So, you are interested in SoTL research or maybe you just have a teaching/learning question you'd like to answer? How do you start? Welcome to SoTL 101. This webpage is designed for those who have never done SoTL or social science research. So, if it seems too basic, feel free to skip to the parts you need!
Dr. Marcia Dixson (FACET Class of 2006) Assistant Vice-Chancellor for Teaching and Learning, PFW
Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) is: “problem posing about an issue of teaching or learning, study of the problem through methods appropriate to the disciplinary epistemologies, applications of results to practice, communication of results, self-reflection, and peer review” (Cambridge, 2010, p. 8) *
The first step is to see what "we" already know about your problem/issue/question:
It is possible that the problem you are having has been solved or the question answered. Google Scholar is your friend as are the reference librarians on your campus. Check with your teaching center - they often have resource libraries!
There may be teaching books on your topic of interest:
If you read the literature and don't find an answer, proceed to Step Two!
Once you have read the literature (and not found the answer to your question), you need to determine what research needs to be done to answer the question/solve the problem you are interested in. Then you need to be able to share that thinking process with potential readers.
In other words, outline/draft (whichever process works better for you to clarify your thinking) an argument that answers the questions: What do we know now? What do we need to know? Why does it matter?Scholars often outline the literature review at this point so they can move forward with the research process. Don't get bogged down in the writing process, but do be clear about argument/rationale for your hypotheses/research questions and methods!
This should 1) be based on the literature; 2) contain the specific variables you want to explore; and 3) be testable/measureable. In general a hypothesis will predict what you think you will find and is a stronger test of your ideas. A research question is posed when we don't have enough information to make an argument about what the results will likely be. For instance,
RQ: Does increasing the number of teacher immediacy behaviors increase student engagement?
H: The number of teacher immediacy behaviors will be significantly and positively correlated with student engagement.
The three questions below will give you some ideas of the trade-offs of various types of social science research methods. Choosing an answer to each question should help you narrow down appropriate possibilities for methods.
a. What kind of research do you want to do? Explore an issue or problem? Test an idea/hypothesis?
Exploring an issue/problem. If you wrote a research question because there is not enough information to really nail down alternatives/levels of variables, then qualitative/open ended methods that do not require you to define all the potential aspects/variables of the issue are likely to be more useful.
Ex: I’m wondering why students don’t do the reading in my class – asking open ended questions or having them log the “reasons” why they didn’t do the reading over a course of a couple of weeks is likely to yield more usable information than a set of responses based on what you “think” is happening.
Testing an idea/hypothesis. If you are testing a known solution/idea/hypothesis, then you can use qualitative methods or quantitative methods that will allow you to more precisely (numerically) represent the results and compare differences (i.e., between teaching methods; before and after)
Ex: Does lecture or cooperative learning yield deeper understanding of primary concepts?
c. Which perspective matters most? Participants'/students' indirect perspective or a more direct perspective (grades, observation of behavior)? Here is where you make choices between issues such as measuring student learning outcomes directly or getting a perspective (i.e., students, colleagues) on the teaching/learning situation.
Participants' (i.e., students') perspective. Sometimes it’s more important to gain the view from participants than to try to gain a more direct view of outcomes.
Ex: Do students feel more confident about their learning when lecture is used or when whole class discussion is used?
Either quantitative or qualitative methods can be used to gain students’/participants’ perspectives
Now that you have all of the data, you must analyze it in a way that answers your question and/or tests your hypotheses. Pay attention to the assumptions for statistical tests - a computer program will run whatever you tell it to whether the data is appropriate or not. Thus, the old adage, garbage in - garbage out! If you are using a method/statistic for the first time, reach out to others on your campus who have experience with that method. Asking experts specific questions, almost always elicits helpful answers!
Now, you have something to share with other teachers everywhere! You may want to skip forward to the "submit to a conference or publication" page to consider the appropriate outlet for your research. That will almost always give you some ideas on how to start since such outlets provide page minimums and maximums (no need to write a 15 page literature review if the entire article can only be 15 pages!), section names, etc.
So, certainly consider your "normal" disciplinary venues.
There are also conferences devoted just to teaching or SoTL work such as:
The annual FACET Retreat, held in May each year, is an IU wide combination of "retreat" (inspiritational, self-discovery, fun) types of events with interactive workshops and presentations of research related to teaching
Lilly Conferences on College and University Teaching are held annually in Oxford, OH; Travis City, MI; Bethesda, MD; Newport Beach, CA; and Austin, TX: these conferences welcome a variety of submissions from posters and presentations of research to interactive workshops and roundtable discussions.
The references below explain the "how to's" and issues to consider when undertaking research about teaching and learning. Several of the books provide in-depth discussions of the topics from this website.
*Cambridge, B. (2010). Fostering the scholarship of teaching and learning: Communities of practice. In D. Lieberman & C. Wehlburg, (Eds.). To improve the academy. Bolton, MA: Anker.
Special thanks to FACET members and fellow FACET Retreat workshop presenters: Dr. Julie Saam, IUK; Dr. Irwin Mallin, IPFW; and Dr. Gwendolyn Mettetal, IUSB for their contributions to this website.
Thanks to Dr. Tamul's 2015 Research Methods course at IPFW for their help in finding resources: Brad Affolder, Christie Bowen, JW Kieckheifer, Jordan Littlejohn, Saneta Maiko, Ashley Motia, Niki Reynolds, Israa Samarin, Amanda Seilheimer, Ashley Whitcraft, and Joe Wolter