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Abstract

For the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) to be understood as significant intellectual work in the academy, SoTL practitioners need to identify shared principles of good practice. While honoring the diversity of SoTL in its many forms across the globe, such principles can serve as a heuristic for assessing work in our field. These principles include (1) inquiry into student learning, (2) grounded in context, (3) methodologically sound, (4) conducted in partnership with students, and (5) appropriately public. Taken together, these five principles can be guideposts for developing and refining individual SoTL inquiries and larger SoTL initiatives. These principles also can clarify and demystify SoTL to those on our campuses who evaluate our work, helping us to make the case for institutional resources and support for SoTL. Even more importantly, these principles articulate a vision of a scholarship that enhances, perhaps even transforms, teaching and learning in higher education.
121
Teaching & Learning Inquiry, Volume 1, Issue 1, pp. 121–125, 2013.
Copyright © 2013 The International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning
Peter Felten, ELON UNIVERSITY, pfelten@elon.edu
Principles of Good Practice in SoTL
ABSTRACT
For the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) to be understood as signi-
cant intellectual work in the academy, SoTL practitioners need to identify shared
principles of good practice. While honoring the diversity of SoTL in its many forms
across the globe, such principles can serve as a heuristic for assessing work in
our eld. These principles include (1) inquiry into student learning, (2) grounded
in context, (3) methodologically sound, (4) conducted in partnership with stu-
dents, and (5) appropriately public. Taken together, these ve principles can be
guideposts for developing and rening in di vidual SoTL inquiries and larger SoTL
initiatives. These principles also can clarify and demystify SoTL to those on our
campuses who evaluate our work, helping us to make the case for institutional
resources and support for SoTL. Even more importantly, these principles articu-
late a vision of a scholarship that enhances, perhaps even transforms, teaching
and learning in higher education.
KEYWORDS
principles, practice, quality, evaluation, methods, students
In the United States, the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) tends to be
classroom- oriented, rather than theory- or hypothesis- driven. Faculty o en start with “a
teaching problem” (Bass, 1999), a discipline- based question linked to what they see in
the learning, or the misunderstandings, of their own students. is inductive, grounded
approach emerges in part because faculty o en learn and practice SoTL on their own or
with colleagues in ad hoc professional development seings, not being trained in graduate
school or in post- graduate coursework on learning sciences and educational research
(Sorcinelli et al., 2005). e amateur culture o en makes US SoTL more of a methodo-
logical and theoretical mu than its cousins from other countries, such as Australia and
the United Kingdom (Bernstein, 2010).
While this diversity has allowed SoTL to develop and grow widely in the US and
across the world, it also has produced a kind of inconsistency, perhaps even incoher-
ence, that makes it dicult to evaluate the quality of SoTL inquiries—particularly as the
international SoTL community develops. is is no small problem. As Bernstein argues,
“W hen we describe teaching as serious intellectual work or scholarship, we need to prove
that the products of teaching can also be rigorously evaluated for excellence by a com-
munity of peers” (2008, p. 51).
Scholarly peer review typically builds on disciplinary norms about the means and
122 TEACHING & LEARNING INQUIRY, VOL. 1.1 2013
Peter Felten
markers of excellence. In SoTL, however, shared denitions are elusive (Woodhouse,
2010; Poer & Kustra, 2011) and perhaps not even desirable if we value the classroom
focus that has beneted the evolution of SoTL. And even for the best, most rigorous SoTL
projects, the appropriate location for and approach to “going public” can be uncertain.
Huber notes (2009), for example, that inuential SoTL in the US o en has not appeared
in traditional scholarly venues, but rather owed through less formal networks of schol-
ars inquiring into student learning. For these reasons, the SoTL community cannot and
should not rely exclusively on the typical method of judging scholarly quality, publication
in top- tier peer- reviewed journals.
ese limitations, however, must not prevent us being able to make distinctions
about quality in SoTL. For scholarly inquiry into student learning to be recognized as
signicant intellectual work in the academy, we (the community of practitioners) need
to articulate our shared norms, our common principles of good practice of inquiry into
student learning. ese principles should reect the essential characteristics of exem-
plary work (Trigwell et al., 2000), and they should echo foundational claims about the
nature and practice of SoTL, in clud ing Boyer and Shulman, Hutchings and Huber. ese
principles should not be applied bluntly, but rather should allow for the range of scholar-
practitioners across the full “continuum from classroom inquiry to rigorous educational
research” (Bernstein, 2010). While honoring the diversity of SoTL in its many forms
across the globe, principles of good practice can serve as a heuristic for understanding
and evaluating work in our eld.
