From Facilitator to Co-learner: Supporting SoTL at MacEwan University

By:  Carolyn Ives, Interim Director, Centre for the Advancement of Faculty Excellence (CAFÉ), MacEwan University

In early 2015, MacEwan University’s Office of Research Services devised a plan to inspire faculty to undertake more SoTL research and to promote SoTL at the institution. The Director had discussed the plan with Janice Miller-Young, who was leading Mount Royal University’s Nexen Scholars Program at the time and was willing to allow MacEwan to adapt their model (Miller-Young et al., 2016) to develop our own SoTL Fellowship Program. I was asked to help facilitate this new program, so with help from colleagues in our Centre for the Advancement of Faculty Excellence (CAFÉ) and a few faculty members who were already actively engaged in SoTL, I organized a monthly reading group for that fall and invited guest facilitators with areas of specialization related to SoTL. To my surprise, twenty-five faculty members participated, and at the end of the term, we received five proposals from six faculty members hoping to join the fellowship program. The new SoTL scholars were awarded fellowships to begin in January 2016.

As I had limited background in SoTL, I knew I would need help facilitating this program. Fortunately, Janice and the team at Mount Royal allowed me, one of my colleagues, and our newly-minted SoTL Fellows to join them for our first SoTL retreat in February of that year. Our faculty members learned a lot from Mount Royal’s facilitation team and SoTL researchers, and so did my colleague and I. The main thing I learned was that if I didn’t acquire experience in SoTL research myself, I would struggle to continue to facilitate this program. I decided to undertake my own project alongside our new fellows, learn with them, and explore SoTL challenges and opportunities along with them.

As luck would have it, two biology professors approached me at about the same time with an idea for a SoTL project—testing the effectiveness of animated videos to support student learning about meiosis—and they wanted my help. Before long, we had submitted our first-ever Research Ethics Board application—as their research had previously been on plants and mine on English literature, we’d never done research involving human subjects or had to seek ethics approval before. Several of our new SoTL Fellows were in the same situation, so we navigated the process together.

My understanding of SoTL grew as I brought in guest speakers for our monthly meetings to assist the SoTL researchers in their work and in my own new SoTL work. By the time I started on my second SoTL project with other colleagues, this time to examine the use of assistive technology as a learning tool in my own first-year English class, this approach to research was already familiar, so the process was smoother. We’ll be sharing the results of this research project at ISSOTL in October.

We recently accepted our second cohort of SoTL Fellows and hosted our second retreat, this time without the luxury of the Mount Royal facilitators’ help. However, Janice, who is now at the University of Alberta, did spend some time with us at the retreat, consulting individually with members of both cohorts, and the faculty from both cohorts also offered each other feedback. As the value of SoTL at MacEwan is being communicated clearly through this program, the program itself is growing, and our new cohort is already starting in a different place than the first, some having benefitted from the experiences of the first group, and some having had previous SoTL experience. This suggests the sense of community developing from the program is valued as much as the support with ethics approval, data analysis, and publication.

Although we are early in the process of developing SoTL at MacEwan, I have already learned so much, and I would offer this humble advice to other educational developers who want to begin supporting faculty in SoTL work:

First, reach out for support internally when possible: we were lucky to have the support of MacEwan’s Office of Research Services to fund the program, CAFÉ to host the reading groups and monthly sessions, and a few committed faculty members to help lead sessions.

Second, seek help from the experts and accept mentorship when fortunate enough to find it: we relied on help from guest speakers, including Pat Hutchings, Ken Meadows, and Janice Miller-Young; also, as previously mentioned, the Mount Royal team helped guide us through the first retreat. Without them, we would never have gotten this program off the ground.

Third, allow yourself to be vulnerable and learn alongside the faculty members you are trying to assist. If I hadn’t made the choice to engage in SoTL myself, I might never have fully understood the support MacEwan faculty needed from the fellowship program. I look forward to seeing how this fellowship program will progress.

References:

Hutchings, P. (2000). Opening Lines: Approaches to the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. Carnegie Publications, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, 555 Middlefield Road, Menlo Park, CA 94025.

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. doi:10.1002/tl.20187

Simmons, N. and Poole, G. (2016), The History of SoTL in Canada: Answering Calls for Action. Teaching and Learning, 2016: 13–22. doi:10.1002/tl.20182

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