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Conversation #71: Regan Gurung and the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning

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A conversation with Regan Gurung about the scholarship of teaching and learning.

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Transcript:

Tiera Coston: Hello and welcome to the Teaching, Learning, and Everything else podcast. I am Tiera Coston along with my colleague Elizabeth Yost Hammer and today we are speaking with Doctor Regan Gurung who is the Ben J. and Joyce Rosenberg Professor of Human Development and Psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. He was born and raised in Bombay, India. He received a B.A. in psychology at Carleton College and a masters and phD in social personality at the University of Washington. He then spent 3 years at UCLA as the nation institute of mental health research fellow. He has received numerous local, state, and national grants for his health psychological and social psychological research on cultural differences in stress social support, smoking sensation, body image, and impression formation. He has published books including a textbook and articles in a variety of scholarly journals. He has made over 200 presentations and has given workshops nationally and internationally. Dr.Gurung loves to teach. He is a dedicated teacher and has a strong interest in enhancing faculty development and student understanding. He has a strong interest in teaching in pedagogy.He has organized statewide and national teaching conferences. He is the founding co-editor of APH journal of SOTL in psychology. When not helping people stay calm reading and writing, he enjoys culinary explorations, travel, time with his two children and avoiding political discussion of any kind. Welcome Regan, thank you for taking the time to speak with us.

Doctor Regan Gurung: You are very welcome. It is good to be on.

Elizabeth Yost Hammer: Yes. Thank you Regan. I am really looking forward to this conversation today. As you know I learn so much from you. Every Time I have gotten the opportunity to hear you speak and I really appreciate you sharing your vast experiences and expertise in the scholarship of teaching and learning today with us. So, I thought we’d start with a basic question for our listeners who might not know. What is scholarship of teaching and learning ? How did you personally get involved?

RG: Yea, When I think about the scholarship of teaching and learning I see it encompassing the theoretical understandings of how we learn. More importantly the intentional systematic modifications of pedagogy and assessment of the results in changing of learning. So you can simplify that to anything dealing with teaching and learning. I really like to focus on those systematic modifications of teaching and more importantly the assessment of whether those modifications have worked. I started at the University of Wisconsin Green Bay and it was a campus program that got faculty members together to talk about teaching and learning and actually do scholarship of teaching and learning. That program led to a system wide SOTL program where I spent a year working on a project. Once I did that, it really got me interested. The key factor was I’m a social psychologist. I started doing research on teaching and learning in my classroom. One of my studies really showed me something that surprised me. The more students used key-terms or flashcards the worst they did on exams. That finding really made me dive into it more and I have been doing it ever since. It has been about 15-20 years of doing active research and answering different questions that I’ve found intriguing.

TC: You sort of alluded to the value of teaching and learning and engaging in it. So, how do you talk to faculty about getting engaged in SOTL ? What are the time constraints faculty have? What would you say to someone just getting started?

RG: I think a lot of people think wow when can I add this to what I already do. I like to make people think about well what others things do you do? If you care about teaching in many ways SOTL is a systematic way of looking at your teaching and your students learning. So it provides a sort of frame world to really answer the questions “are our students learning? How do we know they are learning? How do we know what we are doing is making a difference in their development and competence ?” Those seemingly abstract questions can be answered very concretely by following the methodology of SOTL. In terms of where you fit it in.. It may actually save you time and I know it sounds paradoxical but that is the neat thing. It can save you time because it give you a structured way of doing something you already care about. So, not only does it help in that way, I have found that specially after years of teaching,by virtue of asking about our teaching, by virtue of looking at what is out there to do the scholarship of teaching and learning on or examining certain questions that we have about our classes.. It really serves this invigorating role. So, when I think about the value of SOTL, and this is not just my opinion, when you look at the research it shows that when faculty do SOTL there students learn better, they grow personally from a faculty development standpoint, university departments do better. I think correspondingly our entire enterprise of higher education get pushed along.

EH: I so agree with that. On numerous occasion we see something come out in the chronicle  about new things that are happening in STEM and we’re like we have been doing that at XULA for a while. Or our faculty has already been experimenting with that. We are working with our faculty to really try and engage in this and get that out there so that we can move the academy forward. I wondered, as we’re talking about trying to enlist faculty into SOTL and really tell them the value and get them engaged. What resources would you recommend to faculty who are just getting started? What resources are out there for faculty who just really don’t know even how to begin?

