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Scholarship of Teaching and Learning guide

What is SoTL?

“Scholars of teaching and learning are prepared to confront the ethical as well as the intellectual and pedagogical challenges of the work. They are not prepared to be drive-by educators. They insist on stopping at the scene to see what more they can do."

Lee Shulman (2002)

Getting started

The field of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) has been a diverse one for some time. For some, scholarly teaching is part of SoTL. For others, there is a distinction between using scholarly research to inform teaching and producing scholarly research (formal SoTL). For most, a definition of SoTL is likely to look like this:

Image of a tent with the words 'Quality learning experience' inside the tent. These words are connected by dotted lines to 2 headings on either side of the tent. On the left of the tent is the heading 'Scholarly teaching' with the description beneath: 'Evidence-based and reflective teaching'. On the right is the heading 'SoTL' with the description beneath: 'Producing the scholarship of teaching and learning'.

SoTL at Deakin: under the big tent

As curators for this guide, we make subjective decisions on definitions, what is included as content and what is not. As such, it is important we identify our educational philosophy for SoTL at Deakin:

  • First, we aim to speak plainly, or at least, explain in plain English the academic terms relating to SoTL.
  • Second, our attitude towards SoTL is an inclusive one.

In this guide you will find resources that relate to various approaches to SoTL, and we know there is disagreement on what 'good' SoTL research looks like. However, quality outcomes for teaching and learning research is an aim we all share. For this reason, ‘our big tent’ is grounded in Peter Felten’s Principles of Good Practice in SoTL (2013). While acknowledging that definitions of effective SoTL will differ, Felten suggests that quality in SoTL can be shared by reflecting on ‘the essential characteristics of exemplary work’ (p. 122).

Image of Felton's Principles of Good Practice, which includes: Inquiry focused on student learning, grounded in context, methodologically sound, conducted in partnership with students, and appropriately public.

Image informed by Felten (2013).

But what does good SoTL look like in practice? 

A core question that relates to diversity is “What is legitimate SoTL?”. As Felten (2013) noted, in the United States of America the development of research in SoTL focused on teaching practice and was orientated to identifying a teaching problem. SoTL research in Australia, the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Canada was more likely to be theoretically-driven. The growth of a diverse approach to SoTL internationally suggests a blurring of these geographic emphases in relation to defining SoTL. In particular, the relatively recent rise of sound action research in higher education teaching and learning has created another ‘turn’ in the field.

Scholarly teaching and SoTL research

The development of Deakin’s Open SoTL guide provides access to many who are interested in focusing on critical analysis of teaching and learning practice in higher education, where evidence-based research leads to teaching practice change. For some, this will mean accessing SoTL research to inform their teaching practice. Other educators are interested in beginning their own research journey in SoTL and are seeking support materials about SoTL journals, SoLT literature and research methodologies. There are many ways to engage in SoTL as a ‘user’ of research or a ’producer’ of research. Importantly, sharing SoTL knowledge with colleagues invites critical reflection of self, students, theories of learning and inductive, applied experiments of teaching practice itself (Potter & Kustra, 2011).

Scholarship of Teaching and Learning vs. scholarly teaching

The concepts of SoTL and scholarly teaching are often conflated. While they are related they are not the same thing. However, there are differences of opinion about the nuances involved in defining SoTL.

Watch and listen to the scholars Dan Berstein, Mary Taylor-Huber, Pat Hutchings and Gary Poole discussing the entangled differences and connections in SoTL and Scholarly Teaching (7:48 mins).