MRU Institute for SoTL

Developing a SoTL Question

These video presentations from an October SoTL Exchange presentation at MRU have been waiting for a website redesign to find a permanent home, but in the meantime, you can also find them here!   In this series, 6 SoTL scholars talk about what got them interested in their question, their data sources and/or methodology, and their findings and impact, including how their inquiry informed their teaching.

Part 1:  Janice introduces the presenters and a brief description of the Taxonomy of Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Questions.

Part 2:  Glen Ryland, Assistant Professor, General Education discusses how he developed and analyzed his SoTL question about what sources and strategies students draw upon as they are developing as academic writers in general education.

Part 3: Margy MacMillan, Professor, Library discusses her project about student reading of scholarly articles, how she used a phenomenographic approach to analyze how students make connections between the text and their existing knowledge, and what she learned about their reading.
Part 4:  April McGrath, Assistant Professor, Psychology describes how she used an experimental design to see how a “learning check-in” (structured one-on-one appointment) could increase student engagement and success in a research methods class, and also how she uncovered useful information about the course topics that students were struggling with.
Part 5:  Melanie Rathburn, Associate Professor, Biology and General Education talks about how she investigated strategies to reduce student anxiety about science and math in her general education courses using surveys and reflective writing, and how she determined that making the content relevant to the students and giving them opportunities to reflect, were important strategies.
Part 6:  Janice Miller-Young, Director, Institute for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, discusses her insights about how students visualize three-dimensional structures from two-dimensional textbook diagrams, which she gained through using a think-aloud interview protocol triangulated with data from students’ coursework.

Special Issue: Doing the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning: Measuring Systematic Changes to Teaching and Improvements in Learning

There is a new resource for SoTL that has just been published by New Directions for Teaching and Learning:

Special Issue: Doing the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning: Measuring Systematic Changes to Teaching and Improvements in Learning

The book is written primarily by psychologists and, as you might expect from the title, they define SoTL as “an instructor asking questions about the impact of his/her teaching on students’ learning in an individual course”.  This is a narrow definition, however they clearly and thoroughly address research design considerations for these types of studies (there is, however, an absence of theory). The chapters on designing SoTL studies take an empirical and quantitative perspective, addressing issues such as construct and internal validity, different types of comparisons (between participants, within participants, pre-test/post-test) and different experimental and quasi-experimental research designs .  For any faculty member planning to do such a comparison study to assess a teaching intervention (or “treatment”, to use their language), Chapters 2, 3 & 4 are excellent resources to help you design your study.
Bartsch, R. A. (2013), Designing SoTL Studies—Part I: Validity. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 2013: 17–33. doi: 10.1002/tl.20073

Bartsch, R. A. (2013), Designing SoTL Studies—Part II: Practicality. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 2013: 35–48. doi: 10.1002/tl.20074

Wilson-Doenges, G. (2013), Statistical Models for Analyzing Learning Data. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 2013: 49–58. doi: 10.1002/tl.20075

*If you’re new to SoTL and are considering an experimental design for your project, you may also want to read Fallacies of SoTL: Rethinking How We Conduct Our Research, Chapter 8 in The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning In and Across the Disciplines (I have a copy in my office if you’d like to borrow it.)

Back to NDTL: There are also two very useful chapters on writing which are quite applicable to a range of disciplines:

Smith, R. A. (2013), Tell a Good Story Well: Writing Tips. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 2013: 73–83. doi: 10.1002/tl.20077

Christopher, A. N. (2013), Navigating the Minefields of Publishing. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 2013: 85–99. doi: 10.1002/tl.20078

The Chapter on “Navigating the IRB” (Institutional Review Board) is quite American and there are better resources available for our Canadian context (see my summary here).

There is also a Chapter on Faculty Development Centres and the Role of SoTL, and I was happy to note a shout-out to MRU’s Nexen Scholar’s Program!!



holiday reading: some examples of Patti Clayton’s work in SoTL-CSL

The DEAL Model for Critical Reflection and Assessment that she co-developed through a long-term SoTL project has formed the basis for several projects/articles:

The first research-grounded one was:–integrating-reflection-and-assessment-to-capture-and-improve?view=image

The following piece is the product of a long-term project grounded in DEAL. This is a primary go-to piece on critical reflection and assessment in experiential learning (which this journal calls “applied learning”):,%20Generating,%20Deepening,%20and%20Documenting%20Learning.pdf


An article on a less social-sciency example of a SoTL project can be found at:–shifts-in-perspective-capitalizing-on-the-counter-normative?view=image&seq=1&size=100


announcing the 2014 TransCanada Collaborative SoTL Inquiry Grants

TransCanada Pipelines Limited has invested $925,000 over a five year period, part of which will support a Research Program for Learning Innovation and Collaborative Inquiry.

As part of this program, the Institute for SoTL at MRU is please to announce the  Collaborative SoTL Inquiry Grants.  These grants are designated for collaborative teaching and learning inquiry projects which go beyond an inquiry about teaching and learning in a single class. Note that while the Nexen Scholars Program is designed to support scholars in developing a project, the TransCanada grants require a complete research proposal including literature review, research question, methodology and dissemination plans.

