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

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1.3.2 Generalisable results in SoTL

In SoTL research, a large, representative group of students will be required to increase the generalisability of the outcomes of a SoTL inquiry. Yet, by definition, much SoTL work is local, within a module or with a group of students on that module, and involves a small number of research participants.

Poole (2013) cautions that some rigorous and insightful SoTL research shouldn’t be dismissed as non-research because it does not provide proof or generalisable simplicities. In fact, Poole reminds us that the purpose of SoTL research should shift from an imperative of proof to an imperative of understanding. He goes on to say that SoTL research is within a learning context and it can’t be assumed that such contexts do not matter by erroneously expecting broad generalisability of findings.

We encourage application and replication [in SoTL], but only with careful attention to context, and exploring the factors that make some approaches transferable to other settings.

(Grauerholz and Main, 2013, p. 158)

Indeed, a clear description and understanding of the context of the SoTL inquiry might be the best contribution SoTL research can make.

Activity 2 Challenges in conducting SoTL research

Timing: Allow approximately 10 minutes

As you watch this Center for Engaged Learning video (from 13:50 to the end), make notes on the tensions in SoTL that Gary Poole from The University of British Columbia and Sherry Lee Linkon from Georgetown University are discussing.

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Video 2 Controversies, debates and tensions in SoTL
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Controversies, Debates and Tensions in SoTL [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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Gary discusses one of the tensions in SoTL, which is diverse perspectives on whether conducting a SoTL project is indeed research as different disciplines have different understanding of what research implies. He refers to his paper on this topic (Poole, 2013).

Gary says that in medical education, his colleagues believe the ‘gold standard’ in research is a randomised control trial: ‘That to them is research’. Gary says that many of his colleagues in medical education need to be convinced that a SoTL inquiry that aims to investigate the complexities of the classroom and which can be valuable in informing an educator’s practice is even research at all. In some disciplines, if there aren’t experiments investigating cause (intervention) and effects, then it isn’t considered research.

Sherry says that SoTL has a variety of cultures as colleagues from different disciplines participate in SoTL. One of the key challenges, Sherry notes, is to figure out how to navigate through these different cultures. She says that SoTL can be grounded in the discipline of the researcher and the researcher should be able to use the theories, methods, approaches, assumptions, culture and values of their discipline when conducting SoTL. Further, Sherry says that it is important to reinforce that there are a number of ways to conduct SoTL, because sometimes researchers are not sure that they are involved in SoTL, even when they are systematically investigating their students’ learning.