SFU developing research support to guide faculty in designing SoTL inquiry projects

Simon Fraser University Institute for the Study of Teaching and Learning in the Disciplines (ISTLD) is developing a framework and guide to support faculty in choosing and implementing appropriate research designs for their SoTL projects.


Greg Hum and Jack Davis, a pair of PhD candidates from Simon Fraser University, presented a workshop at the 2014 Symposium on Teaching and Learning. The workshop’s focus was to generate discussion about the application of quantitative/survey methodologies within the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. One aspect of the workshop generated a positive response from the participants: the creation of a resource that bridges the gap between the range of questions faculty across disciplines bring to SoTL work, and the requirements of research designs and statistical analyses.

“The initial concept,” according to Dr. Cheryl Amundsen, ISTLD Director, “Was to create guidelines and resources for faculty at SFU as they develop their SoTL proposals and carry out data collection and analyses. The ISTLD team is close to accomplishing that, and our long-term goal is to create a set of resources useful to the broader SoTL community”

“Institutions in other provinces have created tools designed to foster inquiry into teaching and learning,” said Greg Hum, “But for the most part, they don’t focus enough on the specifics of research design and the analysis step, in particular, and this is where we’ve seen many projects struggle. We saw the need for a new resource as an opportunity to create a better conceptualization – one that’s practical and will be embraced by our faculty.”

SoTL employs a range of measurement methodologies, qualitative and quantitative. The ISTLD team has been providing support for faculty in the development of surveys and questionnaires, resulting in large amounts of survey-based research. The team has determined that the research design chosen is often based on the disciplinary research of the faculty investigator, but this is not always the best approach. The team’s current focus is to increase the diversity of methods used beyond surveys, and this will include quantitative approaches, such as comparing groups on measured performance, and qualitative designs, such as exploring feedback from interviews and focus groups.

“We are calling the project the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Design and Analysis project now,” said Gregory Hum, a doctoral candidate in the Faculty of Education’s Educational Technology and Learning Design Program. “We decided to move away from the statistical analysis as the central focus, as we found that deciding on an appropriate research design was often a crucial first step towards a meaningful analysis. Additionally, we have moved away from the term “best practices,” as what may be considered best practice in terms of research methodology or statistical analysis isn’t always possible in SoTL work, given common challenges inherent in this field, such as small sample sizes and a lack of validated instruments.”

Getting the best possible results

In addition to building a guide for faculty, the team is working on creating tools to assist with conducting data analyses. There are many guides and programs available to conduct statistical analyses, but as they are generally not user-friendly, the team felt this would be an opportunity to create an easier to follow process.

To create a resource that will be useful to future faculty researchers, the ISLTD team is examining successfully completed SoTL projects at SFU. This information will be combined and analyzed to gain a better understanding of what works, and the results will be shared through a yet-to-be-determined platform.

The ISTLD team would like to build the sharing and collaborative aspect of their project and generate support for a discussion on striking a balance between the practical questions of what works and the established methods for gathering research. “There needs to be a middle ground,” said Mr. Hum, “An understanding of the potential trade-offs between “best practice” and the practicalities and inherent limitations of classroom research in order to create projects that employ research methodologies successfully and effectively.” Potential or current researchers looking for more information or to work with the ISTLD team can contact them directly.

Teaching and Learning Development Grants program at SFU

SFU supports SoTL through the Teaching and Learning Development Grants program. Through this program, SFU instructors can receive grants of up to $5,000 (or a 2 phase grant of $10,000.) to investigate questions about teaching and learning of interest to them. The grants are funded through the Office of the Vice-President, Academic, and facilitated by the Institute for the Study of Teaching and Learning in the Disciplines (ISTLD) in partnership with the Teaching and Learning Centre (TLC). Since mid-2011, over 130 grant projects have been funded.

Previous projects

Some of the projects that have received funding through the Teaching and Learning grant program include:

Additional examples of current and previously funded grants are an excellent resource to develop effective research plans, including budgets, approaches, and available resources.


Notable Quotes

“The program was created specifically for faculty within SFU, but we’re hoping that anyone who works with the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning – educators who wouldn’t typically work with statistical data – will find value in this project.” ~Jack Davis, Research Assistant, ISTLD

“We decided to move away from statistical analysis as the central focus since we found study design was often crucial to a meaningful analysis.” ~Gregory Hum

@rfmoll OMG I’m pretty excited for SFU to share its Statistical and Analysis Handbook which will be an amazing tool for my MEd students #bccampus

@bonjohnston #bccampus quantitative SoTL research: preparing a handbook for instructors to collect good data…coming soon from SFU

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