by Sophia Abbot
Student involvement at ISSOTL is growing. As a newly elected member of the ISSOTL Board, I serve as a student representative in conversations about the society’s growth and strategic planning, as well as about SoTL more broadly. In this role, I’ve been privileged to see the significant contributions students have made to SoTL this year, in particular through the co-organization of the ISSOTL student awards. In 2015, only 5% of ISSOTL attendees were students; in 2017 and 2018, that percentage had more than doubled (13.2% in 2017, 11.6% in 2018). This is fantastic news for a growing field in which students have so much to contribute.

I’ve made the argument that students need to be engaged in SoTL, as have others. What I haven’t shared is why I love the field. Since I first began my undergraduate degree, I’ve been fascinated by the classroom and the diversity of things we can do to make it engaging, equitable, and inclusive. Unlike many others, who have a driving disciplinary passion which SoTL supplements in deep and interesting ways, SoTL is truly my field of inquiry. I designed my undergraduate major around teaching and learning in higher education and want to continue making it the focus of my studies and work.
This question of why students may want to engage in SoTL is something I’d like to explore more here. I asked two ISSOTL colleagues, Sam Lucie Dvorakova and Chris Ostrowski, what has drawn them to the field. Sam is a PhD student at the University of Edinburgh and my fellow student representative on the ISSOTL Board. Chris is a PhD student at the University of Calgary and one of the co-chairs of the Engaging Students in SoTL committee.

Why are you engaging in SoTL?

Sam: I fell into SoTL by sheer accident and have not looked back. I make the decision to engage because every single project and interaction within the field reaffirms in me the idea that what we’re doing is worthwhile and important. Plus, it’s fun!
Chris: SoTL is a fascinating entry point into discussing teaching and learning in higher education across disciplines. Coming from the sometimes walled-garden of education, I engage in SoTL to better understand how teaching and learning are taken up in other disciplines, how it differs in those disciplines, and how academics approach teaching and learning scholarship while juggling other duties.
"SoTL is exciting because of its humbling sincerity. It brings together people who just want to talk about teaching and learning."

What excites you about SoTL?

Chris: SoTL is exciting because of its humbling sincerity. It brings together people who just want to talk about teaching and learning, where disciplinary titles and egos are checked at the door (usually). ISSOTL in particular is a genuine example of the collaborative and interdisciplinary conversations every institution wants but rarely can or will facilitate.
Sam: Everyone in SoTL seems to be imbued with a sort of positive energy that translates into their work and communication. Meeting and making new colleagues is a pleasure; everyone is eager to collaborate, work through problems, or even just offer a sympathetic ear. The field becomes worthwhile through the sheer quality of the people who work within it.
Chris: I’m also excited by the earnest advocacy and commitment to involving students in such conversations and empowering them to make meaningful contributions to teaching and learning scholarship.
Sophia: Yes! SoTL is good when it reaches across and makes connections, when students, faculty, and staff and asking big questions together. I’ll add that as someone who views everything from a critical paradigm, SoTL has huge potential to push against oppressive forces in empowering and agency-filled ways.

Why do you feel it is important for students to engage in SoTL?

Chris: SoTL is one of the few places that welcomes students with open arms and provides spaces and a platform to make a difference in higher education. Students often have to fight tirelessly just to be heard, whereas SoTL starts with the premise students should be involved from the beginning.
Sam: Education, and the pursuit of knowledge, is not a unidirectional system. Knowledge doesn’t just flow from the educator to the student. Students have the right to engage in SoTL because they have the right to shape not only the knowledge of the world, but also shape how this knowledge is presented to the world. Through engaging with the field, we become partners in education, and free ourselves of the traditional structure of a unidirectional flow of information. We progress and gain ownership of our knowledge and education.
Sophia: This is especially resonant as our student bodies change and diversify, as students are increasingly first generation college students, poor or working class, post-traditionally aged, and racially minoritized. Our traditional institutions need to change and grow to support all students. And if our faculty and staff do not reflect our students in terms of racial and class diversity (to start), then we are missing essential perspectives.
Chris: It’s also a chance for personal growth, development, and a way to better understand faculty member perspectives.

There are a number of reasons students choose to engage in SoTL, but a common thread among us is seeing SoTL as a space of welcome. We need to continue cultivating that atmosphere for others in intentional and inclusive ways.

Sophia Abbot is the 2018-2020 Center for Engaged Learning Graduate Apprentice and a student in the Masters of Higher Education program at Elon University.

How to cite this post:
Abbot, Sophia. 2019, February 5. What We Love: Student Motivations for Engaging in SoTL [Blog post]. Retrieved from