Participatory Lesson Study – Making the capture of data in Lesson Study more explicit

Whilst Learning Study makes explicit use of variation theory (Cheng and Lo, n.d.) as a basis for analysing and understanding the process of learning, Lesson Study can be vague in establishing a link between learning and methods of analysis. Cerbin and Kopp (2006) use an approach called ‘cognitive empathy’ by developing approaches to teaching in the research seminar which make student thinking ‘visible’, in part by attempting to plan from a student perspective. Lewis (2002) considers the need to watch eyes and faces, and capturing discussion between students. Whilst both of these approaches are important and positive, in neither case will they capture the complexity of the learning process which students experience.

In attempting to base data collection on a more critical foundation regarding the learning process, we have considered the work of Nuthall (2003) and Illeris (2007). Nuthall (2007:158) emphasises the complex process of learning and its relation to teaching,

‘…how students learn from classroom activities is not simply a result of teacher-managed activities, but also the result of students’ ongoing relationships with other students and of their own self-created activities or use of resources.’

This means that a series of levels interact to make each student’s learning highly individualised:

  1. A visible layer which is that which is public and teacher-led
  2. A semi-visible layer which is the student-led culture, relationships and interaction
  3. An invisible layer which is that of the mental processes such as prior learning and working memory which is central to individual sense making.

This last layer is not visible and therefore we need to seriously consider our definition of learning as a starting point for developing a meaningful and critical set of methods for data collection.

Here, we have used the learning theory of Illeris (2007) as a basis for our understanding and capture of the learning process experienced by students. He characterises learning as being the amalgamation of a cognitive dimension which is concerned with content and individual cognitive processes, an emotional dimension which includes elements such as motivation, emotion and a will to learn, what Illeris (2007, 24) terms the ‘… mental energy.. needed to carry out a learning process’, and a social dimension which focuses on interaction between the learner and their social and material environment. This means that data capture based on approaches such as observation are still important as they are essential for gaining insight into the social aspects of learning. However, observation of individuals and their behaviours is not able to search inside the individual to gain insights into their cognitive (and often emotional) processes. The result of taking this stance is that we must say explicitly that any capture and analysis of the learning process will always be incomplete; to complete research on teaching and learning is always to work with the partial, the incomplete. Whilst we feel that this approach is appropriate, we believe there needs to be greater explicit discussion within the lesson study research community concerning the processes of learning which inform our understandings of this central issue.

Our alignment with Illeris’ (2007) theory of learning has direct implications for the methods used to gain insights into the process of learning, and also underpins our desire to develop participative approaches. As shown in Figure 3

PLS data capture

The inclusion of student focus groups is seen as helping the lecturers gain an explicit understanding of student prior learning and also which elements in their learning they believe are important for them to take further at a given point in time. The stimulated recall interviews, using artefacts from research seminars as a basis for discussion begin to give insight into the ‘invisible’ worlds (Nuthall, 2007) of students as they engage with the teaching and learning in the research seminar as well as offering extra insights through student afterthoughts. Any discussion which occurs will obviously be incomplete as not all elements of the learning experience will be recounted or remembered and some of the experience may well have been subconscious, or will only be made sense of more fully over time. However, to gain direct testimony from students, particularly when triangulated against research seminar artefacts is an important addition to analysis. These interviews also give the potential to consider the emotional dimension of the learning process, as our experience of this approach to interviewing makes explicit the affective reactions of students to their learning. Meetings, focus groups and interviews are all recorded and sent for transcribing. Transcriptions are then considered thematically to begin to analyse and understand the main insights which a project uncovers.

Other methods used to capture the social dimension of learning include the use of video and audio recording as well as observation itself. We stress that this is a process of augmenting data capture rather than the loss of one approach to be replaced by another.


Cerbin and Kopp (2006) ‘Lesson Study as a Model for Building Pedagogical Knowledge and Improving Teaching.’ International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education. 18(3), 250-257.

Cheng, E.C.K. & Lo, M.L. (n.d.) The Approach of Learning Study: Its origin and implications.

Illeris, K. (2007) How We Learn: Learning and non-learning in school and beyond. Abingdon: Routledge.

Lewis, C. (2002). Lesson Study: A Handbook of Teacher Led Instructional Change. Philadelphia: Research for Better Schools.

