Working Groups Process Instructions

January 15, 2009

The working groups process has several purposes:

  • To provide a focus for the development of scholarship of teaching projects.
  • To provide a supportive group environment for each participant to move forward in his or her thinking.
  • To help participants move from teaching questions to scholarship of teaching projects.
  • To provide a forum for in-depth conversation about the scholarship of teaching as an activity.
  • To give each participant feedback from others about the potential of their questions and projects.

Presenters: Preparation

Written Reflection: The purpose of these reflections is to move individual researchers to the next level of questions, as a necessary step to defining a project. What’s the problem you are most interested in exploring? These are some questions to help guide your thinking as you prepare to present your project to your working group:

Part I: Reflection on course goals and design

  1. What course or courses will you be focusing on?
  2. What is the purpose of the course? What are your goals for student learning in the course? (That is, what do you hope students will be able to do after the course with their knowledge or skills, not just what will they know).
  3. How is the course designed to meet those goals? If your focus is the use of a particular technology, discuss how it is intended to serve one or more of the goals?

Part II: Reflection on your questions about student learning

  1. Of the student learning goals listed above, which dimensions are you most interested in exploring or tracking? What seems primarily at issue for you right now?
  2. What kind of “data” would you like to have about student learning? What will you look at and what might you be looking for?

Send your reflection to the first respondent and working group prior to meeting.

Presentation: First, you will make a ten minute presentation about your developing sense of questions that you’re bringing to your teaching. The hope is that these introductory presentations will be useful to you, the presenter, as a stimulus for feedback, but also helpful to your fellow working group members in their capacity as both teachers and scholars of teaching.

Rather than summarizing your reflection statement or describing the course you are targeting, please focus on a particular insight, puzzle, or question that others in the group can engage with and respond to.

Additional resources for helping you develop SoTL projects

First respondent

Within local working groups, each participant should be matched up with a “first respondent.” The purpose of these pairings is to name ahead of time the member of the working group who will lead off the discussion of an individual’s project questions and plans. In other contexts, such as the Carnegie Foundation’s scholarship of teaching project, this role has been called the “critical friend”-with the function being someone who has given particular thought and “hearing” to the project ideas and can offer constructive feedback.

By calling these pairings “first respondents” we want to stress that the main responsibility is simply to start off the discussion with some thoughts or questions. In preparing for this, each of you need only have read or thought about your partner’s written project reflection. But you should also feel free to deepen your sense of his or her project through email before your face-to-face meeting.

The ‘first respondent’ has considered your project carefully, and perhaps has conversed with you ahead of time to understand your context and questions more fully. As above, your ‘first respondent’ should try to identify one or two key questions, insights, or puzzles that would be helpful to you and to the group overall within five minutes.


The facilitators have two key objectives for each Working Group meeting:

  • Focus on questions of learning that suggest themselves as researchable questions germane to the course context.
  • Help define and identify for individuals and for the group a range of methods for collecting evidence of student learning that seem appropriate and manageable.

The facilitator’s key task will be to keep the group focused on these two goals and to push the presenter (and respondents) to focus on clarifying the researchable questions and methods for researching them.

The facilitators should NOT feel as if it is her/his job to do the pushing or be the one posing all the questions (though you should feel comfortable doing so); the facilitator’s responsibility is to pose and center those questions for the group to address.

It is important to keep in mind that many of these “projects” frame a teaching problem quite compellingly but are still framing the scholarship of teaching problem (the researchable questions) too generally. In those cases the facilitator should help the group help the participant narrow the research questions without losing sight of the larger significance. Different projects may be at different stages. And in these cases it is helpful to think about how research might be more of an ethnographic or “listening/reading” project that helps define a problem, rather than a formal research project investigating the problem.  It is important to alleviate people of the notion that everyone needs to be formulating an experiment or driving toward some kind of “existence proof.”

One of the key goals is to get beyond generalities about learning on the one hand, and to broaden the notion of what it means to research and pay attention to student learning, on the other.

FINAL NOTE: It seems likely that the biggest problem you will encounter will be keeping people on track, and to not digress into a “how to teach this class” conversation. Some of that might be essential to getting to the essential questions about learning, but it is up to the facilitator to keep on track.


The convenors are responsible for the following tasks:

  • Keep the group on time according to the Working Group format:
    • 10 min: Informal Presentation of the Project Questions
    • 5 min: First Respondent
    • 20 min: General Group Discussion
    • 10 min: Written Feedback
  • Keep tabs of who’s talking, and try to ensure everyone has a chance for input.
  • Make sure everyone is focused on the writing.
  • Feel free to be a full group participant by giving full written feedback on the projects.
  • Feel free to offer occasional comments about the projects.

Working Group Members

At the absolute center of the working groups process is peer feedback on projects, both oral and written.  Providing written feedback–even if it is a summary of ideas presented to the researcher during discussion–is one of the most useful and collegial parts of the working groups process.  At the end of each report/discussion you will get written feedback from all members of the working group, who will be asked by the facilitator to spend five minutes recording such feedback before the group moves to the next presentation.

Use these questions to provide feedback to peers:

  1. What dimensions or aspects of this project do you think have the most promise? What particular directions or focus would you encourage?
  2. What aspects need clarification or deepening?
  3. Are there steps or stages of inquiry that could then lead to clearer, bigger, or narrower questions?
  4. What do you suggest about methods?  What are one or two ways of collecting “data” about student learning that might work well with this project? Think here specifically about ways that the presenter can gather “evidence of student learning” which would help to push this research project forward.
  5. Are there resources you would suggest?
  6. What do you suggest as next steps for this project?
  7. Anything else to add?

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