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Starting off in SoTL

February 9, 2012, 8:48 pm

Today I was excited to attend the startup meeting for a faculty learning community on the scholarship of teaching and learning (“SoTL”) here at GVSU. This group is sponsored and facilitated by our Faculty Teaching and Learning Center; it consists of the FTLC director and fellow faculty members from philosophy, history, computer science, and movement sciences. (And me.) Together over the next calendar year, we’re going to be working together to help each other develop research questions and projects in SoTL and serve as a sounding board for each others’ ideas.

I’ve been an end-user of SoTL for a long time and have done a lot of you might call “scholarship” in SoTL — for example all the writing and speaking I’ve done about the inverted classroom and clickers — but I’ve not done what I consider actual research in SoTL. One of the reasons I came to GVSU was to have the time, space, and support to transition into doing research in SoTL, and this faculty learning community is the first big step in that direction.

So now my next step is to think about what kinds of questions I would like eventually to turn into research projects. I need some time to really process these, and especially to soak in the existing literature and see what other kinds of questions are out there, but modulo those concerns, here’s a short list of ideas:

  • There’s not a lot of actual research on the inverted classroom out there, and that’s a real problem for inverted classroom advocates like me. Just about any claim that one can find about the benefits of this model that you can find on my blog are candidates for a research study. For example, does the inverted classroom really use study time more efficiently than a standard classroom? Does the inverted classroom change the way students view their capacity to learn things on their own?
  • For that matter, let’s cut to the chase: Does the inverted classroom do a better job of engendering student learning than its traditional counterparts? That’s a loaded and ill-defined question — which is part of the problem.
  • Also, what elements need to be in place for an inverted classroom to be effective? For example, what do the screencasts need to look like (in terms of length, style, etc.)? What are the best approaches for creating guided practice problems? What course assessments work best?
  • Apart from the inverted classroom, there’s a lot of room to do research on peer instruction in mathematics. Basically take anything that Mazur studied and see if it can be replicated in a calculus (for instance) class. One of the big sticking points here right now is that there is no “Force Concept Inventory” [PDF] for calculus* — no instrument for measuring baseline skills and therefore normalized gains in learning arising from peer instruction.
  • It turns out my colleague from the Computer Science department has been working with clickers and peer instruction for several years now. We’re already making plans to visit each others’ classes. This is one of the real strengths of faculty communities on a single campus — the guy down the hall who you’d otherwise probably never see turns out to be a potential collaborator.

This short, unrefined list probably doesn’t contain any well-defined research questions. Part of my problem is that I don’t yet really know what a well-defined research question in SoTL even looks like. But I figure, incompetence never stopped me before, so why start worrying about it now? I’m just excited to get moving in the right direction, and hopefully there will be more to report as time unfolds.

* Actually there is a concept inventory for calculus. EDIT: I had a comment here originally about the CCI being hard to get hold of, but it appears (see comments) there are good reasons for that.

Image: http://www.flickr.com/photos/npobre/

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