Serious work on teaching begins with curiosity and an urge to understand more clearly what is happening and why regarding student learning. For most faculty, the most compelling and urgent questions emerge directly from their own practice. Faculty questions may focus on individual courses, clusters of courses, or whole programs. They may focus on particular kinds of learning or particular kinds of students. Some questions can be pursued by individual faculty in their own classrooms, while others require teams looking across settings and working together to share data and deliberate about their conclusions (Huber & Hutchings, 2005).
Begin With a Goal in Mind
The scholarship of teaching and learning may inform practice, not only by providing ideas for methods, materials, or assessment, but also by inspiring, moving, and changing a teacher's perspective, attitude, or vision (Walvoord, 2002).
Goals of SoTL (Huber & Hutchings, 2005)
- Transform the culture of college teaching by doing challenging, intellectual work that poses interesting, consequential questions.
- Invite faculty from all disciplines and fields to identify and explore these questions in their own teaching, especially in their students' learning, and to do so in ways that are shared with colleagues who can build on new insights.
- Promote scholarly work to improve instruction.
- Capture the work of teaching and learning in ways that can be built upon, so it is not lost. Individual faculty work hard at their classroom craft, but the larger collective enterprise of teaching does not move forward if the work of improvement is done in isolation, behind closed doors, conducted without an audience of peers.
SoTL can be viewed as an interdisciplinary endeavor because no single field has all the answers, theories, or methods needed to answer complicated questions about student learning. Ideally, collaboration takes place "during" a SoTL project, but it should also take place "before" the project, as faculty members share information about their research interests and identify other faculty who are interested in researching similar topics. Projects at Buffalo State (1, 2) and Illinois State (1, 2) are excellent examples of collaboration across disciplines.
The Results of SoTL Research
SoTL involvement is known to have the following consequences (Cox, Huber, & Hutchings, 2004):
- Changed design of course
- Changed kinds of assessment used in courses
- Changed student expectations
- Documented improvements in student learning
- Higher standards of work achieved by students
The SoTL framework supports everything from very large, long-term projects to the more localized improvement efforts that are smaller in scope.
Conducting SoTL Research
Systematic inquiry is central to the scholarship of teaching and learning (Huber & Hutchings, 2005). As in any research, the challenge is to employ the right set of methods and the best sources of evidence to explore the question in ways that will be credible and significant. Possibilities for gathering and analyzing evidence might include the following sources of information or any other source that could yield useful information about the teaching and learning process:
- Collection and systematic review of student work
- Focus groups
- Ethnographic interviews
- Classroom observation
- Large-scale institutional tracking
- Course portfolios
In a complex classroom environment where many interrelated factors can influence student learning, it is sometimes difficult to control the variables and analyze the impact of a certain project on student performance. The challenge is to employ the right set of methods and the best sources of evidence to explore a particular question in ways that will be credible and significant.
Getting Approval For Your Study
SoTL research is usually classified as human subjects research, which requires approval by the UNC Charlotte Institutional Review Board (IRB). It is important to note that IRB approval must precede any data collection, so please be aware of the time involved prior to the start of your project. For more information about human subjects research and IRB approval, please see the guidelines for UNC Charlotte Human Subjects in Research.
Sharing SoTL Knowledge
SoTL is about more than individual improvement and development: it is about producing knowledge that is available for others to use and build on (Huber & Hutchings, 2005). This is what distinguishes it from other approaches to classroom improvement. Widening the circle may mean colleagues from other departments, campus-based groups, conferences, special events, and journals. Some of these focus on a particular pedagogy, like learning communities, while others are disciplinary-based or even multidisciplinary.
Scholarship must be made public and accessible for exchange and use by other member's of one's scholarly community (Shulman, 1998). Researchers should identify the most relevant audiences for their work, the communities they want to influence, and the conversations they seek to have. The goal is to document, share, and build upon "community property" made public.
These are by no means exhaustive lists. The key is to share what you are doing in your classroom with others, to disseminate your findings and make them part of the larger knowledge base. In addition to these SoTL outlets, be sure to look for teaching-focused tracks at the usual disciplinary conferences you may attend, where your work could be presented.
Cox, R., Huber, M. T., and Hutchings, P. Survey of Carnegie Scholars. Unpublished survey findings. Stanford, Calif.: The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, 2004.
Huber, M.T., and Hutchings, P. The Advancement of Learning: Building the Teaching Commons. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2005.
Shulman, L. S. "Course Anatomy: The Dissection and Analysis of Knowledge Through Teaching." In P.Hutchings (ed.), The Course Portfolio: How Faculty Can Examine Their Teaching to Advance Practice and Improve Student Learning. Washington, D.C.: American Association for Higher Education, 1998.