Nuthall, G. (2007) The Hidden Lives of Learners. Wellington: NZCER Press.

Some Initial Insights: Scholarship of Teaching and Learning as a basis for Lesson Study

In an earlier post I have suggested that Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) might usefully be investigated through the lens of Lesson Study. Three potentially important strands of SoTL were emphasised as being central to developing a deep, critical understanding and practice in teaching and learning. An activity led dimensional of practice which is emphasised and developed by Trigwell and Shale (2004) has many crossovers with the lesson study approach, including the desire to develop knowledge and conceptualisation of teaching and learning, and how this relates to disciplinary knowledge within given contexts, leading to an investigation, evaluation and reflection on both teaching and student learning. However, beyond this immediate practical utility, lesson study also offers the opportunity to consider the wider critical aspects of pedagogic practice. Kreber (2013) highlights the need to move beyond a simple ‘what works’ agenda to also consider questions such as why certain approaches might be used within a wider critical and moral framework. Using her consideration of Mezirow’s (1991) three forms of learning, lesson study has the potential not only to help understand and develop what is effective in teaching (instrumental learning), but also to consider why we see certain approaches as being desirable through understanding student experience (communicative learning) and through this to explore our own assumed values and norms as a basis for developing and realising alternatives (emancipatory learning). Such discussions will no doubt rely to a degree on a ‘what works’ basis, but only in the sense of using this within a ‘research aware’ sense to offer initial signals and evidence for developing rich approaches which are contextually driven. This then pointed towards the third element of our suggested model of SoTL, the need for an explicit moral dimension in practice. This is important in two ways, firstly, it asks us to consider our philosophies of teaching and learning as an iterative process embedded within collaborative discussions with others, and secondly, forces us to confront our own ethical stance as moral agents. At a fundamental level, teaching and learning is an inherently ethical task, and where we have the opportunity for open discussion with others concerning the development of teaching and learning through an approach such as lesson study, we are given the chance to consider and reflect upon our own philosophies and values. In our opinion, it is when such issues are considered and reflected upon by participants that lesson study has a potential to become transformative rather than acting as a mere instrumental activity to bring surface change.

Biesta (2014) talks of the need for teachers to develop ‘educationally wise judgements’ over long periods of time. Such judgements can only come from an engagement with, and understanding of, the wider pedagogic literature fused with the emergence of practice based on the ‘serious investment’ identified by Shulman (2000: 49). This suggests the need to move beyond instrumental and narrow ‘recipes’ to critical and more holistic praxis. Lesson study can be used as a relatively simple and ‘shallow’ approach to developing practice, if followed as a predetermined method and ‘given’ approach to developing practice. However, by fusing this method with insights from the field of Scholarship of Teaching and Learning there is huge potential for deep, critical engagement with issues of teaching and learning to act as a basis for continued development of pedagogic practice situated within the wider context of changes in the aims and practice of higher education.

Lesson Study as a way of Enabling Scholarship of Teaching and Learning

In the last post I tried to sketch out a possible model of Scholarship of Teaching and Learning which I think would be a positive foundation for developing pedagogy in HE. If such a framework is to be realised at a practical level, then ways of engaging in structured activity and/or research are vitally important. One approach, which at its centre is based on creating an understanding of the interplay of teaching and learning, is that of Lesson Study

An overview of Lesson Study

Lesson Study is a long established teacher-led collaborative approach which focuses on improving both the professional learning of teachers and student learning. The approach is founded on the principle that a collaborative process between teachers has the potential to bring new insights and professional development to their work. The collaboration, in its most basic form, is structured around collaborative planning, leading to the execution of the teaching session by one of the team, whilst the others observed, followed by an evaluative process where all of the team helped to deconstruct and understand what has been experienced and observed during the teaching session. Initially, Lesson Study is centred on identifying areas of difficulty in student learning, leading to the identification of a specific ‘learning challenge’. This challenge might take the form of a particular approach or skill that students often struggle with, such as the writing of a first long written assignment, a concept such as understanding ‘ontology’ within a research methods course, or it may deal with an area of subject content. The critical foundation for choosing a learning challenge however, is that it should be based around a focus which will bring development in student learning, rather than being a focus on expanding the teaching repertoire of the Lesson Study group. It should be stressed that learning challenge needs to focus on a relatively specific area of activity, and therefore if a group has a particular interest in the notion of threshold concepts it would require such large-scale concepts to be broken down into more specific units.

