December 6th, 2013

Modeling Scholarly Practice Using Your Syllabus



I recently attended the annual conference of the International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (ISSOTL). The conference allowed me to reflect on questions about the scholarship and practice of teaching and learning, and it fueled thoughts that eventually led to this article on how we might go about modeling scholarly practice.

How to measure the impact of SOTL
The first session I attended, presented by Milton Cox and Gregg Wentzell, was titled “The Impact of SoTL Journals on Change and Learning in Higher Education.” I attended as a novice SoTL researcher in the hopes of gaining some pointers on getting my work published. Instead I was engaged in a robust discussion about how SoTL is encouraged in the academy by SoTL journals across the disciplines or perhaps more accurately, beyond the disciplines. That is, can SoTL journals bring greater gravitas to the field and can that in turn encourage deeper research that in turn impacts teaching and learning?

One attendee said he wished he could let authors know that they had influenced his classroom practice. This lead to the notion that the impact of publishing in SoTL could be measured by how many instructors implement—as in actually use—the practices being examined, as well as traditional markers of impact such as citations. This points to multiple purposes of SoTL: to further our understanding of how students learn and how to encourage the implementation of practices that afford students that opportunity. The question I left with was, “What is the best way to define an impact factor for SoTL: citations or changes in practice?”

The culture of the institution
The last session I attended, presented by Gary Poole and Roselynn Verwoord, was titled “Weaving SoTL into Institutional Cultures”. In this session, participants were invited to discuss the roles of social networks in higher education, in particular, their ability to impact institutional culture. The presenters suggested a model that included Communities of Practice at the micro-level, mid-level leaders at the meso-level, and high-level administrators at the macro-level. The discussion revolved around how cultural change moves within and between the levels examined through the lens of social network theory. The role of those in the middle was identified as critical as they act as the translators, advocates, and storytellers for those above and those below. My discussion partner, Torgny Roxå and I followed a tangent (or perhaps a less than graceful segue) and began to consider how we as faculty act as translators, advocates, and storytellers for our students. If we believe that teaching and learning are scholarly endeavors that impact our students, are we obligated to tell that story to our students, and if so, how?

What about teaching and learning?
These two sessions bookended the conference perfectly; giving me a theoretical framework with an actionable outcome. In order to communicate with my students about the thoughtful, scholarly way I approach my work with them in the classroom, I will include a citation list at the end of my syllabi. I don’t only (or even necessarily) mean articles in my discipline, but rather articles about teaching and learning that have influenced the way I approach my teaching/discipline in the classroom. This demonstrates to students that teaching IS scholarly, provides them with examples of how to use citations, and models scholarly practice starting with the very first day of class.

In other words, my list of citations will not point to the great mathematicians who first developed the ideas we will study (by the way, I teach math), but will highlight the practitioners and theoreticians who guided me as I developed my course, my teaching philosophy, and my career!

If teaching is a scholarly endeavor, let’s treat it as such and provide our “readers” with the evidence that what we are doing and saying is grounded in scholarship. We aren’t flying by the seats of our pants here—even if it may feel that way sometimes. Let’s demonstrate to our students that we are serious about teaching so that they can be serious about learning.

Readers, what articles have influenced your teaching and deserve a place on your syllabus? Mine include:

Barr, R. B., & Tagg, J. (1995, 11). From teaching to learning—A new paradigm for undergraduate education. Change, 27, 12.

Chickering, A. W., & Gamson, Z. F. (1987). Seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education. AAHE Bulletin, 3-7.

Please share yours in the comment box below.

Dr. Julie Glass is Special Assistant for the Core Curriculum at the University of North Texas.

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