Where do presenters at ISSOTL come from and what can this tell us about SoTL? Part Two: A closer look at the ISSOTL maps

Brian Jackson, Associate Professor, Mount Royal University, bjackson@mtroyal.ca
Margy MacMillan, Professor Emerita, Mount Royal University, margymac@gmail.com


In a previous post we looked at where ISSOTL conference presenters came from and which institutions had consistent participation. However, the data also show that there’s more than just a simple relationship between proximity and presenting at ISSOTL. Three sites can illustrate this: Hamilton, Raleigh, and Quebec City. Hamilton is home to ‘frequent flyer’ institution McMaster University; Raleigh is at the heart of a SoTL hot zone as illustrated by the maps in the previous blog post, close to ‘frequent flyer’ institutions like Elon, and Georgia Southern University and a number of smaller institutions in North Carolina with consistent patterns of presenting. Quebec City is relatively close to SoTL centres in Canada and the rest of North America, but before and after the 2014 conference sent few presenters to ISSOTL conferences. 

On the map below, the green circles represent the nearest 20% of participating institutions, while the blue circles show distance travelled by the closest 20% of presenters. In this representation, we find that hosting ISSOTL at an institution with a strong SoTL culture like McMaster attracted presenters from a highly concentrated area – the blue circle shows that the nearest 20% of presenters did not travel far – most in fact came from McMaster. Raleigh shows that its presenters were slightly more dispersed over a wider area, and Quebec City shows even greater dispersion of both institutions and participants. All of this suggests that having a strong preexisting SoTL culture with institutions that regularly send multiple presenters to ISSOTL serves as a sort of amplifier. A conference in an area with a strong existing SoTL culture further increases participation from both anchor and proximal institutions (Calgary and Melbourne had similar patterns). In Quebec, where there are fewer high-participation institutions, the blue and green circles are nearly the same size, showing that presenters came from a larger number of more widely dispersed institutions (Los Angeles and Bergen had similar patterns). 

Looking at the data for Quebec even more closely, we can see that Université Laval, the host institution, accounted for the bulk of proximal participants, but that the nearest large city, Montreal, also had a high number of participating institutions. That level of participation from institutions in the region did not persist in subsequent conferences. The dominant language in the host city may also play a role – Quebec City and Bergen may not have attracted as many local participants, and regional SoTL communities may not be as prone to travel farther to an anglophone conference. It will be interesting to see whether presenters from regional institutions at the Bergen conference will return to future ISSOTL conferences.

Another way of looking at the conference data shows interesting developments in the most recent conference regarding less consistently represented institutions. Comparing the first conference in the data set, 2012 (Hamilton), and the last 2018 (Bergen) conferences, we looked at the number of conferences of the 7 in the study where each institution was represented by at least one presenter. On the maps below, large, darker-coloured dots represent institutions represented at most or all of the 7 conferences in the study – our ‘frequent flyers’ – while small, lighter-coloured dots indicate institutions represented at fewer conferences. In 2012 there were 88 institutions represented that sent presenters to only one or two conferences among the 7 in our sample.  Most of these institutions were clustered in the eastern half of North America, relatively close to the conference site. In contrast, the 2018 conference saw 112 infrequently represented institutions from much more widely distributed locations in Europe, North America, and Asia. It would be interesting to check in a few years and see if this represents a trend in participation or if it is a reflection of the 2018 conference location, the only European conference in our sample.

2012 Hamilton: 

2018 Bergen:

Again the data provides more interesting directions for study:

  • Are there lasting impacts of hosting ISSOTL at the regional level – connections, collaborations, etc.

  • How can ISSOTL hosts build regional SoTL communities before and after conferences?

  • Do new presenters who contribute to SoTL conferences at or near their institutions benefit from a sense of belongingness (as well as reduced cost and travel time) – i.e. is it easier to enter a new field if there’s a higher chance you’ll see familiar faces?

  • Are the effects of proximity spread evenly among presenters or are there aspects of gender/race/class/language that amplify the effects for some?

  • Are institutions offering extra support/incentives to those who present at nearby conferences?

  • Is this a trend of increased global reach and institutional diversity, and if so are we seeing similar patterns in paper authorship or other indicators of SoTL culture?

  • What prompts people and institutions to return to ISSOTL conferences; what prevents them from doing so?


In reviewing the data as a whole, it’s clear like much of SoTL research, that the study results in more questions than answers. It is also evident that mapping, as with other visual representations of data, can produce insights that would be more difficult to see in texts and tables. There are geographies large and small in what we do from classroom spaces,and assignments across the curriculum to reading lists and citation patterns. As a final provocation, how could you use maps in representing your SoTL work?


With thanks to Karen Manarin for reviewing and improving our work.