Open Menu Close Menu Open Search Close Search
The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) is a systematic engagement with research related to student learning that is published in peer-reviewed journals to advance the knowledge base of peers.   SoTL is an inherently reflective scholarship, and allows you to develop projects rooted within the scholarly practices of your discipline.  
This page poses a series of steps and guiding questions that may be helpful in conceptualizing your own SoTL project.

Step 1: Explore your own teaching experiences and challenges

Students sit and work at a table.

  • Reflect on your teaching:
    • Reflect on your own teaching by answering these questions: 
      • Have you tried a new technique in your courses?  
      • What leads you to seek information about your teaching? 
    • Reflect on your courses and students: 
      • Have new challenges arisen in your course or curriculum? 
      • What about your students learning are you interested in learning more about?
  • Have conversations: 
    • What conversations have you had with colleagues to explore and deepen your ideas about teaching and learning?  
    • Where might you find interdisciplinary connections to your ideas and potential collaborators with similar interests and challenges?

Step 2: Envision a study

Consider your field and your own interests to come up with a list of topics you might explore in your own SoTL research, then narrow it down to one viable topic.

  •  Select a topic for your research
    • What research topics are interesting to you?
    • What is the significance of these topics?  
    • What resources and time-frame do you have available for this study?  These can include curriculum/course innovations you are trying, flexibility in designing and using assessments, colleagues to partner with – including those outside your discipline and institution.
    • What access to data/students do you have?  
    • How can you incorporate assessments or data collection into ongoing work? 
  • Formulate Clear Questions: All research  starts with the identification of a key question to be answered or problem to be investigated, in the case of SoTL work they target conditions that can improve learning.  Focused questions will guide the nature of the study and the resources needed to conduct it.  Hutchings described four types of questions SoTL projects answer:
    • What works? (evaluating evidence about the relative effectiveness of teaching approaches).
    • What is? (describing teaching approaches and how students learn), 
    • What could be possible? (unmet or new goals for teaching and learning), 
    • What broader theories exist? (build the theoretical framework behind SoTL works)
  • Draft a list of potential questions.  Reflect on your questions, discuss them with colleagues and refine them until you have one that you think you can study.

Step 3: Explore the literatureTufts library shelves

  • Determine the context: As you design a new study, you need to be informed by relevant prior work to situate your work in the larger contexts of what is already known and what similar investigations have found.  This is critical to establishing the credibility of your study as well as informing the design of your investigation.  It includes looking within the discipline for similar investigations, and the broader literature on teaching and learning to ground your study.
    • Gather articles of similar studies in your discipline – describe the types of questions do they ask, the characteristics of the study design and the types of evidence and data they use to find their study.   Consider the advice in the blog post The SoTL Lit Review
    • Identify collaborators in with a deep background in education and colleagues in your local teaching and learning center to help identify broader educational theories in which to ground your research questions. 

Step 4: Design a study for peer-review and public dissemination

  • Design the Study. Decide how you will investigate your questions. Consider disciplinary research models, qualitative techniques that are flexible and allow you to understand the ‘why’ behind your questions and quantitative data that could be used for comparisons or statistics to test your hypothesis.   Many SoTL investigations use both qualitative and quantitative data to capture the complexity of the environment of teaching and learning. They can include action research models, case studies, quasi-experimental design, phenomenological studies or controlled studies.  (A resource for scales used in pedagogical research –
    • List the types of data you could collect and how each could be applied to an investigation of your key questions.  Consider the study design within each context.
    • Identify a potential journal for publication, whether in your discipline or a broader SoTL publications and review your study design to make sure it meets guidelines for publications in the journal, including any assessment components.
  • Ethics & Institutional Review Boards. As our students are our professional responsibility, many SoTL studies require Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval, although it is not necessary for a teacher exploring a course for the sole purpose of assessing their teaching each semester.  However, if the study involves the collection of data from human subjects (e.g. students) and involves research (contributing to generalizable knowledge, e.g., publication or presentation to others), IRB approval must be sought ahead of time.  
    • Consult with staff at your institutions IRB (Tufts Social and Behavioral IRB to consider the distinctions between exempt, expedited and full IRB review and the characteristics of the study design elements you are considering using.   Search for institutional specific policies, regulations, submission materials and review dates.
    • Take the required  Collaborative Institutional Training Initiative (CITI) Program, to learn more.
    • Submit your study design for IRB approval.  Be sure to not start any collection of data prior to obtaining approval (or notification of exempt status) from the IRB board as no research may be done with data obtained prior to approval.
  • Practical Considerations. As you review the possible research design methods, discuss your ideas with colleagues to strengthen the study design, consider potential pitfalls and resources that could help you conduct your study.   Key issues to consider include: How much time will the study take (both conducing the study and the time period over which you will investigate it)?  What resources will the study need – will you need to seek institutional review board approval before starting? Do you require materials that you do not currently have for the collection or analysis of data?  What types of assessment might inform your study within the context of the environment in which you are teaching? 
    • Review your list of types of data that you could use to could investigate your questions and consider the overall SoTL study design, resources, methodology, and timeline for each.  
    • Discuss these designs with colleagues to help identify the best design for your investigation.

Step 5: Gather & Analyze the Data

  • Now that you have your approved study design, you are prepared for the work of conducting your study, collecting your

    Tufts library.

    data and analyzing it.

Step 6: Disseminate Results

  • Write-up the study. Unlike research in many disciplines, reflective practice is integral to the field of SoTL.  As you contextualize your findings, they become part of a broader continuous cycle of course or curriculum improvements, so SoTL work often considers the experience of the faculty member, lessons learned, how student experiences and learning were affected and the broader implications of the results for higher education.  Sharing your findings can go beyond publication in a SoTL or disciplinary journal; faculty often present their innovations at their home institution or through venues such as educational conferences or newsletters.
After looking through this information, you can CONTACT THE CENTER to arrange a consultation with CELT staff for more support.  CELT partners with faculty to help them get started with scholarly investigations about their teaching.   

Return to Feedback from Scholarship (SOTL)