SoTL #1 – Three Keys of SoTL

I can imagine that you read the title, and are wondering, as I was, what exactly a SoTL is. Well, it seems you have come to the right place, as SoTL stands for Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. 

I think this is a great activity because while I know alot about the subjects I teach, I do not always know a lot about teaching and it is something I am always trying to learn more about. I am very curious to understand how effective my teaching is, how what I do in the class translates to student outcomes, and try to have a reflexive teaching practice.

I think this unseen layer to what we do everyday is critical to how we deliver content and be the best possible teachers. I always consider that while there are many things I can do pretty well (and have a couple hundred Excel videos showing it), my task is usually not to impress myself (though I do on rare occasion), but to teach skills for the real world. While I am sure some students, years from now, will tell their bosses that they once had a teacher who did something cool, imagine how much more effective they would be at their jobs (and taking over the world), if they knew how to be Excel ninjas too.

It’s probably important to note that I often talk about cowboys and ninjas in my Excel class. Think about it like this: Everyone at every office knows some things, perhaps some people know a lot of things. But if you walk in with a new approach, a new technical skill, or some new talent to not only make you indispensable, but impress the boss, land the new client, get the right answer, and ultimately get the best value for your education, then I probably did a good job teaching the course.

Getting back on track, I think there are some skills that come naturally to those who communicate for a living. Now some of us struggle with some aspects of teaching while others have it easier, for example when connecting with the class in a lecture or engaging in activities that help students meet their goals. But I think everyone can learn about teaching and how to do it better.

I recently observed one of my colleagues teach a class and made lists and lists of mental notes about her teaching style. While it was completely different than what I was doing, she is a fantastic teacher, and I can see how there are many things I can learn to integrate in my classes to make the learning environment better. In fact, hanging out at the Hub and talking teaching theory and practice, even when it relates to something small like what type of buttons do students prefer when interacting with an LMS, really help me think about new ways to do my job better.

This is the duality, as a student, I am constantly learning. As a teacher I am both teaching and learning, and around it goes.

So what are my keys? I have many, Ill list a few:

  1. Go to the hub. I learn something new and exciting every time I go. In fact, one of the most valuable tips I learned, and a huge daily timesaver, was from the “wrong” person, it was totally not their job, but you never know what people know until you ask. This also includes the library. We have so many resources, there is no reason why not to take advantage.
  2. Be an engaged student and teacher. I read up on what I am doing and think of things that could improve my practice, like my previous post on negotiated grading.
  3. Participate in a CoP. There are so many amazing and engaged communities around SoTL, I literally learn something new and interesting every time I turn on twitter. I think about the post about the final project as a storybook, or how someone applied real life challenges to a project. There are so many people constantly reaching out about teaching and trying new things, it’s really amazing to have so much support.

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