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SoTL Scholars Program

Program Components ||  Goals ||  Application  || FAQs

The SoTL Scholars Program introduces selected graduate students and post-docs from Vanderbilt to the principles and practices of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, an international, multidisciplinary field of disciplinary specialists studying student learning. SoTL (pronounced “sō-tul” in the U.S.) is a synthesis of teaching, learning, and research in higher education that aims to bring a scholarly lens—the curiosity, the inquiry, the rigor, the disciplinary variety—to what happens in the classroom. SoTL is highly valued professional work on many college and university campuses, particularly those that prioritize teaching.

Hasina Mohyuddin, 2013-14 SoTL Scholar*

Vivian Finch, 2013-14 SoTL Scholar*

SoTL asks disciplinary experts to apply and extend their research lens to the classroom. It begins with asking questions about student learning, followed by gathering and analyzing a variety of evidence of learning to answer these questions.  This evidence often takes the form of essays, in-class writings, concept maps, minute papers or muddiest points, observations, questionnaires, relevant portions of exams, et al. For more explanation of SoTL, see the CFT’s SoTL Guide, which serves as the e-textbook for the Program.

"Key Characteristics of SoTL" (Click image to view video.)

The SoTL Scholars Program is co-directed by Nancy Chick (CFT Assistant Director, who brings years of SoTL experience and expertise, including co-founding and co-editing a major SoTL journal) and a CFT Graduate Teaching Fellow who has completed the Program.

The spring 2015 seminar will be held on 8 Thursdays (January 8 through February 26) from 3:30 to 4:45 at the CFT.

Email Assistant Director Nancy Chick at

* Read Hasina’s and Vivian’s blog posts reflecting on their year in the SoTL Scholars Program, as well as Andrew Greer‘s (SoTL Scholar, 2012-13) blog post about his SoTL project.

Program Components

The Program has two sequential parts, each of which is taught in a collaborative workshop- and discussion-based setting:

  • a one-semester SoTL Seminar to explore the fundamentals of the scholarship of teaching and learning (its major thinkers and texts, its key concepts and language, and its relationship to older forms of classroom research) and ask meaningful questions about student learning and its relationship to teaching. (Spring semester: 8 sessions, 75 minutes each)
  • "Getting Started" from CFT's SoTL Guide

  • a one-semester SoTL Practicum to design and carry out a SoTL project (documented in either the first eight pages of a publishable SoTL paper or a 20-minute presentation of the project, ready for submission to a SoTL conference) and gain the skills for presenting the project in scholarly public forums, including relevant conference presentations and publications. (Fall semester: 8 hours over the semester, scheduled with fellow Scholars and director)

Participants may choose to take just the Seminar, but only those who compete the Seminar and Practicum will receive a Certificate in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. In addition to the Certificate, finishers will have written the first eight pages of a publishable SoTL paper or prepared a SoTL conference presentation.

The Seminar is a discussion-based exploration of key readings and concepts in SoTL, and the Practicum is project based, intended to support and guide Scholars as they design and carry out their own individual or collaborative SoTL projects. Practicum participants (and thus those who seek the SoTL Certificate) may expect…

Ongoing mentorship. SoTL Scholars may request one-on-one consultations with the Program director and the co-teaching CFT Graduate Teaching Fellow. As relevant, Nancy may also connect individual participants with outside scholars with expertise on specific projects.

Development and completion of a SoTL project. Practicum participants will investigate student learning in their own classrooms, in a peer’s classroom, or in a faculty host’s classroom.  To accommodate the array of access and experience of teaching at Vanderbilt, SoTL Scholars may focus on their own classes or–if they’re not teaching–someone else’s, with permission. (For more explanation and examples of SoTL projects, click the FAQs tab.) Alternatively, they may research and write a literature review, systematic review, or meta-analysis of existing SoTL research to more deeply understand the evidence and theory of a specific aspect of teaching and learning and to help advance the field.

Documentation for publication or presentation. The projects will be completed by the end of the academic year, demonstrated by sharing out at an end-of-year campus event and either the first eight pages of a SoTL paper with the goal of publication, or a 20-minute SoTL presentation of the project, ready for submission to a conference. An introduction to each of these genres (SoTL publication and presentation) is part of the Program’s curriculum, so participants will have instruction and support in preparing their final products.

Program Learning Goals

After completing the SoTL Scholars Program, participants will be able to do the following:

  • identify the history of SoTL, including its major thinkers and texts, its key principles and language, and its relationship to older forms of classroom research
  • ask meaningful questions about their students’ learning and its relationship to their own teaching—and answer them meaningfully
  • recognize the value of using both qualitative and quantitative methods to more fully capture evidence of student learning
  • develop and carry out a SoTL project, documented in either the first eight pages of a publishable SoTL paper or a 20-minute presentation of the project, ready for submission to a SoTL conference.
  • gain skills for presenting the project in scholarly public forums, including relevant conference presentations and publications

Program Application

To apply for the Seminar, simply fill in the form below (without the application form). To apply for the Practicum, please also complete this brief application form, which includes

  • a cover sheet requiring your DGS’s signature,* and
  • the substantive application of a brief (500 words or fewer) statement of your teaching philosophy and the issues of student learning that interest you.

Please send any questions to

* The Scholars Program asks participants to begin with the support from their departments. We find that participants who begin with support from their DGS are more committed to the Program and ultimately develop projects that are much more meaningful to them. (If this is a problem, please email Nancy.)

SoTL Scholars Application Form
Applications for the Spring 2015 Seminar are now being accepted until December 22.

First Name (required)

Last Name (required)

Department (required)

Your Email (required)

If you’re applying for the Practicum, please upload your application form here.

SoTL Scholars

Frequently Asked Questions

What do you mean by “SoTL Project”?

