What is the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning?

The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SOTL) is a growing academic field dedicated to the study of teaching and learning, particularly in post-secondary settings.

SOTL can involve classroom research, pedagogical reflection, and/or institution-wide assessment. It finds its roots in a variety of fields and is becoming a significant contributor to Stonehill's commitment to interdisciplinary teaching and learning.

SOTL's Beginnings

The term "the study of teaching" was first used in the 1980s at the first Lilly Conference on College Teaching, but the term gained real traction a decade later with the work of Ernest Boyer and his colleagues at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

Their concern was to promote excellence in teaching and to do so they challenged college faculty and administration to re-examine how they allocate their time and what activities typically would yield tenure and promotion. It was clear to them that despite the reality on the ground--that the vast majority of faculty spend most of their work-time teaching--it was original research that was (and in many institutions still is) most prized and rewarded.

The Boyer Commission cut through the traditional teaching/research dichotomy, suggesting an enlargement of the definition of what constitutes scholarly research. They proposed four types of scholarship:

  • The Scholarship of Discovery, comprising traditional basic research, from which Boyer suggested the other forms flow;
  • The Scholarship of Integration, which gives meaning to isolated facts, connecting across disciplines, and contexting specific areas of research;
  • The Scholarship of Application, which attempts to discern how knowledge can be applied to important problems;
  • The Scholarship of Teaching, which begins with what the teacher knows from experience, and explores way of transmitting, transforming, and extending knowledge.

Subsequent Development and Thinking about SOTL

The Boyer Commission apparently did not conceive of the scholarship of teaching as an activity focused on research and publication. At the time, such work was the provenance of academics with advanced degrees in higher education. Rather, the Commission's intent was to invite the academy to understand teaching itself as a scholarly endeavor.

It was only later that those concerned with the research potential of their teaching articulated a clear difference between scholarly teaching and SOTL. Scholarly teaching, something all of us can and should do, is teaching that takes assessment seriously and is predicated upon not only our being current in our discipline but also willing to learn about new and more effective ways to teach.

SOTL takes this a few steps further. As Lee Shulman puts it (quoted in Samuel Thompson),

"An act of intelligence or artistic creation becomes scholarship when it possesses at least three attributes: it becomes public, it becomes an object of critical review and education by members of one's community, and members of one's community . . . use it, build upon it."

While all should aspire to be teachers whose work is informed by the results of scholarly work done on pedagogy, not all can be expected to publish such work. Nonetheless, practitioners from every discipline have brought their insights to SOTL.

Indeed, SOTL's development has not been highly organized or very easy precisely because its practitioners come to SOTL research with such different experiences of formal training.