STP’s SoTL Writing Workshop: A.K.A. How I Wrote a Paper in Two Days
Michelle A. Drouin
Indiana University–Purdue University Fort Wayne
In this paper, I describe my experiences with the Society for the Teaching of Psychology’s (STP) Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) Writing Workshop. I first describe the obstacles preventing me from joining such efforts and then describe the process and structure of STP’s Writing Workshop. As a result of my participation, I not only wrote a manuscript from (practically) start to finish in two days, but I also finished three other SoTL papers and developed and implemented a SoTL Writing Retreat on my own campus.
It is very difficult to say “no” to Regan Gurung. He is charming and charismatic, and as the former President of STP, he is kind of a psychology celebrity. So in May, 2012, when Regan invited me to apply to the STP’s Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) Writing Workshop (www.teachpsych.org/conferences/writing/index.php#.UcpdcZzNnUk), try as I might, I could not say “no.”
“But it’s hard for me to travel,” I said. “I have two young children, five and three.”
“Perfect! Mine are six and four,” Regan responded.
“I actually have a lot of projects going on, so I am really doing well on my SoTL writing,” I countered.
Regan smiled, “Are they finished? You owe it to teachers and students everywhere to get them out.”
“Teachers and students everywhere?” I pondered, “That’s a lot of people depending on me... .”
“Ok, I’m in” I replied.
Thus began my journey with STP’s SoTL Writing Workshop.
As I look back on that day, I can clearly identify the obstacles that were keeping me from engaging in writing workshops generally and this one specifically:
- I thought I had SoTL writing figured out. I had a few SoTL research papers published and had written two invited book chapters. Although I did not consider myself an expert in SoTL, I was certainly one of the SoTL leaders at my university. I knew I could do the work, so I really did not know what the SoTL Writing Workshop could do for me.
- I did not think I had the time for a workshop. I was already time pressed—hence the many unfinished projects—so how would I find the time to travel and participate in a workshop?
- I thought that unfinished projects were a normal part of academic life. My colleague (who has been in his position for 9 years) still has an unfinished project from graduate school. I have many unfinished projects, and as the years go by, that list is growing, especially for SoTL projects. I accepted this as a normal part of my academic journey.
- I am actually a good, prolific writer. I don’t struggle with writing. I spend much of my academic work time writing both disciplinary and pedagogical papers, and I am successful in getting my work published. According to the 2010-11 UCLA Higher Education Research Institute Faculty Survey, only about 20% of faculty at all baccalaureate institutions had five or more papers accepted or published in the last two years (Hurtado, Eagan, Pryor, Whang, & Tran, 2012), and I am pleased to say that I am in that 20%.
Despite my many internal protests, I engaged. Two weeks later, I was describing via email my various unfinished SoTL projects to my three fellow group members and reading Optimizing Teaching and Learning: Practicing Pedagogical Research (Gurung & Schwartz, 2009), which Regan sent to workshop participants. I was also learning more about the workshop through email and had received a participant timeline with “soft deadlines to make the workshop most effective”:
May: Introductions and basic idea sharing.
June-August: Preliminary consultations.
August 30th: Project proposal/status—Write a 1-2 page proposal for the topics you would like to research. If there is data collected, then list key hypotheses driving the study and draft a method section.
September 15th: Complete a preliminary literature search for articles relating to topic of interest or study conducted (outline Intro section).
Oct 1st: Final report on activity/project status due to Mentors.
(R. Gurung, personal communication, May 29, 2012)
Through this email correspondence, I also learned two important things: (1) that the mentors would provide follow-up consultations and draft reading (or other types of assistance) post-workshop, and (2) that the goal of the workshop was to have a SoTL publication submitted by the end of the 2012-13 academic year. As I hoped to finish at least one of my papers by that deadline, I thought this was a realistic goal for me. However, one of the hurdles I faced during my preliminary consultations with Regan was trying to decide which of my many projects to bring to the workshop.
