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Faculty Learning Groups

Connecting Challenging Concepts to the Real World of Students


Scholarship of Teaching & Learning Faculty Group
Center for Teaching Excellence (CTE), Duquesne University
Summer 2011 – December 2012

  • What difficult concepts do your students consistently grapple with?
  • Are you looking for ways to make rigorous learning possible for all of your students, rather than just a few?
  • Have you noticed students learning better when you relate concepts to their personal experience?

You are invited to participate in a Duquesne faculty learning group whose members will implement and assess ways to connect challenging or abstract concepts to the real world of students – within courses they teach.

What is Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL)?

"Systematic reflection on teaching and learning made public."  (Illinois State definition)

“Scholarly teaching is what every one of us should be engaged in every day that we are in a classroom, in our office with students, tutoring, lecturing, conducting discussions, all the roles we play pedagogically.... But it is only when we step back and reflect systematically on the teaching we have done, in a form that can be publicly reviewed and built upon by our peers, that we have moved from scholarly teaching to the scholarship of teaching.”  Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching (Lee Schulman, President)

What is this particular SoTL group?

  • An interdisciplinary group of up to 10 Duquesne faculty members.
  • Handbook provided for each member: Enhancing Learning through the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, Kathleen McKinney.
  • Participants generally work on individual teaching/learning projects.  Collaborative projects are also welcome.  The projects will relate to the theme of connecting challenging concepts with the real world of students.
  • The group will start in Summer 2011 and will meet about 3x semester through December 2012.
  • Laurel Willingham-McLain will coordinate the group; participants will share leadership.
  • Leslie Lewis, Gumberg Library, will support participants in locating relevant research and in using Refworks.

Commitment of Participants in the Faculty Learning Group

  • Build community by providing regular feedback and encouragement to one another.
  • Participate in the meetings – they will be scheduled at a time that is possible for all members.
  • Complete application for Institutional Review Board approval so that you can present the findings beyond Duquesne.  One session will be devoted to helping members with this process.
  • Conduct a relevant SoTL project.
  • Present your project to the group and to other Duquesne faculty (e.g., through a CTE workshop).
  • Submit a conference proposal or article for peer review.
  • Submit a two page report to CTE on the project by December 2012: the learning goals, teaching/learning methods, data collection method, findings, most helpful resources, and your personal reflection.

Projected Timeline

  • Summer 2011: Introductory meeting.  Read handbook.  Start drafting a teaching/learning project.
  • Fall 2011: Meet with group to explore your topic/question, focus your project, determine an approach to teaching the concept(s)and select methods for collecting evidence of student learning, request IRB approval.
  • Spring or summer 2012 (or fall if necessary): implement the project; gather data
  • Fall 2012: analyze the data and submit a conference proposal and/or article.


Please submit the application as an email attachment to willingham@duq.edu in the Center for Teaching Excellence by Monday, May 16, 2011.

Questions? Contact Laurel Willingham-McLain at willingham@duq.edu or 412 396 5177.


Duquesne faculty reflections on the 2010-2011 SoTL group which focused on multiculturalism
Our SoTL approach will be the same, but we will focus on teaching challenging concepts.
Past Faculty Learning Groups

  • I was reminded of the power of collaboration in approaching projects in novel ways. This group was a great way to interact with other serious-minded scholars who might have drastically different ideas on how to approach research questions and issues.
  • What did I learn?  So much!  I had no concept of SoTL practices before enrolling in this learning group.  I am still a novice, but am committed to continue to assess the effectiveness of my instructional methods using SoTL procedures.  Additionally, I learned a tremendous amount the value of qualitative research and how to conduct qualitative research.  [Note: This topic rose spontaneously in the course of our discussions; peers taught one another about various research options.  The SoTL field borrows from social science research largely, but is open to various epistemological and methodological approaches.  LWM]
  • My mind has been opened to an entire field of research – that of the scholarship of teaching and learning – with which I was previously unfamiliar.  I have also learned the basics of how to prepare and submit an IRB, something not often done for research in my field, but which opens the door to multiple possible alternative avenues of research.
  • I found it extremely helpful to be part of the SOTL group.  The support, opportunities for idea generation, critique and collegiality was invaluable.  As a member of the faculty of the school of nursing for fourteen years it was a pleasure to meet and work with people from other schools.  It was enlightening to learn about the needs and ideas of faculty who teach in the classroom and online.  I really can’t say enough positive about the experience and I hope the SOTL group continues to meet.  My only regret is that I was not able to complete my study [yet].
  • I found the project stimulating.  I enjoy working closely with students, one-on-one, in improving their writing—and I particularly enjoy helping them develop advocacy skills.  This differs from the research papers most of them are more familiar with writing.  I enjoyed teaching them, both in class and in my argument, how to sharpen their arguments and make them more persuasive.   Many were particularly unfamiliar with developing counter-arguments, anticipating and refuting likely arguments presented by the other side.  This was another skill I enjoyed teaching.
  • The biggest thing that I learned is how difficult it is teach about racism and white privilege within the context of a theology classroom. I think this is for two reasons.  First, discussions of social issues like race have traditionally been looked upon as a non-theological issues.  Given their previous exposure to religion and theology, students have a hard time understanding emotionally why this class is a part of a theology curriculum.  Second, racism and white privilege continue to be subjects that are shrouded in conflict and fear. We all (students and teachers) need practice discussing difficult issues.