By Jeni Spencer
The Inquire certificate program at the University of Guelph was launched in the spring of 2015 and offers students, faculty, staff, and those simply interested in gaining experience as a SoTL researcher, the chance to explore and conduct SoTL research in small groups over the course of 1-year. By the end of the program each student will have developed the skills and confidence to continue to conduct SoTL research throughout their career. To help achieve this goal each group is responsible for presenting their work at the Teaching and Learning Innovations (TLI) Conference held each spring at Guelph. This is made possible by breaking down the 1-year program into 3 semesters of structured research tasks;
- Semester 1: forming the question, developing the methods and obtaining ethics approval,
- Semester 2: executing the methodology, and;
- Semester 3: analyzing data, preparing a final report, and presenting at the TLI conference.
Attending conferences outside of TLI and pursuing publishing options is encouraged if the group has a desire to do so.
Inquire started off with a 4-day face-to-face ‘action institute’ where we; met our instructors and fellow students, learned the format of the course, were introduced to the basics of SoTL (including the various definitions of what SoTL is), learned how to form a SoTL research question, explored various methodologies, discussed ethics, outlined individual research interests, participated in a wide-range of active learning exercises all pertaining to teaching and learning in higher education, and formed our smaller groups that we would continue to work with throughout the year. After our groups formed, we were given time to discuss possible research topics, set-up a work schedule, begin forming our research question, and consider areas of possible ethical concern to be avoided all with the guidance of our instructors.
The first semester, post ‘action institute’, was fairly busy with solidifying a topic, narrowing our scope, creating a question, developing the methodology and obtaining ethics approval, all in a four-month span! My groups’ project focuses on classroom design and student perception of learning within different spaces on campus. Having gone through the ‘action institute’ in one of Guelph’s specially design active learning spaces, we felt this was a good jumping off point for our project. With further guidance from our Inquire instructor we were able to solidify our research question and initiate a collaborative effort with interested faculty on campus to help engage students in our work. My team decided the most effective way of gathering our needed information was to create a survey, which we found to be the most challenging component. To work through this difficulty, we started by looking into and understanding current literature, examining surveys previously used, and gaining a deeper understanding of what information we needed to gather such that we could attempt to answer our research question. We relied on regular meetings with the instructor to guide us through this stage. Although the first semester was busy, it was completed during the quieter summer months and as such my group had minimal difficulty meeting the deadlines and obtaining ethics approval to launch our study in the fall semester. Personally I enjoyed working through the developmental stage of our project, especially the ethics approval documentation and review, as this was a new skill for me and is one that I will be utilizing in the near future.
During the fall semester we advertised our surveys to the selected classes, once at the beginning and then again near the end in November. As a result of our efforts during the summer, our second semester was considerably quieter as we focused on implementing the methodology. It was very exciting to see the number of students responding to our surveys increase (slowly), but also nerve wracking to know if we had in fact asked the right questions. The final semester, currently underway, is focused on data analysis and preparing for the TLI conference. Our analysis has provided us with what we believe is a unique look at how Guelph students’ perceive their learning in the spaces offered on campus. Currently our TLI proposal is under review as we forge ahead with the bulk of our analysis.
My personal experience with Inquire has been a positive one allowing me to reflect deeper on; what SoTL is, the objectives of performing SoTL research, and how my personal goals and interests fit within higher education betterment. I already knew, after several years (and counting….) in graduate school that I thoroughly enjoy conducting research and learning overall, so once I became aware of SoTL research and how it can contribute to the betterment of higher education, I was hooked! Signing up for Inquire was a natural next-step to help fulfill my new goal of having a career within an educational development context.
Looking forward, my group hopes to continue on with our project in some form. We would like to publish our work and possibly devise a second study based on current results to further understand the implications of this work. Proposals for conferences, in addition to Guelph’s TLI, have been submitted in the hopes to make our work known and connect with those who have similar SoTL interests. Inquire has provided me the opportunity to explore a new avenue of research, make new connections within the educational development sector, and make new friends. Having structured guidance available in the form of this certificate course, I believe, has made it possible to further pursue my passion for the betterment of higher education. Once completed, I will be able to demonstrate to colleagues and future employers that I have met the expectations of this course and actively contributed to a SoTL research project.
SoTL Canada would like to hear about SoTL training opportunities at institutions across Canada. Please share your feedback with us!