A SoTL project begins with asking a question about student learning, followed by developing a plan to gather and analyze a variety of evidence of learning to answer this question, culminating in sharing this work publicly to build to the body of knowledge about how university-level students learn.

See the CFT’s SoTL Guide for more introduction to SoTL. Participants in this Program (specifically in the Practicum) will be guided through every step of the process and given ongoing feedback as they carry out their projects.

What are some examples of SoTL projects?

The “Getting Started” page in the CFT’s SoTL Guide briefly explains the different kinds of projects. The PDF at the bottom of the page (also linked in the image above) offers some preparatory questions and then gives some examples.

How much time each semester will I spend on this Program?

The program participants will meet together for eight 75-minute sessions in the spring (Seminar) and eight hours in the fall (Practicum).  (Schedule TBA.)  Each session is designed to support your orientation to the scholarship of teaching and learning–both understanding it (Seminar) and practicing it (Practicum).  However, some of the work (reading, reflecting, writing, teaching or working with your student subjects, gathering and analyzing evidence) will need to be done in between meeting times.

Can I take just the Seminar or just the Practicum?

You may sign up for the spring Seminar and choose to end your work there, without participating in the fall Practicum. However, only those who complete the Seminar-Practicum sequence will receive the Certificate in SoTL.

Practicum participants must first complete the Seminar.

What if I miss a meeting? / What if the meeting schedule doesn’t work for me?

Given the collaborative focus of the meetings in which participants give ongoing support and feedback on project development and design, participants should make every effort to attend all meetings each semester. However, we do know that sometimes scheduling conflicts arise and you may miss a meeting. With that in mind, we’ll follow the general rule that if you miss more than two meetings in any one semester, you’ll be asked to leave the Program but are welcome to apply again in a future semester when you have more time.

Do I need to be teaching my own course in order to successfully complete this program?

No. Since not all graduate students are instructors of record, you may participate in the Practicum by identifying an instructor-of-record “host” who will grant you access access to his or her students for your project (e.g., surveying the students, analyzing a set of anonymous papers or exams, or gathering evidence of their learning in some other way relevant to your project). This host may be another TA or a faculty member. The host may be in your department, or another. The students should be an appropriate demographic for your question about student learning. You’ll work out the details of this plan early in the Program and in agreement with this instructor of record–and in accordance with Vanderbilt’s Institutional Review Board (IRB).

Alternatively, you may research and write a systematic review or meta-analysis of existing SoTL research to help advance the field. Nancy will introduce this genre and guide you through it if you choose this option.

What if I need more than two semesters to complete my project?

Sometimes, completing the final stages of a SoTL project takes more time than anticipated.  Sometimes, life intervenes with plans. If you’re not finished with your project by the end of the academic year, you should continue to work toward completion on your own (with as-needed consultation by CFT Assistant Director Nancy Chick and/or a CFT Graduate Teaching Fellow), and you will receive your certificate when you are finished.

Is the Certificate in College Teaching a prerequisite for this program?

No, the Certificate is not a prerequisite. However, we do anticipate that those individuals who complete the Certificate before completing this program will have the advantage of a more extensive understanding of some of the recent literature in teaching and learning, and thus might have an easier time identifying a potential topic to study.

Can I complete the Certificate in College Teaching while simultaneously completing this program?

We’d prefer that you didn’t. Each segment of the Certificate requires about 10 hours of your time. This program would add an additional time commitment on top of that. For most graduate students, that’s simply too much to take on in the average academic year. If you’re in your last year of study at Vanderbilt, we suggest that you choose between the two programs.

What if I’ve already completed the former Teaching Certificate Program; can I still participate in this program if I want to?

Yes.  The SoTL Scholars Program is different enough (see below) that any Teaching Certificate recipient is welcome to participate.

Questions about the Former “Teaching as Research” Program

What happened to the funding awards?

The funding that TAR Fellows received in the past were derived from a grant awarded by CIRTL. That funding was discontinued in the 2011-12 academic year.

Is this program still related to CIRTL?

While this program is partly based on the TAR Fellows model, it is no longer sponsored by CIRTL, but it may continue to make use of some of the larger CIRTL Network’s resources and alliances.

Questions about “Cycle Three” of the Former Teaching Certificate Program

How does the SoTL Scholars Program differ from the old Cycle Three of the Teaching Certificate Program?

Here’s how the two program differ:

  • Time Commitment: The time commitment in both programs is similar: each takes place within two academic semesters with about eight hours of scheduled group meeting time to design and implement a scholarly project on student learning.
  • Program Leadership: In Cycle Three, participants met with a Graduate Teaching Fellow (GTF) trained to lead this group. SoTL Scholars Program participants will meet both as a group and in one-on-one consultations (as needed) under the leadership of Nancy Chick, CFT Assistant Director, who also designed the Program.  Nancy brings years of SoTL experience and expertise, as well as publications and presentations in both disciplinary and interdisciplinary venues.  She is founding co-editor of Teaching & Learning Inquiry, peer-reviewed scholarly journal of the the International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (ISSOTL).
  • IRB Approval: Cycle Three did not require participants to seek IRB approval since many of the projects were shared only within the Vanderbilt community. Because SoTL Scholars will share their projects more widely, including developing plans to present their work at conferences or through publications, they will seek IRB approval early in the program year.
  • DGS Sign-Off: Whereas participants in Cycle Three weren’t required to inform their DGS of their participation in the program, the Scholars Program asks participants to begin with the support from their departments. We find that participants who begin with support from their DGS develop projects that are much more meaningful to them. This initial contact based on Program participation will ideally lead to support and encouragement once the project is under way and perhaps even a venue for showcasing once it’s complete. (If this is a problem, please email Nancy.)


Resources for SoTL Scholars



From the CFT Blog

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