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When faculty introduce an innovative teaching technique or strategy in their classes, they are often rewarded with a sense of student enjoyment and engagement. Yet they find themselves wondering: “Did this really make a difference in my students’ learning?” The need to more reliably answer that question—and to share the answers with others asking the same question—gave rise to the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL). SoTL is the systematic study of teaching and learning at the college level, and it has been gaining momentum over the past twenty-five years.
SoTL entails a process of classroom research, presentation of findings, and evaluation by the academic community for the purpose of in-class application. Pat Hutchings, one of the leading researchers in the SoTL movement, argues that SoTL is “best understood …as a habit of mind and set of practices that contribute to a culture in which other changes and developments can thrive. By engaging faculty from a wide range of fields in asking and answering questions about their students’ learning, the scholarship of teaching and learning inspires, shapes and informs further advances in teaching, curriculum, assessment and campus culture” (Hutchings 2010).
As with most fields of study in higher education, SoTL consists of systematic research that is methodologically rigorous and evidence-based. As a form of “authentic scholarship,” SoTL, according to the International Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (I-JSotl), “begins with a research question or problem and proceeds using the research methodologies best suited to yield valid, relevant results that can be applied and further assessed in the teaching and learning process.” Research methods in SoTL can include peer review, analyses of texts and data, observational research, and case studies.
Proponents of SoTL emphasize communication of classroom-based research findings to the broader community of teachers and learners in higher education through academic journals, conferences, websites, and other publications. There are many avenues for publishing this type of research, both in SoTL journals such as Journal of SoTL and International Journal for SoTL as well as in disciplinary journals like College English or Journal of Chemistry Education. An essential component of SoTL is the opportunity for academic professionals to submit SoTL findings and recommendations to evaluation and critique, according to the guiding principle that the recommendations must work in actual educational settings at colleges and universities. Ultimately, the aim of SoTL is to bridge the gap which has often prevailed between educational research and practice.
"Viewing teaching as scholarly work is essential,” according to Lee Shulman, president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. “We seek to render teaching public, subject to critical evaluation, and usable by others in the field" (I-JSotl). Leading voices at the University of Pittsburgh concur that SoTL contributes to the University’s main goals. Teaching, a central value of the University of Pittsburgh, is a complex activity, with a wide range of class sizes and formats, observes James Knapp, senior associate dean in the School of Arts and Sciences. Knapp believes that SoTL efforts can foster a community of teaching and learning among faculty.
The Teaching Times has consistently highlighted successful teachers’ strategies and theories of teaching and learning. Building upon this foundation, upcoming issues of the Teaching Times will focus more deliberately on University of Pittsburgh faculty who are conducting research at various stages of SoTL, from the early conceptual phases to publication of findings and beyond. This issue of the Teaching Times includes two articles by Karen Curto, Biology. Curto describes her own experiences with SoTL, including an important preliminary stage: the process of meeting guidelines of the Internal Review Board (IRB). (Because SoTL involves research conducted on human subjects, every institution must follow national standards.)
If you are involved in SoTL, know another instructor who is, or want to find out more about becoming a part of SoTL, we invite you to contact the Teaching Times at firstname.lastname@example.org. As Curto explains, “When you sense it is time to formalize your ideas about a successful intervention or teaching strategy beyond the casual exchange with your teaching colleagues, you may be ready to move into the realm of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning.” CIDDE and the Teaching Times are available to discuss your project, provide support, and help to share your work with other teachers and learners at the University of Pittsburgh.
Atkinson, M.P. (2001). The scholarship of teaching and learning: Reconceptualizing scholarship and transforming the academy. Social Forces, 79(4), 1217-1230.
Hutchings, P. (2010). The scholarship of teaching and learning: From idea to integration. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 123, 63-72.
Hutchings, P, and Shulman, L. (1999). The scholarship of teaching: New elaborations, new developments. Change, 31(5), 10-15.
Wright, M.J., Finelli, C.J., Meizlish, D., & Bergom, I. (2011).Facilitating the scholarship of teaching and learning at a research university. Change, 43(2), 50-56.
University of Central Florida (2004). The definition of SoTL. Retrieved from http://www.fctl.ucf.edu/ResearchAndScholarship/SoTL/whatIsSOTL/content/D...
O’Loughlin, V.D. (2006). A “how to” guide for developing a publishable Scholarship of Teaching project. Advances in Physiology Education, 30, 83–88.
Allen, D. & Tanner, K. (2005). Approaches to Biology Teaching and Learning: From a Scholarly Approach to Teaching to the Scholarship of Teaching. Cell Biology Education, 4, 1–6.
Michael, J. (2006). Doing and reporting educational research. Advances in Physiology Education, 30, 99.
Bush, S.D., Pelaez, N.J., Rudd, J.A., et al. (2008). Science Faculty with Education Specialties. Science, 322 (19).
Dolan, E.L. (2007). Grappling with the Literature of Education Research and Practice. Life Sciences Education, 6, 289 –296.
International Journal of Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (IJ-SOTL) is published by Center for Excellence in Teaching at Georgia Southern University (online journal).
Journal of Excellence in College Teaching is a peer-reviewed journal published at Miami University by and for faculty at universities and two- and four-year colleges to increase student learning through effective teaching, interest in and enthusiasm for the profession of teaching, and communication among faculty about their classroom experiences. Sponsored by Lily Conference on College and University Teaching.
Journal of Research in Science Teaching is published by National Association of Research on Science Teaching (NARST)
Journal of Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (JoSOTL) is a forum for the dissemination of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in higher education for the community of teacher-scholars. This peer-reviewed Journal promotes SoTL investigations that are theory-based and supported by evidence.
Journal of Student Centered Learning is a resource for the exchange of both practical and theoretical information regarding the planning, design, implementation, and assessment of practices and programs that enhance college teaching and learning through student centered learning
Science education-specific resources:
BioScience journal of the American Institute of Biology Sciences
CBE-LIfe Science Education (LSE-used to be Cell Biology Education)
Journal of Biology Education (UK), published by the Institute of Biology
Journal of College Science Teaching A peer-reviewed journal published by the National Science Teachers Association
Journal of Microbiology and Biology Education (JMBE) features articles driven by outcomes-based research in student learning. JMBE recognizes educators who are at the forefront of cognitive research in microbiology and biology education
Journal of Research in Science Teaching, published by National Association of Research on Science Teaching (NARST)
Allen, D. & Woodin, T. (2009). Current Developments and Funding Opportunities in Life Sciences Education. Life Sciences Education, 8, 95–99.
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The Teaching Times newsletter is devoted to the support of teaching and learning at the University of Pittsburgh. The Teaching Times shares faculty teaching experiences, strategies and techniques that can be applied in classrooms across the University. The Teaching Times welcomes letters and articles from faculty about any topic affecting University teaching and learning.
Carol DeArment, Editor