RG: Right, I think right of the bat, you and your center are the resource! I mean anybody who listens to this.. (EH: Thank You !) You know I know you didn’t flop that question. When I think about where could people go, it stalks to the center and the great individuals at the center. I know what both of you do and I have had the pleasure of meeting you all and seeing what the center does first-hand. That’s the first place! The moment you go “Ay, this sounds intriguing” , go to the center. Read the stuff we have written. I have written stuff, Elizabeth you have written stuff, the center puts out stuff , there is so much good material out there to get you started. I know in the field of psychology ,for example, the society for the teaching of psychology holds yearly SOTL workshops and out of that workshop came a publication that is specifically designed to help people get started on doing the scholarship of teaching and learning.  It’s called Doing the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning you know! So I would say hey if you are listening to this and you want to get started take a look at Doing the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning measuring systematic changes in teaching and improvements in learning. It is an edited book with multiple chapters spanning every part of the process arranging from how you could actually use assessment, designing studies,navigating ethics and the IRB, writing it out. The work. So that for me is my great go-to place to start because it is a slim volume that really puts everything together in one wonderful spot.

EH: If you don’t mind I might mention that also the Kennesaw State University’s teaching center maintained a list of publication outlets for SOTL as well as conferences in all disciplines across the board as well as interdisciplinary ones and that sort of thing too. It’s a good way to go get started in your field I think.

RG: Right! And that’s the cheap, quick way. I mean you can turn to your computer, browse for SOTL in your discipline and if you cruise some of those journal, that can really give you an idea of what you can do. I also want to say that when we think about, going back to your question about how this something extra, in a way this shouldn’t be “oh I need to do this research.” I think the better we see it as a part of evaluating our teaching and learning the more it becomes a natural part of what we do. When I think about a model teacher I think conducting this form of investigation of teaching and learning on a regular basis needs to be part of what faculty do all the time.  

TC: Absolutely, we are going to make sure to our listeners that we have links to those resources that have been mentioned in addition to some other ones. So, fear not. I want to move a little bit ahead in this process to actually publishing . So, I can tell you here there is a lot of pedagogy  research going on here at Xavier but we tend to hit a wall when it actually comes to publishing that information and getting it out there into journals and literature. So, what advice would you have for getting over that hump and getting this information published?

RG: I would say do it in steps and I see 3 normal steps to take that I think always work well. I think step 1 is to find find a local forum to talk about it. I good part SOTL is sharing your SOTL and the sharing could take place where a faculty member contacts the local center, like you all, and say “hey let’s get together and let me tell you what I found out”. That’s SOTL, sharing what you are doing. You can share it locally, you can share it at a disciplinary conference, you can share it as a poster, you can share it as a presentation. That’s a very easy first step. Especially if it’s a brown bag, even that counts when sharing the idea. But get it out there because I think faculty need to realize that if they’d have that question about their teacher, there are probably a few other thousand that have that exact same question. They would love to hear what that faculty did and found. Even if they found something that was not significant. Even if they found something that didn’t work, even the more reason to share it so someone else can build on that research and go further. The steps are presented as a poster or talk, that automatically gives you something you can then develop into an article and get out. I think a lot of people depend on the reward structure of the universities. Does your department reward it ? Does your chair reward it ? That varies across disciplines but really if you take that step by step approach you have something to build on and it will make it more likely  that downstream it will get out to an outlet.

EH: Thank you, before you move on with this I think about the work you’ve done and the publishing you’ve done. You said you've been doing it for 15-20 years. What has been your favorite study or the one you feel has been most impactful ? GIves us a sample of what actually gets done in SOTL.