Principles of Good Practice in SoTL
Inquiry focused on student learning
Grounded in context
Methodologically sound
Conducted in partnership with students
Appropriately public
e rst principle of SoTL, of course, is inquiry focused on student learning. Learn-
ing should be understood broadly to include not only disciplinary knowledge or skill
development, but also the cultivation of aitudes or habits that connect to learning. In-
quiry into learning usually focuses on students, but it also can include explorations of
how a teaching and teachers inuence student learning (Biggs, 1999). e kinds of ques-
tions that drive inquiry into learning will vary, ranging across the disciplines (Huber &
Morreale, 2002) and across Hutchings’ taxonomy from “what works” and “what is” to
visions of the possible and theory building (2000). W hile allowing for broad denitions
and diverse questions, quality inquiry must have clear goals and be criti cally reective
(Glassick et al., 1997). us, good practice in SoTL requires focused, criti cal inquiry into
a well- dened aspect of student learning.
Similarly, good practice is grounded in both scholarly and local context. Scholar-
ship of any type builds on what is known, using relevant theory, practice- based litera-
ture, and prior research to establish a rm foundation for inquiry (Glassick et al., 1997).
For SoTL, aention to context also requires sensitivity to the location and dynamics of
the inquiry, since all SoTL is rooted in particular classroom, disciplinary, institutional
123
PRINCIPLES OF GOOD PCTICE IN SOTL
and cultural contexts (Hutchings & Huber, 2005). Considerations of good practice in
SoTL also should be cognizant of the dierent environments of faculty work. Some of us
teach large numbers of students, making quantitative methodologies more possible than
for those of us who teach small classes (Peters et al., 2008); some of us have very heavy
teaching loads and lile research support, while others have more time and resources to
support our work. Any measure of good practice must account for both the scholarly and
the local context where that work is being done.
ird, good practice in SoTL is methodologically sound. From its beginnings in the
United States, SoTL practitioners have struggled with methodological questions. Huber
and Morreale (2002) made the case for “disciplinary styles” within the movement, rec-
ognizing how dierent disciplines incline faculty toward dierent questions and distinct
ways of collecting and analysing evidence of student learning. At the same time, social
science research methods became particularly inuential, in no small part because these
approaches had been developed by experts to study learning and development. Authors
of helpful guides to SoTL practice, such as McKinney (2007), have identied a smor-
gasbord of SoTL methods that have been used extensively in the United States. How-
ever, arguments in favor of discipline- specic methods continue to resonate (e.g., Bass
& Linkon, 2008). Regardless of the methods employed, good practice in SoTL requires
the intentional and rigorous application of research tools that connect the question at
the heart of a particular inquiry to student learning.
Fourth, good practice requires that inquiry into learning be conducted in partner-
ship with students. At a minimum, SoTL must follow the basic tenets of human subjects
research, ensuring that students are not harmed and that participants understand their
rights (Hutchings, 2000). Beyond that baseline, however, partnering with students in
inquiry is becoming a more widely recognized component of eective SoTL. Building
on the work of Carnegie Scholars like Carmen Werder, in 2005 Hutchings and Huber
urged the expansion of the “teaching commons” to include students. ey deepened that
call later to emphasize the need for “a commitment to more shared responsibility for
learning among students and teachers, a more democratic intellectual community, and
more authentic co- inquiry” (Hutchings & Huber in Werder & Otis, 2010, p. xii). SoTL
practitioners, o en in partnership with students, have demonstrated the power and pos-
sibilities of such collaborative work (Werder & Otis, 2010; Bovill et al., 2011). While
full partnership may not be practical or appropriate in all SoTL projects, good practice
requires engaging students in the inquiry process.
