Faculty Reflections

Our Experience Conducting and Publishing
Teaching and Learning Research

By Robin Lovgren (Mathematics) and Kara Smith (Economics)

Our goal in writing this blog is to encourage other faculty members to think about ways you can conduct SoTL research and reap the rewards!

We have been teaching an Interdisciplinary Learning Community (ILC, or “linked”) class with Elementary Statistics and Microeconomics for several years. Having spent a great deal of time developing and improving our course, we had a desire to formalize our process and share our results. We were motivated to embark on the specific project discussed below in response to Ken Bain’s work on Deep Learning.

One semester, we each taught two linked sections and two unlinked sections of our respective courses. (Yes, that’s four of essentially the same course for each of us.) We went through the IRB process which allowed us to collect a variety of demographic and academic information on each of the students, including their level of introversion and extroversion.  At the end of the semester, we embedded specific questions into both final exams that were carefully chosen to represent deep thinking in each discipline. The research design allowed us to compare students in the ILC version of the two courses against those enrolled in unlinked versions.

The introversion and extroversion characteristics gave us a basis for a qualitative discussion of our results. The final version of our research was focused on the quantitative analysis and results. Our results differed from the previous literature on the topic, finding no difference in the deep learning between linked and nonlinked classes. We offered some ideas as to possible reasons for the difference based on the fact that our courses were both quantitative in nature.  Furthermore, our study population had a higher percentage of introverted students than average university populations. This made our research ripe for publication in a high quality journal and suggested that further exploration is needed with respect to deep learning in quantitative courses.

A list of Scholarship based on this research as reported in Tk20 for both of us – aka “the rewards”:

  1. Scholarly and Creative Activities Kara and Robin presented their initial research design at a Teaching Center Lunch Discussion in April 2015.
  2. Scholarship II, Robin presented at the Lily Conference on Teaching after the research was conducted, but before the paper was written, in November.
  3. Scholarship II, Kara presented at the American Economic Association Conference after Quantitative analysis was performed in January 2016.
  4. Scholarship II, Kara and Robin presented final results at the Teaching Center SOTL Workshop in May 2016.
  5. Scholarship I, The final paper was accepted into a high quality, peer reviewed journal:
    Kara Smith, Robin Lovgren, (2018) “Empirical evidence of deep learning in learning communities”, Journal of Applied Research in Higher Education, Vol. 10 Issue: 3, pp.311-321, https://doi.org/10.1108/JARHE-11-2017-0141
  6. Scholarly and Creative Activities, Kara and Robin wrote Blog for Teaching Center Faculty Reflections Series, Spring 2019.

Notice that the research started with ideas that were presented at a Teaching Center Workshop.  The work was then presented multiple times at the Scholarship II level prior to the final culmination of the process with a Scholarship I peer reviewed publication. The takeaway here is to present your ideas and get feedback in the process. This helps shape the direction of the research while at the same time, allowing you to share your work with your peers.

Now that we’ve gone through the process, we have ideas for future research that will address additional questions about our classes. For example, is there a difference in student performance when students take a test on a computer in class, versus taking the same test on a printed paper version? Is there a qualitative difference? What are the students’ attitudes? Is there a quantitative difference? Would the test scores be different? This is a topic we would both like to know more about, so you may be hearing more about this and sharing your ideas with us at a future Teaching Center Workshop!

Editorial Note: Be on the lookout for an invitation to attend a Teaching Center Lunch Discussion on SoTL research on February 27. The luncheon will take place from noon until 1:30pm in the Massey Boardroom.