What is SoTL?

The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning involves (1) systematic investigation of some aspect of one’s teaching, (2) gathering and analyzing evidence, and (3) sharing what one learns so others can build upon it.  What qualifies as “evidence” of student learning is an interesting part of the ongoing SoTL dialogues and both qualitative and quantitative forms of evidence are widely accepted in SoTL work.  There are SoTL journals in nearly every discipline, many examples of which can be found here.

SoTL projects ask many questions that are often categorized into four main approaches (as described in Hutchings, 2000):

a) What works? – These questions seek “evidence about the relative effectiveness of different approaches.” For example: ‘Do students in the online version of a course learn as much as students in the on-ground version?’ Or ‘Does my implementation of Team-Based Learning better prepare my students for the department-wide final exam than my previous approach?’

b) What is? – These questions do not look to compare, prove, or disprove but instead seek to capture what some aspect of teaching looks like or how it is experienced. For example: ‘What is my students’ experience of the problem-based learning activities in my class?’ Or ‘How do my students go about learning this particular concept—what are their steps and struggles?’

c) Visions of the possible – These are ‘what if?’ questions in which faculty are not comparing methods for pursuing an existing goal or capturing students’ experience of it, but instead investigate the introduction of a new goal into the course and what its effects are. For example: ‘I’ve decided to try helping my students develop their self-directed/self-regulated learning skills.  Is it possible for me to help my students become more effective learners?’

d) Developing new frameworks – These can be considered “theory-building” projects for the SoTL world. For example: ‘Can I develop a useful framework for what it means to think like a historian?’ Or ‘For a given concept or skill, what are the learning steps necessary to transition from knowing that one must use it, to knowing how to use it, to knowing when to use it?’

This taxonomy is meant to be suggestive and not restrictive—any given project may ask several questions of different types.