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

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

Free course

Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in STEM

1 Starting your SoTL inquiry

In this section, you will watch two videos which will help you to start thinking about the nature of a SoTL inquiry and how to get started with SoTL.

Activity 1 SoTL: Words of wisdom to those starting

Timing: Allow approximately 10 minutes

As you watch this 5 minutes 7 seconds video think about the guidance Gary Poole from The University of British Columbia, Canada gives about starting in SoTL, while talking to his colleague, Nicola Simmons from Brock University. Make some notes below based on his guidance.

Download this video clip.Video player: Video 1
Skip transcript: Video 1 Words of wisdom to those starting

Transcript: Video 1 Words of wisdom to those starting

I think I’d probably say three things. Let’s try with three things, the magic three. First of all, you have good questions. Believe that. You have actually fascinating questions. Some of them have been asked before. Some of them have been answered very well, and you don't know it. And you have to consult the literature to find out. Many of them have not been answered well yet, certainly not in your context. So value your questions. Let's try that as a first kind of principle that I probably have driven a fair bit in individual conversations and workshops in the past.
I'm giving these to you in no particular order, although that one might sit at the top, to be frank. The second three- start small. Start with something you can do. It’s very easy to start thinking about ways of trying to find answers or insights into those questions only to be discouraged by the magnitude at task. This is a little bit of sort of like doing purpose of life research. It gets daunting very quickly. Try not to let that happen. Try to work with something small, yet it will be important. So that's the second piece.
And the third piece, as you know, Nicola, a thing that in the last five or six years has absolutely driven most of my thinking, both in educational development and in SoTL- talk to other people. Start a network. Join a network. It doesn't have to be big, and I'm thinking here, of course, about the work of Torgny Roxa and Katarina Martensson and their notion of all significant networks- people who meet over coffee, people who meet at a photocopier, to the extent that we still use photocopiers. I was going to say water cooler. You know, there are actually places with water coolers still. I'm amazed, but that sort of thing.
I work in a research centre that tries to stop work at noon, come out into a common area, sit on couches and chairs, and have people have lunch together. But 80% of the time, we just talk about hilarious drivel. But about 20% of the time, it really becomes helpful. That's my network. It's a huge, huge value of that place that happens to be called the Centre for Health Education Scholarship. And there's a lot going on there, but really, it's about network. So I'm lucky. I found one. I got one.
I feel a certain obligation to help build them and to help people build them. I think there's a whole science that we've yet- a social science that we've yet to fully understand regarding the skills associated with building networks- just to send people away from a workshop and say, OK, talk to your colleagues. See if you can get two or three people back at your home or institution or department to be interested. And we give them no skills. Some people just naturally are good at that.
I’ve been doing this most of my working life. I'm not so sure I am. It isn’t the stuff of introverts. That's for sure- to just walk up to someone and say, I had a couple of interesting questions from the class I had today. Ugh. When you put people in pairs and one of them dominates, why is that? Or whatever the question might be- ask it in a way that the person turns to with that beautifully quizzical look and says, huh- that great, beautiful paralinguistic that can drive a great deal of what we do.
You want to hear someone else say that about a thought you had, and you have an obligation to say that beautiful little monosyllable back. That's the third piece. So you value your questions, you keep them manageable in size, and you find other people who are like minded. Boy, that's an oversimplification of a complex world, but anyway, let’s run with it for a moment.
End transcript: Video 1 Words of wisdom to those starting
Video 1 Words of wisdom to those starting
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).


Gary Poole shares three pieces of wisdom for starting with a SoTL inquiry: a) value your questions and believe that you have good questions; b) start small and manageable; and c) talk to other people; start a network or join a network. He acknowledges that networking doesn’t come naturally to everyone. Often people need to be taught how to discuss their research.

You may recall that, in Session 2, you considered the role of mentoring, community of SoTL practitioners and communities of practice in related areas in providing support and networking opportunities for SoTL.

In the next activity, you will revisit some of the characteristics of a SoTL inquiry that you had encountered in Session 1.

Activity 2 Big Tent Debate in SoTL

Timing: Allow approximately 5 minutes

As you watch this Center for Engaged Learning video from start to 01:24, make notes on the guidance that Pat Hutchings, National Institute of Learning Outcomes Assessment and the Bay View Alliance in the US, gives about starting in SoTL.

Skip transcript: Video 2 Big Tent Debate in SoTL

Transcript: Video 2 Big Tent Debate in SoTL

I think the Big Tent Debate is about whether this is work for a group of specialists that might mean from a particular discipline or subset of disciplines or experts from a broad set of disciplines, or whether it's something that could or should be in the repertoire of all faculty. I believe it's the latter.
I think there should be a place in the work of all faculty, all educators for reflecting seriously on the work they do with students. And by reflecting, I don't just mean sitting back and musing about, though that's a good thing, but really raising deliberate questions, investigating those questions in systematic ways, gathering evidence, kind of hear the same litany over and over again for me. I don't mean that you need to publish it, but I do mean that you need to be systematic about that process and engage in it with other people with whom you share what you discover. I mean, that's an important thing because we're trying to build knowledge and critique and strengthen each other's work, but also because that's a self-discipline that helps you understand the meaning you yourself are making out of that process.
End transcript: Video 2 Big Tent Debate in SoTL
Video 2 Big Tent Debate in SoTL
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).

Big Tent Debate 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/

Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).


Pat Hutchings says that the ‘Big Tent Debate’ implies that SoTL is not just conducted by a group of specialists from a particular discipline or subset of disciplines, or experts from a broad set of disciplines, but that SoTL should be in the repertoire of all educators.

Pat then outlines the stages of a SoTL inquiry: educators reflect on their work with students; raise deliberate questions and investigate those questions in systematic ways; gather evidence; and engage with others to share the outcomes of a SoTL inquiry.

Pat emphasises that educators need to be systematic about the process of sharing the outcomes of a SoTL inquiry and in engaging with others. This process of sharing helps to build knowledge, receive critique and to strengthen each other’s work. Conducting an inquiry with a view of sharing with others engenders self-discipline and helps to extract and give meanings from what has been achieved from the SoTL inquiry and from the process of sharing.


Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to University-level study, we offer two introductory routes to our qualifications. You could either choose to start with an Access module, or a module which allows you to count your previous learning towards an Open University qualification. Read our guide on Where to take your learning next for more information.

Not ready for formal University study? Then browse over 1000 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus371