Forming a Community of SoTL Scholars or a Game of Where’s Waldo?

By Mandy Frake-Mistak, PhD, MEd, BEd, PhEd – Educational Developer, York University

One thing that I have come to learn about SoTL research is that teachers all across my campus are engaging in SoTL – but they don’t always recognize their work as being SoTL or as being scholarly. I’ve learned this lesson in my work as an educational developer in having conversations and doing consultations with those who teach at our university. During these interactions, we discuss approaches to teaching, reflections on teaching and how it happens in the classroom, and what impact on the student experience their teaching has. What I hear from teachers is that they are analyzing and critically reflecting on their experiences.

These meetings are often happen-stance whereby I may be chatting with someone during an in-house conference, workshop, or meeting of some kind. These events provide me with a brief opportunity to connect and learn about SoTL projects that are being done all around me. In other situations, these individuals are reaching out to me (or a colleague) because we have a service that they are in need of. It is in these conversations that I learn about the work they are doing and often want to do. And so we talk about SoTL.

What I struggle with is how I can help turn these one-off meetings into something more significant and ongoing.

What I (currently) lack is a formal way to bring these SoTL researchers together to form a community of mutually supportive SoTL Scholars.

I recognize the criticality that individuals from all over campus be connected with others – in this instance it is those who are doing SoTL. In this community (that currently exists in a disconnected or unknowingly way), SoTL scholars will be able to share and talk about their work and what they have learned as a result. More importantly they will learn what their colleagues are doing in their classroom be they in the same faculty or department or another discipline entirely. I have a clear vision in my mind of what I would like to have happen by way of a community of engaged SoTL scholars – my pet name as it stands now is the “SoTL Scholars Network” – but am eager to hear what the community members themselves would like.

Aside from those with whom I have chatted with throughout my time as a developer, how does one invite others to engage in a formal network that does not yet exist? How does one acknowledge the campus-wide SoTL work that already exists? How does one seek out these individuals? How are you doing this at your campus?

A group can only exist when there are members who participate in it and I have high hopes that whatever emerges from this endeavour that it be a warm, welcoming, intellectually supportive and stimulating environment in which we can learn and grow together as SoTL scholars.

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3 Responses to Forming a Community of SoTL Scholars or a Game of Where’s Waldo?

  1. Nicola says:

    Hi Mandy – love your post – a great reminder of the myriad forms SoTL takes – and how very important it is to affirm those who are just starting their explorations by inviting them into SoTL’s “big tent.”
    I have found that starting with partnerships – being the matchmaker who connects people who may wish to collaborate – or even just talk about their work. I have offered sometimes to buy the coffee and come to the first meeting. These don’t always result in longer term connections, but they often do.
    Then, you might initially plan an annual get together inviting these and others, with something that will appeal – including of course a chance to talk about their work.
    The little steps can build astonishingly quickly – and can be helped by continuing to seek to connect people 1-on-1. Next thing you know, they’re all presenting at a conference you run and then you’re away to the races… 🙂

  2. Bob Sproule says:

    As someone has said in the past, “just do it”. Do it as you probably already do in terms of creating a learning community.

    Here at the University of Waterloo, we haven’t just done it yet, as in creating the equivalent of a “SoTL Scholars Network”. But we have created many learning communities.

    And the we is not just strictly members of our teaching centre. For instance I am a faculty member who has worked with our teaching centre staff in creating such communities.

    Once we have identified a topic, we compile a list of those within the university who we know have an interest or are vested in this topic. We create a list of 3 themes, one per month for a term. These themes may include things we know those vested in are involved with and we believe would be of interest to others. We use a communication tool that reaches out to the whole university community to promote the upcoming 3 gatherings with one-off invitations to those we identified above. We require registration. Then at each gathering we gather feedback on what worked well, what could have been improved, and what are other topics would the attendees like to discuss.

    Encourage those who facilitate each of the gatherings to present at our annual teaching and learning conference for engagement with the wider university community.

    Repeat the process for as many terms as the momentum is in place. Take a break at certain points when the momentum is not quite there, that is okay. And then in a year or two repeat.

  3. Alp Oran says:

    Well the simplest solution is to create a forum IDEALLY through the institution’s teaching and learning centre in which scholars at your institution can share their current projects in SoTL. Although you could create this forum on your own using an outside agent (Google Doc or Facebook or whatever), I think there would be greater buy-in and participation if it is done through an institution-affiliated office concerned with (So)TL. As a scholar pursuing SoTL, getting recognition for my work is another point of concern. I think that if there was a public forum on which stakeholders at your institution could publish their SoTL initiatives, it would serve not just the researchers but also the administrators (who may look for evidence of scholarly activity or identify gaps in resource allocation) a convenient (and legitimate) place to learn about what is (or has) been done.
    My 2 cents.

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