If you are interested in contributing to the growing body of scholarship of teaching and learning, here are some suggestions, examples, and resources that may help you move your SoTL project forward.
It has been over a quarter of a century since Ernest Boyer (1990) called for an expansion of the definition of scholarship in higher education to include the “scholarship of teaching” (now more commonly known as the scholarship of teaching and learning, abbreviated SoTL) among the types of scholarship that institutions should recognize when evaluating faculty. Hutchings, Huber, and Ciccone (2011) expanded Boyer’s argument for the importance of SoTL in higher education by noting that SoTL can transform institutions in four domains:
- improving the quality of teaching and learning in courses and curricula;
- contributing to faculty development in ways that enhance teaching effectiveness;
- addressing the increasing demands for accountability and assessment of student learning; and
- incentivizing faculty to conduct pedagogical research that improves courses and curricula.
SoTL adheres to the same standards of scholarly work as other forms of scholarship: articulation of clear research goals, adequate preparation by the researcher, use of appropriate research methods, significant results that contribute to the literature, effective presentation of the work, and reflective critique such as via the incorporation of peer review (Glassick, Huber, & Maeroff, 1997). SoTL differs from traditional disciplinary research primarily in that its inquiry focuses on student learning, on how students develop the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and habits of the discipline (Felten, 2013). Felten articulates principles of good practice that contextualize for SoTL the standards of scholarship articulated by Glassick, Huber, and Maaeroff: SoTL involves inquiry that is focused on student learning, is grounded in scholarly and local (disciplinary, institutional) context, is methodologically sound, is conducted in partnership with students (via informed consent or as co-researchers), and is made appropriately public. Each of these principles of good practice will be discussed further in relevant sections of this article.
If you are interested in contributing to the growing body of scholarship of teaching and learning, here are some suggestions, examples, and resources that may help you move your SoTL project forward.
Know your Institutional, College, and School/Departmental Culture
Despite the growing acceptance of SoTL as a legitimate and valued form of scholarship, there are institutional and disciplinary differences in recognition of SoTL as scholarship, and there may be different perceptions among tenured and pre-tenured faculty on what constitutes SoTL (Secret, et al., 2011). Before you consider developing a SoTL project, talk to your chair, director, or peers (particularly those who serve on promotion and tenure committees) for their perspectives on the value of SoTL. In addition, consult your institution’s and department’s promotion and tenure policies for statements on whether and how SoTL will contribute to your portfolio. For example, the “Scholarship and Creative Activity” section of the 2016-2017 Kennesaw State University Faculty Handbook (p. 67) states “KSU recognizes publishing in pedagogical journals or making educationally focused presentations at disciplinary and inter-disciplinary gatherings that advance the scholarship of teaching and curricular innovation or practice.” Your College’s, school’s, or department’s promotion and tenure guidelines may provide further articulation on how SoTL is recognized.
Become Familiar with Expectations for Producing a Quality SoTL Product
SoTL researchers follow the same stages in developing their projects as faculty conducting other forms of research: identifying a research question; designing and conducting the research; and disseminationg their findings via presentations and publications in professional venues. This section will provide brief overviews of these stages. For those interested in exploring the process further, Bishop-Clark and Dietz-Uhler (2013) offer an extensive introduction to these stages, and they provide helpful worksheets to track progress throughout the project. In addition, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching prepared a PowerPoint tutorial for beginning SoTL researchers that is currently available from the Faculty Center for Teaching & Learning at the University of Central Florida.
Identify a Research Question
As Felten (2013) articulated in his principles of good practice, SoTL researchers select questions that focus on teaching and student learning with sensitivity to their institutional contexts. In addition, they consult past research on the question and consider ways of contributing to that body of knowledge by conducting research. There are both disciplinary and interdisciplinary approaches to articulating a research question. Within a given discipline, the research question may focus on how students develop the knowledge, skills, and attitudes of experts in that discipline. Pace and Mittendorf (2004) developed the Decoding the Disciplines process to encourage faculty within a discipline to explore common bottlenecks students encounter when mastering the discipline and to develop strategies that address these bottlenecks such as modeling, deliberate practice, constructive feedback, and incentives.
