SOTL for Beginners: Where to Start

Faculty who have experienced the Stonehill SOTL Writing Retreat who were new to this form of research have found the work of Maryellen Weimer to be helpful in introducing them to SOTL.

Weimer has done much to promote critical thinking about this relatively new discipline and has confronted head-on a number of challenges it presents, particularly concerning academic rigor and assessment.

In her book, Enhancing Scholarly Work on Teaching and Learning (Jossey Bass, 2006), Weimer provides excellent summaries of the advantages and challenges of seven different categories of SOTL, which she presents under two main umbrellas: Wisdom of Practice and Research Scholarship.

Four of Weimer's suggested approaches concern Wisdom of Practice:

  1. Personal Accounts of Change. Faculty report their experiences associated with implementing new instructional techniques, methods, or approaches.
  2. Recommended Practice Report. This is advice-giving literature concerning what to do about an aspect of one's teaching. The advice is based on experience, research, or a combination of the two.
  3. Recommended Content Report. How to teach particular aspects of content or one's subject. The emphasis here is less on pedagogy than on what concepts, skills, or perspectives to deliver, what sequence to deliver it.
  4. Personal Narratives. This is a very diverse category that doesn't offer advice or focus on specific aspects of instruction. It is generally reflective, critical analysis in which the author looks inward, reflecting on insights and ideas that have had an impact on his or her personal growth as a professional. Some examples of such narratives are statements of teaching philosophy, advocating for a position on broad policy issues, or any other work that expresses a personal point of view.

Weimar's category of Research Scholarship includes three other approaches:

  1. Quantitative Investigations. This is traditional educational and social science research, relying on experimental designs that involve "treatment and control groups, with some manipulations of variables across or between them."
  2. Qualitative Studies. Weimer identifies this as the newest form of SOTL, with methodologies that differ according to discipline. All forms study human behavior from the ground up, sharing "a commitment to study phenomena in naturalistic settings and to analyze results interpretively."
  3. Descriptive Research. Faculty collect and analyze survey data using either quantitative or qualitative methods, sometimes combining the two.