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

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1.1 SoTL and educational research

Educational research has traditionally been the province of educators in departments of education, or, in some disciplines, educational researchers. SoTL, on the other hand, invites involvement by educators across the full spectrum of disciplines and departments where the main aspiration is to change practice with immediate effect on student learning and teaching practice.

Claims about contributions to the theoretical knowledge base are made in SoTL, but these claims are not the prime objective; rather, they are motives for change and are therefore secondary. However, the education research community’s aspirations appear to be more about confirming and augmenting the field’s collective knowledge base, whereas the immediacy of the impact and the effect on practice is somewhat secondary or implicit (Larsson et al., 2020).

Geertsema (2016) highlights the problems for educators when SoTL is ‘conflated with educational research’ (p. 126) and warns that it is neither realistic nor helpful to expect educators engaging with SoTL to develop a parallel expertise in education that would be comparable in degree to their disciplinary expertise.

Grant (2018) reinforces that an all-round expertise is not required for SoTL:

Remembering that we don’t need to become experts in everything before taking first steps [in SoTL] and that our own disciplinary expertise provides the necessary lens for us to take a closer look at teaching and learning in our discipline-specific classrooms [and] can provide the confidence we need as we begin to engage with the language and practices of educational research and SoTL. (p. 35)

Hutchings (2000) envisions a positive, mutually beneficial relationship between SoTL and educational research and synergistic possibilities rather than rigid boundaries:

Indeed these communities…enrich one another. [SoTL] may open up new questions that, over time, prompt major new lines of educational research. Educational research may suggest models and strategies that can be explored in the scholarship of teaching and learning and in scholarly teaching practice. (p. 9)

Svinicki (2012) also tackles the challenging question of ‘how well someone needs to understand both the discipline and the theories and methods of educational research to be entitled to engage in SoTL’ (p. 1). However, rather than requiring expertise in educational theory, Svinicki advocates for the SoTL community to encourage teams of researchers with differing academic expertise to work together over time in the pursuit of credible and significant teaching and learning research.