The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Initiative
The Center for Teaching and Learning, in partnership with the Office of the Provost, is piloting a Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) initiative at UVM. SoTL offers faculty members a way to systematically investigate and answer questions that emerge from their practice as teachers. As a form of educational research, SoTL can involve qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches as well as case study, quasi-experimental, and experimental research designs.
SoTL research generally progresses through the following steps:
- Identify a teaching and/or learning question or problem to address
- Review related literature to refine research question
- Design data collection procedures to answer research question
- Obtain research approval from the Institutional Review Board (IRB)
- Collect data
- Analyze data
- Present and/or publish research findings
SoTL at UVM
In our SoTL pilot initiative, which began in late-August 2017, we had representation from the Departments of Chemistry, Education, Geology, Global Gateways, Leadership and Developmental Sciences, Mathematics & Statistics, Nutrition and Food Science, Psychological Science, Rehabilitation and Movement Science, and Romance Languages and Linguistics.
A Few Example Projects
Embodied Learning in an Applied Kinesiology Course
Dr. Karen Westervelt’s SoTL project is focused on promoting student engagement and learning of musculoskeletal anatomy through the use of embodied learning activities in her applied kinesiology course.
Action Research to Enhance Project Scaffolding in a Tectonics Course
Dr. Laura Webb’s SoTL project is focused on using action research to improve project scaffolding and student attainment of disciplinary writing and information literacy outcomes in her tectonics course.
Restorative Circles as a Foundation for Group Work in an Introductory Special Education Course
Dr. Shana Haines’ SoTL project is focused on using tier one restorative circles to support small group learning in her introduction to special education course.
Course Example: Embodied Learning in an Applied Kinesiology Course
Dr. Karen Westervelt, Clinical Assistant Professor of Rehabilitation and Movement Science, is interested in exploring new approaches to teaching musculoskeletal anatomy in her course on applied kinesiology. At a meeting early in the SoTL initiative, Dr. Westervelt reflected, “If we are asking students to learn about muscles and movement, shouldn’t we use our muscles and movement more frequently in class?” Knowing she wanted to incorporate more movement into her teaching, Dr. Westervelt turned to the educational literature to identify the theoretical and empirical basis for her SoTL work.
After speaking with colleagues across the disciplines and reviewing the literature on movement and learning, Dr. Westervelt identified “embodied learning” as the theoretical foundation for her work. Embodied learning is a theory that suggests the body is central to cognition and learning and that humans “come to understand the world through their bodily interactions with it” (Osgood Campbell, 2015, p. 4). As such, embodied learning theorists argue that the body must take a more central role in the educational process to better support student learning.
Dr. Westervelt is drawing on this literature to design a series of embodied learning activities that she will incorporate into her applied kinesiology course in the spring 2018 semester to teach musculoskeletal anatomy. Dr. Westervelt will use her SoTL project to determine if these embodied learning activities are more supportive of student engagement and learning than a traditional lecture.
Dr. Westervelt and her team of student research assistants, Katrina Kunker, Kristina Ushakova, Jillian Varin, and Casey Little, are using a crossover study design to answer their SoTL research questions. With this design, the class will be split in half twice during the semester. Group A will spend one class learning about the shoulder through embodied learning activities while Group B will spend one class learning the same material through a traditional lecture. Later in the semester, Group B will spend one class learning about the wrist through embodied learning activities while Group A will spend one class learning the same material through a traditional lecture.
In the last five minutes of each class, students will be asked to complete the Stroop test of selective attention along with a brief survey intended to measure student engagement during each instructional activity. The researchers will also use student performance on a 10-question test of material retention taken two weeks after the experimental classes along with unit exam questions on the shoulder and wrist as data to assess differences in student learning.
Dr. Westervelt intends to use her SoTL study findings to inform her teaching in the future and also share the results in a scholarly publication to contribute to knowledge about best practices in teaching and learning in the field of kinesiology.
