Advocating for Scholarship on Teaching and Learning: A Voyage of Discovery

By: Nicola Simmons, SoTL Canada Founding Chair

In the proposal for the upcoming New Directions for Teaching and Learning special issue on “The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Canada: Institutional Impact” (release summer 2016) I wrote:

In the Canadian context, Poole, Taylor, and Thompson (2007) discuss how using scholarship of teaching and learning at various levels: institutional, disciplinary, and national, could improve post-secondary educational quality, but little work has been done to assess to what extent their recommendations have been implemented. Work by Wutherick and Yu (2013) mapping SoTL activities in Canada makes it is clear that much SoTL is happening across the country, and in many institutions this work is supported by grants, staff, and collaborative research groups. However, there has so far been little evidence of the impact of SoTL on teaching and learning quality at the institutional level. As Christensen Hughes and Mighty (2010) have noted, “Researchers have discovered much about teaching and learning in higher education, but … dissemination and uptake of this information have been limited. As such, the impact of educational research on faculty-teaching practice and the student-learning experience has been negligible” (p. 4). Poole and Simmons (2013) identify the continuing need for assessing SoTL’s impact on institutional quality.

SoTL in Canada is well on its way to being able to refer to a rich literature. There are the foundational pieces I’ve mentioned above that guided us on early forays and exciting work being published each issue of the Canadian Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, along with Canadian contributions to ISSoTL’s Teaching and Learning Inquiry. We eagerly anticipate the release of the New Directions for Teaching and Learning special issue mentioned above as it will provide an overview of Canadian SoTL across several institutions nation-wide along with the history of SoTL in Canada and a concluding synthesis chapter and call to action.

This is exciting stuff – but it’s only a step along a strategic journey. As my dear colleague Gary Poole referenced in a talk, it’s “good, but not good enough.” Having exemplary Canadian SoTL literature is an important accomplishment, but in part what we do with that literature is what will take us from knowledge-sharing to true advocacy.

Lee Shulman advocated for making teaching “public property;” this has widely been taken to mean that we should disseminate our work. I think it needs to mean more than that: I think we need to do whatever we can to bring SoTL into the public eye. That means more columns on SoTL in University Affairs; it also means letters in newspapers, blogs, websites, tweets – anything that ‘normalizes’ SoTL and makes it a familiar term. This is notwithstanding that not all institutions name research about teaching and learning SoTL – the term could still use good press.

As Nancy Chick, who wrote the foreword to the special issue, recommends, “this volume belongs on shelves across campus, not just in teaching and learning centers …. on the reading list for a Canadian summit of institutional leaders …. the desks of provincial government officials who talk about the importance of higher education …. in a stack of models for other countries.” I couldn’t agree more – and it’s not just this volume. We need to make sure copies of all our best SoTL work reaches the right eyes – and invite those to whom we send it to comment on how they will find it helpful.

We need to make strong use of our growing network. SoTL Canada began with approximately 30 members; in a few short years it has grown tenfold. The enthusiasm and curiosity of our members have resulted in research, in publications, in conference sessions, in website creation, in writing groups, in surveying the landscape – we have been busy in our journeys!

Advocacy is a voyage of discovery: We map where we’ve been, we analyze the supports and challenges to our journey, and we decide where to go and what to pack for the next trip. At the SoTL Canada AGM last year, we brainstormed a long list of ideas for SoTL Advocacy. We are creative folks – not short of ideas, but as Simmons and Poole (in press) highlight, “How can we do these things in ways that acknowledge that most of the work is being undertaken as volunteer endeavours? How can we bring committed volunteers together in synergistic networks for greater impact?” That continues to be our challenge – but one that we will receive as exciting rather than daunting. Between now and the 2016 SoTL Canada AGM, I will be gathering names of persons interested in forming a strong working group to review that list, to continue to plan, and to undertake strategic advocacy for SoTL – towards the improvement of teaching and learning across Canada.





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