The learning challenge acts as the basis for developing a ‘research seminar’, or workshop/practical/lecture (from here. This breath of different teaching and learning context will be referred to as a session for ease) which tackles the chosen focus. Most sessions will only be one or two hours long, although there is no reason why longer sessions could not be considered in using lesson study. The group meets to discuss the chosen learning challenge and from this discussion to build a detailed plan of the seminar, which is to be taught. The discussion should centre around a deep consideration of which factors the group believe often responsible for the challenge occurring and how these factors can be best considered and taught during the course of the session. This can then provide the basis for a relatively detailed plan for a session, which outlines the order and nature of activities to be undertaken during the session, preferably with some notion of timings. Once this element of the planning has been achieve, the group then use their knowledge of the students who will be involved in the session to predict the types of observable response, and student learning for each stage of the session. At the core of this process is the discussion which the Lesson Study group develops as consideration and alternative ideas are shared and debated.

Once the research session has been planned one member of the group then acts as the session teacher, whilst the others in the group act as observers. A crucial aspect of Lesson Study is that observation is focused upon students as opposed to the lecturer. This means that observers are often located at either the sides or the front of the teaching session rather than at the rear as it is important that they can observed student reactions. During the taught session observers make detailed notes on the student reactions to the activities plans, including any similarities and differences to those responses which were expected at the planning phase. After the research session has concluded, the teacher in observers then meet as a group and evaluate what has been experienced. Once again, it is important within the philosophy of Lesson Study that the evaluation focuses on the learning of the students rather than the teaching of the lecturer and hence all members of the group, including the teacher should be equal participants in discussing the degree to which they believe students have overcome the learning challenge which they have chosen to focus upon. Where possible, the group can also amend the session. They have planned taking lessons from their observations, and repeat the lesson with a parallel group. If possible, another member of the group teaching on this occasion with the remainder of the members once again observing. This gives a basic Lesson Study cycle, as shown below


Lesson Study has been used as a method for improving student learning and teacher pedagogy. For well over 100 years. It originated in Japan in the latter part of the 19th century where it initially grew as an informal, teacher led approach based on developing professional dialogue, and from there developed into a more formal and national-scale approach to teacher development. This long-term development in the use of Lesson Study in Japan, has led to an national culture of teachers, self-improvement driven by the use of the technique across the school sector, and also in some University contexts.

Due to the apparent utility of Lesson Study, the technique began to spread to other education systems in Asia, including China, Singapore, Hong Kong and Indonesia. In addition, after the publication of a book called The Teaching Gap (Stigler and Hiebert, 1999) Lesson Study has also been increasingly adopted in the USA, and latterly within parts of Europe, including England, Norway, and Spain. The method has been used predominantly within a school-based context, both primary and secondary, but has also been used in a number of different contexts within initial teacher education; its use within higher education has been very limited as outlined below.

In school-based lesson study groups can be quite large, with between four and seven teachers, although triads are also relatively common. In these contexts and groups may also make use of an external consultant or academic acting as a ‘more knowledgeable other’(reference). The intention here is for an individual to act as a critical friend and source of expert knowledge concerning particular areas of pedagogy. However, it is not mandatory element of the process to have such an external presence.

Lesson Study’s spread to England also brought some additions to the basic process, pioneered by Peter Dudley (2012, 2014a, 2014b). Two major elements that were developed through his work were the focusing of the observational element of the cycle, and also a greater inclusion of student reflection relating to the learning that occurs within the research session. He argues that an attempt to observe all students within the group (within a school context this might typically be approximately 30 students) leads to a dilution of the quality of the observations made. Therefore, he suggests that each observer should only attempt to observed two or three students, but to do this in detail. As a consequence, he also suggests that during the planning meeting, the chosen students for observation should be identified and that notes developed on the expected learning reaction of students should focus on those individuals who were chosen to take part in the observation. This then requires thought concerning those students who are to act as a sample, leading to the notion of ‘archetype’students, i.e. individuals who share common traits with a wider group of individuals within the session. This might be based on ability, language acquisition or any other element of student learning which is relevant to the learning challenge.

