Building Faculty SoTL Skills Through a Multi- and Interdisciplinary Writing Community of Practice

Building Faculty SoTL Skills Through a Multi- and Interdisciplinary Writing Community of Practice

Sandra Sgoutas-Emch, Judith Liu, Moriah Meyskens, Tara Ceranic Salinas, Jane Friedman, Perla Myers
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-2212-7.ch005
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Cultivating a community of faculty to support Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) work at universities can be challenging. There are many obstacles to overcome—obstacles such as how to sustain such efforts over time. The Center for Educational Excellence set out to design a strategic plan designed to address certain barriers to SoTL work and to create a long-standing community of practice for a SoTL group of faculty members—a group that has lasted over nine years to date. This chapter outlines strategies employed over the years and the evolution of the interdisciplinary group from a learning community to community of practice. The stories of past and present members are included along with advice on how others may have successful programs at their universities.
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Can you imagine a mathematician reading and providing valuable feedback on a piece of theater pedagogy—or a sociologist truly engaging with physics education work? That is exactly what we experience as members of a Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) community. What started as a series of workshops designed to help faculty members think about assessing student learning and designing SoTL research transformed into a sustained and vibrant writing and learning community that has stood the test of time.

Being part of the SoTL group gave me an opportunity to learn about this area of scholarship through reading and providing feedback on the work of the other group members. I was able to see how to implement research projects in the classroom. I was motivated not only to continue my work on my first SoTL project but to also try new techniques in the classroom. (Associate Professor in Mathematics)

The statement above is from a member of a long-running (since 2010) multi- and interdisciplinary SoTL writing community of faculty members that was organized by the Center for Educational Excellence (CEE), the development center for faculty across campus. This community meets monthly during the academic year to discuss its members’ SoTL project development and writing projects, and the output of the group has resulted in dozens of scholarly papers, presentations, chapters, and proposals (see Appendix 1 for a sample list of publications resulting from the SoTL group). This chapter provides a glimpse into the origins of the community; a detailed description of how the multi and interdisciplinary writing process functions; insights into how this community has evolved over the years to support sustainability; and a list of suggestions for other teaching and learning centers or institutions that would like to pursue similar initiatives on their campuses. The chapter is divided into major themes highlighting faculty members’ stories of their experiences and the writing group's impact both on the participants’ scholarship and the participants' professional development. We also discuss the numerous opportunities that have evolved as a result of an initiative that started with just a few workshops ten years ago.


Creating A Sotl Space

This fruitful collaborative group started as an effort to generate interest in teaching and learning research at the university. The University of San Diego (USD) is an independent, medium-sized Catholic institution that is primarily focused on undergraduate programs in Arts and Sciences, Business, and Engineering. USD also has several graduate programs including Peace Studies, Leadership and Educational Sciences, Nursing, and Law. As with many primarily undergraduate institutions, faculty members spend a large percentage of their time teaching, and they put an emphasis on innovation in the classroom. At the same time, demands for scholarship and academic excellence are steadily increasing. So, why is SoTL work not associated with necessary professional development for all faculty members? Why do so few institutions and faculty members see the value of supporting and investing resources in SoTL (Chick, 2018)?

Often, the answer is that there is simply a lack support to pursue SoTL or insufficient understanding of pedagogical research (Lueddeke, 2003). It is an unfortunate truth that SoTL work is often not highlighted or is seen as less impactful than more “traditional” disciplinary scholarship (McKinney, 2006; Webb, 2019). Pedagogy journals, despite being peer-reviewed and rigorous, do not typically appear on the lists provided by rank and tenure committees of what constitutes research publication leading to tenure and promotion (Segalla, 2008). Often junior faculty are discouraged from this type of research, and those that do want to engage in SoTL work do not necessarily have the training on SoTL or on how to apply for Human Subjects approval when the research subjects are their students. This potential lack of skills and awareness to take on SoTL projects (Weimer, 2006) can be a deterrent to the pursuit of SoTL work, but this is where the SoTL writing community comes in. The SoTL writing group provides a supportive community with opportunities for faculty members to develop an understanding of SoTL research and to engage in innovative and high-impact teaching and much-valued research (Gilpin & Liston, 2009). Furthermore, others have documented the potential for SoTL work to transform institutions and elevate the learning environment (Hutching, Huber, & Ciccone, 2011).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Faculty Learning Community (FLC): FLCs are is a group of trans-disciplinary faculty of size 6-15 or more (8 to 12 is the recommended size) engaging in an active, collaborative, yearlong program with a curriculum about enhancing teaching and learning and with frequent seminars and activities that provide learning, development, transdisciplinarity, the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, and community building.

Case Study: A process or record of research in which detailed consideration is given to the development of a particular person, group, or situation over a period of time.

Community Of Practice: A Community of Practice is a group of people who share a concern or a passion for something they dd and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.

Center for Educational Excellence (CEE): The CEE is the faculty development center at the University of San Diego.

Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL): A systematic inquiry into student learning which advances the practice of teaching in higher education by making inquiry findings public.

Multidisciplinary: A group of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.

Interdisciplinary: Relating to more than one branch of knowledge.

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