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IMPACT Plus - Using reflections to develop ownership of learning and SoTL to take ownership of teaching

By Rheannin Becke posted 05-24-2021 20:38:05


 As a Transitional Studies Math instructor, I spend a lot of time thinking about how I can get my students to engage with the process of becoming better math students and take ownership of their learning. The class I most frequently teach bridges directly from our Transitional Studies Math to the college-level course Math and Society, which is the last math course many students need in order to fulfill their math requirements for an AA degree. The students in this course have a variety of goals including improving English skills, getting a high school diploma, and transitioning to Math Department courses.  These students often need extra support around how to be successful math students.  Reflecting on this led me to develop a Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) project about ownership.

 If you are not familiar with SoTL, it is a form of inquiry that allows you to investigate the teaching and the learning that takes place in your classroom.  It benefits the teacher by providing data about what is working and what is not working for their students.  It benefits students as they get an improved experience in their course.  It also benefits the community by contributing to the pool of knowledge of how to improve instruction and increase student success.  I would also argue that in the process of collecting data for SoTL, a classroom community where the students know the instructor really cares about their learning develops due to the transparency required to gain consent to do the project.

 I didn’t really know much about SoTL when I started as a fellow in AMATYC’s Project SLOPE.  ( SLOPE stands for Scholarly Leaders Originating as Practicing Educators.)   I applied to Project Slope after hearing about it at an AMATYC Conference.  I was in the tenure process and spending a lot of time focusing on improving my teaching.  I thought that collecting data to see how the strategies I was implementing affected my students would give me insights beyond what the observations and evaluations that the tenure process provide.    

 So, what is Project Slope?   Project Slope was funded through the National Science Foundation and supported by AMATYC.  Project Slope was a cohort of 6 fellows teaching at two-year colleges (or in the first-two years of college) from around the country, coming together with a team of experienced SoTL researchers and mentors. The mentors helped the fellows through the process of doing a SoTL inquiry. We began our collaboration in February 2019 in an online community.  We were able to meet in person at a summer workshop and at an AMATYC conference to collaborate in person. We will share our projects at the 2021 AMATYC Conference. 


As a cohort of fellows and mentors we worked through the process of reflecting on our teaching and developing research questions.  The mentors then showed us tools that we could use to do literature reviews to find the research that already exists on our topics, to collect data, and to analyze it.   Then they guided us as we put together our projects and developed a data analysis plan.  At this point, we worked with the Internal Review Boards (IRB) at our institutions to get approval to do our projects.  Once our projects were approved, which is a process that was easier at some colleges than others, we were ready to go.  When the term began, we got student consent and collected the data; after the term we analyzed the data and used the data to inform our teaching.  We also shared our findings (and will continue to do so) with the larger community of two-year math instructors.

As I began exploring topics for my research project, I recalled an article I had read in the MathAMATYC Educator a number of years back called “The Role of Reflection and Self-Assessment in Mathematics.”  After reading this article, I began using weekly reflections in my courses as check-ins with my students. I knew I wanted to incorporate this into my project.  I also reflected on the importance of preparing the students I teach for college-level math. Thus, I wanted to work on student development skills, especially higher level skills like metacognition.  I settled on the overarching question, “Can practicing, and reflecting on student skills in a developmental math course be used to increase ownership of learning?” I also had three subquestions:

  1. What type of structure/support helps students to take ownership (develop metacognition/self-regulation) of their learning?
  2. What type of information do the reflections on learning student development skills give the instructor?
  3. How do students feel about focusing on student skills in developmental math classes?


This project was set to begin in Spring 2020 just as my classes were moved to an online format due to COVID-19.  Although this was not anticipated, it in fact made my project more impactful to my teaching and my students’ learning than it would have in a more traditional term. 