At the time of our initial correspondence, I had SEVEN unfinished SoTL projects. I was already in the writing phase of an online lecture paper and decided to finish that one outside of the SoTL writing workshop; the workshop only accelerated my timeline. Thereafter, I turned my focus to three others: an iPad project, an online decision tree for psychology majors project, and a lecture capture project. In preparation for the August 30deadline, I was overzealous and finished and submitted the decision tree paper, which left me with five papers to complete and nothing firm to bring to the writing workshop. At this point I had to reassess and emailed Regan in desperation—“what project should I now bring to the SoTL writing workshop?”
Regan replied, “Given that you are progressing well, how about you aim to send a plan of what YOU hope to have done on EACH of the 3-4 topics. A few sentences on each so you have a clear picture of goals.” (R. Gurung, personal communication, August 29, 2012).
At this point, I finally committed to paper the goals I had for my various SoTL writing projects and constructed a table that would guide me through the rest of the process. In this table, I listed my five unfinished projects and the goals I had for them for the October workshop (summarized here):
- iPad cohort & lecture capture projects: Data analyzed; results and methods sections written, literature review mostly done
- Research assistantship, blogs as learning tools, and research review and presentation projects: Data cleaned; sources gathered
Creating this table gave me clarity. This was the first time in my academic career that I had actually listed all of my ongoing projects and created goals for each. Until this point, the projects were all quite nebulous—I did not even know how many unfinished SoTL projects I had. After I created the table, I had a visual reminder of my goals, and this was a breakthrough. As I thought about my goals, I knew that if I could arrive at the writing workshop with at least cleaned data sets and relevant sources gathered, I would be able to make the most of the personalized statistical consultations and also be able to get advice on publication. Minimally, this is what I hoped to accomplish, and in the end, this is what I had accomplished when I boarded the plane for Atlanta in October, 2012.
Attending the Conference
Early in my career, I heard a rumor about two professors who would get together and complete manuscripts (from start to finish) in a weekend. I remember the questions that rushed through my head at the time—“How did they do it? What did they do to prepare for this writing extravaganza? Did they each work independently, or did they work collaboratively?” Because the source of this rumor had so few answers, I dismissed it as urban legend. However, now I know that this feat can be accomplished.
When I arrived in Atlanta for the SoTL writing conference, I had 733 words (mostly methods), a cleaned data set, and sources gathered for a manuscript on the effects of using lecture capture in an introductory psychology course. I focused on this paper because after cleaning the data sets of three other projects (research assistantship, blogs, and research review), I decided I needed to collect more data. Meanwhile, although I had enough data for the iPad project, it was not specific enough to psychology to make use of the mentorship I was about to receive. Thus, my lecture capture project became my official SoTL workshop baby.
The SoTL writing conference runs concurrently with STP’s Best Practices Conference, so we were able to attend the keynote addresses for the Best Practices Conference; however, the rest of the time we were to devote ourselves to our SoTL projects. The structure of the conference was:
Day 1: Evening arrival, dinner, presentation on doing SoTL research by Regan Gurung, large-group introductions with explanations of our SoTL projects.
Day 2: Writing, individual consultations with mentor, individual consultations with statistician and ToP editor.
Day 3: Writing, presentation by Drew Christopher (Editor, Teaching of Psychology) on getting published, departure in the afternoon.
I spent most of my time writing, in the hotel lobby, side by side with other workshop participants, pausing at times to ask them their feedback on something that I had written but mostly just in my own private writing abyss. I had a few consultations with Regan, where he pointed me to relevant sources and asked me to include additional information. I talked through my statistical analyses with Georjeanna Wilson-Doenges, who helped me see that what I was actually proposing was a mediation model. And I also spoke at length with Drew Christopher, who encouraged us all to be tenacious with our papers. When I boarded the plane to go home, I had 5,697 words and a paper that was nearly complete. A few days later, I sent it to Regan for feedback, and approximately one week later, I sent it out for review.
