SoTL Scholars Program
Interested in digging into your teaching methods? Investigating the efficacy of your exams or writing assignments? Inquiring into how to facilitate student engagement or better promote the reading practices of your discipline?
If so, apply to the CFT’s SoTL Scholars Program, in which CFT Assistant Director Nancy Chick encourages and supports graduate students across a range of disciplines in projects that answer these questions and many more.
What is SoTL?
“SoTL” stands for the “Scholarship of Teaching and Learning” and represents an international, multidisciplinary movement to better understand teaching and learning in the college classroom. Scholars of SoTL do so by asking questions about their students’ learning, questions that often revolve around “what is?” and “what works?” See the box below for examples.
After I have my research question, then what? So you would like to answer some of these big questions, but how? We academics tend to be thorough researchers in our disciplines; SoTL encourages us to apply those valuable research skills to our classrooms.
Once you identify a research question with the help of Nancy and your colleagues in the Program, it’s time to design a study. You think that you’ve found a new way to promote student participation, but how do you gauge that? Once you’ve answered this question, it’s time to gather the evidence from a classroom, be it yours or someone else’s. This evidence or data often takes the form of student exams, essays, projects, or student surveys. Once you’ve collected your data, we will work with you to analyze it and help you to ultimately produce one of the following products for going public: the first eight-pages of a SoTL paper, a twenty minute SoTL presentation, or a SoTL poster.
What does the SoTL Scholars program entail? The SoTL Scholars Program is a two-semester program that meets approximately eight times each semester. Our meetings are workshop-oriented and designed to help you turn your inchoate research question into a product that you can publish or present at one of a number of SoTL conferences. Our meetings are cross-disciplinary, so all are welcome and encouraged to apply.
More questions or concerns? Email Assistant Director Nancy Chick at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The purpose of the SoTL Scholars Program is to help graduate students cultivate a scholarly, evidence-based approach to their students’ learning and their own teaching. The scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) is a way of treating teaching as a scholarly activity by posing questions about student learning and its relationship to the ways in which they are taught. SoTL practitioners collect and analyze evidence of their students’ learning to understand what happens in the classroom more fully and to facilitate learning more effectively. Program participants will explore how to apply this approach, beginning to bridge the gap between their research and their teaching identities by asking and answering meaningful questions about teaching and learning in ways that align with their disciplinary research practices.
The SoTL Scholars Program is directed by CFT Assistant Director Nancy Chick, who brings years of SoTL experience and expertise, as well as publications and presentations in both disciplinary and interdisciplinary venues. In addition to her own mentorship, she will draw on her SoTL colleagues from the International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (ISSOTL) to provide mentorship and feedback to Program participants.
Participation in a two-semester Program that meets (roughly) biweekly. The SoTL Scholars will meet in a collaborative, workshop setting under the guidance of CFT Assistant Director Nancy Chick. See below for the exact dates and times.
In addition to these regular workshops (eight one-hour sessions in the fall, six to eight more in the spring) designed to help participants collaboratively work through the details of their projects, the Program will cover the following topics:
- The History of SoTL: Canonical Texts and Key Moments
- Connecting Your Research and Your Teaching: Teaching As Research
- Asking Meaningful Questions about Learning: Curiosity and Classroom “Problems”
- Evidence of Student Learning: What Does Learning (or Mislearning) Look Like?
- Going Public: Best Practices in SoTL Posters, Presentations, and Publications
Ongoing mentorship. In addition to regularly scheduled workshops, participants may receive one-on-one consultations with the director and with CFT Graduate Teaching Fellows. As relevant, Nancy may also connect individual participants with outside scholars with expertise on specific projects.
Completion of a SoTL project. Participants will design and carry out their own individual or collaborative SoTL projects investigating student learning in their own classrooms, in a peer’s classroom, or in a faculty host’s classroom. (For more explanation and examples of SoTL projects, click the FAQs tab.) The projects should be completed by the end of the academic year, demonstrated by one of the following:
- the first eight pages of a SoTL paper, with the goal of publication, or
- a 20-minute SoTL presentation of the project, ready for submission to a conference, or
- a completed SoTL poster, also ready for submission to a conference.
An introduction to each of the above genres (SoTL paper, SoTL presentation, SoTL poster) is part of the SoTL Scholars Program curriculum, so participants will have instruction and support in preparing their final products.
In the Fall 2012 semester, the SoTL Scholars Program is scheduled for the following dates and times:
Selected Mondays from 4:00-5:00pm (Sept 10, Sept 17, Sept 24, Oct 8, Oct 29, Nov 12, Nov 26, Dec 3) at the Center for Teaching
In the Spring 2013 semester, the SoTL Scholars will meet on the following dates and times:
Selected Mondays from 4:00-5:00pm (Jan 28, Feb 4, Feb 18, Feb 25, March 11, March 25, April 8, April 15) at the Center for Teaching
After completing the SoTL Scholars Program, participants will be able to do the following:
- identify the history of SoTL, including its major thinkers and texts, its key concepts and language, and its relationship to older forms of classroom research
- ask meaningful questions about their students’ learning and its relationship to their own teaching—and answer them meaningfully
- recognize the value of using both qualitative and quantitative methods to more fully capture evidence of student learning
- develop and carry out a SoTL project
- gain tools for presenting the project in scholarly public forums, including relevant conference presentations and publications
The deadline for applications is September 9, 2013.