 To collect data, I had students complete a long pre-survey that asked them to rate the use of various student development skills on a scale of 1-5. Then, I used the survey to choose the areas of focus for the term. During the term, I focused on one skill per week (e.g., organization of learning, metacognition, note taking, preparing for class, asking questions, etc.).  Students filled out a weekly reflection that asked them to reflect upon the skills we were working on in class and on their personal progress in the course.  I responded to each reflection with personal feedback.  At the end of the term, students took a post-survey. I compared this to the pre-survey so that I could see areas of student growth.


I will share some of the highlights from the results with you now. 

When asked “How did you feel about learning student success skills in a math class?” 5 of the 7, rated it 5 out of 5.  One student said, “All the student skills that I learned were so helpful because it helped me look at how I used to do things and see that the way I was doing them wasn't always helping me instead it was damaging to me as a student.  So learning skills that actually help me improve as a student is the best thing to feel after not feeling like any of the skills that I learned in previous classes helped.”  Prior to this SoTL inquiry, I questioned how focusing on student development was perceived by the students.  At least in this quarter, students found it beneficial.


When I asked, “How does the reflection on learning help you improve as a student?”  4 out of 6 students indicated that by reflecting on their learning weekly they were able to identify areas that they needed to study more. Some other benefits as described by my students are that the reflections helped to “evaluate what works for me and how to take in information” and “it gives me the courage and skills to adapt and change to be more efficient in college.”


When asked, “Has learning about this skill (reflecting on learning) helped you take ownership of your learning?  If so, how?, If not, why not?”  All students who completed this reflection felt that reflecting on their learning helped develop ownership.  3 students indicated that it helped them identify areas where they struggled with their learning and what they needed to review. As one student said, “[Reflecting] helps because we get a personal inventory of what our current strengths are as well as considering where we currently are lacking…” 3 students indicated that it helps them improve their learning or grow as a student.  One student pointed out that “I have taken it [learning] into my own hands to actually go back and see where I struggled instead of a teacher looking over my work and pointing out the things I didn’t understand.” 


As an instructor, these reflections were incredibly helpful, especially in a term with all the challenges that Spring 2020 had. As I was analyzing my data, I listed out all of the things I learned from these reflections. I actually had about 20 pages of insights!  These reflections allowed me to hear student perspectives, connect with them in an online environment, assess how students were doing and how their learning was going and hear what their concerns were.  Students shared things they wouldn’t otherwise share with me and the reflections allowed me to monitor student growth and progress. They also helped me to refine my teaching throughout the term and share resources with students that were most relevant to what they needed support with.


The term that I collected data was a term of chaos since my face-to-face course had to be quickly moved online.  I know that my online teaching methods have improved since then.  However, the knowledge I gained from this study has guided the continued improvement on my online courses.   I continue to use reflections weekly in my courses and intentionally integrate student development skills into the course.  I have made changes to the questions that I ask my students weekly, so that I can check in with them about registration, advising, upcoming exams, and such.  I have also added weekly course discussions focusing on student success skills.  Students regularly indicate on the reflections that they feel they are beginning to take ownership of their learning and that they feel much more confident about transitioning to college level math.  I suspect repeating this study now would give additional support to the data I collected.


This SoTL project has positively affected my teaching and I am likely to engage in another SoTL inquiry in the future.  It became obvious to me as I did the literature dive for this project that very little research is done about teaching at the community college level.  Most studies I found discussed teaching methods in K-12 or 4-year institutions. Community colleges have an emphasis on teaching and have a more diverse student population than universities. Aren’t we the ones who should be generating data about leading the discussion about best practices in teaching?  While discussions are taking place nationally about the importance of two-year colleges and it is possible that someday tuition at two-year colleges will be free, it seems like having more data, both qualitative and quantitative, would benefit teaching and learning at two-year colleges.   As community college instructors, SoTL is a way for us to take ownership of our teaching and the learning that takes place in our classrooms.  If more instructors engage in SoTL inquiries we would start building a knowledge base that could benefit the specific students we serve.  


 Odafe, V. (2010). The Role of Student Reflection and Self-Assessment in College Mathematics. MathAMATYC Educator, 2(1), online.​