Another approach to conducting SoTL is to examine research questions that cross the boundaries of a discipline and that may contribute to interdisciplinary conversations. Faculty across disciplines share similar challenges such as adapting face-to-face courses to online delivery, promoting academic integrity, teaching controversial issues, adopting active learning pedagogies, and assessing student learning. Strategies that address these challenges in the context of one discipline may be adaptable to other disciplines. Ambrose et al. (2010) describe seven principles of learning that are common to all disciplines (e.g., student motivation, course climate, the prior knowledge students bring to the classroom, how practice and feedback affect learning) that may serve as a foundation for SoTL projects. The American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) publishes the journals Liberal Education, Peer Review, and Diversity & Democracy, which describe how institutions and faculty from various disciplines have explored common challenges in higher education. In 2004, an international group of scholars founded the International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (ISSOTL) to promote cross-disciplinary dialogue on SOTL; ISSOTL hosts an annual international conference and publishes the journal, Teaching and Learning Inquiry.
Hutchings (2000) suggested a taxonomy of research questions in SoTL, two of which are the most common starting points for faculty beginning SoTL work, “What is” and “What works”
What is. A “what is” project involves research focused on elucidating factors that may contribute to student learning such as classroom activities, innovative pedagogies, or the characteristics of teachers, students, or institutions. Here are some types of SoTL projects that focus on “what is” with exemplars of publications authored or co-authored by faculty members at KSU. All of these publications were partially supported by funding through CETL’s annual SoTL Retreat.
- Douglas Lindsey, Lecturer in the School of Music, described pedagogical techniques he uses in his trumpet studio to help students explore their creativity (Lindsey, 2015). Some academic journals publish similar narrative summaries of the innovative strategies faculty have developed so that others may adapt them for their own classes. (Lindsey wrote a blog entry on his website that discusses his approach.)
- Some “what is” research may include surveys of students or analysis of student work to explore common patterns of student errors that teachers may need to address. Woong Lim, formerly an Assistant Professor in the Department of Secondary and Middle Grades Education, collaborated with colleagues at other institutions to explore how teacher candidates used academic language to describe their teaching and to design their lesson plans. Lim and his colleagues discovered that many teacher candidates equated academic language with teaching content vocabulary and did not articulate other ways that teachers can use academic language strategically to support student learning (Lim, Moseley, Son, & Seelke, 2014). This study is an example of research that attempts to articulate a common bottleneck to student learning within the discipline of teacher education. The identification of a bottleneck is a critical first step in the Decoding the Disciplines process that can lead to follow-up research exploring how to help students overcome the bottleneck.
- Another type of “what is” research describes faculty development strategies that may improve student learning. Julie Moore, Associate Professor of Instructional Technology, and Joya Carter-Hicks, Associate Professor of Inclusive Education, discuss how they facilitated a three-year critical friends group, a professional learning community in which faculty members shared examples of student work, followed protocols for group reflection of the work, and discussed strategies for adapting teaching to improve the quality of future work (Moore & Carter-Hicks, 2014).
What works. Some SoTL researchers investigate “what works” by conducting causal or comparative research to ascertain whether or which teaching strategies are effective in improving student learning. These studies typically include direct measures of student learning such as student performance on exams, papers, or assignments; observer ratings of the quality of student presentations, collaborative skills, or other work products; or changes in student attitudes relevant to the discipline as measured via standardized inventories or content analyses of student self-reflections. These studies may also include indirect measures that assess student perceptions of their learning via surveys, interviews, or journaling. Direct and indirect measures may also be used in “what is” studies. For example, Lim, et al. (2014) used both direct (assessment of student lesson plans) and indirect (study survey) measures to assess how students use academic language in their teaching.
