Undergraduate Research in SoTL as a High-Impact Practice

written by admin on October 12, 2016 in Student Voices and Studying EL and Undergraduate Research with no comments

by Jessie L. Moore

The 2016 Pre-ISSOTL Council of Undergraduate Research Symposium challenged participants to consider the intersections between Undergraduate Research (UR) and Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL). Although some might suggest that work at this intersection is underdeveloped and under-appreciated, this was the seventh Pre-ISSOTL CUR Symposium, and I would argue that UR has firmly established itself in SoTL, though under different names.

Students as partners and engaging student voices work in SoTL (see, for example, Werder & Otis, 2010) has received growing attention, and Peter Felten (2013) identifies these partnerships as a principle of good practice in SoTL. Though UR and students in SoTL initiatives have evolved with different lexicons in different bodies of scholarship, they share similar goals.

The Council of Undergraduate Research defines UR as, “An inquiry or investigation conducted by an undergraduate student that makes an original intellectual or creative contribution to the discipline.” UR is mentored by faculty, but the primary focus is on student learning – not the faculty mentor’s research (Osborn & Karukstis, 2009), so UR projects might explore slices of faculty mentors’ larger research projects or students’ own inquiry questions.

Faculty-student partnerships in SoTL range from students acting as respondents to faculty-led SoTL inquiry to students co-inquiring with faculty, beginning with the shared development of research questions. The terminology used to label these partnerships suggests relative roles within the partnership, indicating whether faculty are “engaging student voices” on already-established projects or whether students are full partners with faculty in the inquiry from start to finish, though as the figure below highlights, these types of UR in SoTL collaborations do not occur in static spots along the faculty-student partnership continuum.

Continuum of Faculty-Student Partnerships

Continuum of Faculty-Student Partnerships in SoTL (Figure by Jessie L. Moore, 2016)


In the UR scholarship, Mary Beckman and Nancy Hensel (2009) describe a similar student-initiated versus faculty-initiated continuum in their discussion of tensions in defining UR, and in inclusive research scholarship, Nind (2014) sets up a research(er)-led versus participant-led continuum, though inclusive research does not always focus on students as participants.

Melanie Nind's Continuum of Overlapping Approaches to Inclusive Research

Faculty-student partnerships in SoTL can have significant learning outcomes for students, and the partnerships likely are more high-impact when they fall closer to the co-inquiry with shared questions end of the partnership continuum. George Kuh writes that high-impact educational activities:

“Demand that students devote considerable time and effort to purposeful tasks… Put students in circumstances that essentially demand they interact with faculty and peers about substantive matters, typically over extended periods of time… Increase the likelihood that students will experience diversity through contact with people who are different from themselves… [Often lead to structures in which] students typically get frequent feedback about their performance… Provide opportunities for students to see how what they are learning works in different settings, on and off campus… [and] Can be life changing.” (2008, pp. 14-17)

Student-faculty partnerships in SoTL (a.k.a., UR in SoTL) share many of these characteristics. Students develop a “serious interest in, active taking up of, and commitment to learning” as they interact with faculty partners in the inquiry process and consider the teaching and learning outcomes associated with their shared inquiry (Cook-Sather, Bovill, & Felten, 2014, p. 101). Student partners hone research and communication skills and gain “confidence in their ability to apply reasoned, data-driven analysis to matters of public importance and to effect change” (Werder et al., 2016, p. 11). They become more attentive to faculty’s pedagogical intentions in subsequent classroom experiences (Cook-Sather, Bovill, & Felten, 2014), and “translating partnerships” lead to student gains in confidence, introspection, mindfulness, and leadership (Cook-Sather & Abbot, 2016).

As UR scholars and Faculty-Student Partnerships in SoTL scholars attend to the intersections of their work, keeping these desired student learning outcomes at the forefront of undergraduate research in SoTL designs will increase the likelihood that students (and faculty partners) experience a high-impact educational practice.



Jessie L. Moore (@jessielmoore) is the Director of the Center for Engaged Learning at Elon University and associate professor of Professional Writing & Rhetoric in the Department of English.