This module includes a discussion of the factors that should be considered when starting a SoTL project including challenges, how to identify a problem and formulate a question, and how to begin a literature review.
Identify common challenges faced when beginning a SoTL project
Describe how to identify a broad problem and then refine the research question
Give examples of SoTL research projects
Describe strategies for conducting a literature review
Beginning a SoTL project can be daunting and there are numerous factors that must be considered and challenges to be faced. These challenges may include:
Identifying a problem or area of interest
Developing a research question from that problem
Finding the relevant literature
Time and financial constraints
Project design and methodology
Of these challenges, the most critical first step is to identify a research problem. Faculty usually become interested in a SoTL project through reflecting on something in their own classroom experience as an instructor. It is helpful to start by thinking broadly about a teaching or learning issue, an assignment, a pedagogical strategy or something of that nature. The next step would to attempt to put the problem into a question form. The faculty member can then begin to think about ways to study the question. What is already known? What information is needed? What are some possible data collection strategies? What resources are needed and what would be the time frame? What are practical and ethical concerns that may need to be addressed? At this point, the faculty member is considering the question in a broad context, but by walking through this series of questions, he or she can begin determining if the question they are interested in has potential as a SoTL project. The research question can then be refined and narrowed to create a project that is feasible and can produce meaningful results.
In general, SoTL questions are either deductive and are testing a current theory with the data or they are inductive and use the data collected to form a new theory. According to Hutchings (2000) the types of potential SoTL problems could be described as a taxonomy that includes the following types of questions:
“what is” questions describe a an issue or behavior and refer to what it currently looks like
“what works” questions seek to find evidence for the effectiveness of particular strategies
Visions of the possible questions look at would could be done and explore new strategies
Developing new framework questions are those that attempt to find new models and ways of understanding the practice of teaching and learning
Keeping in mind those types of questions, it is helpful in understanding SoTL problems and questions to explore examples of SoTL projects. Topics for SoTL projects vary greatly by discipline, but following are just a few examples that may serve as ideas:
Do service-learning projects required by health science students translate to community involvement in their professional careers?
Does the use of in-class study groups increase scores on physics exams?
Does the use of Discussion Board assignments increase other types of participation in the classroom?
What factors influence student success in entry level math courses?
The following YouTube video, Examples of SoTL, includes three SoTL researchers describing their research projects, how they got interested, and what they gained from their project.
Once a problem has been identified and the research question has been formulated, a review of the literature is the next step and maybe useful in designing the project and deciding on methodology. Literature reviews for SoTL project can sometimes be challenging because of how the articles are classified in databases and search engines. Broad-based traditional education journals and discipline-specific pedagogical journals are good places to begin. Relevant SoTL articles can be found in any of these journals and education is the common theme of most journals that will contain SoTL articles. Because classification of the articles is sometimes tricky, it may be especially helpful to work from reference lists and bibliographies. A combination of educational journals, the internet, electronic databases, and other bibliographies should result in a comprehensive literature review. The following link provides additional search engines that may be useful for SoTL projects – Conducting a Lit Review.
Once the challenges associated with beginning a SoTL project and conducting a literature review have been addressed, planning and designing the project can begin. The following modules will address issues related to project management, design, and methodology.
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