Course Example: Action Research to Enhance Project Scaffolding in a Tectonics Course
Dr. Laura Webb, Associate Professor of Geology, has observed in recent semesters that many students are not meeting disciplinary writing and information literacy outcomes in their final projects for her tectonics course. After conversing with her SoTL colleagues and reviewing the literature on teaching approaches in her discipline, Dr. Webb decided to focus her SoTL project on improving the scaffolding for the final project over the course of the semester.
This scaffolding will entail 1) more explicit explanation of the project rationale and desired outcomes, 2) deconstruction of complex tasks and their logic, 3) reflective activities and concept mapping for students to think about their learning, and 4) increased opportunities for students to practice and receive feedback on the necessary skills for completing their final projects.
Dr. Webb will systematically reflect on and improve her scaffolding through an action research approach to her SoTL project. Action research is an iterative approach to inquiry that involves cycles of problem posing, action design (i.e., planning new instructional approaches), action, data collection, data analysis, reflection, and refinement.
Dr. Webb has already identified a problem (i.e., student underperformance on the final project) and is currently designing her action. While teaching the course during the spring 2018 semester, Dr. Webb will enact her instructional changes and collect data to assess the efficacy of her scaffolding. This data will include written student reflections on scaffolding tasks and assignments, a focus group with students about their perceptions of the scaffolding tasks and confidence in their ability to effectively complete the project, the instructor’s written reflections on the process, and student scores on the project rubric.
The systematic analysis and interpretation of this data will provide insights that Dr. Webb will use to refine her approach to scaffolding in future semesters, which will prompt further data collection and analysis. Dr. Webb also hopes the sustained process of engaging in action research will yield insights that can be shared with scholarly audiences used to inform teaching within her field more generally.
Course Example: Restorative Circles as a Foundation for Group Work in an Introductory Special Education Course
Dr. Shana Haines co-teaches a large introduction to special education course that focuses on issues affecting individuals with disabilities. Dr. Haines and her co-instructors, Lia Cravedi and Mika Moore, have consistently refined their approach to group work over the past few years to foster the most supportive learning environment for students to engage in potentially challenging and sensitive conversations about disability.
Given the large number of students enrolled in the course each semester (approximately 130 students), it has been difficult for Dr. Haines and her co-instructors to systematically assess the efficacy of the group work that happens at least once each class. Therefore, they have been unsure if their approach to group work in this course is achieving its desired outcomes.
For Dr. Haines and her co-instructors, the SoTL pilot initiative presented a perfect opportunity to try to systematically assess the efficacy of a new approach to group work in their introduction to special education course. Specifically, they are interested in using tier one restorative circles as a foundation for group work in this course during the spring 2018 semester. Tier one restorative circles are focused on building community among members of the group, fostering accountability and responsibility, increasing social/emotional capacity, and creating the conditions for meaningful and inclusive dialogue. After introducing the practice and modeling it as a teaching team, students will use tier one restorative circles as a foundation for group work in class.
To study the efficacy of this approach, Dr. Haines and her research team will collect a few different types of data. All students enrolled in the course will be asked to complete surveys at the beginning, middle, and end of the semester that focus on their perceptions of group work (both generally and specific to the tier one restorative circles). Students will also be invited to participate in focus groups, during which they will have an opportunity to describe their experiences with restorative circles in detail along with their perceptions of the benefits and challenges of this approach to group work. Finally, the researchers will collect samples of student work from the course to obtain further insight on the processes and outcomes of the tier one restorative circles.
Dr. Haines and her co-instructors will use these data to determine if the tier one restorative circles are achieving the desired outcomes of building community, fostering accountability/responsibility, enhancing social/emotional capacity, and creating the conditions for meaningful and inclusive dialogue. They will then use the insights gained from their study to inform their group work practices in future classes. They also hope to contribute to knowledge in their field about the potential for tier one restorative circles to serve as a framework for group activities in large lecture courses.