SoTL: What is it and what is it good for?

What does SoTL mean?

Doing research on teaching and learning at a higher education level has many names: Action Research, Education Research, Classroom Research, or: The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL).

All these concepts deal in one way or another with what is happening in the lecture hall, the lab, the seminar room, or on excursions. They call for the inquiry into conditions and outcomes of good teaching and the possibilities of their implementation. In contrast to academic classroom research drawing on traditional approaches to teaching and learning, SoTL bridges the gap between the teacher on the one side, and the researcher on the other side, who investigates learning and teaching. Within the SoTL framework, the university teacher or lecturer and the researcher are united in one person.

SoTL can thus be defined as the systematic inquiry of lecturers into their own teaching practice. In doing so, the teacher/researcher applies the guidelines of scientific inquiry which he or she also follows in his or her academic research.


What is SoTL good for?

Teaching – besides doing research – is an essential part of most young scholars’ daily business. In higher education, a substantial share of the teaching load is shouldered by young scholars below the professorial level. However, there seems to be a rivalry between teaching and research, both of which are important qualifications of future faculty members. Notwithstanding the importance of research experience, developing a teaching personality has become more and more important in the past years. Teaching experience and qualification are nowadays one of the pillars of the academic cv. Therefore, systematic reflection on and investigation into one's own teaching and an understanding of student learning is a vital part of this qualification.

The „Scholarship of Teaching and Learning“ (SoTL) offers an approach to develop teaching skills and habits and to bridge the gap between teaching and research. It aims at systematically analysing and developing post-secondary teaching in order to improve student learning. Another important feature of SoTL is the idea of sharing the so gathered insights (e.g., within the department or university), which again benefits the teaching and learning culture of a department or institution.

In recent years, an international network has developed: The international society on the scholarship of teaching and learning (ISSOTL). Its aim is to conduct and promote evidence-based reflection and development of teaching by university teachers and to connect teachers and researchers who are interested in combining both activities in order to reflect, adapt, maintain or improve their own teaching and/or implement learner-oriented teaching practice in their departments.

SoTL is thus an especially suitable way for young scholars from all disciplines to reflect, investigate, document and display their own teaching practice and its development.