Like my co-blogger, and probably many of you, I’ve not been writing as much as I hoped this summer. One of my goals is to finally wrap up this project I’ve done on improving my students’ calculus understanding that’s been on the back burner for a few months.
But instead of doing that right now, I thought I’d summarize what I learned before I set out to do this project.
I have basically no formal training in mathematics education. I never took anything close to a research methods class, and somehow even dodged elementary stats until I ended up teaching (and loving) it. But I’m interested in helping my students learn better, and to make sure I’m actually doing that, I want to try to measure that somehow. And as long as I’m doing that, I might as well write up my results so other people can try what works and avoid what doesn’t.
What I’ve described is basically my understanding of the definition of the scholarship of teaching and learning (or SOTL for the acronym crowd). It contrasts somewhat with research in undergraduate mathematics education (RUME) in that it’s perhaps less formal and less theoretical, and more likely to be done by a mathematician whose primary research may not be mathematics education.
My main guide in forming and executing this project has been the excellent book by Jaqueline Dewar and Curtis Bennett, Doing the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. It covers everything from designing a reasonable project to finding an appropriate journal. The book also gives example surveys and rubrics that have been extensively used in other studies, explains how to deal with the lack of an ideal control group (whatever that is), how to deal with qualitative data, and includes many example SoTL projects to study.
One aspect of the work I was concerned about, but which turned out to not be a big deal, was getting through the Institutional Review Board (IRB) process. Pretty much any study on humans requires adhering to strict safety, disclosure, and privacy rules. Even starting this process requires fairly lengthy online training sessions first that explain the process and the relevant laws. There are a couple of different ones, and you should check with your institution to see which one they require. At my previous institution my chair had to go through the training as well.
After the training, IRB approval requires some significant paperwork which again depends on your institution. The nice thing with typical SoTL research is that our experiments usually deal with data like test scores or surveys, and nothing invasive or potentially harmful. This means every IRB I’ve written so far has fallen under the Exempt category. That doesn’t mean it’s exempt from all paperwork, but it usually means the process is significantly shorter and easier. Every study I’ve submitted has required very little revision and been pretty quick, but again, this will depend strongly on your institution and who is on the board. I found my friends in psychology and sociology to be very helpful in writing these applications.
In future posts I’ll go through how I went about reviewing known literature, designing my experiment, collecting and coding my data, writing it up and (fingers crossed) getting it published.