Using the Micro-Meso-Macro-Mega (4M) framework for annual reporting and strategic planning

Scholars and advocates for SoTL have suggested that SoTL must be “woven into the fabric of our institutions,” not “individuals operating in isolation” (Williams et al. 2013, p. 50). To illustrate this, Williams et al. developed a multi-level, social network model of institutional culture where micro represents activities of faculty members and students, meso represents middle management such as department chairs, whose role is to interpret and act as conduits of information between and across the levels, and macro is senior management which sets the strategic direction of the University.  This framework has been extended by some to include a mega level, which is usually used to refer to disciplinary communities or provincial and national contexts.

In our recent special issue of New Directions for Teaching and Learning, The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Canada: Institutional Impact, a number of us used these levels to frame our articles. Simmons (2016) does a wonderful synthesis of the issue and connects the various chapters to the micro-meso-macro-mega framework, for example by discussing the importance of facilitating social networks at the meso level through initiatives such as learning communities (Miller-Young et al.), partnerships (Marquis and Ahmad), and educational developers facilitating SoTL discussions (Kenny et al.)  In the same issue, Wuetherick and Yu (2016) used the micro-meso-macro framework as a lens for analyzing the results of their national study. This was picked up recently by Jennifer Friberg, who writes for the SoTL Advocate blog, and who coined the description ‘4M Framework’, suggesting that it could be useful for thinking about SoTL advocacy (Friberg, 2016).

With all this recent writing and discussion about the 4M framework, I suddenly realized that it would also be useful to describe the various activities of the Institute for Scholarship of Teaching and Learning at Mount Royal University.  As Director, I am currently working on the Institute’s annual report.  To me, the report is also a piece of advocacy, as I look for ways to clearly and convincingly summarize for others how the SoTL work the Institute supports is not only making a difference to individual faculty members’ teaching, but also building community and capacity across the institution, as well as contributing to the broader field.

This year, I am organizing our activities and accomplishments by using micro to indicate the support we provide for individual faculty members and students to explore innovative approaches to teaching and learning, meso for activities which support and cultivate connections within and across departments such as collaborative projects and grants, macro for collaborative projects aligned with institutional priorities such as high-impact practices, and mega for engagement with the broader higher education community (our annual SoTL Symposium in Banff, a number of us participating in national and international Collaborative Writing Groups, etc.) We also have various dissemination activities which target each level.

As I was working on an ‘Institute-at-a-glance’ page of highlights, I made a table with a bulleted list under each level, listing for example, # of students  hired as research assistants for Institute-sponsored projects (micro), # of new collaborative SoTL projects funded (meso), # of SoTL projects on high impact practices such as service-learning (macro), and # of participants at our annual Symposium (mega).  This also helped me see at which levels the Institute has a lot of activity, and at which levels we do not.  I’m not sure what the right balance is just yet, and that will likely change as our institutional culture changes, but being more aware of which levels we have more or less activity has already been useful for reflection and future planning.

So thank you to Nicola, Brad, Jennifer, and my SoTL Canada Collaborative Writing Group on ‘Leadership and SoTL’ for sparking my thinking on this! I am curious to hear about other ways that folks might find the 4M framework useful.

Friberg, J. (2016, July 11). Might the 4M Framework Support SoTL Advocacy? [Web log post]. Retrieved from

Kenny, N., Watson, G. P., & Desmarais, S. (2016). Building Sustained Action: Supporting an Institutional Practice of SoTL at the University of Guelph. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 146, 87-94.

Marquis, E., & Ahmad, A. (2016). Developing the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning at the McMaster Institute for Innovation and Excellence in Teaching and Learning. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 146, 47-54.

Miller‐Young, J., Yeo, M., Manarin, K., Carey, M., & Zimmer, J. (2016). SoTL2: Inquiring into the Impact of Inquiry. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 146, 55-62.

Simmons, N. (2016). Synthesizing SoTL Institutional Initiatives toward National Impact. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 146, 95-102.

Wuetherick, B., & Yu, S. (2016). The Canadian Teaching Commons: The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Canadian Higher Education. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 146, 23-30.

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