Dangerous Liaisons - UW Libraries

June 14, 2017

Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Webinar Reflections

Kian Flynn

Earlier this year, several UW librarians attended a two-part webinar on the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning offered by ACRL. Below, Chelsea Nesvig shares some of her takeaways from the webinars, as well as resources for incorporating SoTL practices in our own work.

Written by Chelsea Nesvig

The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) sounds like something you might spend your whole career (or life) trying to understand – massive, important, and perhaps daunting.

Had it not been for a two-part webinar series that some colleagues and I attended in April and May, I would likely still be in the dark about what SoTL actually is and how powerful a tool it can be to assess one’s instruction. These webinars, offered by the ACRL Student Learning & Information Literacy Committee and the ACRL Instruction Section, introduced key concepts of SoTL and offered ways that librarians (or other teachers) can apply it to their teaching practice – in a mostly non-daunting fashion. The presenters (all working in Canada!), Cara Bradley, Nancy Chick, and Margy MacMillan (@margymaclibrary), offered well-organized and easy-to-follow webinars in which they explained what SoTL is, what it can do, and ways one can apply it to their own work.

At its most basic, SoTL is research about teaching, so anyone who engages in teaching practices can use SoTL. Ideally, we use it to understand better an aspect of our teaching processes and associated student learning. Some of the key components of SoTL, as I understood them after the first webinar, include:

  • The researcher is the instructor. One of the questions involved in this core element of SoTL is “how can I improve teaching and student learning?” This often initially relates to the idea of focused, classroom-centric improvement and then sharing with a broader community.
  • Understanding what students are actually learning. A variety of kinds of assessment can offer evidence of student learning, but SoTL often focuses on a particular problem or issue one is having in their teaching – and then figuring out a way to research and learn from it.
  • Teaching is serious, intellectual work. While many librarians and teachers already understand this, doing SoTL continues the kind of research that is essential to deepening our understanding of what we do in the classroom, why we do it, and what does or doesn’t work.
  • SoTL often means using your classroom as a site for research. Not only will SoTL help you better understand what does and doesn’t work in your teaching, but it can also introduce your students to a research and curiosity mindset by allowing them to see research in action.

The second of the webinars focused on ways to actually “do” SoTL and apply it in our daily work. A couple of key takeaways from this session included:

  • “Doing” SoTL involves a similar process to other types of research. You need a question and ways of answering that question. Your next step is to figure out if you will need IRB approval. (More info about that here: sotl.ucalgaryblogs.ca). Don’t let the potential for IRB involvement derail your research plans!
  • Questions that SoTL often asks fall into four categories, but the two most common are: “what works?” and “what is?” with the latter helping you to understand what it looks like/what happens when students learn x thing. The third type asks “what is possible?” and relates to goals of the teacher in the classroom. Finally, theory-based questions about SoTL itself can help build frameworks for its practice (similar to disciplines).
  • SoTL scholarship is diffused across many disciplines. It is important to get to know the literature, but even more important to remember that often SoTL work isn’t labeled as such, so thorough searches across a variety of disciplines will be necessary.

Both webinars included conversation on Twitter using #librariansotl – take a look there to learn even more and engage with both the presenters and other interested librarians. These sites also offer information and resources for exploring and getting started with SoTL practice: http://acrl.libguides.com/slilc/sotl (also includes more info and bios about the presenters) and bit.ly/librarianSoTL (a wealth of useful SoTL information!). Additionally, both webinars are now online for your viewing pleasure: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DG3OLdHFY3M&feature=youtu.be (part 1) and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=is_6U6dHDZw (part 2).

With my own interest in online information literacy instruction, my mind wandered in that direction during the webinars. I started to contemplate possibilities for ways to bring SoTL into learning management systems like Canvas and better understand how online instruction correlates with student learning and retention (the challenge will be figuring out what question to ask and what data to use!). Like many of us, I want to know what works, what is happening, and then share that with the scholarly community.