What is Scholarship of Teaching and Learning?

At the core of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) philosophy is an understanding that intentionally studying teaching practices and student learning outcomes is crucial for producing excellence in instruction. In 1998, the Carnegie Foundation launched Carnegie Academy for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (CASTL). The idea for this program was based on a 1990 report, Scholarship Reconsidered, an article, Scholarship Assessed, and the work of Illinois State University faculty and their students. The CASTL program defines scholarship of teaching and learning as “systematic reflection on teaching and learning made public” and its goal is to support the development of instructional scholarship that: 

  1. fosters significant, long-lasting learning for all students,
  2. enhances the practice and profession of teaching, and
  3. brings to faculty members' work as teachers the recognition and reward afforded to other forms of scholarly work.1

The program emphasizes the need and value of transforming teaching from a private, individualized activity to a more public forum that encourages evaluation by professional peers and the sharing of research results with others engaged in scholarship. SoTL actively values the exchange of scholarship across diverse disciplines and subject matter.

Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) encourages scholarly reflection, assessment, dissemination, critique and construction of a living body of knowledge, and an understanding and wisdom about teaching and learning.2 Mary Taylor Huber and Pat Hutchings have suggested that pursuance of SoTL means viewing the work of the classroom as a site for inquiry, asking and answering questions about students' learning in ways that can improve one's own classroom and also advance the larger profession of teaching. In other words, SoTL nurtures a deep curiosity about how, when, where and why people learn and how best to teach to create optimal learning opportunities.

Bibliography

  1. Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching (n.d.). Carnegie Academy for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning.
  2. Georgia Southern University (n.d.). What is SoTL? Center for Excellence in Teaching.
  3. Georgia Southern University (n.d.). Scholarship of teaching and learning. International Journal of Scholarship of Teaching and Learning.

Read more about the SoTL Research Model >>

The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning entails certain practices of classroom assessment and evidence gathering; teaching that is informed not only by the latest ideas but by current ideas about teaching generally and specifically in the field; and teaching that invites peer collaboration or review. This philosophy actively combines elements of discovery, integration, and application, because it typically involves classroom inquiry, synthesizing ideas from different fields, and the improvement of practice, all at the same time.

The following information describes key components that comprise the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Research Model. They include:

  1. Ask learner-centered questions,
  2. Build on the works of others,
  3. Determine the method you will use to gather data,
  4. Analyze the evidence,
  5. Disseminate the results, and
  6. Reflect and apply.

It was inspired by a speech given by Karen Richardson, Office of Teaching and Learning Fellow, at Bridgewater State University, during September 2011. The talk was entitled, Getting Started on the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. The ideas are also based on information that was formerly created and housed on the Office of Professional and Instructional Development website, University of Wisconsin System, Madison, Wisconsin.

Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Research Model Components

Ask learner-centered questions

All meaningful investigative work begins with the asking of important, relevant, and significant questions. This is also how Scholarship of Teaching and Learning research begins. Three suggestions for developing teaching/learning related questions include: 

  1. Think about goals you have for your students' learning, and formulate those goals into researchable questions;
  2. Identify problems you are encountering with your teaching or students' learning, and reformulate them into researchable questions; or
  3. Develop questions you have about your teaching or your students' learning, and formulate those into researchable questions.

Additional investigative questions might include:

  • How do your students understand a particular concept or theory?
  • Why do your students have difficulty thinking creatively about a particular topic?
  • Does using feedback result in more effective student learning?
  • Why don't your students understand this theory or concept?
  • How do students' interactions with each other and with the teacher affect their learning?
  • How can instructors help their students better understand a particular topic/concept?

Build on the work of others

Similar to traditional scholarship, you would review the literature that exists on the teaching and learning subject under investigation and you would search for theoretical frameworks to guide your inquiry. You may want to also ask yourself:

  • What have researchers and other professionals in the field reported about this topic? How can you expand upon their thinking? What additional ideas or questions do you have? What are you curious about?
  • What are the misperceptions you have/had about this concept?
  • What are some new ways of thinking about this concept?
  • Determine the method you will use to gather data

Research methods in SOTL include reflection and analysis, interviews and focus groups, questionnaires and surveys, content analysis of text, secondary analysis of existing data, quasi-experiments (comparison of two sections of the same course), observational research, and case studies, among others. As with all scholarly study, evidence depends not only upon the research method chosen but the relevant disciplinary standards. Additional factors to consider include:

  • You must obtain IRB approval if you plan to make your research public.
  • A mix of research methods is recommended.
  • Your discipline will shape the way you ask questions and collect data.
  • It's advantageous to read educational research and to explore examples of SoTL research methodologies.

Analyze the evidence

At this point in the project, it is time to analyze the evidence that you have collected. This analysis should provide answers to the thoughtful questions that you posed in your research project. Again, the analysis tools that you choose should fit the questions that you asked, and the data that you collected. A few additional questions to ask yourself include:

  • What did you learn from the data you collected? Are the results what you expected? Did they make you think about the subject in a new way? Which of them did you consider to be most meaningful to your project?
  • How did the information gathered in the Build on the work of others support or contradict what you found?

Disseminate results

One of the unique aspects of SoTL is the emphasis that is placed on public dissemination of teaching and learning research outcomes. In short, you are encouraged to share your results so that others can learn from your research efforts. Some ideas regarding dissemination venues include:  

  • Local presentations within one's academic department, college or university
  • Published, peer-reviewed formats
  • Journals that exclusively publish SOTL research
  • Numerous disciplinary publications disseminate SOTL

Reflect and apply

Perhaps the most valuable contribution associated with the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning philosophy is the application of research to improving classroom instruction. It is imperative that researchers understand that SOTL doesn't end with the public sharing of one's findings, but rather it involves an ongoing application and tweaking of teaching attitudes, activities and course materials. SoTL is dynamic!