The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) is a research-based approach that focuses on investigating and improving teaching practices in higher education. SoTL encourages faculty members to engage in systematic inquiry, reflect on their pedagogical approaches, and share their findings with the educational community. While SoTL holds immense potential to enhance teaching and learning, its successful integration into teaching programmes is not without challenges. In this blog post, I explore some of the common obstacles that educators face when incorporating SoTL into their teaching programmes and discuss potential strategies to address them.
One of the primary challenges is the lack of awareness and understanding among educators about the concept and benefits of SoTL. Many faculty members may be unfamiliar with the terminology or may perceive it as an additional burden on their already demanding teaching responsibilities. Educators may need support and guidance to develop a clear understanding of SoTL and its relevance to their teaching practice (Poole, 2013). Some faculty may perceive SoTL as somehow ‘lesser’ in quality to conventional research. This can be countered by ensuring that projects adhere to standard research conventions in terms of research questions, methodology and ethical clearance. Publication of SoTL is an important pathway to impact; whether this be in an academic journal, or other means. Blogging is a great way to bring research findings to the attention of the teaching community, and a far quicker way to do this than publishing in journals.
In response to this challenge, institutions can raise awareness and understanding of SoTL by organising workshops, seminars, and professional development programmes to introduce faculty members to the principles and methodologies of the discipline. Encouraging staff to engage in SoTL research through incentives and recognition, linked to promotion processes, can also foster interest and awareness (Baxter et al., 2018).
Another significant challenge in incorporating SoTL into teaching programmes is the time and resource constraints faced by educators. Engaging in SoTL research requires time for data collection, analysis, and dissemination. Additionally, faculty members may lack access to necessary resources, such as funding for research-related expenses or institutional support for data analysis and dissemination (Bishop-Clark & Dietz-Uhler, 2012).
In order to facilitate SoTL, institutions should recognise and prioritise the value of SoTL research by allocating dedicated time and resources for faculty members to engage in scholarly teaching. Providing financial support, seedcorn grants, and access to research infrastructure can alleviate the time and resource constraints associated with SoTL. Factoring SoTL into workload planning can also mean that staff have time to prioritise SoTL, rather than trying to carry out projects and writing on the margins of their time.
The institutional culture plays a crucial role in the integration of SoTL into teaching programmes. In some institutions, the emphasis on research productivity and traditional disciplinary scholarship may overshadow the recognition and value given to teaching scholarship. This lack of institutional support and recognition for SoTL can act as a barrier for faculty members to engage in scholarly teaching (Felten, 2013). Certain departments can also suffer from this rather blinkered mentality, making it impossible for colleagues to retain credibility and carry out this type of research. In some cases, line managers who come from a traditional research background may actually forbid their staff to carry out SoTL, again this emanates from lack of understanding of how powerful this type of research can be, not only from a teaching and learning perspective, but equally in relation to the formation of a salient academic identity. This is particularly true in the case of practitioners transitioning into academia (Baxter et al., 2023).
Institutions need to foster a culture that values and rewards SoTL. This can be achieved by establishing clear promotion and tenure guidelines that explicitly recognise the importance of teaching scholarship. Creating SoTL-focused communities of practice, establishing mentoring programmes, and showcasing successful SoTL initiatives can also contribute to building a supportive institutional culture.
SoTL research often involves adopting different research methodologies and techniques that may be new to educators. Conducting rigorous research, collecting valid and reliable data, and ensuring ethical considerations can pose challenges for faculty members without prior research experience. Additionally, determining appropriate assessment methods to measure the impact of teaching interventions can be complex (McKinney, 2007; Baxter et al., 2023). In this case, faculties can offer training and resources to help faculty members develop research skills and adopt appropriate methodologies for SoTL investigations. Collaborative partnerships between educators and educational researchers can provide valuable support in designing and implementing robust SoTL studies. Furthermore, establishing clear guidelines and frameworks for assessing and evaluating SoTL work can assist faculty members in navigating the assessment challenges.
In summary, incorporating SoTL into teaching programmes can significantly contribute to the enhancement of teaching and learning in higher education. However, various challenges must be addressed to facilitate its successful integration. By raising awareness, providing support, fostering a culture of recognition, and offering methodological guidance, institutions can empower faculty members to engage in SoTL research effectively. Overcoming these challenges will not only improve teaching practices but also contribute to the broader scholarship of higher education, advancing our collective understanding of effective pedagogy.
Baxter, J., Callaghan, G., & McAvoy, J. (2018). Creativity and Critique in Online Learning: Exploring and Examining Innovations in Online Pedagogy: Springer.
Baxter, J., Myers, F., H., S.-F., & Morales.A. (2023). Report into transitional identities in academia In J. Baxter (Ed.). Milton Keynes The Open University UK
Bishop-Clark, C., & Dietz-Uhler, B. (2012). Engaging in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning: A Guide to the Process, and How to Develop a Project from Start to Finish. Stylus Publishing.
Felten, P. (2013). Principles of Good Practice in SoTL. Teaching and Learning Inquiry, 1(1), 121-125.
McKinney, K. (2007). Enhancing Learning through the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning: The Challenges and Joys of Juggling. Jossey-Bass.
Poole, G. (2013). A Perspective on SoTL's Roles in Higher Education. Teaching and Learning Inquiry, 1(1), 85-88
Professor Jacqueline Baxter is Professor of Public Leadership and Management in the Department of Public Leadership and Social Enterprise at the Open University Business School.
She is Director of the Scholarship Centre for innovation in online Legal and Business education in the Faculty of Business and Law, lead author of the forthcoming edited collection, Creativity and critique in digital teaching: Exploring innovations in pedagogy in business and law (Baxter et al, in press).