Learning about Learning – Together

Janice Miller-Young, Peter Felten, & Patti H. Clayton


The work at the heart of democratic civic engagement (DCE) is a matter of questioning and learning and acting. The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) – i.e., inquiry into learning – has the potential to further deepen our ability to question, learn, and act together – especially when it is understood and enacted through the values and practices of DCE. By that, we mean when it (a) positions all involved as co-teachers, co-learners, and co-generators of knowledge and practice, and (b) takes as a goal the development of civic capacities in those doing the inquiry.

We contend that the co-inquiry, co-learning, and co-action of DCE invite – indeed, require – a distinct and new conception and practice of SoTL. What we call “DCE-SoTL” embraces a wider conception of partners involved in the inquiry, including not only faculty and students but everyone on and off campus who is engaged in teaching and learning; and it defines such “partnership” as co-creation, with its implications of shared power and responsibility. Second, DCE-SoTL aims to understand and cultivate the learning of all partners, not only that of students. Third, DCE-SoTL has a particular interest in civic learning – meaning the knowledge, skills, attitudes, perspectives, and identities required for nurturing healthy communities and vibrant democracies.

We offer brief examples from our own work as illustrations of what is possible – and what might be particularly vexing – when it comes to enacting DCE-SoTL: (a) community – faculty pairs inquiring into [their] own learning outcomes and processes [and facilitating] a conference session titled “Who’s Doing the Learning” Faculty and Community Partners as Learners in Service-Learning”; (b) students and faculty working together to inquire into student learning and then using what they find to inform the co-creation of a revised course; and (c) a multidisciplinary faculty [group engaging in a] self-study related to learning about reciprocity.

DCE-SoTL has the potential both to improve understanding of how teaching and learning can contribute to [higher education’s public] purposes and to advance these purposes directly. Co-created inquiry requires and fosters an asset-based orientation, critical thinking, empathy, openness to diverse perspectives and approaches, communication, and abilities to leverage conflict and tension creatively. Such an approach to SoTL, then, can further enhance our ability within the SLCE community to collaboratively inquire, learn, and engage in constructive action.

JANICE MILLER-YOUNG (jmilleryoung@ualberta.ca) is the academic director of the Centre for Teaching and Learning at the University of Alberta.  In addition to overseeing the programming and planning of the Centre’s institution-wide initiatives, she facilitates professional development in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. Her interests include faculty learning through SoTL practice, and strategies to uncover and bridge the gaps between novice and expert thinking.  Inspired by the philosophy of “co-” which she has learned and observed in her work with service-learning colleagues, she endeavors to bring this approach to all her professional and personal collaborations.

PETER FELTEN (pfelten@elon.edu) is assistant provost for teaching and learning, executive director of the Center for Engaged Learning, and professor of history at Elon University. He regularly researches, writes, and presents with student partners. His publications include the co-authored books The Undergraduate Experience (2016) and Engaging Students as Partners in Learning and Teaching (2014). He also is president (2016-17) of the International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. In his teaching, Peter partners with students and nonprofits to document the oral histories of people who have lived for decades in the local community.

PATTI H. CLAYTON (patti.clayton@curricularengagement.com) is an independent consultant and SLCE practitioner-scholar (PHC Ventures) as well as a senior scholar with IUPUI and UNCG and a Visiting Scholar with Kansas State University. She facilitates professional and organizational development, co-produces practice-oriented scholarly resources, and is currently co-facilitating the SLCE-FDP (www.slce-fdp.org). Her current interests include civic learning; the integration of SLCE and relationships within the more-than-human world; walking the talk of democratic engagement as co-inquiry among all partners; and the power of such “little words” as in, for, with, and of to shape identities and ways of being with one another in SLCE.

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