As members of the Advancement team, Alexis Buzzee and Dawn Sugimoto researched student communications because they saw a need and the opportunity. As a result, they not only learned about student communication preferences, but they also learned volumes more about the college, the research process and themselves in what truly became an 18-month professional development project.
As non-teaching members of the Advancement team, we applied to conduct a Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) project in February 2019 knowing it was only the second time a project had been submitted by a non-teaching employee. The very first project was completed by Francis Rankin, our colleague in Facilities, and he now is also a part-time instructor, so we feel we can claim some uniqueness here. Our research was to conduct a survey of Lethbridge College students about their communication preferences and habits – from social media use to Canvas and more.
Through the survey, a literature review and extensive conversations with colleagues, we learned a great deal about how students use various tools and where they look for certain types of information (summary here). But the process was an education about so much more.
As part of our effort to disseminate information from our project — a critical component of receiving a
STAR (Scholarly Teaching and Research) grant — we hope to reach out to other non-teaching employees to encourage them to think on what they could contribute to the college’s research culture and to improving student learning and student experience.
Thanks to our jobs at the college, we already had a good sense of the role of each department, how they work with students, and who to talk to for key information. That’s an advantage service area staff bring to the table. We also brought a unique perspective as observers of both students and other staff on campus who don’t work directly with students. We had a bird’s eye view of our subjects and could approach this work from an objective distance.
Beyond that, we learned:
- The college has a truly collaborative culture. We worked with colleagues from across campus and all were supportive, helpful and enthusiastic about our research questions.
- We drew on skills we hadn’t fully flexed before including:
- Methodical literature review to help shape our survey;
- Technical skill using software including SurveyMonkey (for our survey design) and Adobe Spark and Adobe Illustrator for data visualization;
- Working directly with students during promotion and testing of the survey questions.
- And time and project management when efforts to secure release time were unsuccessful.
- While the project was time consuming and laborious, it changed our thinking and perspective on many other aspects of our work. The work of doing research exercises your thinking muscles in a fresh way.
- The prerequisite training on research ethics was fascinating. You won’t look at other research projects the same way again.
- The excellent workshops offered in the Learning Café for students who are learning about scholarly writing and research are available to you as an employee. Just ask.
If you have never done research before, but you have lingering questions about how and why we do the things we do for students at Lethbridge College, take a look at the STAR grant application form or meet with the college’s resident SoTL expert, Melanie Hamilton, to talk about how your questions might be the start of a research project. The application process generally opens in early January and closes a month later.
The college offers a vast range of on-campus and online professional development opportunities that provide quick hits of information and opportunities for a mental reset. Completing a SoTL research project is a much larger investment into your professional development, but we feel it is something you will not regret exploring. When your project is over, you might feel physically exhausted, but you’ll also feel professionally energized and amazed at what you’ve learned.