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

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1 Scholarship of Teaching and Learning

In this course, we define SoTL as:

systematic and ethically reasoned investigation of aspects of teaching and student learning by applying disciplinary knowledge, resulting in reflections and outcomes that are publicly shared for peer-review and for others to build upon.

SoTL involves educators moving beyond reflection upon their teaching strategies to an intentional, rigorous and systematic inquiry to investigate teaching practices and pedagogical strategies for student learning and engagement.

Educators often employ a disciplinary lens (theoretical and methodological) when conducting SoTL research on the efficacy of student learning. A SoTL inquiry is, therefore, theoretically grounded and methodologically diverse and involves educators reconsidering their long-held pedagogical theories and practices within the context that they are investigating.

When disseminating, SoTL researchers provide rich details about the context of their inquiry for peer-review and to enhance the likelihood that other researchers can build upon or expand their research and pedagogical knowledge (Gayle, 2018).

SoTL practice may influence career development, promotion and the recognition of teaching excellence (Fanghanel et al., 2015).

Shulman (2002) refers to SoTL as ‘a concept of moral action, aimed at cultural change’ (p. vii). Shulman also calls SoTL the ‘pedagogical imperative’: ‘an educator can teach with integrity only if an effort is made to examine the impact of his or her work on the students’. There is an obligation on individual educators, institutions and even on disciplinary communities to systematically engage in critical questioning via/in SoTL on academic and institutional policies and practices that have an impact on students’ learning (Gilpin, 2011).

With SoTL’s focus on student learning, either directly on student learners or indirectly on student learning by looking at academic practice of educators, McKinney et al. (2019) have taken a broad perspective to SoTL and define SoTL as: ‘systematic reflection and/or study of teaching and learning made public’.

This definition is intended to:

  • encourage and support SoTL across disciplinary boundaries
  • be inclusive of partnerships in SoTL research; for example, educators, learning designers, content creators, data analysts, tutors, educational researchers and students
  • emphasise that SoTL investigations are on a continuum from reflections on academic practice in an individual classroom or involving a small group of students to formal investigations at departmental or institutional levels, and from local and informal to international and traditional ways of making SoTL public.

SoTL research is distinct from educational research. Educational research is conducted by scholars whose discipline is education and tends to rely on more traditional education or social science research methods, often quantitative. SoTL is a practitioner type of research where teachers want ‘to deepen their understanding of their teaching practices and to improve the quality of their student learning’ (Stierer and Antoniou, 2004, p. 275). SoTL, unlike educational research, embraces diverse approaches to conducting reflection and research on teaching and learning, including situating the inquiry in one or more disciplines, and builds a cross-disciplinary evidence base for effective learning and teaching practices.

Activity 1 What are the key characteristics of SoTL?

Timing: Allow approximately 10 minutes

Watch the following Center for Engaged Learning video from start to 04:14, and consider the question: What are the characteristics of SoTL that the five speakers have touched upon?

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Video 1 Key characteristics of SoTL
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Key Characteristics of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] video by Center for Engaged Learning, Elon University, licenses/ by-nc-nd/ 4.0/

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SoTL is a systematic, rigorous and reflective approach that enquires about student learning; one or more research questions guide the way the research is designed and conducted in a cyclical manner to collect evidence, draw conclusions to answer the questions and to ask new questions.