Getting Started with SoTL

What kinds of topics can I investigate when designing my own SoTL study? 

by Colleen M. Kuusinen, Assistant Director for SoTL 


Problems in Teaching

When thinking about a SoTL study, consider what "problem" you have been facing. While we usually think of problems in teaching as something to be ashamed of or hide from others, problems in SoTL are the foundation for intellectual inquiry into the complex, dynamic and often uncertain processes of teaching and learning. This inquiry becomes the basis for SoTL study and the reason why we share our work publicly for peer review. Randy Bass discusses this fundamental shift in the culture and discourse surrounding teaching in his foundational SoTL article, "The Scholarship of Teaching: What's the Problem?"

As you think about this problem, what is it that you want to know more about?  Perhaps you’re unsure why something is happening in your classroom, or maybe you’re pretty sure you can explain why – but have you systematically collected data to support your explanation? Are you relying on largely anecdotal evidence, perhaps without realizing it? If you've ever found yourself saying, "I think that worked" about your teaching, then you might be in this latter category.

Here are two questions you might ask yourself to begin the brainstorming process:

  1. In your teaching, describe a strategy, activity or learning sequence you feel strongly “works” or “doesn’t work.” What reason(s) do you have for reaching this conclusion? What evidence would you need to prove to your department chair once and for all that this strategy does or does not work so that it can be widely adopted or abandoned?
  2. Think about a moment or moments in your teaching where you were perplexed, confused, intrigued, or maybe even shocked about something related to your students’ thinking, learning and/or your teaching that made your curious to know more. Describe the moment and what you want to know more about and why.

These two questions speak to two simple categories into which SoTL scholar Pat Hutchings divides SoTL studies: 1) What works? and 2) What is happening? (Hutchings, 2000). Read more about these two types of research questions

Resources to learn about SoTL

Bishop-Clark, C., Dietz-Uhler, B., & Nelson, C. E. (2012). Engaging in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning: A Guide to the Process, and How to Develop a Project from Start to Finish (First edition). Sterling, Virginia: Stylus Publishing.

Hutchings, P. (2000). Opening lines: Approaches to the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. Menlo Park, CA: The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

McKinney, K. (Ed.). (2013). The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning In and Across the Disciplines. Indiana University Press.

McKinney, K., & Cross, K. P. (2007). Enhancing Learning Through the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning: The Challenges and Joys of Juggling (1 edition). Bolton, Mass: Jossey-Bass.


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