Scholarship of Teaching and Learning: Diversity of Method in Capturing and Analyzing Student Data

In the second of three workshops exploring topics in Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL), Sherry Linkon (English) and Dan Bernstein (University of Kansas) explored the tricky question of how to capture and analyze student learning. Both Dan and Sherry shared personal stories from their own research, highlighting their own unique ways of carrying out research. Indeed, Dan shared that he doesn’t consider his SOTL work as “research” but as “ongoing inquiry”, in keeping with his field’s (cognitive psychology) traditional definition of research, while Sherry’s SoTL work is extremely similar to research in her home field of English and Creative Writing.

This differentiation between Sherry and Dan’s approaches correspond perfectly to their first tip when analyzing student learning data: “Do what you do”. That is, use the methods and tools from the field you are in, be it using regression analysis or close reading of case studies.

Among many other topics, the workshop leaders addressed two main methods of data collection and analysis: Reflective writing or interviews with students about their own learning and student grades.

WIth regards to reflective writing, Sherry quoted Italian scholar Alessandro Portelli; people’s stories “tell us not just what people did, but what they wanted to do, what they believed they were doing what they think they now did.” Furthermore, “the value of an interview may often not lie in its adherence to facts but rather in its divergence from them, where imagination, symbolism, design break in. Therefore there are no ‘false’ oral stories.” In other words, student testimony is a wonderful tool not necessarily for documenting what students actually did, but for examining patterns in what students think they did, or think is important.

Similarly, Dan shared his own work using grades from coursework in his SoTL research. However, he clarified that the final grades you turn in to the registrar are often not the same as the grades you may be using for SoTL research. While final grades may be subject to manipulation via the bell curve or other local factors, raw scores and original data work better as concrete measures of performance in the classroom.

In the next workshop, Sherry and Dan will lead a discussion on sharing SoTL work with the broader educational community.