Considering the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning

The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) designates an important category of faculty scholarship that focuses on inquiry into teaching and student learning, both within individual disciplines and fields as well as more broadly across higher education. Ernest Boyer in Scholarship Reconsidered (The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, 1990) circulated this phrasing as one of 4 categories of scholarship in higher education. Pat Hutchings (see video below) aptly refers to SoTL as “faculty bringing their habits and skills as scholars to their work as teachers.” While research universities have tended to downplay if not discredit this category in tenure review (Boyer’s subtitle is “Priorities of the Professoriate”), bringing teaching into scholarship, and scholarly inquiry into teaching, has always been a priority in the teacher-scholar model we know and practice in a liberal arts college.

Boyer introduced the idea of a scholarship of teaching, or more accurately, Scholarship Reconsidered argued for a broadening of the concept of scholarship to go beyond the dominant model of the research university (called the scholarship of “discovery”) and to include scholarships of integration, engagement (application), and teaching. Boyer argued that this reconsideration was urgently needed in 1990 for “faculty renewal.” Thirty years later: is there still an urgent need for change? Sean Meehan is currently working on a project that reflects upon and reconsiders Boyer’s reconsideration from some historical and rhetorical perspectives. Cromwell CTL is developing an ongoing series, Considering Scholarship, to explore ways that we can support “faculty renewal” by enhancing all aspects of faculty scholarship: discovery, integration, engagement, and teaching. We begin with a lunchtime presentation of work in progress in the scholarship of teaching: Tobias Lemke, Visiting Assistant Professor in Political Science, will share “Student Perceptions of Active-Learning Assignments in the Political Science Classroom.” Monday, November 7, 12 pm, Faculty Lounge in Hodson. We will be providing lunch. Please RSVP by Friday, October 28 so we know how many to expect. The lunch will start at noon in the Hodson Faculty Lounge, and Tobias’s talk will start at 12:30 followed by discussion.

Further thoughts on the scholarship of teaching and learning, commonly known as SoTL. The language of SoTL is included in our guidelines for tenure and promotion: “scholarship which contributes to pedagogical theory or practice.” While it is an option for scholarly projects in any field, SoTL more fundamentally speaks to how we build communities of teachers at Washington College, one of our focal points at the Cromwell Center for Teaching and Learning. In a manner of speaking, we practice what we teach and we have long considered as meaningful the work we do to inform and advance our practice.

So, SoTL in its many different forms could and should be one of our priorities at a small liberal arts college focused on representing knowledge through teaching and learning. But we also recognize that SoTL projects might be a bit unfamiliar or neglected due to its status in the larger institutions where many faculty pursued their graduate studies. Consider the problem this way, as Randy Bass does in “The Scholarship of Teaching: What’s the Problem?” We talk openly and at length about the “problems” we work on in our research and scholarship. We talk quietly, if at all, about problems in our teaching.

One telling measure of how differently teaching is regarded from traditional scholarship or research within the academy is what a difference it makes to have a “problem” in one versus the other. In scholarship and research, having a “problem” is at the heart of the investigative process; it is the compound of the generative questions around which all creative and productive activity revolves. But in one’s teaching, a “problem” is something you don’t want to have, and if you have one, you probably want to fix it. Asking a colleague about a problem in his or her research is an invitation; asking about a problem in one’s teaching would probably seem like an accusation. Changing the status of the problem in teaching from terminal remediation to ongoing investigation is precisely what the movement for a scholarship of teaching is all about. How might we make the problematization of teaching a matter of regular communal discourse? How might we think of teaching practice, and the evidence of student learning, as problems to be investigated, analyzed, represented, and debated? 

Pat Hutchings (from the introduction to Opening Lines) provides a taxonomy of 4 inquiry questions that are relevant for SoTL projects. These questions help us recognize that in our teaching, we are already and often pursuing lines of inquiry much as we do in our scholarship. We might not extend the inquiry beyond our classroom into a project proposal or eventual publication. But we could. And some of us do. Elon’s Center for Engaged Learning links to Hutchings and provides further thought on the concept of “inquiry questions”:

SoTL Projects at WAC? We would like to gather together a list of SoTL projects that faculty have done, are currently working on, or would like to develop in the future–with more time and perhaps more guidance and support. Send us the information: brief description of the project, citation, link, or other information that faculty might use to learn more. (You can email CromwellCTL or reply in a comment below). Our current Cromwell Fellowships might support a project you are planning; we’d also like to explore the possibility of developing new fellowships or grant opportunities that focus on SoTL projects. For those interested in joining a learning community or discussion group focused on SoTL, please let us know. We would love to get one started and provide support.

To give a sense of the range of projects we might do, or are already working on, these proposal types and categories for the 2023 SoTL Commons Conference are instructive:

SoTL ProjectsResearch proposals (data from systematic inquiry into student learning in higher ed)
Reflections about SoTLAnalysis, synthesis, reflection, and discussion of SoTL’s nature, role, and meaning
Teaching & Learning PracticesNon-research proposals (analysis, synthesis, reflection, and discussion of teaching practices)
Professional DevelopmentConference workshops only
Academic & Professional DevelopmentProposals focused on academic and professional development (writing circles, FLCs, etc.)
AssessmentProposals focused on assessment of teaching and learning at different levels (course, program, institution)
Learning Theories & PedagogyProposals focused on pedagogy and learning theories
Teaching with TechnologyProposals focused on teaching with technology in any format (hybrid, f2f, online)
ReflectionAnalysis, synthesis, reflection, and discussion of the nature, role, and meaning of SoTL/ teaching and learning.

Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL)–links from our Resources page.

[Image: The Thinker, Cleveland Museum of Art. Creative Commons license 2.0, Erik Drost]

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