Cora McCloy, PhD
Faculty Liaison & Research Officer, Centre for Teaching Support & Innovation
University of Toronto
While the University of Toronto has had a lengthy involvement in SoTL research there has been a growing need to intentionally connect members of the teaching and learning community who are engaged in SoTL or who want to learn more. The Centre for Teaching Support & Innovation (CTSI), the central teaching and learning support centre at the University of Toronto, is currently developing an institutional SoTL strategy whose impetus stems from identified priorities through its annual planning process; an increasing Provostial focus on encouraging research on teaching; leadership for SoTL activities by award-winning faculty; and, increasing requests for SoTL support by faculty. As well, CTSI prioritized SoTL through one of the faculty liaison staff positions that includes dedicated time towards SoTL activities. In my role at CTSI as a Research Officer & Faculty Liaison a key aim is to build and connect the SoTL community at UofT and to bolster linkages between those with a long-standing interest in conducting SoTL and those who are relatively new to this area.
In connecting and offering peer support to our SoTL community CTSI serves as a hub to enable and facilitate this work at our institution. A recent development in our broader SoTL strategy has been the creation of a SoTL Network. This Network developed from the request of community members who attended an Introductory SoTL workshop in May 2013 and an intensive two-day SoTL Institute in June 2013. In addition to the workshop and institute, the Network activities now include monthly Network meetings (e.g., faculty ‘work in progress’; expert speakers focused on topics such as research ethics), a SoTL Journal club, and SoTL Listserv (over 100 teaching and learning community members). Many of these SoTL activities have stemmed from expressed needs of this community and our own teaching and learning strategic analysis (via evaluation forms, consultations, and our inaugural SoTL Network meeting that solicited direction and interest for the monthly Network meetings). We refer to our SoTL learning community as a “Network” that aims to draw on a broader teaching and learning community and includes the role of ‘experts’ to provide insights and guidance for Network members who are seeking specific SoTL advice.
After one year we are poised to gather data on what these events, meetings, and opportunities to network have meant with respect to participants’ teaching, as well as more intangible effects (e.g., confidence to pursue SoTL in the future). At my first STLHE conference at Queen’s University in June 2014 Megan Burnett and I shared our SoTL Strategy and Network activities in the Pedagogical Speed-Dating session and had fruitful and insightful discussions on how a PSE institution might measure the impact of such SoTL activities. We tapped into the expertise of several peer institutions attending each of our three speed-dating sessions and shared varied SoTL activities that have been undertaken and ways to plan for measuring impact. Peter Wolf (University of Guelph), for example, suggested using a framework (process indicators, impact, and outcomes) to assess impact, while Janice Miller-Young (Mount Royal University) identified the different goals and entry points that participants may have in undertaking SoTL work and so, for example, simply capturing a number of SoTL publications as a measure of impact may not encapsulate the full picture of faculty engagement. As a group we discussed the varied entry points into SoTL which must be taken into account when measuring impact in the teaching and learning community. In particular we must be clear in the questions we seek to address such as measuring the impact of SoTL activities on faculty, students, and/or the broader institutional community.
In the immediate future CTSI will undertake a brief survey of our UofT SoTL Network members to ascertain faculty needs and obtain feedback on our past year’s activities to inform a more formal impact assessment to be conducted in the year to follow. Importantly, we look forward to the upcoming, New Directions for Teaching and Learning: Special Issue, The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Canada: Institutional Impact, as leading Canadian SoTL researchers provide examples and evidence of the ways in which post-secondary institutions in Canada have developed and sustained programs around SoTL that impact the institutional pedagogical climate (see https://sotlcanada.wordpress.com/2014/02/16/the-scholarship-of-teaching-and-learning-in-canada-sprouting-for-spring/). This Special Issue can serve to guide institutions such as ours to examine how to incorporate SoTL activities into the fabric of our teaching and learning communities and how best to evaluate the impact as we move forward in this area.