Key Characteristics of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning

Key Characteristics of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning

September 8, 2019 0 By Ronny Jaskolski


The most basic definition of scholarship of
teaching and learning that I use is that it is faculty undertaking systematic inquiry of learning in his
or her own classroom. Every time a professor or a teacher teaches a
course they’re engaged in an experiment; the syllabus is a hypothesis that if I teach
the class this way, if I teach this material in this
order, and if students do these things then I hypothesize that something will
happen. Students will learn, they’ll grow, they’ll benefit, and that’s how we play out every single time
we teach. What’s missing is that that final step
of what an experimental mode would be, which is this is my hypothesis, this is
the unfolding, and now I have to look very closely at the
results and reexamine my hypothesis. So that loop closing happens always in some informal way — that didn’t
work, I’ll never do that again, that was great, I’m always good on that
day, students love this — but we often don’t undertake that loop in a very systematic way, so for me the
scholarship for teaching and learning is about taking that last step in the hypothesis testing that every
act of teaching is and picking some dimension, looking at it
systematically, looking sensitively and rigorously at the
evidence of student learning, and asking if the assumptions that are
going into this learning design are correct and if there are things that I might do differently. The key characteristic of SoTL work for
me is that it’s a form of inquiry. Some people like the term research, some
people prefer inquiry. It is certainly based on notions of reflective practice and reflecting on your
teaching; that’s the starting point. For me personally, SoTL involves not
just an inquiry into your teaching practices, but it has to have focus on
students’ learning. So student learning is the actual
focus of inquiry in SoTL, thats that’s my personal understanding
of it. A definition that I like is sort of as follows… It’s faculty bringing their habits and skills as scholars to their work as teachers. So habits of asking questions, gathering
evidence of all different kinds, drawing conclusions or raising new
questions, and bringing what they learn through
that to the thing they were looking at in the
first place, which is students’ learning — and their own teaching, of course. So it’s a kind of cycle, but it’s
essentially behaving as they do as a scholar in other
settings and bringing that to their work as teachers. The key characteristics
of SoTL really are bringing your research to your
teaching in a systematic way so that what you plan to do for your
students you carry out and you test and you figure
out exactly their response and what might make their learning better. So it’s about really addressing
your teaching with the research knowledge that you
have. In the root metaphor of scholarship of teaching and learning
is inquiry, and that’s what differentiates that kind of teaching from regular
teaching is that you are continually asking a question…
It doesn’t have to be a cosmic question about whether education in some theoretical way is working as a model, but it’s more a
question that could be relayed simply to, “Are
students achieving what I hoped for, or what they hoped for?” And so the central
feature is that you’re asking a question. What that means is that when you’re doing scholarship of teaching and learning, you are looking for an answer, and that brings into play a second key idea, which is that involves evidence.
Some scholarship of teaching and learning work is purely conceptual, but much of it is asking a question, observing something
to see if you can find an answer to that question,
and then framing what you learn from it. The key characteristics of SoTL have
probably changed over the past 20 years since the term entered the vocabulary in
higher education. To me the key element is for faculty and those who are working with them to look
closely and critically at student learning. But in fact you can elaborate that
because it involves what you do with that knowledge. First of all, to look closely and critically,
it helps to have a really good question, so having a question would be the first
step, and its typically the way in which people enter the
scholarship of teaching and learning, by thinking about something that
troubles them in their classroom or something that pleases them, something they’d like to know better. So
it’s developing that sense of… inquiry in what you do in the classroom, or as
we’ll probably talk a little later about in your program or some larger unit in which you are a part. So asking that question is very important and then you get to devising ways of
answering a question. How you go about answering that
question — that is one where it’s very helpful to have
colleagues to work with and think about. Sometimes
you can answer your question just by a careful
look at student work for your class, but sometimes you have to be
thinking about you question before you even devise and design your assignments for your class so
that you’ll have work that will more readily answer it. Many
people go further than that and they look at… they do some other things too — interview students, they’ll do surveys,