Here are examples of publications by KSU faculty members that articulate “what works” in their classes to improve student learning. These publications were partially supported by funding through CETL’s annual SoTL Retreat.
- Hillary Steiner, Associate Professor in the Department of First-Year and Transition Studies, described a pedagogy she developed to promote self-regulated learning among first-year students. She trained four instructors to incorporate the pedagogy in their first-year seminars. During the semester, students wrote reflection papers articulating the learning strategies they used in their courses and reported the test grades they achieved in those courses. Most students who reported improvements in test grades over the semester attributed their success to adopting the self-regulation strategies taught by their instructors, and most who reported declines in test grades attributed their declines to their failure to adopt strategies (Steiner, 2016).
- Charles Wynn, Associate Professor of History Education, Richard Mosholder, Associate Professor of Psychology, and Carolee Larsen, Lecturer of Sociology, compared differences in the critical thinking skills that first-year history students develop in three different learning environments: (1) a problem-based learning community in which a cohort of students practice problem-based skills in a history course and two other courses (first-year seminar and psychology); (2) a stand-alone history course that incorporates problem-based learning, and (3) a history course taught in a lecture format. They assessed students using a validated measure of critical thinking skills, and they collected additional measures of student engagement in the history course and how the history course contributed to their critical thinking. Students in the learning community exhibited more growth in critical thinking skills and reported being more engaged in the history course, and students in the lecture course exhibited the least growth in critical thinking and reported the least engagement (Wynn, Mosholder, & Larsen, 2014).
Design and Conduct the Research
Felten (2013) recommends that SoTL research should be “grounded in context” and “methodologically sound.” There are different approaches that researchers may employ when conducting SoTL in the types of questions to pose, the research methods to employ, and the most effective manners in which to present work (McKinney, 2013).
- Some researchers adopt the scientific method, conduct quantitative analyses, and analyze data using inferential statistics. For recommendations on how to conduct SoTL research using the scientific method, consult a special issue of the journal New Directions in Teaching and Learning edited by Gurung and Wilson (2013).
- Other researchers conduct action research in which faculty and students (and perhaps administrators) are participant researchers exploring strategies to address a challenge of practice related to teaching and student learning. Ryan (2013) articulates strategies for using action research in SoTL.
- Some researchers take a narrative approach, conducting close reading and textual analysis of student work. For example, Chick, Hassel, and Haynie (2009) describe a lesson study approach they developed to examine how students in introductory literature courses develop skills in reading complex texts. Pace (2011) describes how he used the Decoding the Disciplines process in a history course to articulate difficulties students face in selecting appropriate evidence to support an argument and in articulating the connection between the evidence and the argument in their writing. The Faculty Center for Teaching and Learning at the University of Central Florida provides additional examples of SoTL projects that examine qualitative evidence.
- SoTL projects may take a mixed methods approach. For example, the research described earlier by Steiner (2016) and Wynn, Mosholder and Larsen (2014) employed components of both the scientific method and the narrative approach.
Institutional Review Boards. Because SoTL research involves human subjects (i.e., students), researchers are obligated to adhere to ethical guidelines to protect their students from harm (Felten, 2013). This is of particular concern because students may feel coerced to participate in their instructor’s research. Linder, Elek, and Calderon (2014) and Martin (2013) discuss the rationale and common procedures for submitting a SoTL project for review by an Institutional Review Board (IRB). Members of the IRB will determine whether the research adheres to federal regulations for human subjects research as well as any policies specific to the academic institution where the research is conducted. SoTL researchers should undergo IRB training and submit their projects to the IRB prior to collecting data. Felten (2013) also encourages SoTL researchers to invite students as collaborators in all stages of the project in order to promote shared responsibility for the improvement of teaching and student learning.
