Overcoming Challenges to Impactful SoTL

Overcoming Challenges to Impactful SoTL

Sherry Fukuzawa (University of Toronto, Mississauga, Canada), Dianne Ashbourne (University of Toronto, Mississauga, Canada) and Fiona Rawle (University of Toronto, Mississauga, Canada)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-2212-7.ch019
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In order for teaching and learning to improve throughout an institution, the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) must be valued within institutional culture and contribute to the scholarly identity of researchers. This chapter emphasizes some of the challenges for SoTL researchers, whether educational developers or faculty members, to consider as they begin their foray into educational research. SoTL challenges are divided into four inter-related themes: (1) scholarly identity, (2) institutional challenges, (3) accessing and searching the SoTL literature, and (4) conducting SoTL research (SoTL research design, methodology, funding and time commitments, and ethical considerations). The chapter includes a series of opportunities and resources to help SoTL researchers reframe these challenges into opportunities for their institutions.
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Scholarly Identity

Scholarly identity is commonly defined by academic disciplinary scholarship that is valued in the Academy through the ideals of academic freedom and peer-reviewed research outcomes (Bennett et al., 2016; Fanghanel, 2012). Simmons and colleagues (2013) have argued that SoTL is considered a core part of scholarly identity. However, we have found compelling arguments in the literature that SoTL work exists in a liminal space and working in such a space poses a unique set of challenges to scholarly identity (Fanghanel, 2012; Mathany, Clow, & Aspenlieder, 2017). Professional identify in Academia can be marked along disciplinary lines through different ways of thinking (Becher & Trowler, 2001), and recognition is primarily based on disciplinary scholarship, with disciplinary expertise acting as the barometer for hiring, promotion, and tenure. Research in SoTL involves risk-taking outside of this established, and administratively reinforced, professional identity (Mathany et al., 2017). This risk increases the lower an individual sits in the institutional hierarchy. For example, precarious instructors (e.g., graduate students and contingent/adjunct instructors) take the greatest risks and often have the least institutional support to engage in SoTL, even though they are often responsible for large proportions of teaching loads (Simmons et al., 2013). In addition, it can be difficult for faculty to identify SoTL research norms since it is a relatively new field and often outside of the discipline they were trained in (Billot, Rowland, Carnell, Amundsen, & Evans, 2017; Simmons & Taylor, 2019). It is not hard to imagine the challenge of undertaking a research project that is outside of your established scope of practice and not necessarily recognized by your disciplinary colleagues. In order to confidently traverse this liminal space, disciplinary scholars need support, recognition, and guidance to engage meaningfully with SoTL practice and conduct SoTL research (Bennett et al., 2016; Simmons, 2011).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Reflexivity: The inter-relationship between variables so that a clear bi-directional cause and effect cannot be determined.

Mega-Level SoTL Networks: Inter-institutional networks that engage in a national and international dialogue on SoTL.

Scholarly Identity: The meaning researchers attach to the roles and tasks they perform. Often strongly tied to disciplinary identity but can be redefined depending on the context in which one is working.

Institutional Accountability Measures: Criteria for promotion in post-secondary institutions.

Contingent Instructors: Instructors in post-secondary institutions that do not have permanent status.

Liminal Space: The fluid, transitional location from which many scholars navigate SoTL research.

Institutional Culture: The collective values in a post-secondary institution that sets the priorities for macro, meso, and micro levels.

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