Faculty members teaching in a speech-language pathology or audiology department are judged in a number of areas to be considered for tenure and to be promoted from assistant to associate, or from associate to full professor. Although priorities may shift depending on the type of institution, faculty members are expected to demonstrate distinction in three areas (not listed in order of importance). First, they must conduct research and publicly disseminate it. For some, this requirement means contributing to the body of evidence that clinicians rely on to make evidence-based treatment decisions. Second, they are expected to serve the local and professional communities. This obligation may be accomplished by providing free speech or hearing screenings to those in need or by serving on ASHA committees. The third area in which faculty must excel is teaching. In most universities, student and peer evaluations are used as indicators of teaching effectiveness. These areas are in addition to participating in the continuing education process that is required of all certified speech-language pathologists and audiologists.
Although requirements for continuing education for our clinical knowledge are clearly delineated by ASHA, continuous improvement in teaching is less straightforward, as it is not governed by any professional organization. University faculty in communication sciences and disorders (CSD) often are left to their own devices to improve their teaching and advance their teaching skills in the same way as their clinical skills. Although some universities have centers for teaching and learning, many do not, leaving faculty with little guidance and support. Faculty members seeking to improve their teaching evaluations in anticipation of tenure and promotion are left on their own to find resources for enhancing their teaching skills. Other faculty members who have been teaching successfully for many years, but may be tired of teaching the same way, may find little support in identifying new, effective teaching methods.
The type of support needed may depend on current skills; however, there is a body of evidence that can support efforts to improve as CSD educators. The most common term for this body of literature is "scholarship of teaching and learning" (SOTL), which asserts that faculty members' work as educators is just as serious and scholarly as clinical work (Boyer, 1990). Shulman (1998, p. 6) suggests that for SOTL work to become as accepted as the scholarship of our own discipline, it must "entail a public account of some or all of the full act of teaching—vision, design, enactment, outcomes, and analysis—in a manner susceptible to critical review by the teacher's professional peers and amenable to productive employment in future work by members of that same community."
In this view, scholars of teaching and learning can build on knowledge of good practice in an evidence-based manner and generate a body of scholarly work (through the peer-review process) similar to evidence-based practice (EBP) in our discipline. Much as faculty build a body of evidence for EBP in clinical work through their research and by disseminating studies of what is clinically effective, faculty also must build a body of support for evidence-based education (EBE). As university faculty, we teach our students to use EBP when treating clients, emphasizing that it is not enough to use treatment methods that the client likes, for example. As professional educators, faculty must hold themselves accountable to the same standard. Faculty members must rely on EBE, not just on what students seem to like or what the educators have always done in the classroom.
University teaching is not always guided by evidence. The literature suggests that many university faculty teach in much the same way that they were taught: the "sage on the stage" lecture that treats the student as the passive receptacle of the instructor's knowledge. However, there are more effective ways to teach, according to SOTL literature that is replete with teaching strategies that transform learning into an active and engaging process (Davis, 2001; McKeachie & Svinicki, 2010). SOTL scholars have demonstrated that active learning results in more long-lasting and meaningful knowledge (Barkley, Cross, & Major, 2005; Felder & Brent 2001). By relying on a body of scholarly literature to guide teaching, faculty demonstrate for students the reliance on evidence. By using methods of teaching that have been proven to be effective in the SOTL literature, faculty also increase the strength of their teaching and improve students' learning outcomes.
Professional Development Continuum
In January 2009, the ASHA Academic Affairs Coordinating Committee surveyed ASHA members working in higher education to gain insights into how members in this setting understand and view SOTL (McCrea & Ginsberg, 2009). Responses to the survey (n=562) indicated that 81% agreed (4/5 or 5/5 on a Likert-type scale) that SOTL is important to their success as a teacher. Consistent with this number, 81% of survey respondents felt that SOTL is important to their students' success. Despite the belief in the value of SOTL for both faculty and students, only 30% of respondents strongly agreed with the statement that they "draw on teaching and learning literature in designing courses." One reason for this apparent disconnect may be that SOTL literature is not always organized by discipline and may appear in a variety of sources, including those not regularly accessed by speech-language pathology and audiology faculty, such as the Journal of Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (see a list of SOTL journals online).
Clinicians' goals for continuing education may range from staying current with literature and best practices in a clinical skill, to obtaining an award for continuing education (ACE) from the Continuing Education Board, to achieving specialty recognition from ASHA's Council for Clinical Specialty Recognition. Goals for continuing education as educators are less clear. One proposed model (McKinney, 2004; Weston & McAlpine, 2001) suggests that the ultimate goal of faculty continuing education is to become engaged in SOTL. Although we must rely on SOTL literature to practice EBE in our classrooms, not all university faculty will want to engage in SOTL research. If faculty view SOTL as a mechanism that can serve educator continuing education at all levels, however, they will see a continuum of professional development in which SOTL plays a key role, but is not necessarily the ultimate goal (Bernstein & Ginsberg, 2009). The teaching improvement goal for many faculty may be to take incremental steps forward rather than to engage in teaching and learning research.
Educators at all skill levels can look to SOTL literature for guidance. Based on the Bernstein and Ginsberg (2009) model, instructors can consider the role of SOTL literature at each stage of faculty development. Teachers in the early stages of their careers who are beginning to focus on how to teach can be described as those engaging in "good teaching." The second stage may be considered "scholarly teaching." Some, but not all, faculty will move into the third stage of "scholarship of teaching and learning." It is important to recognize that faculty members who progress to the SOTL phase are important in that they not only achieve a higher level of understanding about effective teaching and learning, but they also contribute the knowledge that informs educators at the other two stages of their professional teaching development.
