The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning

According to the Center for Excellence in Teaching & Learning at Kennesaw State University, the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning or “SoTL” can be defined as “systematic inquiry into student learning and/or one’s own teaching practices in higher education which is situated in context and involves methodologically sound application of appropriate research methods, peer review, and distribution as scholarly work” (Steiner, 2020). Although definitions vary, there are key components of SoTL that appear to be agreed upon in the literature. SoTL is formal research conducted by instructors (sometimes with student collaborators) that involves formulating and testing hypotheses, using rigorous methods, and making the results public. These studies might investigate how students learn, the effectiveness of specific instructional strategies, characteristics of instructors that influence student learning, and much, much more.

The Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching provides a nice history of SoTL. They note that it is commonly traced to the work of Ernest Boyer (1990) and his use and description of the term “scholarship of teaching” in the process of defining four kinds of scholarly work in the academy that he believed should be valued (in the piece Scholarship Reconsidered). In a subsequent piece, Scholarship Assessed, Glassick, Huber, & Maeroff (1997) further described the attributes of SoTL, such as needing clear goals and grounding in reflection. Of course, instructors had been conducting research on teaching and learning long before the term was coined. That said, a formal movement to legitimize SoTL as rigorous research, the popularization of SoTL journals, and the creation of professional development opportunities around it certainly followed the work of Boyer and Glassick et al. in a way that had not happened previously. You can see that in the relatively short histories of some of the large engines of SoTL today. For example, the Carnegie Academy for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (CASTL) was launched in 1998, and the International Society of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (ISSOTL) was not founded until 2004. The latter organization has brought attention to SoTL as a potential interdisciplinary practice, where it had often been thought of as discipline-specific. (For a good list of disciplinary journals that are potential outlets for SoTL work, see:

The Wisconsin Teaching Fellows and Scholars Program is a competitive opportunity UW System offers for two instructors from each campus and from a wide range of disciplines to join a year-long community in which they engage with pedagogical literature and create and carry out a SoTL project of their own with input from the program co-leaders and participants.

One common misconception about SoTL is that it is the same as “scholarly teaching.” Remember that SoTL involves conducting systematic research into teaching and learning in higher education, as well as making those results public. Scholarly teaching, on the other hand, does not entail conducting research but instead refers to a systematic and coherent approach to teaching. Potter and Kustra (2011) describe scholarly teaching this way: “critically reflective practice, evidence-based teaching, and theory-guided teaching are intentionally, systematically, and strategically integrated into one’s identity and behaviors as a teacher” (p. 12). Thus, SoTL may be one source that informs scholarly teaching, but the two are not one in the same. We at CATL strive to help all instructors become scholarly teachers but know that only some will engage in formal SoTL activities. If you’re interested in SoTL and looking for a place to start, please don’t hesitate to schedule a consultation.