The degree to which learning can be deemed to be an observable act depends upon how learning as a process is defined. Nuthall (2007) discusses the complexity of the process of learning which he sees as being reliant on both interactions with the teacher and with other students as well as individual processes, some of which might be observed (what he calls the semi-invisible layer), but others of which will not, as they are internal mental processes (the invisible layer). Likewise, Illeris (2007) identifies three dimensions to learning, the social, emotional and cognitive. Once again, much of the process of learning is internalised and is not observable. This means that any attempt to draw conclusions on the learning of students through observation alone will always be at best partial and at worst wholly inaccurate. Therefore, Dudley suggested the use of student interviews after the conclusion of a session to allow the Lesson Study group to gain direct insights into student reflections upon their own learning over the course of the session. Taking these two additional elements together, gives as a more nuanced and slightly different approach to Lesson Study, summarised below.


Lesson Study, therefore, becomes a potentially powerful tool for focusing on challenges which students face within their learning and the development of potential insights and solutions to help overcome those challenges. However, whilst lesson study has proved popular within education at a school-age level, there is far less use of this approach at university level.

Some research into lesson study does exist at university level, predominantly from the USA. Cerbin and Kopp (2006) outlining in detail the approach they have used, developed one of the most extensive uses of the technique through their College Lesson Study Project (CLSP). At its most extensive as reported by them, 150 faculty across a number of subjects were involved in the use of lesson study. At the centre of their approach technique is the idea of an emphasis on how students learn rather than what they learn and doing so by an approach they call ‘cognitive empathy’, which involves putting themselves in the role of the students during the planning phase in an attempt to understand the learning experience from that perspective. As such, they see a crucial element of the planning phase as being the development of sessions which make student thinking ‘visible’. Cerbin and Kopp (2006: 254) believe that lesson study is a very positive approach to building pedagogic knowledge as it ‘encompasses the full complexity of teaching and learning in the context of a single lesson.’

Some researchers (Becker et al, 2008; Alvine et al, 2007) focus their studies on what they learn from being involved within the lesson study process, both in terms of student and faculty learning. Alvine et al (2007) stress that lesson study is a very positive method for introducing pedagogic issues to young lecturers and postgraduates involved in instruction as it helps them understand some of the basic approaches and issues relating to pedagogy. This is a view supported by work completed by Dotger (2011) working with graduate teaching assistants (GTA) in an American earth sciences faculty. Here, there was evidence that GTAs gained both new professional skills and shifting identity through their involvement in lesson study which moved beyond belief that subject knowledge was sufficient to prepare and execute well considered learning experiences. Evidence from this research also highlighted that lesson study encouraged the development of a teaching community amongst the GTAs and led them to begin to consider their work from a more learning focused perspective. However, Demir et al (2012) found that lesson study was less well received by a small number of maths and science faculty who struggled to understand the philosophy of the approach and who also found it difficult to realign their thinking to consider learning from the perspective of the students. Even though the participants found the use of lesson study beneficial experience, Demir et al (2012) believe it to be important to help faculty understand the philosophy behind the approach, as well is securing a greater amount of time for them to engage with the process.

In a rare research project beyond the USA Christiansen et al (2007) working with Danish undergraduate pharmacy students found that the use of lesson study improved student course evaluations, whilst also helping to create a more community-led approach to teaching amongst lecturers. They report that by being involved in lesson study lecturers drew more on each others’ experiences and begun to create a shared base of knowledge about teaching which ultimately led to a better learning experience for students.

These studies demonstrate that there is a great deal of potential in using lesson study within higher education, but that the approaches taken need to be contextually relevant and sustainable. Below, we suggest one potential basic framework for developing lesson study at University level, but only as an outline structure which needs to be debated and moulded to particular local contexts.


Alvine, A.; Judson, T.W.; Schein, M. & Yoshida, T. (2007) ‘What Graduate Students (and the rest of us) Can Learn From Lesson study.’ College Teaching, 55(3), 109-113.

Becker et al (2008) ‘A college lesson study in calculus, preliminary report.’ International Journal of Mathematical Education in Science and Technology, 39(4), 491-503.

