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Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in STEM
Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in STEM

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5.2.2 Where to search: databases and Google Scholar

Searching for literature for a SoTL inquiry involves looking at sources in discipline-based research, in the area of education, in the technology-enabled learning domain if the inquiry involves technologies, peer-reviewed sources and internal reports within your institution, and key SoTL journals and conferences. You may also check whether your institution has a SoTL repository where outputs of SoTL inquiries are stored. You can use a search engine to find relevant blogs, other SoTL researchers and multimedia resources.

Institutional digital libraries are a good place to start to search for relevant sources for your SoTL inquiry. Most digital libraries have federated search engines, which search across all kinds of resources and disciplines and generally order the results of search as per relevance to the keywords. So, you may like to use the keywords to first search via the federated search and to get an early feel of the literature in your area of interest and researchers/authors. As you search and scan through the first few sets of search results, you may like to refine the keywords based on the relevance of the search results for your inquiry.

If you already know which databases to search, for example, in your discipline or in the area of education, then you could start with those instead of or alongside the federated search. You may like to check with your mentor, or the STEM pedagogy centre, if you have such a centre in your institution, or your colleagues experienced in SoTL if they can suggest a few sources or library databases to get you started with the literature search.

In addition, there are several open access online or traditional cross/interdisciplinary SoTL journals such as Teaching & Learning Inquiry [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] , The Canadian Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, and Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning.

Talking with colleagues in other disciplines is another way to learn about resources and relevant literature that cross disciplinary boundaries (Dewar et al., 2018). Sometimes discussions with colleagues about the proposed SoTL inquiry and literature may lead to collaborations. Projects can benefit from interactions not just with STEM colleagues, but with sociologists, psychologists, linguists, learning design specialists and historians too (Dewar et al., 2018).

Working from reference lists and bibliographies has traditionally been a valuable research strategy, and this is particularly true in the area of SoTL. Utilising bibliographies in extant articles or websites as a starting point could potentially save hours of time, and in some cases may be critical to success. You may also like to check out this SoTL Annotated Literature Database curated by Nicola Simmons, which provides brief annotated bibliographies of some key issues as a ‘point of entry’ into relevant higher education topics to provide a starting point for your inquiries.You may like to use online search engines such as Google Scholar, which will search a broad set of resources, including items that are sometimes not available through the institutional library, and you could use Google Books for searching books.

WorldCat is a union catalogue of over 10,000 libraries around the world. It can be used as a tool for identifying books and other materials which may not be covered by Google Scholar. There are no full text links from WorldCat, so it’s not as good as Google Scholar in that respect. Nevertheless, WorldCat provides details of resources related to your search and then you may have to use other ways including your institutional library to procure them.

Other sources are CORE which aggregates open access research outputs from repositories and journals worldwide and make them available to the public. Directory of Open Access Books and Directory of Open Access Journals are other ways to access open access resources.

This helpsheet on advanced search techniques on the OU Library website provides search techniques on how to use keywords and combine them for an effective search.

If you come across resources that are relevant and pertinent for your inquiry, you can use citation searching, which involves searching for related papers in the references list of each resource. Google Scholar provides citations against each of the papers in the search results, so you could look at papers that have cited key resources that you have identified for relevance for your literature review.

If databases do not provide the full text of a resource, then seek out items of interest from other sources such as an interlibrary loan via your institutional library, or by contacting the publisher.