolation of faculty doing SoTL from faculty members doing “traditional” research, etc. We are challenged to find ways over and around these barriers, as well as to remove them. Related to this is the need to maintain a balance. That is, for most faculty members, SoTL would not and should not replace their traditional disciplinary research and scholarship nor does it replace actual teaching or service. Thus, how do all these fit together? What are the priorities? How does someone do work in all these areas? How does this balance vary by institutional or department type or mission? We also must increase collaboration and sharing of SoTL work, including bringing new players in to the field. For example, we need to target future faculty, new faculty, and staff involved in student learning. We have the challenge of involving students themselves in SoTL work.
Finally, these challenges imply another, more general challenge. We must remind or inform others about why SoTL is so important. For example, changes in the higher education climate, including a renewed focus on teaching across all types of institutions, increasing diversity of the student body, rapid adoption of new instructional technologies, new knowledge about learning and the brain, and additional pressures for the use of assessment data to determine student learning outcomes, have reminded us that we need to know much more about how, why, and when our students learn. In addition, many of us have come to realize that we cannot afford what Lee Shulman, President of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, calls “the great tragedy of teaching,” that is, the “collective amnesia” about what works and why in teaching and learning (Shulman, 2001).
So, what might a future vision of SoTL look like? As indicated above, a strong history of SoTL exists on this campus. Yet, to make significant progress that will impact faculty lives and student development and learning, we must change the culture here at Illinois State University and elsewhere. This change must come both from the grass roots-department and unit-- level and from the words and deeds of the upper administration. This cultural shift must include, in my view, a change in our views of our roles as faculty and staff who work to enhance student learning. I believe that every instructor (broadly defined) who signs a contract to teach is ethically obligated to become at least a scholarly teacher and some will also choose to engage in SoTL. Just as we do all we can to be scholarly in our disciplines, to practice scholarly work in traditional areas of our disciplines, we must be scholarly about, and practice scholarship in, teaching and learning. This is part of what it means to be a professional, and the practice of SoTL is critical to the improvement of teaching and learning. It is, simply, the right thing to do. For those involved in doing SoTL, in this vision of the future, reward structures throughout the institution will truly recognize the value of this work.
Thus, in this future vision, we need to consider various models of doing, supporting, understanding, and evaluating SoTL work. I have to honestly say that I am not yet certain what that model will be. Most likely the model will vary by institutional, disciplinary, or departmental culture and structure. On the one hand, we could continue to work toward some common definitions, standards, supports, career models, etc. for SoTL in higher education that cut across contexts. That is, we could work toward a “SoTL” that is simply “S”. On the other hand, we may decide to support multiple models of SoTL based on a variety of factors. For some, SoTL will be their primary line of research; for others it may be a secondary area. Some might work on SoTL during a sabbatical; others may integrate it into their on-going professional life. Some departments may fit SoTL in to their existing reward structures; others may need to create special roles or assignments. Huber's (2001) recent article in Change magazine illustrates this notion with specific case examples.
Much of the current SoTL support and work on our campus is accomplished by a small number of individuals or small teams of faculty members in isolation or through the support efforts of the staff in various faculty development units working with small groups of faculty. At this time in our institutional development, Illinois State University is poised to increase emphasis on and activity in the scholarship of teaching and learning. In a vision of the future, we will increase the breadth of involvement in SoTL as well as collaboration on SoTL, both within disciplines and in what Huber and Morreale call the “interdisciplinary trading zones” (Huber and Morreale 2002). We will work to broaden the base and increase the diversity of people working together to do and use SoTL work.
Clearly a future vision of SoTL includes improvements in development and support for such work. I have many ideas for new services and structures to help faculty, staff, and students do this work and do it well. I will begin by conducting and making public some of my own SoTL research, managing a SoTL small grant program, designing an institute on doing and publishing SoTL work, helping to form and facilitate SoTL writing circles, and serving as a resource for College and Department personnel committees on evaluating and rewarding this work.
Another vision of the future is that we will routinely use and apply what we find in our SoTL work to pedagogical, curricular, and institutional reform in our institution. This is the key purpose and benefit of SoTL work! SoTL work is implicitly part of, and can help us implement, our strategic plan, Educating Illinois. As Cross Chair, I will strive to be one leader in this area, working with faculty and staff, department chairs, and those involved in assessment to share findings and work out ways to improve teaching and learning at Illinois State University using SoTL findings. Such work must also be shared outside our institution. Thus, I will serve as a representative on SoTL from Illinois State to the higher education national scene. The heart of SoTL is its public and applied nature.
Finally, assessing the impact of SoTL work is a critical part of any future vision of SoTL. What outcomes would I anticipate from such efforts by the Endowed Chair and others? We would expect, for example, increases in reflection and public discussion of teaching and learning on campus, increases in the quantity, quality, and visibility of SoTL work on campus, the application of SoTL results and their implications to improve teaching and learning at Illinois State University, use of SoTL to assess what we are doing and help us adjust our path, changes in the reward structure related to SoTL, and increased visibility of Illinois State University faculty and their SoTL work on regional and national levels. If truly successful, perhaps we may even see other Endowed Chairs in SoTL at other institutions! Finally and most importantly, attention to the scholarship of teaching and learning will remind us to always ask the key question we must always ask when making any decision at the university… What is the impact on student learning?
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