A few months later, my paper (Drouin, 2014) was accepted with minor revisions for publication in Teaching of Psychology. However, this was not the only positive outcome of my SoTL writing workshop experience. Two other papers I prepared as part of this process (lecture format study and iPad project) have now been accepted for publication, and I am currently revising another (online decision tree) in response to a revise and resubmit decision. This is the greatest number of SoTL papers I have even written in a one-year time frame and is equivalent to the number of SoTL articles I had accepted before I joined this workshop.
These accomplishments are overshadowed though by my biggest take-home of the conference. In May, 2013, just one year after my initial conversation with Regan, I coordinated my own SoTL Writing Retreat on my campus. We had 12 participants, working side-by-side with four experienced SoTL mentors, a statistical consultant, and librarians, who assisted with source gathering and finding publication venues. Sponsored by IPFW's Committee for the Advancement of Scholarly Teaching and Learning Excellence, this SoTL writing retreat was the first of its kind on our campus and was a great success. Although I did not follow the STP Writing Workshop model exactly (e.g., due to time constraints, we did not provide consultations in advance, and we also did not create a firm structure for follow-up consultations), we included key elements that were helpful in making the workshop a success for me. More specifically:
- We had an application process. Participants were asked to describe the projects they were working on, where they were in the process, and what they hoped to accomplish during the retreat.
- Participants were paired with mentors who had knowledge of the content area or data collection method. Based on the applications, we formed mini-groups composed of people who were working on similar projects or using similar data collection methods, and we matched mentors with writers on this basis.
- The writing retreat lasted only two days. Longer writing workshops or writing lockdowns that have meetings over weeks or months, like those highlighted by Belcher (2009) or Jakobsen and Lee (2012), certainly have their strengths, but my university already had writing groups, and I had never engaged because I feared the long commitment. Workshops of a limited duration are perfect for commitment-phobes like me, and because this model had worked for me with STP’s workshop, I wanted others to be able to experience this model.
- It was a retreat, with large chunks of time devoted to writing. We had only two short workshops on IRB proposals and publication venues; the rest of the time was devoted to manuscript writing or other types of SoTL writing activities (e.g., writing an IRB proposal, writing out a plan for the research).
Feedback on the workshop was overwhelmingly positive, but I did have suggestions to do more preparatory work with participants before the retreat, which aligns well with STP’s model. Overall, participants appreciated the time devoted exclusively to working on their projects and the synergy we created during those two days in the campus library. It was inspirational for me, and in a sense, I felt that I was paying it forward.
As I closed the writing workshop, I chose my words carefully: Echoes of a year before and foreshadowing for the essay you are now reading— “This is important work. You owe it to students and teachers everywhere to get it out.”
Drouin, M. (2014). If you record it, some won’t come: Using lecture capture in introductory psychology. Teaching of Psychology, 41(1), 11-19.
Hurtado, S., Eagan, M. K., Pryor, J. H., Whang, H., & Tran, S. (2012). Undergraduate teaching faculty: The 2010–2011 HERI Faculty Survey. Los Angeles: Higher Education Research Institute, UCLA.
Gurung, R. A. R., & Schwartz, E. (2009).Optimizing teaching and learning: Pedagogical research in practice. Malden, MA: Blackwell.
Jakobsen, K. V., & Lee, M. R. (2012). Faculty writing lockdowns. In J. Holmes, S.C. Baker, & J. R. Stowell (Eds.), Essays from E-xcellence in Teaching (Vol. 11, pp. 26–29). Retrieved from the Society for the Teaching of Psychology Web site: http://teachpsych.org/ebooks/eit2011/index.php
Michelle Drouin earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Cornell University and her DPhil in Experimental Psychology from University of Oxford, England. She is an associate professor of psychology at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne and teaches courses in introductory psychology, developmental psychology (child and lifespan), social and personality development, and language development. Her research, both disciplinary and pedagogical, is focused on literacy, language, and the ways in which technology affects communication and learning. She has written numerous pedagogical papers and invited book chapters focused mainly on online teaching and the integration of technology in the classroom.