Category Archives: Workplace

Adventures on the Research Assistant Ship Part 1

Discovering SoTL at the TI

This is a quick summary of some of the tasks and activities I have been a part of since I began my RA stint at the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning (TI) in November, 2015. I use an autoethnographic lens as described by Wall (2006) – auto, because I am using reflexivity to understand my new environment; ethno, because I am learning about a new culture and new ways of thinking; and graphy, because I am using this writing as inquiry. Although this is an informal inquiry, I am curious about where my developing understandings will take me.

Perhaps one might ask, why chronicle these activities? Some of them were team tasks and some were individual tasks, but they always involved dialoguing with others and I have found this invaluable. Towards the end of 2015, as I became more and more immersed in my graduate research at the Werklund School of Education, I found that TI tasks were complimentary to my developing understandings of educational practice. I noted how they were very different from roles and responsibilities I have had in my past teaching experience, in the West Indian education system. Being new to Canada, Calgary, and the education system here, these tasks have been a most welcome way of being initiated into the educational philosophies and principles of practice at work, in the University culture here. Seeing how the TI makes student learning a priority, in every single activity, is fascinating to me. In a way, it may have shaped my graduate research.

Task table

In December of 2015, my research topic was big, way too big. I wanted to interrogate everything about teaching English Literature in the secondary school context. I found myself involved in TI tasks which were not directly related to my graduate research topic and yet they led me to understand my topic with some clarity because they kept student learning at the center of attention. Students, the raison d’etre for my teaching practice, their experiences, became the focus of my research topic. Somehow, by being exposed to this student-focused philosophy at the TI, it alerted me to shortcomings in my teaching practice. I found myself asking, how well do we know how students are experiencing these tried and tested methods which educational research has supposedly given a stamp of approval? How can we assert that what was successful 20 years ago, 20 months ago, or 20 weeks ago, will be relevant for our current and future students?

The more I became acquainted with the educational philosophy driving SoTL and the core values propelling the educational development work at the TI, the more I began to understand Felten, “the first principle of SoTL, of course, is inquiry focused on student learning” (2013, p. 122). Although my most recent teaching experience at the Sir Arthur Lewis Community College was predominantly in the immediate post-secondary environment (some of it would correspond to the K-12 system here), and some of it would not fall under SoTL contexts, I found myself evaluating my practice with a new lens, using SoTL. Felten further stated that “learning should be understood broadly to include not only disciplinary knowledge or skill development, but also the cultivation of attitudes or habits that connect to learning” (2013, p. 122). It is easy to agree with that because literature, language, and communications studies teaching often looks outside of formal examinations for real world content, and attends to the affective domains of learning in a very intimate way. Felten’s article made me reflect on my past work in curriculum development and the consensus among my peers and colleagues, that learning is multidimensional. However, I am not quite satisfied with that consensus. I would like to probe it a bit. In that frame, the question propelling this series of reflections on what SoTL means is this: How might understandings of SoTL inform what K-12 educators are doing to better prepare students for post-secondary contexts?

Duncan (2004) stated that “an important assumption held by autoethnographers and qualitative researchers in general is that reality is neither fixed nor entirely external but is created by, and moves with, the changing perceptions and beliefs of the viewer” (p. 4).  Although part of me wanted to silence my previous work in curriculum development with my internal declaration that “this is a very different context,” I could not ignore the curriculum related questions which SoTL philosophies raise. How can we help our students (secondary) become competent to handle what the post-secondary context demands? Part two of “Adventures on the Research Assistant Ship” will look at some of the concepts which have been intermittently interrupting my other research interrogations: SoTL and its the implications for learning in the secondary school context.

 

References

Duncan, M. (2004). Autoethnography: Critical appreciation of an emerging art. International Journal of Qualitative Methods3(4), Article 3. Retrieved August 10, 2016, from http://www.ualberta.ca/~iiqm/backissues/3_4/pdf/duncan.pdf

Felten, P. (2013). Principles of good practice in SoTL. Teaching & Learning Inquiry: The ISSOTL Journal, 1(1), 121-125. doi:10.2979/teachlearninqu.1.1.121

Wall, S. (2006). An autoethnography on learning about autoethnography. International Journal of Qualitative Methods5(2), 146-160.