RG: There are probably a couple that jump out. I will mention two. One is earlier, one is more recent. The earlier one was one I  called Dangerous Detours which is the fact that students in large intro classes tend to over rely on pedagogical aids in the textbook. It is a series of studies where I found that students are over relying on boldface terms. They are over relying on key terms. They spend so much attention of key terms when studying that they are not doing other things. I refer to that as a dangerous detour that students often take. That has inspired me to do a lot more work and I have gotten a lot of feedback on that. Much more recently ,I published a study on open educational resources. I did this multisite study comparing students using an open educational resource with students using a regular textbook. At least on a common benchmark exam. The students using that educational resource did not score as high or do as well. I got an email from Australia saying “hey we just talked about this” and I thought that is pretty neat because I think there is a lot of potential with open educational resources and we need more controlled multisite work on it. I think the research on that has really just started in earnest. I think just this summer there was a study that came out of Georgia showing that open educational resources not only saved a lot of money but also seemed to help student performance. I know my personal jury is still out because it is very tough to do a well controlled study. I think that's the stuff that is really inspiring. Look at what’s happening now and let’s apply these questions such as are open educational resources as good as or better than traditional expensive resources. That’s a great question for so many of us with so many implications. Especially for our students, many of whom can’t afford textbooks.

TC: Absolutely, I want to take you back to something you alluded to a moment ago. There are situations faculty members find themselves in environments that don’t necessarily equate SOTL, pedagogical research with disciplinary research. So, for those who understand the importance of engaging in SOTL but who are in that environment.. Any suggestion? Any thoughts about they push pass that hurdle?

RG: Yea, I would say find your champion. On every campus there is a champion of SOTL . they may not be in your department but if you can find those people that do care about it they can advocate for you and at the very minimum provide that support system for you to continue doing it. I think the value of doing SOTL goes so far beyond just another thing for tenure or promotion. It is something that can truly provide inspiration and energy ; keep faculty teaching and being excited about teaching. So, I would say  for starters find your champion and find your support system so you can continue to do it. I would say do not hesitate to look out to an author of a paper you have read and make a connection, that works too.

EH: I wonder now if you would comment… What do you think the future of the SOTL is?

RG: You know the study of  SOTL and psychology are just a few years old and it had been really neat to see the increase in submissions especially in this journal  we tried to create to forms for getting more work out there that may not necessarily have any significant findings but is futuristically valuable. That’s one of the key areas SOTL needs to go. Provide formats or venue where you can put forward an exploration that may have failed but we can still learn from it and move forward. We need to find ways not to just publish significant works but good systematic explorations. I think another area where I see SOTL needing to go is really trying to use more theoretical approach. There are too many studies that I have received as editor that were just thrown together without the same rigor that a person would give to scholarship in their area. My simple answer when people say “hey, what are the best tips to write SOTL up?” I say exactly how you would write anything else.I hold manuscripts to the same standards that I do for other journals and believe that your writing and design should be strong. I think part of that is including more theoretical approach to how we do it. I think for me those are really two big things. Let’s get more theoretical. Let’s look at how different factors get together and that’s going to advance us. One last thing, I’m a big champion of multisite work. Doing one cross is great but why not reach out to a colleague at another institution and have them do exactly the same thing… serve as a comparison group. That really takes us a lot further to understanding and being able to generalize what we are doing. Now, the SOTL doesn’t necessarily have to generalize. It is very different from some other areas in a way. There is a lot of value to do a study in a classroom but I think it better helps us understand the processes underlying teaching and learning if we do that work.

TC: So, and this is my personal curiosity, I have heard so many times that the reason you don't have equal level between disciplinary research and SOTL research is because of that lack of the approach by the investigators. DO you , in this area, see that changing and I greatly appreciate your standards as the editor of the journal but do you seeing that as a whole. Where you are seeing more rigor in terms of SOTL research.

RG: Absolutely, I think one of the benefits of being an old fogey and doing it for about 15+ years is that I can look back, not only to views about how it was done but  actual examples of how it was done and there is a large distance in how SOTL is done today and how it was done 10 or even 5 years ago. That’s the great news. The standards and the quality has jumped out. I think that’s a function of more people being aware of it,  more people giving it importance and more departments and school recognizing faculty who take the effort and time to do it.

TC: Well that positive note is an excellent place to end our discussion. Thank you so much Regan. We have been speaking with Dr.Regan Gurung, the Ben J. and Joyce Rosenberg Professor of Human Develop and Psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. Thank you for your time.

RG: You are very welcome!

Transcribed by Jojo O'Conner.

About Bart Everson

Media Artist in the Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Faculty Development at Xavier University of Louisiana

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