Disseminate Findings through Presentations and Publications
Felten’s (2013) final principle of good practice in SoTL is for the researcher to “go public” and disseminate the work through presentations and publications. The venues for faculty to read, discuss, present, and publish SoTL are numerous and growing. Witman and Richlin (2007) provide an extensive list of professional associations representing 20 disciplines that support SoTL. There are currently hundreds of disciplinary and interdisciplinary academic journals that publish SoTL and hundreds of teaching conferences each year in which faculty present and discuss SoTL work. Before selecting a venue for presenting or publishing your work, consult with your chair, director, or peers for advice on the venues that they most value when evaluating the quality of scholarship for annual review or decisions on promotion and tenure. If your work is suitable for a journal that may be unfamiliar to potential evaluators, consider how to articulate the quality and significance of the work. Ruchensky and Huss (2014) describe strategies for articulating the quality and significance of SoTL research in portfolios for tenure and promotion.
Smith (2013), a former editor of the journal, Teaching of Psychology, provides useful advice on how to prepare SoTL manuscripts in ways that address common reasons that reviewers cite for rejecting manuscripts. One of Smith’s main recommendations is to encourage researchers to improve the quality of their writing, focusing on clarity, coherence, and concision. For example, authors in academia often write in the passive voice, which tends to be wordier and more difficult for a reader to comprehend than the active voice. Smith also encourages authors to write in a way that “tells a story” that the reader comprehend the connections among studies in a literature review and follow the logic of the author’s argument for conducting the study.
Become Part of a Supportive Community
Academic institutions may provide support for faculty conducting SoTL, particularly if the institution has a center for faculty development or a center for teaching and learning. Pusateri (2015) discusses initiatives that support faculty development on scholarly teaching and on conducting the scholarship of teaching and learning such as SoTL-focused discussion groups, faculty learning communities, writing retreats, and research or travel funding. Some colleges or departments may support SoTL initiatives for their faculty, such as the critical friends group described earlier in this article (Moore & Carter-Hicks, 2014). Faculty may also obtain support from professional organizations that manage SoTL-focused workshops, electronic discussion lists, committees, and funding opportunities. For example, ISSOTL members can join several interest groups focused on specific disciplines (arts and humanities, sociology) or interdisciplinary issues (e.g., undergraduate research, decoding the disciplines, problem-based learning).
Hutchings and Shulman (1999) argued that the scholarship of teaching and learning “is the mechanism through which the profession of teaching itself advances, through which teaching can be something other than a seat-of-the-pants operations with each of us out there making it up as we go” (p.14). It is my hope that the resources, examples, and suggestions in this article will be useful to faculty interested in joining the conversation on our teaching and our students’ learning.
Boyer, E. L. (1990). Scholarship reconsidered: Priorities of the professorate. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Bishop-Clark, C., & Dietz-Uhler, B. (2012). Engaging in the scholarship of teaching and learning: A guide to the process, and how to develop a project from start to finish. Sterling, VA: Stylus.
Chick, N. L., Hassel, H., & Haynie, A. (2009). Pressing an ear against the hive: Reading literature for complexity. Pedagogy, (3), 399-422. (Available via KSU's library)
Felten, P. (2013). Principles of good practice in SoTL. Teaching & Learning Inquiry, 1(1), 121-125. (Available via KSU's library)
Glassick, C. E., Huber, M. T., & Maeroff, G. I. (1997). Scholarship assessed: Evaluation of the professoritate. San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass.
Gurung, R. A. R., & Wilson, J. H. (Eds.). (2013). Doing the scholarship of teaching and learning: Measuring systematic changes to teaching and improvements in learning [Special issue]. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 136. Available online at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/tl.2013.2013.issue-136/issuetoc
Hutchings, P. (2000). Opening lines: Approaches to the scholarship of teaching and learning. Stanford, CA: Carnegie Foundation.
Hutching, P., Huber, M. T., & Ciccone, A. (2011). The scholarship of teaching and learning reconsidered: Institutional integration and impact. Stanford, CA: The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning.
