The term, "scholarship
of teaching," became popular in the early 1990's with the publication of
Ernest Boyer's monograph, Scholarship Reconsidered. The phrase has acquired
a number of quite different meanings-some equate it with scholarly teaching,
some with innovative teaching, or with specialized educational research. And
some view it as any activity to improve teaching. In the past 5-6 years a predominant
view of SoTL has emerged mainly from the work of the Carnegie Foundation for
the Advancement of Teaching and its current president, Lee Shulman. Lee has
a standard mantra about SoTL. It goes like this:
is what every one of us should be engaged in every day that we are in a classroom,
in our office with students, tutoring, lecturing, conducting discussions,
all the roles we play pedagogically. Our work as teachers should meet the
highest scholarly standards of groundedness, of openness, of clarity and complexity.
But it is only when we step back and reflect systematically on the teaching
we have done, in a form that can be publicly reviewed and built upon by our
peers, that we have moved from scholarly teaching to the scholarship of teaching.
So, like other forms of
scholarship, the scholarship of teaching is work that is public and work that
is open to peer review, and work that can be built upon. Moreover, it is work
that focuses directly on student learning and development. Boyer used the term "Scholarship of Teaching," the phrase now is The Scholarship of Teaching
and Learning-or SoTL. SoTL is based on the premise that the purpose of teaching
is to advance student learning, and the purpose of SoTL is to improve the practice
of teaching through scholarly inquiry into teaching and student learning.
SoTL is a form of inquiry.
Specifically it is a kind of practitioner research that focuses on teaching
and student learning in one's own classroom. SoTL starts with faculty questions
about student learning. Instructors explore those questions through systematic,
disciplined inquiry, and then report their findings for peer review. This type
of inquiry has two major purposes-to improve the instructor's own teaching and
to advance the practice of teaching more generally.
Let me elaborate on these
starts with questions of student learning. Interesting and important questions
about student learning can come from daily classroom practice where teachers
observe gaps in their students' performance and puzzle over how and why students
learn or do not learn what they are taught. For example, an instructor may wonder
why a significant number of students acquire superficial understanding of key
ideas in an introductory course or a significant number of seniors in a program
are not able to apply what they have learned to complex, real life problems.
Or, an instructor may wonder how a course or even an academic program affects
qualities of character and students' dispositions. Questions may focus on the
full range of student learning and development-how students develop deep understanding,
how they come to use knowledge flexibly, how they develop certain habits of
mind and commitments to learning. And so on.
requires systematic, disciplined inquiry. As a teacher you might spend considerable
time modifying your teaching. You update your syllabus, you change your lectures,
you develop a new assignment, you adopt new readings. And so on. Typically,
instructors do these things to improve their teaching and their courses. While
these may be teaching improvement activities-they are not SoTL. They do not
entail systematic, disciplined inquiry to answer questions about teaching and
What does systematic disciplined
inquiry look like? There is no single best method of investigation for SoTL.
There are many ways to investigate student learning, many types of evidence
about student learning, and many ways to gather evidence about student learning.
SoTL may require instructors to learn to new types of inquiry, but that does
not mean every instructor has to become an expert in experimental design or
educational research methods.
Who knows what SoTL will
look like in the future-but many current examples of SoTL occupy a kind of middle
ground located somewhere between two ends of a continuum. On one end is informal
reflection or rumination-the kind of thinking one does at the end of a class
period on the way back to the office. You might have the impression that something
worked well or didn't work at all that day and you reflect on the reasons for
it. And, of course, you hope you remember your conclusions the next time you
teach that particular topic. At the other end of the continuum is educational
research-the kind of stuff undertaken by those formally trained in educational
research methods and that ends up in journals like, the Review of Educational
Research or any number of other specialized journals in the field.
But, the great major of
faculty are not trained in educational research. Faculty involved in SoTL tend
to adopt inquiry methods that are accessible and familiar, and that do not require
an advanced degree in educational research methods. Strategies to gather evidence
may be extremely diverse, and include such things as
- close reading of student papers
- focus group discussions with students
- case study of a single student over time
- inviting a colleague to observe the class
- videotaping collaborative learning groups
- analysis of course materials
- analysis of students thinking aloud as they read and interpret a text
- tracking patterns of achievement and attainment
- keeping a teaching journal or log
- mapping/analyzing students' on-line interactions\
- surveys or individual interviews
SoTL results in products that can be shared with others. There are a variety
of forms through which SoTL can be shared with peers. In some cases a standard
research article may be the best way to report an investigation. Newer forms
such as course portfolios may be appropriate in other circumstances. Other forms
might include case studies, reflective essays, field-tested course materials,
a workshop, or multimedia presentation.
Peer review is an important
part of all scholarship: it's the process by which a community of scholars decides
the quality and importance of new ideas. Some disciplines already have peer
reviewed journals that publish teaching related research. There are also teaching
journals that publish work from across the disciplines, and a growing number
of periodicals that publish SoTL. Other venues for dissemination and review
include professional conferences, teaching conferences and symposia.
In a nutshell-SoTL is practitioner
inquiry that starts with faculty questions about student learning. It involves
systematic, discipline investigation of teaching and learning, and culminates
in a product that can be reviewed and built upon by peers.
I want to end with this
thought: If SoTL eventually becomes a valued and viable aspect of faculty work,
college teaching may start to look a little more like professions where there
are well developed and well tested practices. The analogy may not be a perfect
one, but the practice of medicine progressed substantially when research began
to demonstrate the efficacy of certain procedures and practices in the treatment
of diseases. College teaching is unlikely to progress very much at all until
we recognize the need for a comparable kind of knowledge in our field. SoTL
may be the process by which we develop knowledge about how to teach certain
subjects in certain contexts to produce certain kinds of learning. At that point
the practice of teaching will advance, and not every instructor will have to
invent teaching on his or her own.
Above is a transcript from a talk by Bill Cerbin, Provost Office, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse