VTLC Home‎ > ‎RESOURCES‎ > ‎* White Papers‎ > ‎

* Scholarship of Teaching & Learning (SoTL)

This white paper is an overview of the scholarship of teaching and learning.  It provides a context for understanding what it is, a discussion of its value, a list of recommended readings, examples of SoTL projects, links to resources, and a reflective activity.

Situating "Scholarship of Teaching and Learning" within "Scholarly Teaching" and "Effective Teaching"

Though there are connections among them, it is important to distinguish effective teaching from "scholarly teaching" and the "scholarship of teaching and learning." Though effective teaching has been defined and institutionalized in many ways (e.g., student surveys of instruction, peer observations, self-reflective dossiers), effective teaching is that which promotes student learning and other desired student outcomes. Effective teaching supports department, college, and institutional missions and objectives. Decades of SoTL and other educational research provide us with a great deal of information on the practices that help promote learning (See, for example, Astin, (1993); Chickering and Gamson, (1987); Pascarella & Terenzini, (1991)). 

Scholarly teaching involves taking a scholarly approach to teaching just as we would take 
scholarly approach to other areas of knowledge and practice. Scholarly teachers view teaching as a profession and the knowledge base on teaching and learning as a second discipline in which to develop expertise. Thus, scholarly teachers do things such as reflect on their teaching, use classroom assessment techniques, discuss teaching issues with colleagues, try new things, and read and apply the literature on teaching and learning in their discipline. Scholarly teaching is closely linked to reflective practice (See, for example, Brookfield, 1995). This conception of scholarly teaching is related to what Boyer (1990) labeled the scholarship of teaching in his groundbreaking work, Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate, in which he argued, among other things, that the intellectual work of teaching should be considered an essential component of a professor’s scholarly life, and that the academy should recognize and reward it as such.
The scholarship of teaching and learning involves systematic study of teaching and learning and the public sharing and review of such work through presentations or publications. “Study” is broadly defined given disciplinary differences in epistemology and the need for interdisciplinary SoTL. Regardless, SoTL shares established criteria of scholarship in general, such as that it is made public, can be reviewed critically by members of the appropriate community, and can be built upon by others to advance the field (Shulman, 2001). SoTL focuses on teaching and learning at the college level, and is primarily classroom and disciplinary based. 

What is SoTL?

A pithy definition of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning is "Scholarly inquiry into student learning that advances the practice of teaching."  

Unpacking this, a more detailed definition means that SoTL involves:

The SoTL community is diverse, with some participants focusing on the research side of the work and its contributions to knowledge about students and their learning, while others attend more to the teaching side and how inquiry into learning can feed back into the redesign of courses and programs (See, for example, Bernstein and Bass, 2005). And the more we learn about How Learning Works, the better framework researchers have for the study of learning.

A “big tent” view embraces both emphases, while also recognizing that some participants might want to get involved only occasionally or in small ways to solve a particular problem of practice, while for others engagement will eventually lead to a larger, more ambitious, body of work. 

From the “big tent” perspective, then, SoTL is not just for the small number of faculty who may aspire to developing a new area of scholarly expertise, but also for that wider group with serious interests in pedagogical and curricular reform and innovation. Scholars from every discipline study teaching and learning; the approach used is determined by the research question and the method most appropriate for the learning that is being studied. This means that SoTL scholars apply the scholarly values and techniques of their own disciplines to the study of student learning, borrowing methods from other disciplines as needed to answer their specific research questions. In the most expansive sense, SoTL is an ongoing strategy for studying the improvement of teaching and learning in an interdisciplinary, scholarly discourse. As such, SoTL provides a means of enhancing teaching and protecting the integrity of higher education (especially when used to support institutional assessment).

In the video below you will hear renowned SoTL experts describe key characteristics of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning: Randy Bass (Georgetown University), Joanna Renc-Roe (Central European University, Budapest), Pat Hutchings (Gonzaga University), Barbara Gayle (Viterbo University), Dan Bernstein (University of Kansas), Mary Taylor Huber (Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching), Gary Poole (University of British Columbia), Nancy Chick (Vanderbilt University), Tony Ciccone (University of Wisconsin Milwaukee), and Sherry Linkon (Georgetown University).

Key Characteristics of SoTL

SoTl has a strong and rich history in the University of Wisconsin System: support from the UW System Office of Professional and Instructional Development (OPID) of the Wisconsin Teaching Fellows and Scholars; many participants in the Carnegie Academy of Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (CASTL); key publications on teaching and learning (in particular, two books on Signature Pedagogies have been the result of research, writing, and findings from University of Wisconsin System faculty and instructors).  

Intro to SoTL: Recommended Readings

If you are unsure where to start, the list of readings below is a good place.  In the video below Randy Bass (Georgetown University), Dan Bernstein (University of Kansas), Mary Taylor Huber (Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching), Pat Hutchings (Gonzaga University), Sherry Linkon (Georgetown University), and Gary Poole (University of British Columbia) share the reasons for their particular recommendations.  Presented by the Center for Engaged Learning at Elon University and the International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (ISSOTL), this video was produced for ISSOTL Online 2013, an online conference held in conjunction with the ISSOTL 2013 conference in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Reading Recommendations for Entry into SoTL

What do SoTL projects "look like"?

One of the best ways to understand SoTL is to encounter actual examples. In the following video Peter Felten (Elon University), Ketevan Kupatadze (Elon University), and Mathilde van der Merwe (University of Cape Town) share examples of Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Projects.

Examples of SoTL Projects

One of the best resources we have for understanding the scholarship of teaching and learning is the UW System Office of Professional and Instructional Development (OPID) and the Wisconsin Teaching Fellows and Scholars Program: as a result of this program, we have many local experts in UW Colleges and UW System.  For additional examples of SoTL work, check out the videos on the Wisconsin Teaching Fellows and Scholars Program page.

SoTL Journals For Research and Publication 

If you are interested in reading more about SoTL the following journals publish SOTL articles regularly.   




  • Discussion between David Voelker (UW Green Bay) and Regan A. R. Gurung (UW Green Bay)
  • Discussion between Jen Heinert (VTLC Director) and David Voelker (UW Green Bay) 

Professional Organizations

Reflective Activities

Read & Respond

What is your relationship to and with SoTL?  In your department?  On your campus?  What more do you want to know?  

After reading the white paper, you can read the reflective questions on this blog post and respond, or send an email to vtlc@uwc.edu.