Recently, I had the chance to talk with Lauren Scharff (Director for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning and Professor of Psychology at the United States Air Force Academy) about her work with the ISSOTL Advocacy committee to identify the grand challenges of teaching and learning. I am pleased to share a synthesis of that conversation with you.
You may be familiar with the Indiana grand challenges IU is tackling or one of the many other sets of disciplinary grand challenges such as those in social work, public administration, global mental health, or others. Grand challenges are those that address a problem seen as difficult to solve due to incomplete, contradictory, or changing information. These problems require multidisciplinary and often global collaboration to solve.
Lauren was first introduced to the idea of a disciplinary set of grand challenges in 2011 during a session at the American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition. Fourteen challenges across four categories were identified in 2008 by the National Academy of Engineering. Since then, engineering educators have been preparing their students to address these challenges as professionals.
A few years later, Lauren brought the concept to the ISSOTL Advocacy committee. Among its charges, this committee is responsible for elevating the role, value, and contributions of SoTL at educational institutions and in the public. The typical focus of SoTL work is at the classroom level, with an individual faculty member trying to understand their own classroom and improve learning among their students. This can result in a set of disconnected efforts and lack of a cohesive framework to discuss this work and its value with others not involved in SoTL.
Over the last 20-30 years, we have been building a strong foundation of SoTL research. Scholars are beginning to bring these individual findings together in larger projects. Identifying a list of grand challenges will provide SoTL practioners a list of educational priorities that resonate globally, and provide a cohesive framework for sharing and communicating the value of that work with others.
At the 2018 annual ISSOTL Conference, Lauren, along with 3 other committee members (John Draeger, Arshad Ahmad, and Jennifer Friberg) kicked off data collection utilizing the methodology from engineering. During the poster session, they asked conference attendees ‘what are the grand challenges of SoTL’, gave them a post-it note, and received approximately 100 responses to display on the poster. Following the conference, the group conducted a grounded theory analysis of responses.
The second phase of the project focused on collecting more data via a survey in the summer of 2019. During this phase, the group received 300-400 responses, but they were less global than desired; stemming primarily from North America. A second iteration of grounded theory analysis was conducted on the responses. This analysis revealed that many challenges focused on conducting SoTL work rather than the challenges in teaching and learning that the SoTL community should research.
This leads to the third phase of the project and your chance to be involved. The group currently has a second survey out asking ‘what are the challenges to teaching and learning that face us globally?’ Upon the completion of data collection, the group will once again go through a cycle of grounded theory analysis, followed by compiling a team of experts in the field to review the results and finalize a list of grand challenges.
It is critical to have as many responses from across the globe as possible if this is to be a representative set of grand challenges. As Lauren reminded me, we “can’t claim global grand challenges without a variety of context and responses.” The survey allows you to identify 5 challenges in a reflective, open ended format. Lauren encourages you to “let it percolate a bit” and reminds us there are no right or wrong answers.
If you are interested in participating, you can access the survey in English, Spanish, or Chinese. The deadline to respond is Friday, December 18, 2020. Please share this with colleagues so they can weigh in on the biggest challenges in teaching and learning.