Searching the Literature
What research already exists that is relevant to my SoTL study?
by Colleen M. Kuusinen, Assistant Director for SoTL
SoTL projects are always situated in what we know about teaching and learning as well as the discipline. The University of Calgary has a comprehensive SoTL guide that is a gold mine of information (also UGA library's own resource guide for searching the educational literature). Highlighted here a few of the most important things from theses guide as well as a few tips that have helped other SoTL researchers find their way: literature databases, how to identify relevant search terms, and a brief orientation to higher education and SoTL journals.
This SoTL Annotated Literature database is curated by Nicola Simmons at Brock University in Canada.
It's good practice to try many different search terms related to your area of inquiry, framework for teaching and learning, or methodology in order to find relevant literature. Moreover, trying search terms at different levels of specificity may be helpful. For example, the term "active learning" covers a broad range of simple, short teaching strategies (e.g., writing to learn, or think-pair-shares) to more complex teaching pedagogies (e.g., case-based learning, project-based learning). In July 2017, searching ERIC for the term "active learning" yielded 7,685 results with an incredible range of foci: faculty perceptions of active learning, the impact of active learning on student teachers' competence, how to get active in large lectures, whether peer interaction is necessary for active learning.... so, narrowing your focus can help you find more relevant literature. A few ways to narrow your focus are:
- Type of pedagogy
- Target audience (e.g., undergraduates, first generation college students, etc.)
- Type of educational institution
- Qualifiers (e.g., benefits, challenges, obstacles, efficacy, effectiveness, significant difference)
- Methodology (e.g., qualitative, survey research, think-alouds)
While narrowing your focus is helpful, avoid getting to narrow. There are many studies done in K-12 schools or in different disciplines that might be useful to your study.
Of course, the best method to finding relevant literature is to pour over the reference lists from articles that you have found that are relevant to your area of inquiry, methodology, or framework for teaching and learning.
Higher Education and SoTL journals
There are an incredible number of higher education journals: over 700 at last count. Here are a few of our favorites, as well as some extensive databases provided by other institutions.
- Recommended Journals and Books on Teaching
- For a complete directory of teaching journals, with capability to search by discipline and topic in higher education, visit Kennesaw State's directory. This can get you quite narrow rather quickly so try using the "general" or "any" search options, too.
- Southern Illinois University's selected list of higher education journals. Includes the major journals by discipline (one page).
- Early Career Higher Education Research Network's more selected list of higher education research journals. This is not an exhaustive list, but it does include acceptance rates.
Once you've conducted a literature review, the next step is to design your study.