What is SoTL?

The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) is an emerging movement of scholarly thought and action that draws on the reciprocal relationship between teaching and learning at the post-secondary level (Boyer, 1990). An important goal of SoTL is to enhance and augment learning amongst and between individual learners by investigating the many features of discipline specific expertise and best pedagogical practice (McKinney, 2006).

As Poole and Simmons (forthcoming) write,

“The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) involves post-secondary practitioners conducting inquiry into teaching and learning processes in higher education contexts.”  As McKinney (2006) describes, ‘the scholarship of teaching and learning … involves systematic study of teaching and/or learning and the public sharing and review of such work through presentations, performance, or publications’ (p. 39). Hutchings and Shulman (1999) further clarify that SoTL ‘requires a kind of “going meta”, in which faculty frame and systematically investigate questions related to student learning’ (p. 13). The overall intention of SoTL is thus to improve student learning and enhance educational quality.

 

SoTL invites professionals to examine their own classroom practice, record their successes and failures, and ultimately share their experiences so that others may reflect on their findings and build upon teaching and learning processes. In this respect, SoTL serves as a conduit for disseminating contemporary research findings and making accessible practical applications of educational theories and practices related to teaching and learning for all stakeholders in education (Hutchings & Shulman, 1999).

Diversity in SoTL Scholarship

The excerpt below, from the Institute for Scholarship of Teaching and Learning at Mount Royal University in Calgary, Alberta, captures the breadth of definitions and conceptual frameworks informing SoTL research and distills them into a set of generally agreed-upon basic elements of SoTL scholarship.

“Ernest Boyer’s Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate (1990) first described scholarship of teaching as one element of a four-part categorization [of scholarship] that also included discovery, integration and application. Since then scholarship of teaching and learning has been framed in many different ways.

Pat Hutchings and Lee Shulman (1999) explain that ‘a scholarship of teaching (and learning) is not synonymous with excellent teaching. It requires a kind of “going meta,” in which faculty frame and systematically investigate questions related to student learning—the conditions under which it occurs, what it looks like, how to deepen it, and so forth—and do so with an eye not only to improving their own classroom but to advancing practice beyond it.’ Barbara Cambridge (2001) suggests that this work ‘entails problem posing about an issue of teaching or learning, study of the problem through methods appropriate to disciplinary epistemologies, application of results to practice, communication of results, self-reflection, and peer review.’ Kathleen McKinney (2004) describes it as ‘the systematic study of teaching and/or learning and the public sharing and review of such work through presentations, publications or performances.’ Richard Gale (2008) maintains that scholarship of teaching and learning ‘involves the gathering and interpretation of evidence of student learning. It invites peer review and ‘going public’ with insights about how, where, and why students learn. In its dissemination, scholarship of teaching and learning influences teaching, learning and scholarship beyond the local context.’

[In summary], scholarship of teaching and learning generally includes: rigorous, systematic, and evidence-based study of student learning in one’s own course; the understanding and improvement of student learning and/or teaching practice as its ultimate goal; commitment to disciplinary and/or interdisciplinary peer-review and appropriate public dissemination; impact beyond a single course, program, or institution – advancing the field of teaching and learning to build collective knowledge and ongoing improvement.”

What does “doing SoTL” entail?

According to Hutchings, Huber, and Ciccone (2011, p. xix), “the scholarship of teaching and learning encompasses a broad set of practices that engage teachers in looking closely and critically at student learning in order to improve their own courses and programs, and to share insights with other educators who can evaluate and build on their efforts.” Conceptually, the above-mentioned practices are “best understood as an approach that marries scholarly inquiry to any of the intellectual tasks that comprise the work of teaching – designing a course, facilitating classroom activities, trying out new pedagogical ideas, advising, writing student learning outcomes, evaluating programs” (Schulman, 1998). When activities like these are undertaken with serious questions about student learning in mind, one enters the territory of the scholarship of teaching and learning.”

Research Methods

The field of SOTL draws on a variety of methodological traditions. SoTL research may include but is not limited to “reflection and analysis, interviews and focus groups, questionnaires and surveys, content analysis of text, secondary analysis of existing data, quasi-experiments (e.g. comparison of two sections of the same course), observational research, and case studies” (Wikipedia, Scholarship of Teaching and Learning). In addition, SoTL is disseminated through multiple channels, ranging from professional relationships local to the scholar’s institution to discipline-centered venues such as conferences and disciplinary journals (both of which may focus explicitly on teaching and learning within the discipline, or may include teaching and learning topics along with conventional topics) to the international arena, which generally transcends disciplinary boundaries (Trigwell, Martin, Benjamin, & Prosser, 2000).

References

Below is some seminal literature from the field that has shaped how SoTL is defined and conceptualized.

  • Boyer, E. (1990). Scholarship reconsidered: Priorities of the professoriate. Princeton, NJ: Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.
  • Hutchings, P., & Shulman, L. E. (1999). The scholarship of teaching: New elaborations, new developments. Change, 31(5), 10–15.
  • Hutchings, P., Huber, M., & Ciccone, A. (2011). The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Reconsidered. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  • McKinney, K. (2006). Attitudinal and structural factors contributing to challenges in the work of the scholarship of teaching and learning. New Directions for Institutional Research, 129 (Summer), 37-50.
  • Poole, G., & Simmons, N. (forthcoming). The contributions of the scholarship of teaching and learning to quality enhancement in Canada. In G. Gordon, & R. Land (Eds.), Quality enhancement in higher education: International perspectives. London: Routledge.
  • Trigwell, K., Martin, E., Benjamin, J., & Prosser, M. (2000). Scholarship of Teaching: A model. Higher Education Research & Development, 19:2, 155-168.

Additional References (see also the page of Canadian SoTL references (insert link for our site):

  • Becker, W. E., & Andrews, M. L. (Eds.)(2004). The scholarship of teaching and learning in higher education: Contributions of research universities. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.
  • Cambridge, B. L. (Ed.). (2004). Campus progress: Supporting the scholarship of teaching and learning. Washington, DC: American Association for Higher Education.
  • Cambridge, B. L. (2001). Fostering the scholarship of teaching and learning: Communities of practice. In D. Lieberman, & C. Wehlburg (Eds.), To Improve the Academy (pp. 3-16). Bolton, MA: Anker.
  • Christensen Hughes, J. & Mighty, J. (Eds.) (2010). Taking Stock: Research on Teaching and Learning in Higher Education. Kinsgton, ON: Queens-McGill University Press.
  • Gurung, R. & Schwartz, B. (2009). Optimizing Teaching and Learning: Practicing Pedagogical Research. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.
  • Huber, M. T. (2004). Balancing acts: The scholarship of teaching and learning in academic careers. Washington, DC: American Association for Higher Education and Carnegie Foundation.
  • McKinney, K. (2007). Enhancing learning through the scholarship of teaching and learning: The challenges and joys of juggling. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
  • Perry, R. P., & Smart, J. C. (2007). The scholarship of teaching and learning in higher education: An evidence-based perspective. Dordrecht, Netherlands: Springer.