What is SoTL?

In basic terms, SoTL can be thought of as “researching one’s own teaching”. Engaging in SoTL is a curiosity-driven activity that involves reflection, discovery, and the gathering of evidence to answer one’s own questions about teaching and learning within an academic context. Unlike educational research in the traditional sense (and as a discipline), SoTL is action- and practice-oriented research that often incorporates reflection, with the goal being to understand what contributes to (or hinders) effective teaching and learning and how best to apply such knowledge into one’s own practice and context.

The concept of SoTL also goes beyond scholarly teaching, whereby one applies evidence-based methods to teaching, and aims to add to the evidence-base on teaching and learning approaches and methodologies in a context-specific manner. Thus, SoTL can be considered a unique merging/sits at the intersection of scholarly teaching and traditional education research. Similar to other forms of scholarship, findings from SoTL activities are peer-reviewed and disseminated to the public to foster scholarly teaching and promote best-practice and evidence-based approaches to learning.

The concept of SoTL gained popularity with the seminal work of Ernest L. Boyer, who more formerly conceptualized the scholarship of teaching (now commonly referred to as SoTL) in higher education (Boyer, 1990):

We believe the time has come to move beyond the tired old “teaching versus research” debate and give the familiar and honorable term “scholarship” a broader, more capacious meaning, one that brings legitimacy to the full scope of academic work. Surely, scholarship means engaging in original research. But the work of the scholar also means stepping back from one’s investigation, looking for connections, building bridges between theory and practice, and communicating one’s knowledge effectively to students. Specifically, we conclude that the work of the professoriate might be thought of as having four separate, yet overlapping, functions. These are: the scholarship of discovery; the scholarship of integration; the scholarship of application; and the scholarship of teaching. (p. 16)

Further Reading:

Chick, N. (2019). SoTL The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. A Guide from the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning. Calgary: Taylor Institute.

Geertsema, J. (2016). Academic development, SoTL and educational research. International Journal for Academic Development21(2), 122-134. https://doi.org/10.1080/1360144X.2016.1175144

Hutchings, P., Huber, M., & Ciccone, A. (2011). The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Reconsidered. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.*

Hutchings, P., & Shulman, L. S. (1999). The scholarship of teaching: New elaborations, new developments. Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning31(5), 10-15. https://doi.org/10.1080/00091389909604218 *

Laverty, C. (2016). Educational Research: A Practical Guide. Kingston: Queen’s University.

McKinney, K. (2006). Attitudinal and structural factors contributing to challenges in the work of the scholarship of teaching and learning. New directions for institutional research129, 37-50. https://doi.org/10.1002/ir.170 *

Poole, G., & Simmons, N. (2013). The contributions of the scholarship of teaching and learning to quality enhancement in Canada. Enhancing quality in higher education: International perspectives, 118-128.

Trigwell, K., Martin, E., Benjamin, J., & Prosser, M. (2000). Scholarship of teaching: A model. Higher Education Research & Development19(2), 155-168. https://doi.org/10.1080/072943600445628 *

* Considered seminal works on SoTL


Boyer, E. L. (1990). Scholarship reconsidered: Priorities of the professoriate. Lawrenceville, NJ: Princeton University Press.

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