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 


Like all good research, a SoTL study begins with an observation of a phenomenon. In this case, this phenomenon has been happening in your classroom(s). Perhaps you’re unsure why it’s happening, 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 don't have an idea for a study yet, 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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