Some examples of collaborative inquiries include, but are not limited to, inquiries about teaching and learning that:

  • will be investigated in multiple courses and/or sections in a department or program (for example, studying student learning over a series of courses)
  • will be investigated in courses from different programs and faculties (for example, studying students’ writing skills development in courses from a variety of disciplines)
  • will be investigated in courses from multiple contexts (for example, studying the effect of a certain pedagogy at institutions with varying class sizes)
  • have a student as a co-investigator (a senior student collaborating to design/conduct a study in a lower-level class)
  • require the expertise of a variety of co-investigators due to the size and scope of the project (for example, a technical writing expert collaborating to study student report writing skills in a science lab)

Collaborative SoTL projects may apply for funding of up to $10,000 per year. The budget for these grants is $30,000 per year so one or two grants will be awarded per funding cycle. For multi-institutional projects, a MRU faculty member must be the principal investigator on the project. See the guidelines document, below, for more information. If you are uncertain whether or not your proposed project meets the criteria, please contact the Director to explore possibilities.

APPLICATION DEADLINES Mar 31 and Oct 31 each year

2014 Collaborative Research Grant guidelines

2014-15 Collaborative-Research-Grant-application-form


Reminder: Developing a SoTL Research Question presentation

Reminder: The next topic in our SoTL Exchange Presentation Series:

Developing a SoTL Research question
Presented by: Margy MacMillan, April McGrath, Janice Miller-Young, Melanie Rathburn, and Glen Ryland
Thursday, Nov 21 at noon in Y324

 This group presentation will survey a range of types of SoTL questions, then presenters will each describe one of their SoTL projects in terms of how it was conceived, what methodologies and sources of evidence were used, plus findings and impact.  There will be time for discussion and our intent is that anyone interested in learning about SoTL or thinking about developing a SoTL inquiry will find this presentation useful and engaging.

Hope to see you there!



Learning Theories

Our SoTL CoP will be launching into a discussion of learning theories at our next meeting. As it happens, there was also a recent request for resources on adult learning theory on the STLHE LinkedIn group.  A few websites were recommended in that discussion.  They are listed below, with some comments from Michelle:

I. Categories

The following two sites try to organize the learning theories into broad categories, as we will do next meeting. You will notice they do so in slightly different ways, for example, some people would categorize constructivism as a type of cognitivism, while other people would give constructivism its own category.

Index of Learning Theories and Models 

Learning Theories Site Map!

II. Comprehensive Lists

The following two sites list broad arrays of theories. 

Learning Theories – this site does not categorize but just lists a variety of theories alphabetically!

This site is the one recommended in the Kanuka article – it is interesting in the sense that it groups theories that are related under the original theorist, such as B.F. Skinner. But then it also has categories like Behaviorism – it is a bit overwhelming I’d say. 🙂 

III. Andragogy
Andragogy is a theory of adult education that some people like to distinguish from pedagogy (if you consider pedagogy to be related to children – also up for debate). A good summary of Malcolm Knowles’ work on by Gayla Keesee can be found here (and browse the site for more):–Adult%20Learning%20Theory#!

IV. A visual representation of everything – just for fun

A Visual Guide To Every Single Learning Theory – at Edudemic


Ethical Considerations for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning

I’m just putting together a handout of references for the workshop I’m co-presenting this week at the SoTL Symposium.  I know how research ethics is such an exciting topic which everyone LOVES to read about so thought I’d share the list here too  😉


“The teacher’s responsibility to hold students’ educational interests paramount provides an important perspective when considering ethical issues for research in teaching and learning” (MacLean & Poole, 2010).

Guidance Documents

Panel on Research Ethics. (2010). Tri‐Council policy statement: Ethical conduct for research involving humans. Available at

Mount Royal University Human Research Ethics Board (2012) Ethical Considerations for Dual‐Role Research: Conducting Research with Students in your own Classroom. Available at


Healey, R.L., Bass, T., Caulfield, J., Hoffman, A. McGinn, M.K., Miller-Young, J., and Haigh, M. (2013) Being Ethically Minded: Practising the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in an Ethical Manner. Teaching and Learning Inquiry 1(2), pp. 23-33. Available at

MacLean, M., and Poole, G. (2010). An introduction to ethical considerations for novices to research in teaching and learning in Canada. The Canadian Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning 1(2). Available at

Pecorino, P.A., Kincaid, S., and Gironda, B. (2008) Research and Experimentation in Teaching Effectiveness: The Ethical Review Process and the IRB. International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning 2(1). Available at

Stockley, D. and Balkwill, L. (2013) Raising Awareness of Research Ethics in SoTL: The Role of Educational Developers. The Canadian Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning 4(1), Article 7.  Available at


CSL Research group – save the dates!!

Arrangements are coming together for two upcoming CSL research group events!  (If you’re interested in only receiving CSL Research Group news, add a comment below requesting to be added to the email distribution list.)

12:00 Thurs Nov 28: presentation by Melanie Rathburn and Roberta Lexier, research design-in-progress for their upcoming GenEd CSL trip to Honduras

all day Thurs Jan 30: CSL-SoTL workshop presented by Patti Clayton, co-author and co-editor of two books on Research on Service Learning
Research on Service Learning: Conceptual Frameworks & Assessments

More details coming soon!!

And by the way, here’s a recent, brief article on service learning from Faculty Focus:
What Makes Service Learning Unique: Reflection and Reciprocity