Day 10: The Power of Collaborative SoTL

Sarah Honeychurch, Linnea Soler, Vicky Price, Carolyn Loveridge, Frances Docherty, Nathalie Tasler, Beth Dickson, Lindsey Pope

In this blog we want to talk about the power of collaboration and friendship, and how a serendipitous series of events bought us together as a group.

Who are we?

We are a group of LTS colleagues who came together via the UofG SoTL Network. As we started to talk to each other we realised that, although we worked in very different areas of the university, we had a lot in common with each other.

The catalyst

The particular issue that brought us together was the thorny issue of SoTL ethics. As reflective practitioners, all of us wanted to practice ethical SoTL (which, of course, means that we think that public dissemination of our SoTL is an integral part of our practice), and we were all hitting our heads against institutional ethical approval processes that were not designed with SoTL in mind. We decided to join forces and see if we could collectively help to improve existing processes without compromising the ethical integrity of our SoTL. One of us (SH) had already had some success with receiving ethical approval for groups of LTS colleagues, and you can read about her thoughts in an earlier blog post. Our tongue in cheek name for ourselves is SenSEI: the Sensational SoTL Ethics Initiative.

Shared Experience

Although we came together with a desire to improve SoTL ethics processes at UofG, as we continued to talk and get to know each other, we realised that although we’d come from very different disciplinary backgrounds, in some ways our stories were the same. We decided that we would like to capture the conversations that we were having and consolidate them into some sort of SoTL outputs.

Collaborative autoethnography (CAE)

We decided to write a collaborative autoethnography in order to capture our experiences.* Autoethnography is an approach to research and writing that seeks to describe and systematically analyse personal experience in order to understand cultural experience (Ellis, Adams and Bochner, 2010). A collaborative autoethnography (CAE) builds on this approach. Collaborators pool their experiences and seek to find joint meaning via an understanding of their similar and different experiences (Chang, Ngunjiri and Hernandez, 2016).[CL1]  It’s not just about telling stories (although, we do love stories!), it is about digging into these stories and reflecting on them in order to understand a shared context. This reflective, reflexive approach appealed to all of us.

We began our CAE by each free writing a personal narrative so we could get to know each other and see if we had enough in common to make the project worthwhile. In order to start ourselves off, we decided to use three writing prompts:

  • My background and discipline
  • My route to Uni
  • My route to SoTL

We each free wrote, and uploaded, our narratives to our Teams. When we sat and read each other’s narratives, there was so much that resonated with each of us.

Common themes

We wrote above about CAE as if it was a single approach, however CAE is an umbrella term for a cluster of approaches and (we believe) that it is up to CAE practitioners to use the methods they find useful in order to tease out their stories. In our case, we decided to code our narratives in order to see what common themes we could find. We are still in the process of working out what to do next, but with over 22 themes identified, we know that we have struck a rich seam of enquiry that will keep us writing together for the foreseeable future (and that makes us very, very happy). Here are some of the common themes:

  • We are all women
  • We are passionate about education and teaching
  • We have made an active choice to be LTS (we are not failed researchers)
  • We all share an interest in ethics for SoTL
  • We have all had a non-traditional career journey into academia

Research questions

Our next step is, of course, to start writing all of this up, and going through the process of finding homes for anything we want to publish. While we are not committed to any particular direction, here are some questions that we have talked about throughout our journey so far, and which we think might resonate with others

  • What is it like to make LTS a positive career move?
  • What are the attributes of LTS and SoTL that distinguish them from ‘just’ being researchers who teach or ‘just’ being teachers?
  • What is our professional identity?

Conclusion

Embarking on a solo SoTL project is challenging: carving out the time to think through the project, to put together a SoTL proposal and battle with the processes of institutional ethical approval. Keeping up momentum is just as hard: finding the time to progress the project, giving oneself permission to focus on SoTL when numerous other (seemingly more pressing) tasks loom. Factor in a seemingly never-ending pandemic and SoTL can seem an impossible dream.

The answer, for us, is collaboration. We have decided on a no guilt, no apologies approach – we schedule regular (4-6 weekly) meetings which we attend if we can, and there is no need to have individually made any progress on our CAE in order to be welcome – for us, the conversations at the meetings are all part of our ongoing research and each SenSEI managing to find time to turn up is valuable. We celebrate small steps and watch our project move forward as each of us does what we can, when we can. The meetings themselves are joyful – filled with smiles and laughter as we share the challenges we face as individuals and as a group. Everyone should have their SenSEI to support them!

* Of course we applied for, and received, ethical approval for this project, via the CoSE ethics committee.

References

Arnold, L. (2020, August 6). Doing collaborative autoethnography. Learning, Teaching, Assessment, Technology, Higher Education & Action Research.

Chang, H., F.W. Ngunjiri, and K.A.C. Hernandez. 2016. Collaborative Autoethnography. London: Routledge.

Ellis, C., Adams, T. E., & Bochner, A. P. (2010). Autoethnography: An Overview. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research, Vol 12, No 1 (2011): The KWALON Experiment: Discussions on Qualitative Data Analysis Software by Developers and Users.


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