Instructors in the "good teaching" stage of professional development are becoming aware of their own teaching processes and their effect on student learning. Teachers in this stage are reflective about what is taking place in their classroom and may seek out more experienced colleagues with whom they can discuss their observations and thoughts about how to improve student learning outcomes (Bernstein & Ginsberg, 2009; McKinney, 2004; Weston & McAlpine, 2001). Instructors may look to a faculty support center consultant, if there is one, for guidance. A colleague or faculty consultant may provide the teacher with reading materials or specific feedback that is grounded in SOTL work. At this stage, SOTL is not informing the good teacher directly, but may be guiding him or her indirectly, as those the teacher consults and senior colleagues will have advanced to the level of scholarly teaching.
For example, a faculty member who teaches basic anatomy and physiology may be having trouble finding ways to deliver the course content in a way that engages the students. Colleagues who have become immersed in SOTL literature may share information on the value of providing opportunities for collaborative learning activities that will improve the learning outcomes for the students (Barkley, Cross, & Major, 2005). The faculty member teaching the anatomy and physiology class does not directly access the literature, but indirectly gains SOTL knowledge by talking with a more advanced colleague.
As instructors become more focused on their reflections, they may begin looking for specific
evidence-based literature that will inform and shape their teaching and move them toward scholarly teaching. Scholarly teachers develop a familiarity with SOTL evidence through multiple sources:
Helpful guidebooks, such as Teaching Tips (McKeachie & Svinicki, 2010) and Tools for Teaching (Davis, 2001), both of which are excellent distillations of a wide range of SOTL work, organized by teaching issues and strategies.
Databases, such as the Education Resources Information Center
(ERIC), for literature about specific teaching methods. These databases contain literature about topics such as the effective use of collaborative learning in the classroom.
Peer-reviewed journals that are not discipline-specific, such as the Journal of Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. Also of value is Perspectives: Issues in Higher Education, the publication of ASHA Special Interest Division 10, Issues in Higher Education, which routinely features SOTL work in CSD.
Scholarship of Teaching and Learning
Although not all faculty will aspire to engage in SOTL, an increasing number of faculty are interested (McCrea & Ginsberg, 2009). As they move from good teaching to scholarly teaching, faculty may reflect on a teaching problem in their own classroom or program. Rather than considering a teaching problem as a negative situation, the teacher in this stage is ready to engage in SOTL and will consider the problem as an opportunity for scholarly investigation (Bass, 1999).
The teachers in the SOTL stage are ready to apply the same scholarly research framework and rigor to investigating teaching and learning questions that they apply to their CSD research. This teacher may design and implement a study, collecting data that will help make sense of the students' learning. By engaging in SOTL research, the faculty member's understanding of and insights into the teaching and learning process are expanded. Additionally, just as he or she would be expected to publicly disseminate CSD research results, the faculty member would disseminate SOTL research results through peer-reviewed outlets as well. This distribution of knowledge about teaching and learning provides the very evidence that all teachers should be relying on to use EBE.
The role of SOTL research in a faculty member's scholarly and teaching agenda will likely depend on the type of institution at which the educator is teaching. Although some research-intensive universities may be less willing to accept SOTL work as valuable in the tenure and promotion process, others may value the work as research and as advancement of teaching. This type of research may be conducted in one's own classroom, in multiple classrooms within a department, or in multiple locations across the country. The key component is that the work focuses on issues associated with student learning.
As the number of CSD faculty exploring SOTL research expands, the opportunities for networking with others will continue to increase. In addition to the publications previously noted, conferences focusing on SOTL are becoming more common at the international level—such as the International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching & Learning Conference—and regional level—such as SOTL Academy.
As teaching and learning problems are studied and results are disseminated, the investigator contributes to the body of literature that makes reliance on EBE feasible. This research is incorporated into the knowledge base that the scholarly teacher and the faculty consultant may access directly or share with the teacher who is seeking information, thus continuing the cycle of inquiry and EBE (Bernstein & Ginsberg, 2009).
In 2007 I became interested in the notion of hybrid electronic courses (HEC), which are taught partly in traditional classrooms and partly online, because they were becoming increasingly popular in our department and across campus (Ginsberg, 2008). I heard many colleagues talking about how much more convenient teaching an HEC class was because they had to appear before a classroom less often. However, I wondered how the students felt about this learning format. I conducted a study in one of my introductory-level classes to learn about students' satisfaction with HEC. I learned that students had concerns about not being face-to-face with faculty and peers while learning. However, I also learned that elements could be included in the class design—such as addressing a variety of learning styles in both the in-person and online portions of the class and maintaining a high level of online communication—that decreased students' anxiety and improved their satisfaction with the class.
By conducting this study, I learned about considerations in designing a successful hybrid class. In addition, I was able to apply this learning in developing hybrid courses. Thus my own SOTL research increased my teaching effectiveness. I also presented this research at a national conference and published it in the Division 10 Perspectives, which added to the body of SOTL literature available to colleagues, both in CSD and beyond. Dissemination of this work contributes to everyone's ability to teach using EBE.
No matter where faculty are in their professional development as educators, SOTL is likely to play a key role in their growth and improvement. Whether faculty's teaching practice as good teachers is informed indirectly by SOTL information funneled through colleagues or faculty developers; or faculty improve teaching through consulting SOTL work; or they contribute to the body of SOTL work through their own investigations, the research literature on teaching and learning in higher education is a key resource for continuous professional development as teachers. In relying on SOTL to guide teaching practices, faculty increase the likelihood of teaching effectively and model for students the reliance on evidence. At the same time, they can help students to develop into capable SLPs and audiologists.