By Kristin Sloane
SoTL Scholar Spotlight is a new CTE series that will feature a different faculty member who participated in our SoTL Scholars program. The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) is a framework designed to guide instructors through the systematic study of teaching and learning. Our program supports faculty in developing a classroom-focused research project that can enhance teaching for themselves and others. By highlighting their contributions to the SoTL community in this new series, we hope to make their work more visible and connect instructors across the University who may be interested in collaborations.
For our first Spotlight, we checked in with French Assistant Professor Elizabeth Hall. She joined the 2020-2021 cohort and shares what she has learned in the program as well as from her project.
Q: Why did you want to join the SoTL Scholars program?
A: I generally like doing the CTE programs because they allow me to take time to focus on teaching and to reflect on my methods. The SoTL program appealed to me because I have recently pivoted in my career from a focus on literary research to a focus on language teaching and teaching methodology. I liked the idea of doing a systematic investigation of one aspect of learning in my classroom.
Q: For your SoTL project, what did you set out to learn about your students’ learning? What was your research question?
A: I started the program thinking that I would look at learning objectives and outcomes in student writing across the semester, but the program’s initial attention on developing and writing research questions led me to broaden my study to one that asks in what particular areas of the language curriculum students are meeting or not meeting expectations, who is being left behind, and how we can start to identify the obstacles to student learning in order to find paths to greater success. I set out to take a close look at course design and to study how learning objectives line up with learning outcomes. My final research question allowed me to look at this issue with a focus on diversity and equity.
Q: How do you plan to share your work with the SoTL community?
A: I have preliminary findings that do show that there are particular areas in which students are struggling to meet expectations (quizzes, tests, final exam), and that BIPOC (black, indigenous, and other people of color) students are meeting expectations at a lower rate within these components and for the course as a whole. I am still working through the data analysis to refine the results, and I have submitted an abstract to an international SoTL-focused conference.
Q: How have your study findings informed your teaching?
A: The study has reinforced some of my teaching methods, namely specifications grading, because it focuses on learning outcomes as a process rather than in terms of one-time performances on tests and quizzes. In this alternative grading system, students have a mechanism for retaking tests and revising assignments in order to meet the required criteria. Through my study, I also have begun to reflect on and to start a conversation about curricular design and equity in the language classroom, and how we can improve our methods so that all students succeed.
Q: What does it mean to you to be a SoTL Scholar?
A: It gives value to the work we do in the classroom, and to me as a general faculty member on the teaching track. It also brings me into a community of scholars with similar interests in a variety of fields. It keeps me thinking and reflecting on my work in the classroom and how to improve the learning experience for everyone.
As Elizabeth said, she is currently working on a conference paper and hopes to turn that into at least one research article.
Look out for another SoTL Scholar Spotlight coming soon! Plus, later this fall, the CTE will be launching a SoTL newsletter, which will contain interesting research, events, and much more—sign up now!