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Academic Coaching & Writing

II. Designing Your Own SoTL Project

Feb 23, 2018 by Caroline Eisner

Let’s begin this second entry by assuming that, by virtue of your reading this blog, you are interested in becoming a scholarly teacher.

One of the first steps to becoming “scholarly” about your teaching is to ask pedagogical questions. The word, “pedagogy,” is most often defined as the method and practice of teaching. Each discipline has a preferred pedagogy, although it is often contested or ignored. For example, more recent common pedagogical debates have focused on the effectiveness of lecture formats, small class sizes, flipped classrooms, and multiple-choice tests.

Most of you, as scholars in a discipline (British Literature for me, for example), think a lot about what you are teaching, the content (Jane Eyre, Howards End, the Romantics, for example). But do you also think about how you are teaching the content, the pedagogy? Furthermore, how do you know what your students are learning? Asking how is a great way to begin your work as a scholarly teacher. Think about these questions:

  • How do you teach differently depending on the content?
  • How do you know that your students are learning the content?
  • How do your assessments vary based on the content or the type of learning?

To begin, ask yourself what is known about teaching as a practice in your discipline and in general? How do you know that the way you teach, your pedagogy, helps students learn the content? Have you experimented with other pedagogical methods to help students learn the same material?  How do you measure and assess that students are learning the course content? For example, does a multiple-choice final exam really accurately assess students on what they have learned or would open-ended essay questions capture their understanding more deeply? In fact, what counts as learning in your course? What kind of learning do you expect from your students? Do all your students learn the same way? What do you do for those students who learn differently?

You might be able to answer these questions fairly easily, but usually without any concrete evidence, just with a sense that your teaching went well. Your students did the reading, were attentive in class, and laughed at your jokes. They raised their hands. They did well on the multiple-choice tests. But wait. SoTL work requires that you ask deeper questions about the success of your teaching because, as McKinney (2007) writes, “scholarly” teachers continually think about and refine their teaching strategies so that their students meet the courses’ learning objectives, which they are also continually assessing.

Think about how your students are learning. Ask yourself questions about an aspect of your teaching that affects how students learn. Why are they learning this concept rather than another concept? Do group projects provide opportunities to learn concepts more deeply? Why? What theories about student learning will help you understand these questions?

For those of you new to SoTL work, looking closely at your course’s learning objectives is a good way to begin. You can start by asking yourself the following series of questions about your course to begin to think more deeply about your teaching and your students’ learning:

  • What is the content you are teaching?
  • What are the student learning objectives for the content and the course?
  • How do your instructional strategies ensure that your students will meet these objectives?
  • What assessments do you use to measure if your students are learning these objectives?

In next week’s blog, I will explain how to use learning objectives to investigate how well you are teaching and how well your students are learning.

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