Introduction to the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning – Part 1
This module is designed to introduce the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL, also known as teaching-as-research) to participants in the Center for Teaching’s programs, particularly those in Cycle 3 of our Teaching Certificate program and those in our Teaching-as-Research (TAR) Fellows program. This module was written and designed by CFT Teaching Affiliate Julie DeVoe and Acting Director Derek Bruff.
Please read through all four parts:
- Part 1 – What is the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning?
- Part 2 – How Do I Get Started in SoTL?
- Part 3 – SoTL Project Design
- Part 4 – The Ethics of SoTL
Part 1: What is the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning?
A Definition of SoTL
The above quote provides reasons for valuing an approach to teaching commonly called the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL). SoTL involves
- asking questions about student learning and the teaching activities designed to promote student learning in an effort, at least in part, to improve one’s own teaching practice,
- answering those questions by systematically analyzing evidence of student learning, and
- sharing the results of that analysis publicly in order to invite review and to contribute to the body of knowledge on student learning in a variety of contexts.
SoTL can serve to investigate a range of classroom and pedagogical issues. The titles and abstracts below, drawn from projects completed by participants in CFT programs, give a sense of this range.
- Assessing Graduate Student Understanding Using Concept Maps - This project explores alternative ways of assessing student learning in graduate education. Students in two sections of an introductory graduate education course were asked to create concept maps using 14 core class concepts derived from the syllabi. (Jennifer Osterhage, Biological Sciences, Teaching Certificate Program)
- Assessing the Impact of Chemistry in Context Vignettes on Student Engagement and Learning - A series of “vignettes” that demonstrate the connection of concepts that are being taught to real life examples have been used throughout the second semester of General Chemistry at Vanderbilt University. Data was collected and analyzed to determine whether these vignettes had any impact on students’ overall satisfaction with the course and interest in the course, the students’ performance in the course, and the students’ ability to see how the concepts covered were connected to real life situations. (Tim Troyer, Chemistry, Teaching Certificate Program)
- The Effect of Journal Writing Upon Mathematical Learning – The purpose of our study was to observe the effects of journal assignments (given for class preparation) upon student performance as well as upon student attitudes in the Calculus 150A course. (Tara Davis & Anneliese Spaeth, Mathematics, TAR Fellows)
Scholarly Teaching? Good Teaching?
Can you be a good teacher without engaging in SoTL? Certainly. Can you be a scholarly teacher without engaging in SoTL? That depends on how one defines the terms “scholarly teaching” and SoTL. Consider the chart below for one way of thinking about these different kinds of teaching.
|Good Teaching||Scholarly Teaching||SoTL|
The following fictional narrative of a young professor demonstrates how good teaching, scholarly teaching and SoTL can intertwine:
Dr. Jackson was an assistant professor of sociology. During her first two years of teaching, she had reasonably clear goals for her students and they seemed to be meeting most of those goals, but she didn’t feel they were leaving her courses with strong writing skills. To improve her teaching of writing, she talked with her department colleagues about the ways they incorporate writing into their courses. According to the above heuristic, one might have said Dr. Jackson was practicing “good teaching” at this time.
Dr. Jackson then started reading articles in Teaching Sociology and other teaching journals. The following year, she experimented with one of the techniques she had read about, having students write short narratives reflecting key principles for each of the course units. Given her use of the literature on teaching and learning, Dr. Jackson was practicing “scholarly teaching” that year.
At the end of that year, Dr. Jackson found that the student’s writing skills seemed to improve, but it became clear to her that few of her students were grasping course themes in meaningful ways. This “problem” sparked a desire to investigate the student’s true understandings of the principles of sociology. The next semester, Dr. Jackson had a sample of students engage in “think alouds” during two different writing assignments (activities in which students verbally narrate their thought processes as they engage in work), surveyed all her students about their learning experiences in the course, and analyzed a sample of student writing for evidence of understanding of these principles. Taken together, these sources of evidence provided Dr. Jackson a much clearer picture of how her students were (and were not) learning in the course. She went on to share her findings at a department meeting, engaging her colleagues in a discussion of these issues. At this point, Dr. Jackson was engaging in the scholarship of teaching and learning.
While referencing scholarly journals and pedagogical writing your field can certainly enhance and improve your teaching, the scholarship of teaching and learning provides an opportunity to problem-solve issues specific to your classroom and your students.
Why do we do SoTL?
Kathleen McKinney provides a variety of functions and reasons why faculty members pursue SoTL projects in her book Enhancing Learning through the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (2007, Jossey-Bass):
- Improve student learning
- Help with classroom and program assessment efforts
- Use in program review and accreditation
- Bring in outside funding
- Add publications, presentations, and performances to faculty accomplishments
- Improve reflection on teaching and learning
- Strengthen budget requests for operational or personnel funds
- Broaden graduate student training and preparing future faculty
- Increase faculty credentials for major internal and external teaching awards
- Demonstrate to faculty job candidates that one values teaching
SoTL can help graduate students and post-docs planning faculty careers to approach teaching as a scholarly act, which can add legitimacy and measured results to your teaching portfolio.
Watch the video message below for a few more thoughts on why one might engage in the scholarship of teaching and learning.
As you develop your interest in the scholarship of teaching and learning, consider these reflection questions:
- How have your approached your teaching in scholarly ways?
- Which of these reasoning for doing SoTL appeals most to you?
- How do you hope engaging in SoTL will affect your teaching?
For more information on the history of SoTL and its role in the academy, see these additional readings:
- “What Is SoTL?“, a brief history by Derek Bruff, part of the CFT’s teaching guide on SoTL
- Enhancing Learning through the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning by Kathleen McKinney (2007, Jossey-Bass), particularly Chapters 1 and 2, available in the CFT library
- “The Birth of a Notion: The Windfalls and Pitfalls of Tailoring a SoTL-like Concept to Scientists, Mathematicians, and Engineers” by Mark R. Connolly, Jana L. Bouwma-Gearhart and Matthew A. Clifford, in Innovative Higher Education
For examples of SoTL projects, visit the Gallery of SoTL projects page or check out this list of SoTL journals maintained by Illinois State University. You will be asked to find and report on an interesting SoTL project later in this module.