Finally, good practice involves “going public.” For two decades, Shulman has empha-
sized this step as essential as a means of making teaching “community property.” Trig-
well and his colleagues have articulated a helpful model that includes four dimensions
of “communication” about SoTL, beginning with “none” and progressing through local
conversations with colleagues to reports at national conferences and ultimately “publi-
cation in international scholarly journals” (2000, p. 163). While much SoTL ts neatly
within this model, Bernstein and Bass (2005) have made the case for less traditional for-
mats for going pub lic with SoTL inquiries, arguing that “Sustained inquiry into student
learning across semesters that is made widely available in an electronic course portfolio
is a high form of scholarship in its own right” (p. 42). Because SoTL inquiry typically is
iterative and highly contextual, the most appropriate ways to go pub lic should capture and
reect the evolving nature of this form of research. In many cases, that is not possible in
124 TEACHING & LEARNING INQUIRY, VOL. 1.1 2013
Peter Felten
a traditional scholarly journal. Regardless of the format, however, good practice in SoTL
requires that both the process and the products of inquiry are pub lic so that colleagues
can critique and use the work.
Taken together, these ve principles can be used as guideposts for developing and
rening both in di vidual SoTL inquiries and larger SoTL initiatives. A faculty member who
is rst dipping her toe into the SoTL waters can ask how each applies to her own question
about student learning. More experienced colleagues can weigh the relative strengths and
weakness of past or future inquiries by measuring each against the ve principles. For those
involved in broader SoTL programs, these principles encourage comparison and contrast
across diverse projects and disciplines, perhaps even leading to the creation of a rubric
that articulates locally dened standards of excellence on each of the ve principles. As
Gale (2008) persuasively argues, moving toward more collaborative inquiry is essential
for SoTL to reach its full potential, although doing so will be dicult without losing the
grass- roots approach to inquiry that has been the heartbeat of so much SoTL. ese ve
principles of good practice may help colleagues and campuses work together across their
dierences by underscoring the common aspects of distinct inquiries.
Not only would guiding principles help us do our work, but they would also help
clarify and demystify SoTL to those who evaluate this work. On many campuses, admin-
istrative and faculty colleagues may not understand scholarly inquiry into student learn-
ing, and some are skeptical of claims about a “scholarship” of teaching and learning. One
way to change their minds is for SoTL practitioners to come together in articulating and
upholding norms that reect the best of our work. Principles of good practice can act as
lenses for them, and for us, focusing on what we already do well, and establishing vision
for what we aspire to do. Shaping that vision is essential for making the case for institu-
tional resources and support for our work, and even more importantly, for upholding our
professional obligations as teacher- scholars.
Peter Felten is assistant provost and executive director of the Center for Engaged Learning and the
Center for the Advancement of Teaching & Learning, and an associate professor of history at Elon
University.
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In this paper we present a model which describes the scholarship of teaching. We ® rst explore what scholarship of teaching means, both in terms of the way it is represented in the literature and also the way it is understood by academic staff themselves. From this information, we derive a multi-dimensional model of scholarship of teaching which captures the variation found in the literature and empirical studies. In the ® nal section, we illustrate how the model is used in informing the design of programs for development of the scholarship of teaching in universities.
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Proponents of the scholarship of teaching and learning claim that it holds huge potential to improve teaching in higher education. The viability of this claim is assessed by examining epistemic and educational challenges to the assumptions that underlie prevailing models of SoTL. The assessment indicates that the assumptions are flawed and identifies significant questions about what has been achieved and how to move forward. An alternative model for the scholarship of teaching is proposed.
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Although the liberal arts college, with its traditional focus on teaching, may seem like a natural environment for the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL), few such institutions participate in national SoTL initiatives. Our associates' experience since 2001 suggests a model for supporting SoTL in teaching-intensive contexts based on faculty ownership, a focus on general education, and some emerging rules of engagement. Because faculty reward systems must validate SoTL if it is to become part of the institutional culture, we also describe one department's efforts to reform its review criteria in order to define scholarly activity broadly.
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This chapter proposes that a scholarship of teaching and learning focused on collaborative and collective inquiry can be more effective and have greater impact on student learning and the advancement of knowledge than investigations accomplished by individual faculty and students working in isolation. This conclusion is arrived at as a result of examining the work of Carnegie Scholars and the Carnegie Academy for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Campus Program participants since 1998.
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hutchings, p. (2000). Opening Lines: Approaches to the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning palo alto, Ca: Carnegie foundation for the advancement of Teaching.