Reading: Approaching the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning


“Approaching the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning” by Pat Hutchings (2000). Available here.


Overall I though the work did a good job of describing the foundations of SoTL by explaining how it came about and through the use of examples from SoTL researchers and how they have defined the work they are doing.

As with most writings that I have found on this topic, there isn’t any representation from the engineering education community. While this can sometimes have disadvantages due to the pecularities of engineering, the sciences are close enough to provide some points of comparison. The one other thing I noted was the underrepresentation of untenured faculty in the panel of individuals chosen to form this representative sample.

…the wood cutter who never found the time to sharpen his saw and therefore wasted both time and energy. ~ Cindi Fukami, page 2

This wood cutter analogy seems to speak to the inneficiency in higher education. Much of which stems from overcommittment of faculty who don’t have time to evaluate their teaching practices and identify the places where they could be more effective and/or efficient. This can likely be helped by proper allocation of resources to support effective educational practices. But how is that requirement quantified? Will certainly vary by individual.

…the shaping of a good question for the scholarship of teaching and learning is not only a practical and intellectual task but often a moral and ethical one as well. ~ page 3

This statement is quite true. How much can we “experiment” on students when it is their education that is at stake. Is it ethical to continue a control group if we discover that the method is working exceptionally well? On the other hand, we are not talking about immediate life threatening circumstances as is the case in comparison medical device or drug research.

But in one’s teaching, a “problem” is something you don’t want to have, and if you have one, you probably want to fix it. ~ page 3

I thought this was another good point. Thought about this notion is necessary to help define was SoTL research entails. Saying that the research revolves around a problem as is normally the case can invite greater criticism. Why does your teaching method have a “problem”? Are your students deficient because of this problem?

The document clasified the types of questions asked in SoTL into the categories: “what works”, “what is”, and “visions of the possible” on page 4. I think that this project is likely in the “what works” category as I am trying to develop and understand a method to solve what I perceive as a deficiency in my curriculum.

For many faculty, this means becoming familiar with approaches that are totally new and even against the grain, a process that can be both exciting and intimidating. ~ page 6

This is very true for me. I’m not overly familiar with the use of human subjects in my research and the methods that go along with it. I’m still a little apprehensive about the use of surveys as a means of collecting data. Surveys seem to me to be easily manipulated by the individuals completing them. Also, I would think that survey responses are naturally skewed from reality because of self-perception. Of course I’m not an expert in this to perhaps there are ways to correct for these things. Needs more investigation on my part.

…have to change the script as you go because your best judgement tells you that a change would be an improvement for the students. ~ Bill Cerbin, page 8

This comes back to the previous point about the ethical implications of SoTL research in the classroom. I think consideration is needed here. Is the goal long-term curriculum improvement through quality study or the gains that may be found in an individual class at the expense of the study? I think here that the critical piece is that improvement of the curriculum is a continuum and the vision of the researcher needs to be focused on the long-term. Students will benefit more in this way.

…the desire to create stronger curricula and more powerful pedagogies… ~ page 8

As an intended “bigger picture” goal of SoTL research activities, this statement is good and agrees with the previous comment. Further, it lends itself well to engineering education to meet the “continuous improvement” requirements of the ABET accreditation evaluation.

The innovation here is to invite regular faculty, and not only education specialists, to see this kind of inquiry as a regular aspect of their work as professors. ~ page 9

This statement to me gets at the heart of it. Whats needed is validation for the kind of work that educators already are/should be doing in order to be more effective. Rather than passively assuming they are doing the best for their students as is the case for many in higher education. Too many take the approach that their pedigree justifies their existence in the classroom. Ultimately, all higher education instructors should be doing this kind of work. Variability comes in the level of documentation and dissemination.