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SoTL Symposium Connects Research with Teaching

Posted by on Monday, April 25, 2011 in Events.

Last week the CFT held a Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Symposium that offered a unique, interactive format aimed to give attendees practical knowledge and methods for developing, analyzing, applying, and sharing scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) work.

Brought together to connect, exchange ideas and strengthen the research community in teaching and learning at Vanderbilt, the 26 attendees from five schools and 15 departments spent an hour engaged in ‘speed dating’-style roundtable discussions with seven presenters (pictured below).


These presenters showcased recently completed projects and answered questions regarding their methods and findings. Included were:

  • Gretchen Selcke, A&S, Spanish – Task-Based Activity for Implicit Grammar Instruction
  • Hang Wang, A&S, Mathematics – Effect of Daily Practice in Calculus Classroom
  • Jenny Retherford, Engineering, Civil & Environmental Engineering – “Pacing” Homework Due Dates: A Lesson in Time Management
  • Joseph Conrad, Medical School, Microbiology & Immunology – Influence of formalized technical/contextual lab intros
  • Kristin Jernigan, Medical School, Cell & Developmental Biology – Cooperative learning – effect on student performance
  • Jim Wilburn, Peabody, LPO – Improving Leadership through Simulation
  • Kate O’Doherty, Peabody, Psychology – Collaborative Testing: Does it Work/Do Students Like it?

All of the presenters are also participants in the CFT’s Teaching Certificate Program. As a part of the third cycle of the program, participants identify a line of inquiry that may be answered by collecting evidence of student learning during teaching opportunities available to the participants. This project is intended to help participants 1) develop deeper understandings of teaching and learning processes, 2) realize ways in which they can approach their teaching in a scholarly manner, 3) contribute to the larger community of teachers, and 4) prepare for future faculty roles in assessment and accreditation efforts. Through this event, the CFT hoped to inspire others with concrete examples of how to carry out a SoTL project.

During the panel session that followed the roundtable discussions, questions were asked of the presenters that included:

  • Discussions of ways in which SoTL is scholarly
  • The implications and practicalities of using quantitative and qualitative data
  • How participants created manageable research questions that effect change in their classrooms
  • The relevance and application of SoTL in disciplines such as Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics

Presenters discussed how much fun it was to engage research that has different methodologies (e.g. procedures, analyses, participants) than their primary research, and that answers questions with an immediately applicable outcome. In particular, some participants expressed a desire to engage in more qualitative research because it allows for a rich analysis of context-specific topics, while other participants emphasized the importance of having quantitative data that is more readily accepted in most scholarly communities.  Presenters also commented on the many ways to create a SoTL project such as asking questions that a) address your teaching, b) address students’ learning as a result of your teaching, or c) address students’ learning as a result of their own educational practices.

In all instances, presenters found that their SoTL projects helped them gain a better understanding of not only what did or did not work in their classes, but why it was or was not successful. This, more than anything, seemed to be the climax of their experiences with SoTL.  The four presenters representing STEM disciplines shared this sentiment. Although the content in such classrooms is often more procedural than in many social science or humanities classrooms, these presenters found a lot of value in their SoTL experiences. For example, one participant was thrilled to have found a way to better engage her students in class, while also helping them prepare more adequately for tests. Another participant shared her discovery that students perform much better on exams when given the opportunity to complete review questions in small groups during class (as opposed to outside of class).

Like any research findings, the results of these SoTL projects represent a modest beginning of a line of inquiry in which researchers continue to refine their research questions, hypotheses, and methods. But unlike most research, the joys of SoTL are that every project has an applicable result that not only engenders more research, but also student learning.

The CFT’s Derek Bruff and Allison Pingree also shared remarks about SoTL and about the Teaching Certificate Program. Derek’s remarks, which addressed ‘what is SoTL?’ will be featured in an upcoming blog entry.

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