Friday, March 27, 2015

Do you speak SoTL?

I'm writing this in the air over Savannah, on my way back from a great SoTL conference.  For those who don't know, SoTL stands for "Scholarship of Teaching and Learning" (the title of this blog is the motto on  the conference t-shirts) and is a great organization to explore. 
After two days of 9 - 5 conference sessions I have amassed lots to think about and hopefully share with you in future blogs.  While all that new info is being digested, though, I will just share a list one of the speakers presented to answer the question, "Why SoTL?"
  1. SoTL fosters student learning:  Teachers who ask "What works?" are more likely to be using activities that do. 
  2. SoTL bridges the gap between teaching and research: It's a false dichotomy to separate teaching and research.
  3. SoTL benefits SoTL-active faculty, helps them fight classroom inertia and invites them to change and improve their teaching:  It helps teachers grow, change, be more interested, stop being complacent.
  4. SoTL benefits other students and faculty:  Teachers can share the findings across disciplines, breaking down some of the silos.
  5. SoTL benefits the institution:  It helps to generate visible analyses of student learning--assessment at course and program level, models of practice for local colleagues, high-quality evidence for internal/external assessment and accessible examples of quality education for prospective students.
  6. SoTL is a model of faculty development:  It provides a space for dialogue about practices that contribute to advancing knowledge
  7. SoTL increases faculty credentials for professional rewards such as tenure and promotion.
  8. SoTL lets us follow our passion:  It helps us learn from our students and learn who our students are, what it is that we are doing, and how we can do it even better.
SoTL starts with a question: Is there any teaching/learning-related question that has been nagging at you that you might begin to explore, either individually or collaboratively?


  1. Thanks. I hope you enjoyed the conference. Those are laudable goals. I wonder whether or to what extent it achieves them.

    Safro Kwame

    1. Kwame, I suspect most of these goals are aspirational and are achieved at various institutions at different levels. Sometimes just naming the goals is important, though, reminding us all of why we are here doing the hard work of educating. Do you have other goals that you would add to the list or replace items on the list? I know that you are interested in academic excellence. It seems to me that getting more faculty engaged in studying the realities of teaching and learning is one way to move toward that goal.

    2. Thanks. I think much of what we do or need can be put under one of those SoTL headings. I am, however, more interested in suggestions about how to achieve those goals.

  2. I was wondering about benefits to students in the context of being able to "generate visible analyses of student learning--assessment at course and program level." What are some examples or cases?

    Ganga Ramdas

  3. Ganga, I think the student benefit of that particular goal would be a secondary one. If a teacher learns more about some course activity through SoTl research, the assumption is that he or she will improve that activity, use it more meaningfully, or change/discard it depending on what the research has shown. The student could also benefit from hearing about the results of the research. If I found that students in my last semester's class had raised their final grade by 3 points as a result of pre/post testing activities, for instance, I could share that with the next class both to inform and to motivate them.
    The primary beneficiary, though, would be the institution itself, since it would have visible, tangible assessment successes and methods to show to its public and its accreditors.
    What do you think? Are you interpreting it differently?

    1. Thanks Linda. I am thinking that the inherent nature of the scholarship process and the student discoveries that the student experiences in the form of a well written report would be conducive to student leaning.

      Test in themselves are not learning processes and the results could be ambiguous. I believe it is the activity its execution would be beneficial rather than the metering of test scores. It is the total process the student is subject to, easy, medium easy, difficult, or very difficult that matters.

      We could give easy assignments and pump out great pre-post results.

      I would lean more on Pennsylvania's State Governor Tom Wold's ideas namely,

      "Education is a full and holistic process. We've reduced it to a bunch of high-stakes tests that don't seem to me to be tied to the specific, comprehensive skills that we want students to have," Wolf said."

      Ganga Ramdas