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Theory as an Analytic Tool, Approach, or Orientation? Talking Past Each Other in SoTL

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  • The three presenters (from engineering, education, and the humanities) have conducted SoTL work together for many years. Yet, in our current writing about SoTL methodologies, we found ourselves talking past each other around key concepts, like theory. As Huber and Morreale (2002) noted, SoTL “draws strength from being situated in a discipline and its particular style. But growth in knowledge also comes at the borders of disciplinary imagination” (p. 2). They introduced the now well-utilized metaphor of a “trading zone” between disciplinary territories where we encounter and learn from each other (p. 19). These conversations illuminate disciplinary assumptions and practices because “it is easier to see the shapes of disciplines in comparison to each other” (Middendorf and Shopkow, 2018, p.7). However, while there has been much discussion of identity and methodology in the SoTL literature, there has been much less attention to the use of theory.

    Some have suggested SoTL researchers are often atheoretical; others have complained that theory breeds jargon (Kanuka, 2011; Geertsema, 2016). Miller-Young and Yeo (2015) describe how different disciplines and methodological approaches tend to align with certain categories of theoretical frameworks and paradigms of thought. In this presentation, we build upon this work by exploring how we became more aware of our own different ontological and epistemological expectations through cross-disciplinary conversations about SoTL methodologies. By presenting quotes and examples from our analysis of these conversations, we will share our exploration of the differences we encountered.

    Grounding our exploration in the SoTL literature, we will share our own conversations around what theory means to each of us, and how we have come to understand each other. Disciplines not only train ways of thinking, but ways of being. This presentation intends to invite an inclusive conversation with audience members about “slippery theory” in their own SoTL work. It will have three parts: we’ll ask participants about their own understanding of theory in SoTL, we’ll share our own experiences with reference to the literature, and finally take time for discussion.

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    Conference/Workshop Presentation
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    Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International