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Scholarship of Teaching

What is "Scholarship of Teaching and Learning"?

Victoria Bhavsar, Ph.D. 
Faculty Center for Professional Development

The concept of scholarship of teaching and learning, or SoTL (pronounced -tl) is about 20 years old in higher education. Very briefly, SoTL treats teaching and learning in each discipline as worthy subjects for research by the teachers of that discipline.

The fundamental process of SoTL is the same as other research:

  • Ask a question
  • Design as robust a study as necessary and possible to answer the question
  • Perform the study and data analysis
  • Draw conclusions that may lead to further researchable questions

Although SoTL projects build on and use the findings of pure education or education psychology research, the difference between SoTL and such research is two-fold. First, the SoTL researcher is a disciplinary expert rather than an expert in "education." Second, SoTL research takes place in the unique and relatively uncontrolled world of a specific classroom, instead of a controlled setting.

Faculty members cannot do the same kind of research in the classroom that they do in the lab, the archives, or the field. However, as disciplinary professionals, professors can identify the important learning questions in the disciplines.

For example, professors can ask why it is so difficult for students to grasp a particular concept or why students can't seem to remember certain kinds of information from one quarter to the next. Further, faculty can propose and test solutions to learning problems, and decide if one or more solutions are effective. Finally, the entire process can be presented to peers in both research and teaching, and treated as a topic for discussion.


Doing SoTL often requires a faculty member to develop at least a certain level of expertise in some areas outside his or her discipline. 

Most commonly, faculty will need to learn the basics of the following:

  • Various theories of how people learn
  • Creating and analyzing surveys, interviews, or other direct methods of questioning, sometimes qualitative
  • Human subjects research procedures

SoTL projects may be as small and specific or as large and broad-based as a faculty member has the time and desire to do. SoTL projects may last for one year or many years. Often, short-term projects raise questions that may be followed up, meaning that the original projects are expanded and extended.

Some examples of SoTL projects are:

  • Asking what sociology students believe about learning sociology, and what learning factors correlate with success ( McKinney , 2004)
  • An analysis of published papers that describe quantitative evidence for the effectiveness of active learning methods (Becker, 2001)
  • An analysis of what student evaluation data contributes to the faculty evaluation process (Naremore, c. 2000)
  • Asking if audience-response systems and flash cards are equally effective in encouraging student engagement (Nina Abramzon, Cal Poly Pomona Physics)

SoTL work can be peer-reviewed and published in a variety of venues. The International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning hosts a yearly conference; submissions are peer-reviewed for acceptance.

Some general SoTL journals include College Teaching Innovative Higher Education Journal on Excellence in College Teaching , and MountainRise.

Disciplinary journals that publish SoTL work include Anthropology and Education Journal of Biological Education Journal of Economic Education College Mathematics Journal ,Teaching and Learning in Medicine Teaching of Psychology , and many, many more.

Examples cited

Becker, W.E. 2001. What does the quantitative research literature really show about teaching methods? Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Colloquium, Indiana University , Bloomington , IN. 2 March 2001.

McKinney , K. 2004. Sociology students tell us about learning sociology. Illinois State University.

Naremore, R. c. 2000. Developing a comprehensive plan for evaluating teaching effectiveness: One department's experience. Speech and Hearing Sciences, Drexel University.