APR Update: Fathering-Related Content, Case Studies, and SoTL

by Deborah B. Gentry, Ed.D., CFLE, NCFR Academic Program Liaison
CFLE Network, Winter 2018

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This issue of CFLE Network is filled with wonderful information and insight about fathering. In some readers’ view, this topic or area of study and practice coordinates best with Content Area 7, “Parent Education and Guidance.” Yet other readers will point out that an adult may come to display fathering behaviors and actions toward a child without necessarily having biologically fathered that child. Thus, the dynamics of fathering could well be infused into courses designated as relevant for Content Areas 1, 2, 3, and 8: “Families and Individuals in Societal Contexts,” “Internal Dynamics of Families,” “Human Growth and Development Across the Lifespan,” and “Family Law and Public Policy,” respectively.

For many years, I have been a passionate advocate for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL). I have conducted SoTL research, sometimes also called classroom action research, and encouraged others to design and carry out similar research projects. My favorite definition of SoTL is one formulated by the Center for Teaching and Learning at Illinois State University: “Systematic reflection of teaching and learning made public” (https://sotl.illinoisstate.edu/about/).

SoTL furthers knowledge about how, when, where, and why people learn and how best to teach for optimal, long-lasting learning. According to Diamond and Adams (1995), good quality SoTL entails the following:

  • a high level of discipline-specific expertise,
  • breaking new ground and demonstrating innovation,
  • providing methods and results that can be documented and peer reviewed,
  • the ability to be replicated or elaborated upon, and
  • having significant impact.

The first step in conducting SoTL research is to identify a teaching-learning issue, problem, or question. For example, in the context of a possible postsecondary course or seminar titled “Fathers, Fathering, and Fatherhood Across Cultures,” let’s suppose an instructor has baseline data (e.g., student self-report, instructor observation, content analysis of discussions and students’ written papers, and/or exam performance) indicating students’ inability to fully grasp elements of relevant theoretical perspectives. Because these theoretical insights should give rise to deeper understanding of the dynamics of fathering behaviors and actions, students are not optimally prepared for postgraduation work as a family professional. The instructor determines the students’ learning and knowledge retention efforts could benefit from opportunities to engage in higher level critical thinking involving the cognitive skills of application, analysis, evaluation, and solution creation/generation.

Upon undertaking a review of the literature and some professional development workshops about problem-based learning, cooperative learning, discovery learning, inquiry-based learning, situated cognition, and anchored instruction, the instructor decides to design a case study intervention to resolve the instructional problem identified earlier. Feeling ill prepared to compose original case studies, the instructor turns to books, journals, memoirs, and organizational resources for existing cases studies relevant to course content and learning outcomes. One source that surfaces is a British doctoral dissertation titled “Fathering in Everyday Family Life: Qualitative Case Studies of Ten Families” (Earley, 2017). Another source is a website for the Fatherhood Institute, said to be the United Kingdom’s fatherhood think-and-do tank. Recognizing that these and other case studies that are found will vary in suitability and quality, the instructor reads and assesses them with these suggested characteristics in mind:

  • consistency with stated course goals and learning outcomes;
  • consistency with real-world situations graduates may well face;
  • contemporary;
  • relatively short length, yet sufficiently complex;
  • adequate background information to allow students to consider breadth and depth of context;
  • sense of authenticity and realism;
  • interesting and engaging.
  • compelling players or characters for whom, at least some, empathy is possible;
  • well organized and written; and
  • typically infers no obvious right answer(s).

After selecting, and perhaps adapting, one or more case studies to use as a learning activity for the course, the instructor formulates directions for students regarding how they are to go about processing the case study(ies); questions for students to answer or “products” to be submitted; one or more decisions the students are to make; any means by which students are to report the outcome of their efforts; and tools that will be used to guide assessment of students’ performance (e.g., rubric or checklist).

For this instructor, the next critical step in conducting an SoTL study focusing on the effectiveness of case studies in teaching and learning about fathers, fathering, and fatherhood is to design a suitable methodology and appropriate means of data analysis. Classroom action research must be as rigorous as any other mode of research. Among the possible design features the instructor could consider, then select or discount, are these:

  • to use qualitative, quantitative, or mixed methods;
  • to abide by ethical practices regarding risk, anonymity, and confidentiality;
  • to intervene and collect data at one point in time or multiple points in time;
  • to be the sole researcher or to involve colleagues and/or students as fellow researchers;
  • to collect data at one location or multiple locations; and
  • to collect data from students enrolled in one course section or from multiple sections.

Once data have been collected, analyzed, reviewed for significance, and summarized, the next key step in the SoTL research process is to reflect on the findings and share the results publicly with peers, both near and far (e.g., various campus venues, publications, and conferences). For this family science instructor, the possibilities include the following:

  • an annual symposium sponsored by campus teaching and learning symposium;
  • a departmental brownbag seminar;
  • a presentation at a conference sponsored by an NCFR state affiliate;
  • a national presentation at the annual Teaching Family Science Conference, National Council on Family Relations Conference, or the International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning;
  • a presentation at a Lily National Conference on College and University Teaching and Learning; or
  • a manuscript submitted for peer review to Family Science Review; College Teaching; International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education; International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning; or Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-Based Learning.

Of course, this instructor should spend time in personal reflection about the process and outcome of his or her SoTL endeavor. However, the goal of publicly sharing information about the (a) instructional intervention (use of case studies within a course focused on fathers, fathering, and fatherhood); (b) classroom action research methods and means of data analysis used; and (c) findings, conclusions, and their implications is to seek critique and constructive feedback. Such critique and feedback can ideally lead to further enhancement of the case study intervention, should its use be warranted when the “Fathers, Fathering, and Fatherhood Across Cultures” course is taught again in subsequent semesters.

When APR Committee members and I review syllabi and other documents associated with academic courses involved in the CFLE APR Program, we often take note of innovative teaching strategies and instructional activities, along with their accompanying means of assessing student learning. In many cases, if undertaken with systemic planning and reflection, they could be the basis for SoTL research projects. The references that follow that are related to SoTL research processes, or case study use for that matter, are few compared with the wealth of resources that exist. Readers wanting to know more about either or both concepts can seek the assistance of a campus librarian or the staff of a campus center for teaching and learning in an effort to find more.



Bishop-Clark, C., & Dietz-Uhler, B. (2012). Engaging in the scholarship of teaching and learning: A guide to the process, and how to develop a project from start to finish. Sterling, VA: Stylus.

Diamond, R. M., & Adam, B. E. (Eds.). (1995). The disciplines speak: Rewarding the scholarly, professional, and creative work of faculty. Washington, DC: American Association for Higher Education. 

Earley, V. (2017). Fathering in everyday family life: Qualitative case studies of ten families (Doctoral dissertation). University of Sheffield, England. Retrieved from http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/18359/

Fatherhood Institute. (2017). Case studies. Retrieved from http://www.fatherhoodinstitute.org/sector/sector-content/case-studies/

Hunter, B. (2015, Spring). Teaching for engagement: Part 1: Constructivist principles, case-based teaching, and active learning. College Quarterly, 18(2). Retrieved from http://www.senecacollege.ca/quarterly/2015-vol18-num02-spring/hunter.html

Kreber, C. (2013). Authenticity in and through teaching in higher education: The transformative potential of the scholarship of teaching. Abingdon, England, and New York, NY: Routledge.

Lane, J. L.  (2007).  Case writing guide. Penn State Schreyer Institute for Teaching Excellence. Retrieved from http://www.schreyerinstitute.psu.edu/pdf/casewritingguide.pdf

McFarlane, D. A. (2015, Winter). Guidelines for using case studies in the teaching-learning process. College Quarterly, 18(1). Retrieved from http://collegequarterly.ca/2015-vol18-num01-winter/mcfarlane.html

McKinney, K. (2007). Enhancing learning through scholarship of teaching and learning: The challenges and joys of juggling. San Francisco, CA: Anker.

McKinney, K. (2012). Making a difference: Application of SoTL to enhance learning. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 12(1), 1–7.

Stanford University Center for Teaching and Learning. (1994). Teaching with case studies. Speaking of Teaching Newsletter, 5(2), 1–3. Retrieved from https://web.stanford.edu/dept/CTL/cgi-bin/docs/newsletter/case_studies.pdf

University of Michigan Center for Research on Learning and Teaching. (n.d.). Case-based teaching and problem-based learning. Retrieved from http://crlt.umich.edu/tstrategies/tscbt