they’ll do other things, and… kinda depends what you asked and what
you want to know and what you’re comfortable with
methodologically. Frequently taking comfort in procedures you’re familiar with from
your discipline. So there you have a question, you have a
way of going about answering it, and for some people, the
most important part is what you do with that information and that is where you redesign, reboot… your course or
assignment, an assessment, or even a whole program
based on many things that you’re learning
about what your students are thinking and what they are doing. And for some people the really
critical piece after that is going public with what you are learning. We’ve tried to think of going public frequently in
programs for the scholarship of teaching and learning in a wide… with a wide range of… speaking with your colleagues about it
at the most informal level all the way up to publishing papers or books, as a result of the whole program of work, but people shouldn’t start the scholarship
of teaching and learning with that as their only idea about what
it means to public. There are many ways in between that are
fruitful and that help move the discussion about
teaching and learning forward. Key characteristics of SoTL work… I think focus in some part, anyway, not just on the nature of the work but
who is doing the work. I have been asked a few times about the
difference between educational research, which we’ve been doing for centuries, and SoTL, which appears to be
a relatively new thing on the landscape. My answer is it’s not so much about necessarily the research questions or
even some of the methods, but it is about who — who’s doing the work, and when SoTL is going well, the number of people doing
the work is greatly expanded, the range of people, the diversity of
people is greatly expanded, and what that’s supposed to do is increase the impact of the work, because more of it
is being conducted, as we might say, at the coal face. I think the key
characteristics for SoTL work begin with asking interesting
questions, and those interesting questions typically but not always come from a
challenge that someone is having with their teaching or
with their students’ learning or the interface between the two. So I think asking those interesting
questions begins with the characteristics of good SoTL work, and then working out a
methodology, a way of gathering answers to the question — the evidence from the students, the
teachers’ reflections — all the relevant evidence… Finding a
design and methodology that not only reflects the nature of the question but in many ways, sometimes more
importantly, the nature of the expertise of the
researcher or researchers. Now I know that’s a slightly contested
response because some people say that the the research design and methodology
should come specifically from the question and the question alone, but to avoid what some have called amateur work in SoTL, I think we have to bring our expertise
to the table, and I think there’s plenty room in SoTL
for a variety of ways to answer questions, and so I think a methodology grounded
in… a methodology for answering questions
grounded in a question and the researchers’ expertise, and then finely, I think a key
characteristic would be going public in some way — sharing the
findings, whether they’re positive or negative findings, whether I found that my students’ learned greatly or revealed many misconceptions that make me have to go back to the starting point. Whatever those findings are, sharing them publicly beyond just one’s
institution, to a larger audience, to build knowledge on whatever the question
is because chances are many people have asked the same question or wondered the
same thing or dealt with the same challenge but to build on that conversation, to
build that knowledge, to continue the conversation, and to enter that kind of broader audience beyond one’s institution. So
for me those three characteristics are
essential for SoTL: beginning with an interesting question,
having a methodology that’s grounded in the question and the researcher’s expertise, and then
going public in some broad way. I think of SoTL in four ways. It’s a perspective on
teaching and learning; it’s a set of practices that we use to
investigate teaching and learning; it’s a product that comes about from that
investigation; and it’s also something that has an
impact. So I would start by saying that the most
important part of SoTL work for me is the fact that it’s
a perspective; it says that teaching and learning are areas where we can ask intelligent,
consequential questions. We start there, I don’t think
we can go very far wrong. When you’re doing it yourself, two things
happen. One is that you get to look at the
questions that you really care about. So I’m often looking when I’m
reading people’s articles at whether what they’re talking about is
useful to me. Can I apply it? Can I adapt it? Can it inform my teaching? But when I’m asking my own questions, it’s
a much more direct process. The other thing that happens when you do
your own is that you have to think much more
carefully about what I think student learning
looks like because you have to define it. You have to look at the work that
somebody did and say “yeah that’s what learning looks like,
right there,” and that process I think makes me a better teacher in ways that reading
other people’s articles doesn’t, because it gets me closer to it.