Those interested in applying should complete the application form below, which includes uploading a few documents.
- this application form, which asks for a brief (500 words or fewer) statement of your teaching philosophy–and, if ready, a brief description of issue of student learning that interests you and will likely be the focus of your SoTL project
The latter is not required at this stage, as the early part of the SoTL Scholars Program will help participants develop their plans. However, if you’re already thinking of something to explore, it would be helpful to let Nancy know, so she can start gathering relevant materials for you.
- if you won’t be an instructor of record or teaching your own course during the Program year, this form signed by an instructor of record who will grant you access to his or her students for your project (e.g., you may survey the students, analyze one set of anonymous papers or exams, or gather evidence of their learning in some other way relevant to your project). You will work out the details of this plan early in the Program and in agreement with this instructor of record.
Please send any questions to email@example.com, and feel free to schedule a pre-Program consultation with her (322-7290) to begin thinking about your project, especially if you are–or your instructor-of-record host is–teaching in the fall.
SoTL Scholars Application Form
Frequently Asked Questions
- What do you mean by “SoTL Project”?
- What are some examples of SoTL projects?
- How much time each semester will I spend on this Program?
- What if I miss a meeting? / What if the meeting schedule doesn’t work for me?
- Do I need to be teaching my own course in order to successfully complete this program?
- What if I need more than two semesters to complete my project?
- Is the Certificate in College Teaching a prerequisite for this program?
- Can I complete the Certificate in College Teaching while simultaneously completing this program?
- What if I’ve already completed the former Teaching Certificate Program; can I still participate in this program if I want to?
- Questions about the “Teaching as Research” Program
- Questions about “Cycle Three” of the former Teaching Certificate Program
What do you mean by “SoTL Project”?
The scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) treats teaching as a scholarly activity by posing questions about student learning and its relationship to the ways in which they are taught. As the CFT guide on SoTL explains, SoTL involves
- asking questions about student learning and the teaching activities designed to promote student learning in an effort, at least in part, to improve one’s own teaching practice,
- answering those questions by systematically analyzing evidence of student learning, and
- sharing the results of that analysis publicly in order to invite review and to contribute to the body of knowledge on student learning in a variety of contexts.
A SoTL project focuses in a single such question, answered by relevant evidence of student learning, shared publicly. In the SoTL Scholars Program, you will be guided through every step of the process and given ongoing feedback as you carry out your project.
What are some examples of SoTL projects?
Drawing on Pat Hutchings’s taxonomy of SoTL questions from Opening Lines: Approaches to the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (2000, p. 4+), CFT Assistant Director and SoTL Scholars Program director Nancy Chick drafted the following examples of the two most common types of projects, those that seek to understand either “what is” or “what works”:
“What Is?” Projects
Begin with questions that seek to describe but not evaluate: What’s happening in the classroom? What are students thinking when they __?
- Many of my literature students don’t handle reading difficult literary texts well. They get frustrated. They blame the text/author for their frustration (“poetry is hard,” “this story is stupid,” “that author is a bad writer”) and often quit trying. At best, they may go to the internet or a classmate to find out “what it means.” Literary scholars revel in this challenge of making meaning of difficult texts, and many of the most widely read classic literary works are challenging. Rather than assuming they’re lazy or have short attention spans, I want to go know what’s going on when they come upon a text they consider difficult. What are they thinking?
- I will assign a “difficulty log” (Salvatori and Donahue 2004) in my class three times throughout the semester—early, in the middle, and near the end—when the students will be reading a variety of texts that I know they find difficult. In this log, students will reflect upon and write about a) precisely what they consider difficult in the assigned text, b) how they responded to the experience of reading it, and c) what sense they made of the text.
- I will analyze their anonymous logs, looking for themes or patterns in their responses. From these logs, I will document specific moments of difficulty and understand more broadly what thinking processes they go through (and don’t) during these key disciplinary moments.
- My hope is that I’ll discover something about their preconceptions about reading literature that will help me guide future literature students more successfully through this process.
“What Works?” Projects
Begin with questions that seek evidence about the effectiveness of specific teaching strategies or approaches: Will students understand this concept/apply this skill more effectively if they do x instead of the y I’ve assigned in the past?
- I suspect that too many students in my calculus class solve problems my memorizing formulas and plugging them in when they come across familiar problem types. They don’t do well when I assign new, less familiar-looking problems, and when I ask them to explain how they solved a problem, most can’t articulate their process. I know that developing these metacognitive skills (the ability to think about and articulate how they think about a problem) is key to transferring their knowledge to new situations. Will assigning a metacognitive activity as part of their regular work improve their problem-solving ability?
