Examples of SoTL Projects

Examples of SoTL Projects


We look at students who’s first
language is not English and the challenges that they face. These are postgraduate students so most of
them are international to South Africa and
that means I would say a 95 percent of them are
from other African countries. So English isn’t
a their first language, it’s sometimes not even their second
language, and the students have particular challenges just moving around at our on our campus in everyday terms but they also have particular challenges in
terms of using the language of their discipline and
then in disseminating their research. So we are doing some focus groups and
interviews with the students to hear what are their coping
strategies and how can the university better support them in order to develop their communication
and writing skills in English. So I’m a historian, and one
things that I am very interested in in history is visual sources. So I teach about the
1950s and 1960s in the United States images from the civil rights movement
for example are really powerful. They were powerful for the time and they remain
powerful now and so as I brought more and more images into
my courses, I sort of assumed my students would understand how to read those
images and how to make sense to those images as historical texts and I found that my assumption wasn’t accurate. Students who were pretty
skilled upper-level history students pretty skilled at reading text-based historical sources somewhat like historians do, read many
images just like they’d read a newspaper or a fashion magazine
interview — look at the picture and say “isn’t it pretty” and then move on. So I did a long
project trying to help and understand how
students make sense of images as official sources. So what
I did is I developed working with a number of
colleagues on a series of in class activities where students would
be given a set of images that were related but they didn’t
necessarily know much about and ask them to analyze the images to try to describe what they
saw in them to then speculate about what that meant and when the image was taken and where
it was created and why it was created and describe some meaning to it. Then I added a question that came out of Sam
Weinberg’s work. He’s a psychologist at Stanford who
studies how people learn history and so I had this question and I asked
students to rank the sources that I’d given them from the
most valuable as historical source to the east valuable as historical
source and honestly I did that because I read an
article by Weinberg and thought it was an interesting set of questions. I didn’t
think I was gonna find anything interesting there and that ended up producing some
the most valuable insights because what that did
is it gave me a tool, it gave me a window into how many of my
students were confused about images as sources.
What they tend to do is assume that the pictures and photographs are true. And it’s in a way that they don’t assume texts are true. For example, so they would look at an image from a
newspaper and they would say “that is true” Yet if they looked at an editorial from
a newspaper, they would say “I wonder who wrote this, I wonder what the bias of the author in
the newspaper is. Why did it appear in the newspaper when it did?” But the picture was just true. So
what that all led me to do over a number of
years is back up when I’m helping introduce
images as sources to students and
prompting my students to think about what we know about images, and how true are they, and how are they constructed in ways that are similar to or different
than texts we might encounter and my students start thinking about
that then they’re capable of reading images more like historians do. But if we don’t
get to those assumptions about the truth in images, I wasn’t able
to get my students to really analyze images like historical sources.
It was a really multinational and multi-institutional
project and our project was around writing transfer and the teaching of writing
pedagogy in a foreign language or and also the kind of this switch or the changes that occur when students switch from one language to another and
what they you know, what it is that can be transferable and what is not or
was this a good transfer mean in this case as opposed to a bad transfer. So that was our project.