Fostering SoTL starts with a cup of coffee a day…

Kris Knorr, McMaster University

“Fika”: the Swedish custom of meeting ones colleagues on a daily basis (sometimes twice!) for coffee and snacks to engage in both personal and professional conversations. This tradition, practiced for several centuries in Sweden, formed the basis of Dr. Katarina Mårtensson’s keynote presentation at McMaster’s Research on Teaching and Learning conference on December 9 & 10, 2015.  The theme of the conference was Cultivating Communities. Katarina, an Academic Developer at the Centre for Education Development at Lund University in Sweden, spoke about the communities that are created and fostered when colleagues engage in routine, unstructured conversation, through fika. She presented evidence of highly effective academic departments, and indicated that part of their success was owed to the significant networks and microcultures that had been established within. She also pointed to some of the socio-cultural factors that influence SoTL, such as significant networks (Roxå & Mårtensson, 2009), academic microcultures (Roxå & Mårtensson, 2015), and communities of practice (Wenger, 1999), and how these relate to various roles within the academic institution, including faculty members, support staff, educational developers, and students.

Dr. Mavis Morton delivered the second keynote presentation. Mavis is an Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology and a Faculty Affiliate with the Community Engaged Scholarship Institute (CESI) at the University of Guelph. As a highly experienced community engaged scholar, she began by discussing some core principles of community engaged education, including respect and commitment to the community, clear communication and understanding of each others’ needs, shared input and decision making, mutual benefit, and mutual reciprocity. She also drew connections between community engaged research and SoTL; for instance, community engaged research is aimed at improving community living experiences, while SoTL is aimed at improving student learning experiences. She offered several examples of pedagogical research in community engaged education, most notably her model of Community Focused Learning (Morton, 2012), which enables her to engage the 500 students in her first-year Sociology course (Crime and Criminal Justice) in community engaged research without putting a burden on community members.

The annual conference, hosted by the McMaster Institute for Innovation and Excellence in Teaching and Learning (MIIETL), welcomed delegates from more than a dozen regional institutions, as well as some delegates from University of British Columbia and University of Calgary. There were eight workshops, 35 presentations, and 12 posters. If you are interested, you can still view workshop, presentation, and poster abstracts at The conference was attended by 125 delegates, including faculty, staff, and students. Perhaps most importantly though, there were several opportunities to engage in “fika” at the conference; this is something we will be sure to continue at the 2016 Research on Teaching and Learning conference. Stay tuned for dates and themes!


Morton, M., Dolgon, C., Maher, T., & Pennell, J. (2012). Civic engagement and public sociology: Two “movements” in search of a mission. Journal of Applied Social Science, 6(1), 5-30.

Roxå, T., & Mårtensson, K. (2009). Significant conversations and significant networks–exploring the backstage of the teaching arena. Studies in Higher Education, 34(5), 547-559.

Roxå, T., & Mårtensson, K. (2015). Microcultures and informal learning: A heuristic guiding analysis of conditions for informal learning in local higher education workplaces. International Journal for Academic Development, 20(2), 193-205.

Wenger, E. (1999). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning, and identity. Cambridge University Press.




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