- I will assign the Documented Problem Solutions classroom assessment technique (Angelo and Cross 1993) in which students write out the steps they take as they solve a problem. They will then share them in class and, in small groups, attempt to solve new problems by comparing and attempting the steps each group member had documented.
- I will measure the effectiveness of this activity by looking at their scores on the test prior to and then after the activity. The post test will include another Documented Problem Solutions, which I will compare with their first versions to see if their metacognitive explanations of their problem-solving steps improved.
- Through a low-stakes, collaborative, metacognitive activity that will require students to practice, articulate, share, test, and correct their processes, I hope to document students’ improved problem-solving skills.
How much time each semester will I spend on this Program?
The eight one-hour meetings in the fall and the six to eight one-hour meetings in the spring are designed to help you develop, design, and carry out your project as much as possible during these workshop times; however, some of the work (reading, reflecting, writing, teaching or working with your student subjects, gathering and analyzing evidence, talking with instructor-of-record hosts [if relevant]) will need to be done in between meeting times.
What if I miss a meeting? / What if the meeting schedule doesn’t work for me?
Given the collaborative focus of the meetings in which participants give ongoing support and feedback on project development and design, participants should make every effort to attend all eight meetings each semester. However, we do know that sometimes scheduling conflicts arise and you may miss a meeting. With that in mind, we’ll follow the general rule that if you miss more than two meetings in any one semester, you’ll be asked to leave the Program but are welcome to apply again in a future semester when you have more time.
Do I need to be teaching my own course in order to successfully complete this program?
No. Since not all graduate students are instructors of record, you may participate in the Program by identifying an instructor-of-record “host” who will grant you access access to his or her students for your project (e.g., you may survey the students, analyze one set of anonymous papers or exams, or gather evidence of their learning in some other way relevant to your project). You will work out the details of this plan early in the Program and in agreement with this instructor of record–and in accordance with Vanderbilt’s Institutional Review Board (IRB). This host may be another TA or a faculty member. The host may be in your department, or another. The students should be an appropriate demographic for your question about student learning.
What if I need more than two semesters to complete my project?
Sometimes, completing the final stages of a SoTL project takes more time than anticipated. Sometimes, life intervenes with plans. If you’re not finished with your project by the end of the academic year, you should continue to work toward completion on your own (with as-needed consultation by CFT Assistant Director Nancy Chick and/or a CFT Graduate Teaching Fellow), and you will receive a certificate of completion when you are finished.
Is the Certificate in College Teaching a prerequisite for this program?
No, the Certificate is not a prerequisite. However, we do anticipate that those individuals who complete the Certificate before completing this program will have the advantage of a more extensive understanding of some of the recent literature in teaching and learning, and thus might have an easier time identifying a potential topic to study.
Can I complete the Certificate in College Teaching while simultaneously completing this program?
We’d prefer that you didn’t. Each segment of the Certificate requires about 10 hours of your time. This program would add an additional time commitment on top of that. For most graduate students, that’s simply too much to take on in the average academic year. If you’re in your last year of study at Vanderbilt, we suggest that you choose between the two programs.
What if I’ve already completed the former Teaching Certificate Program; can I still participate in this program if I want to?
Questions about the “Teaching as Research” Program
What happened to the funding awards?
The funding that TAR Fellows received in the past were derived from a grant awarded by CIRTL. That funding was discontinued in the 2011-12 academic year.
Is this program still related to CIRTL?
Questions about “Cycle Three” of the former Teaching Certificate Program
I had planned on started Cycle Three in Fall 2012. Should I do that, or should I apply to be a part of this program?
It’s up to you! Here’s how the two choices differ:
- Time Commitment: The time commitment in both programs is similar: each takes place within two academic semesters with meetings every other week to design and implement a scholarly project on student learning.
- Program Leadership: In Cycle Three, participants meet with a Graduate Teaching Fellow (GTF) trained to lead this group. SoTL Scholars Program participants will meet both as a group and in one-on-one consultations (as needed) under the leadership of Dr. Nancy Chick, CFT Assistant Director, who also designed the Program. Nancy has years of SoTL experience and expertise, as well as publications and presentations in both disciplinary and interdisciplinary venues. She is on the Board of Directors of the International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (ISSOTL) and co-editor of Teaching and Learning Inquiry, ISSOTL’s new peer-reviewed scholarly journal.
- IRB Approval: Cycle Three does not require participants to seek IRB approval since many of the projects will be shared only within the Vanderbilt community. In contrast, all participants in the Scholars Program will seek IRB approval early because they will share their projects more widely, including developing plans to present their work at conferences or through publications.
- DGS Sign-Off: Whereas participants in Cycle Three are not required to inform their DGS of their participation in the program, the Scholars Program asks participants to begin with the support from their departments. We find that participants who begin with support from their DGS develop projects that are much more meaningful to them. This initial contact based on Program participation will ideally lead to support and encouragement once the project is under way and perhaps even a venue for showcasing once it’s complete.