Explorations of SoTL Conversations

By Carolyn Hoessler and Wenona Partridge, Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching Effectiveness, University of Saskatchewan

Through our studies we become steeped (and even sometimes simmered) in a particular disciplinary perspective with its approach to presenting evidence, clarifying concepts, posing questions, and writing.

SoTL conversations, including those held at STLHE and the ISSOTL conferences, challenge us to explore the landscape of teaching and learning with those beyond and within our disciplines. Into our exploration of this landscape, we carry with us our disciplinary, epistemological, and methodological heritages. SoTL’s social interdisciplinary networks and trading zones, as summarized by Kathleen McKinney (2013), highlight SoTL’s interactive and interdisciplinary information sharing.

Our current project explores what we consider to be an unanswered question: “How do we experience SoTL?” We have chosen to ground our project in phenomenology, using Wenona’s background in philosophy, which is a new domain for Carolyn. Our open project is a manifestation of the very process we study, whereby two individuals bring their knowledge, ways of making meaning and producing scholarly work, etc. to a dialogue – to a space, that is more than the sum of individual efforts. In this space, we each wrestle with concepts and modes of articulation that, we have found, take us further into unfamiliar yet productive and illuminating territory. Through the dialogue with which we have been engaged, we learn anew and dig into our assumptions to see our practice in new light.

As one whose background is in Psychology and Education, I (Carolyn) have often entered into SoTL conversations from a privileged position where my expertise in those disciplinary research methodological skillsets are seen as the norm and highly applicable, and I thus mentor. As Gurung and Schwartz (2013) posit “few disciplines can really lay claim to the science of teaching and learning as can the discipline of psychology,” with “Psychology [as] a natural home for work on SoTL” and a models in its sub-disciplines of the interdisciplinary potential of SoTL. The roots of psychology theories often borrow and adapt from surrounding disciplines, the roots of which can be found, for instance, in the multiple-disciplines work of philosopher William James. Yet two degrees in Psychology and I was still under-prepared for true collaboration and particularly one outside my disciplinary majors facing challenges described by Gary Poole (2013).

Upon entering the field of teaching and learning, my (Wenona’s) initial impression can be reduced to one simple declaration: “I need to learn about research methods.” My education had not, thus far, included a single class in either qualitative or quantitative research methods. The academic district I chose to occupy in higher education was primarily that of philosophy, in which the method employed simply is philosophy. I am simplifying the methodology of my academic district on purpose. I wish to emphasize that, while psychology or sociology provide students a guide to conducting research in a defined and delineated way, philosophy provides no such guide. That might be, indeed, one of its strengths. There are different ways of doing philosophy, certainly, but these ways are not bound by strict methodological guidelines as they appear to be in other disciplines. I can hear the whisper of philosophical ways of questioning and delving into the archeological guts of a problem in the ways my colleague Carolyn works. So, from my perspective, entering into a conversation about teaching and learning with her is an introduction not only to other ways of communicating knowledge and uncovering meaning, but it is also a way to share the strength of philosophy as constituting part of the structure that underpins so interdisciplinary a field as SoTL. The project on which Carolyn and I are working is an attempt to describe the space in which these varied disciplines come together as a space that resists homogeneity and is, rather, ever changing and dynamic.

We do not propose that SoTL as an interdisciplinary space is a new idea.  The book cited throughout this blog, The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning In and Across the Disciplines, articles from which we cite throughout this post, deals with the topic of interdisciplinarity and its value to SoTL. Nancy Chick’s article (2013), for instance, proposes “a critical SOTL scholar would assert that all disciplines have something to bring to the table (Shulman 2004, Tatum 1997), or valuable wares to sell under the big tent (Huber and Hutchings 2005), or strong genes to contribute to the borderlands (Anzaldua 1987).” At the ISSOTL conference we presented our project in a poster format and invited others to share: What do I bring to this space? What do others bring to this space? and What do we experience when we engage in SoTL?


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