The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning: A Collaborative Model
Concurrent Session 6
This panel describes a collaborative scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) project among the University of Central Florida, Carnegie Mellon University. Colorado Technical University, and the University of Mississippi facilitated by MindWires’ Empirical Educator Project. Each university discusses success and challenges establishing SoTL and the value of the effort.
The scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) is classroom-based research that incorporates systematic reflection and research that disseminates effective teaching practices and their impact on student learning (Boyar, 1990). Most often SoTL emanates from disciplines concerned with learning science, pedagogy and instruction such as the education or the social science fields. However, for other disciplines, such as natural science, or humanities encouraging faculty conduct inquiry into instructional innovations can be challenging. The process impedes itself with of obstacles such as lack of experience or interest in pedagogy, time or support constraints, a decreased value proposition associated with teaching, or the kind of research necessary for achieving tenure, and promotion. (Moskal, 2017).
SoTL resonates with discipline-based educational research or design-based thinking because in order to be successful it requires three components of good ideas outlined by Steven Johnson (Johnson, 2011)
- Specification of the adjacent possible: What is it that is a reasonable next step?
- A show hunch: Commitment over the long haul
- A liquid network: A collaborative of individuals or organizations committed to staying the course.
A recent EDUCAUSE Review article (Dziuban, Howlin, Johnson & Moskal, 2017) demonstrates those three elements in a cooperative inquiry on adaptive learning among The University of Central Florida, Colorado Technical University and the adaptive platform provider Realizeit. Their work illustrates that irrespective of organizational and strategic differences, universities have common contextual teaching and learning questions and that vendors bring an important skill set to the research agenda. In this session we will contend that the term “vendor” needs thoughtful reconsideration. Aside from their business propositions, they are committed to improving teaching and learning having much to offer.
This is precisely where SoTL partnerships come into the picture. Valid research that is authentic, reflective and contextual must emanate from data that is transformed into information, giving insight that enables action. An effective approach to that is to inquiry initiated at the instructional level, incorporating multiple perspectives. The EDUCAUSE article describes an organic informal partnership. However, a recent program by MindWires (mindwires.com), the Empirical Educator Project (EEP; Feldstein, 2018) recognizes the added value of cooperative research among faculty, administrators, vendors and entrepreneurs, promoting the vision and providing resources to support the adjacent possible, a slow hunch and especially a liquid network.
EEP: The Empirical Educator Project is an effort to catalyze a culture in which literacy and participation in evidence-based educational practices are woven into the professional identities of college and university educators, including but not limited to classroom educators. We do this by fostering collaborative projects that promote aspects of empirical education among participants that cross natural network boundaries such as those between classroom educators and researchers, between universities and commercial providers, and between different university peer groups. EEP is participation currently by invitation only, but our intention is to open it up to progressively broader participation as a culture forms among the original cohort and as we learn how to expand participation in ways that integrate new members into that culture quickly and productively.
UCF: The University of Central Florida (UCF) is one of Florida’s 12 public universities, with 66,000+ students. The Research Initiative for Teaching Effectiveness supports SoTL by reducing obstacles for faculty to perform classroom-based research. Faculty are recruited through campus faculty development offerings and incentivized through faculty SoTL awards. RITE connects faculty from various disciplines with the ultimate goal for faculty to use their findings for publications and/or presentations, thereby impacting promotion and tenure practices.
CMU: Carnegie Mellon University is a research-focused (R1), private university, with its main campus in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Its 14,000 students are almost evenly split between undergraduate and graduate. CMU incorporates technology-enhanced learning throughout its undergraduate programs and offers a number of online and hybrid programs at the Masters level. At CMU, a growing number of faculty are interested in studying the effects of their educational innovations, especially those that involve online learning. The Eberly Center, CMU’s teaching and educational technology center, supports faculty in conducting such research in their courses – e.g., collaborating on study design, identifying valid and reliable data sources, analyzing data, and dissemination of findings. A key goal of this research is to improve learner outcomes based on data.
CTU: Colorado Technical University is a private, for profit institution with two campuses (2,000 students) located in Colorado and 23,000 students online. CTU is an open enrollment university and the student population is predominantly adult, with an average age in the mid-thirties. CTU began its journey with adaptive learning in 2012 to address the varying levels of knowledge and educational experience inherent to an adult student population. Currently, CTU has over 120 courses utilizing adaptive learning and 500 faculty utilizing adaptive technology in campus and online classes. CTU’s began collaborative research in the areas of student perception and student behavior using technology and has also collaborated in presentations about effective practices of scaling adaptive technology with faculty.
UM: The University of Mississippi is an R1 Carnegie Class flagship research institute located in northern Mississippi. The student population on the main campus exceeds 20,000, of which 45% are out-of-state students, and 55% are Mississippians. Despite the steadily improving profile of each first-year student class, because of its mission to educate the citizens of Mississippi, the university has created both a strong student academic support infrastructure and a host of institutes and centers that nurture academic excellence. As such, students arrive at the university with a wide range of college readiness skills. One of the many programs established to support students at risk of falling behind or dropping out is the Personalized Learning & Adaptive Teaching Opportunities (PLATO) Program. PLATO oversees the implementation of adaptive learning systems in high-enrollment, general education classes. In addition to implementation of adaptive learning, PLATO has been conducting qualitative research on student perceptions of the effectiveness of adaptive courseware in learning to analyze with better accuracy quantitative comparisons of student outcomes in courses that incorporate adaptive learning and those that do not. A growing body of research points to higher final grades for students who use adaptive courseware compared to those who do not. If adaptive courseware is helping students succeed, which functionalities are driving that success? Which functionalities are not as useful? Which teaching strategies maximize the effectiveness of useful courseware functionalities? Finally, what challenges does adaptive courseware create for students? These are questions we are trying to answer through qualitative data derived from student focus groups, student surveys, and a student advisory board.
Under the auspices and leadership of the Empirical Educator Project that bought these four universities together a new concept of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning will undergo exploration. For instance, what is its added value in public, private and for profit institutions that have varying opportunity costs for this line of inquiry. We will explore the challenges and benefits of SoTL to universities with diverse missions, strategic plans and student populations and how it can become a major component of their academic culture. Perspectives will Pa from researchers, administrators, faculty and an organization that is initiating and supporting a collaborative inquiry model. The audience will experience four separate SoTL models that have proved effective and see their unique components and communalities. The presenters hold a strong belief that discipline specific inquiry affords students with improved opportunities to progress through course content. More importantly, however, the expansion of the community sharing results, research methods and information creates a collective that transcends any institution.
Because of this small network each university is improving its SoTL process with the EEP as a support mechanism This will happen over time in a nonlinear process that encounters a good deal of productive failure. Technology alone does not drive the work, but rather the research helps improve the technology. The partners commit to pushing information and flexibility out as far as possible and believe that progress happens in small steps. Simple is more effective. Without the partnership and the sharing there would be no collaboration. None of us could do it alone. Therefore, our major conclusion is that we need more extensive collaborative work. Universities can contextualize SoTL and support an active research agenda to form similar, and increasingly productive and collaborative partnerships, supported by the Empirical Educator Project.
Dziuban, C., Howlin, C., Johnson, C., & Moskal, P. (2017, December 18). An Adaptive Learning Partnership. EDUCAUSE Review.
Feldstein, M. (2018, February 3). Announcing the Empirical Educator Project. [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://mfeldstein.com/announcing-empirical-educator-project/
Johnson, S. (2011). Where good ideas come from: the seven patterns of innovation. Penguin UK.