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Christopher Douce

Planning and evaluating impact of a scholarship project

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On 23 June 23, I attended an online seminar about impact and scholarship, which was facilitated by Shailey Minocha and Trevor Collins. Shailey is the School of Computing and Communications scholarship lead, and Trever used to be a director of the university’s STEM scholarship centre, eSTEeM.

The event is summarised as follows: “we will take you through the toolkit for impact of SoTL and introduce you to various resources of the impact evaluation initiative. By the end of the event, we hope that you will feel prepared to use the resources/toolkit to plan, evaluate, and report the impact of your (past, present and future) SoTL projects and interventions.” Early on in the seminar, there was a reference to a page about impact, which can be found on the eSTEeM website.

Stories of impact

One of the most notable parts of this seminar was the amount of articles and resources that were shared. One of the first articles mentioned was: Impact of Scholarship of Teaching and Learning: A compendium of case studies. In this publication, 16 Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) projects were analysed by something called the Impact Evaluation Framework (IEF).

Two other articles were: 

Defining impact

The UK Research Excellent Framework (REF) defines impact as “an effect on, change or benefit to the economy of society”. There is a connection here with the school research fiesta which took place earlier this year: REF impact case studies are important. In terms of SoTL, impact implies demonstrative benefits to learning and teaching that are directly attributable to a specific project.

I noted a question: what has changed (as a result of a project)? What new insights have gained (from the project)? Also, how can the institution put the outcomes into use? What are the current debates that this scholarship relates to?

Impact evaluation framework

The impact evaluation framework was mentioned, but what exactly is it? It is said to contain 12 facets (or aspects) of impact, which are spread over 4 categories. During the session, I attempted to briefly summarise what they are:

  • Learning and teaching: impact on student experience; student retention; evidence of excellence?
  • Transfer to others: an influence on discipline based teaching, research, or practice; dissemination of outcomes; extent of adoption by others?
  • Stakeholder benefits: enhanced mutual understanding; facilitated personal or professional development; recognition of project team members and other stakeholders.
  • Cultural and economic benefits: has it fostered scholarship culture; financial implications (saving of money); funding opportunities.

Relating to this framework, Shailey shared a link to her blog, Impact of scholarship of teaching and learning

This article provides links to related resources, such as an executive summary, case studies, guide for educators, and two workbooks: one about impact evaluation, and another about planning for impact

Six principles (or values) of SoTL

A particularly useful resource which relates to scholarship is a free badged open course from Open Learn: Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in STEM.

This short course has 6 sections, which emphasises what contributes to an effective study:

  1. Grounded in student learning and engagement
  2. Grounded in one or more context
  3. Rigorous and methodological sound research design
  4. Conducted in partnership with students
  5. Appropriately public for evaluation and uptake by peers
  6. Reflection, critical reflection and reflexivity.

Strategies for planning and generating impact

This section of the seminar shared some useful practical tips for anyone who was considering setting up a scholarship project, or thinking about impact. These have been paraphrased as follows:

  • Align scholarship with strategic priorities of institution, school and discipline.
  • Use social media to create community and connection; make use of YouTube channels, and other social media platforms.
  • Make sure you keep a clear record of evidence of impact.

Another thought I did have was: consider developing a scholarship team which has complementary skills.

Impact resources

Building on the section which introduced the impact evaluation framework, this section aimed to highlight resources and ideas that could be useful. A key element of this was the Theory of Change methodology (ToC). This was highlighted as a dominant image methodology which is used by the Office for Students https://www.officeforstudents.org.uk/ . Apparently, the Theory of Change helps scholars plan a project for impact, helping them to consider pathways to impact from the start of project.

Some resources that were highlighted included a ToC visual tool, a SoTL impact evaluation workbook, and the Planning for SoTL impact evaluation workbook. There was also a question driven template, which was considered to be a project management tool.

A key point highlighted in this section: know who your stakeholders are. Without stakeholders, and without influence across stakeholder communities, there is no impact.

Reflections

A question that I always return to is: what is the difference between scholarship and research?

In some respects, the answer to this question is directly linked to the notion of impact. The way that I understand it is that scholarship relates to impact on teaching practice and activities. In turn, scholarship can have a direct impact on the student experience. Research, on the other hand, has impact on an academic discipline, or field of study. There is, of course, cross over between scholarship and research, especially within the domain of education and education studies. 

Another thought I always come back to is that both scholarship and research are important, and that academics should do both: research relates to what we teach, whereas scholarship relates to how we teach. I can’t get away from the perception that due to the Research Excellence Framework (REF) that research activity is valued higher than scholarship activity. This said, there are other metrics and league tables that relate to the student experience: the student satisfaction survey, and the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF).

This seminar was timely. I’ve just finished setting up what is called my annual Academic Workload Plan. In the forthcoming year, I’m hoping to set up a scholarship project (subject to approval, of course). An important point from this session was: build in dissemination and impact right from the start.

I thought that the tools shared during this session were potentially useful, especially the articles. The session clearly highlighted that there are challenges in planning for and generating impact: projects can often take longer than expected, and project members can become tired at the end of the project. An excellent point was made; sometimes impact could occur years after the completion of a project. This point emphasises the importance of importance of collating impact after a scholarship project has officially finished.

I once heard it said that it is very difficult to change the world by writing an academic article. I understand impact being all about what you do with either your practice or research findings. A lot of academic effort goes into finding things out and getting articles published in prestigious journals. Impact, in my eyes, is all about enabling findings to facilitate positive and constructive change.

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