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Harnessing LMS and Other IT Data to Support the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning

One of the key issues for information technology professionals on the campuses of higher education institutions (HEIs) is finding ways to have a direct positive influence on the HEI’s core instructional mission. 

Nearly all institutions utilize some sort of digital learning environment (DLE) based around a learning management system (LMS). These systems gather and collect data on nearly all aspects of the systems’ use by students and instructors. However, that data is rarely fully utilized in such a way as to become actionable information to improve instructional practices. 

Elsewhere on most campuses, there is a center for teaching support charged with improving the teaching and learning processes within the institution. Often, a portion of this latter group’s work focuses on the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL). 

SoTL developed in the late 1990s in response to the need for a type of scholarship in higher education that combined research and pedagogy, most notably by Ernest Boyer in his seminal, Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate (1990), in which he coined the term “scholarship of teaching.” 

The Carnegie Foundation, which published Boyer’s book, continued to publish early SoTL work and developed the Carnegie Academy for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (CASTL) in 1998.  At this time, scholars from a myriad of disciplines began to collaborate to develop research standards and methodology for SoTL. Some of the hallmarks of SoTL include: 

  • Identifying how problems of teaching in one’s discipline might be turned into questions about learning; and
  • Measuring student learning via outcomes-based assessment; using both qualitative and quantitative research methods to assess learning; and disseminating research publicly.

As such, SoTL builds on previous models of scholarship, such as action research. SoTL practitioners tend to value pedagogy that is learner-centered, active, collaborative, and inclusive. They also investigate learning in all environments (face-to-face, online, hybrid, and co-curricular). With the dramatic increase in DLEs in HEIs in the last decade, there is an ever-increasing demand for SoTL that addresses the needs of learners in a variety of DLEs. The potential for these two groups to build a successful partnership to support instructional improvement could be exceptional. 

The concepts behind SoTL encourage instructional staff to take a more critical view of their own instruction and look for ways to improve processes in furtherance of improving learning outcomes. Historically, most efforts to quantify good teaching were hamstrung by the difficulty in addressing the myriad of variables within a classroom setting. However, over time a number of high impact practices (HIPs) have been identified which improve student learning. As many institutions migrate to more blended or even entirely online models of instruction, there is a need to identify what are the most effective or high impact practices for online and blended environments.  According to Best Colleges.com’s 2018 survey of online programs, fully online programs have increased by approximately 31% between 2016 and 2017. Nearly all campuses at least encourage the utilization of the HEI’s DLE to enhance and extend traditional instruction as well. 

As the data is already being collected, it seems like a reasonable next step to build a partnership between the campus SoTL team and the IT professionals that can deliver the data on how the electronic learning environment is being utilized. Building such partnerships will allow for data to not simply be collected but to conduct actionable analysis of the data. In some cases, simple analysis can support existing best practice assumptions. One such example might be to share that student participation in online preview periods correlate with higher course grades. 

When data can be transformed into actionable information to share directly with students to help inform their own learning, the situation improves for all. 

Steve Baule served as a K-12 administrator for more than 25 years before moving to teach aspiring administrators at UW - Superior.  Baule was recognized by the White House in 2014 as one of the top #FutureReady superintendents in the nation. 

Hilary Fezzey is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Superior, where she co-facilitates the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) Program. She received her Ph.D. from Purdue University.