Hutchings, P. & Shulman, L. S. (1999, September/October). The scholarship of teaching: New elaborations, new developments. Change, 31(5), 10-15. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00091389909604218
Lim, W., Moseley, L. J., Son, J., & Seelke, J. (2014). A snapshot of teacher candidates’ readiness for incorporating academic language in lesson plans. Current Issues in Middle Level Education, 19(2), 1-8. Available at https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ1087707
Linder, K. E., Elek, E. D., & Calderon, L. (2014). SoTL and the institutional review board: Considerations before navigating the application process for classroom research in higher education. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 14(2), 1-14. Available at https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ1034593
Lindsey, D. (2015, March). Cultivating creativity in the trumpet studio. International Trumpet Guild Journal. 56-57.
Martin, R. C. (2013). Navigating the IRB: The Ethics of SoTL. In R. A. R. Gurung & J. H. Wilson (Eds.). Doing the scholarship of teaching and learning: Measuring systematic changes to teaching and improvements in learning [Special issue] (pp. 73-83). New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 136. (Available via KSU's library)
McKinney, K. (Ed.). (2013). The scholarship of teaching and learning in and across the disciplines. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.
Moore, J., A., & Carter-Hicks, J. Let’s talk! Facilitating a faculty learning community using a critical friends group approach. International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 8(2), Article 9. Retrieved from http://digitalcommons.georgiasouthern.edu/ij-sotl/vol8/iss2/9/
Pace, D. (2011). Assessment in history: The case for “decoding” the discipline. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 11(3), 107-119. Available at https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ956748
Pace, D., & Middendorf, J. (2004). Decoding the disciplines: Helping students learn disciplinary ways of thinking [Special issue]. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 98. (Available via KSU's library)
Pusateri, T. P. (2015). How SoTL can contribute to faculty development and institutional decisions. In R. A. Smith & B. M. Schwartz (Eds.), Using SoTL to enhance your academic position. Retrieved from the Society for the Teaching of Psychology web site: http://teachpsych.org/ebooks/usingsotl
Ruchensky, J. R., & Huss, M. T. (2015). Making it count: How SoTL can aid in the tenure/promotion process. In R. A. Smith & B. M. Schwartz (Eds.), Using SoTL to enhance your academic position. Retrieved from the Society for the Teaching of Psychology web site: http://teachpsych.org/ebooks/usingsotl
Ryan, T. G. (2013). The scholarship of teaching and learning within action research: Promise and possibilities. i.e.: inquiry in education. 4(2), Article 3. Retrieved from http://digitalcommons.nl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1074&context=ie
Secret, M., Leisey, M., Lanning, S., Polich, S., & Schaub, J. (2011). Faculty perceptions of the scholarship of teaching and learning: Definition, activity level and merit considerations at one university. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 11(3), 1-20. Available at https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ956742
Smith, R. A. (2013). Tell a good story well: Writing tips. In R. A. R. Gurung & J. H. Wilson (Eds.). Doing the scholarship of teaching and learning: Measuring systematic changes to teaching and improvements in learning [Special issue] (pp. 73-83). New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 136. (Available via KSU's library)
Steiner, H. H. (2016). The strategy project: Promoting self-regulated learning through an authentic assignment. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 28(2), 271-282. Available at https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ1111151
Witman, P. D., & Richlin, L. (2007). The status of the scholarship of teaching and learning in the discipline. International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 1(1), Article 14. Available at https://doi.org/10.20429/ijsotl.2007.010114
Wynn, C. T., Sr., Mosholder, R. S., & Larsen, C. A. (2014). Measuring the effects of problem-based learning on the development of postformal thinking skills and engagement of first-year learning community students. Learning Communities Research and Practice, 2(2), Article 4. Available at http://washingtoncenter.evergreen.edu/lcrpjournal/vol2/iss2/4/