Cerbin and Kopp (2006) ‘Lesson Study as a Model for Building Pedagogical Knowledge and Improving Teaching.’ International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education. 18(3), 250-257. 

Christiansen, F.V.; Klinke, B. & Nielsen, M.W. (2007) ‘Lesson study as a format for collaborative instructional change.’ Pharmacy Education, 7(2), 183-185.

Demir et al (2012) ‘Constraints to Changing Pedagogical Practices in Higher Education; An example from Japanese lesson study.’ International Journal of Science Education, 34(11), 1709-1739.

Dotger (2011) ‘Exploring and developing graduate teaching assistants’ pedagogies via lesson study.’ Teaching in Higher Education, 16(2), 157-169.

Stigler, J., and Hiebert, J., (1999) The teaching gap: Best Ideas from the World’s Teachers for Improving Education in the Classroom. New York: The Free Press.

Thinking through a synthesis regarding Scholarship of Teaching and Learning


Since the publication of Scholarship Reconsidered (Boyer, 1990) the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) has become an important, if contested, vehicle for practical activity and research into teaching in higher education. As a field, SoTL has developed conceptually, and continues to offer a fertile focus for debate concerning the place of teaching within the Academy and how best to develop better, more critical pedagogic practice. One fundamental aspect of the various frameworks and philosophies which have emerged is the need for a ‘serious investment’ (Shulman, 2000:49) in reflecting on and understanding teaching and learning by those willing to enquire into, and change, pedagogic practice. In this paper, we argue that Lesson Study, a method for considering the learning challenges experienced by students and the pedagogic responses to them, offers great potential to augmenting the work of SoTL and suggest that it offers a positive framework for both more informal reflection by practitioners as well as a research tool for those wanting to pursue more in-depth and critical enquiry.

The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning

Arguments for the systematic interrogation of academic and professional practice are not new and can be traced back to the work of Schön (1983, 1987) on reflective practice in the 1980s. Shulman’s idea of a ‘pedagogy of substance’ (1989) and his challenge to what he calls a ‘pedagogy of solitude’ (1993) followed, both focusing on the development of a more public debate around pedagogic practice. The focus in these early perspectives was an attempt to analyse, develop and share insights into practice development. But it was the publication of Scholarship Reconsidered (Boyer, 1990) , which acted as the initial rallying call which led to the field of Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. At this time SoTL was an attempt to bring a scholarly perspective to teaching and learning as a way of raising their profile within the Academy. Healy (2000: 170) argued that, following a decade of interest in this emerging field there remained questions as to how a scholarly approach to teaching might be realised,

… It is suggested that teachers in higher education institutions need to learn how to adopt a scholarly approach to teaching and how to collect and present rigorous evidence of their effectiveness as teachers.’

Healy also emphasised that SoTL should develop an emphasis regarding the student experience by considering and reporting insights into learning. Meanwhile Kreber and Cranton (2000) developed a focus on the forms of knowledge and understanding teachers should look to develop, identifying three aspects which they deemed characterised SoTL, namely:

  1. Instructional knowledge, i.e. consideration of content, what is taught.
  2. Pedagogical knowledge, i.e. how the content should be taught to foster student learning
  3. Curricular knowledge, i.e. a consideration of why elements of teaching and learning are taught in particular ways

Whilst emphasising different elements of the debate, these examples of some of the early insights into SoTL demonstrate a serious search for a meaningful framework for developing an understanding of teaching and learning within higher education. They also demonstrate an early feature of SoTL, that of a contested field searching for both meaning and application in practice.

Advocating an activity-led approach to SoTL, Trigwell and Shale (2004) developed a model which attempted to bring together critical engagement with the act and enquiry of teaching, whilst also (as with Healy (2000)) seeing student experience and learning as an imperative for research and practice, ‘a concept that links teacher knowledge and student learning.’ (524). This led Trigwell and Shale to argue that Scholarship of Teaching is based on a commitment to making clear in public discussion of teaching, how learning has been made possible (following from Trigwell et al, 2000). Consequently, they outline a practice-oriented framework which is founded on the active inclusion of learners within the process, resulting in ‘…a learning partnership, rather than an instructional relationship.’ (529). This leads to a three-part model of scholarship of teaching which involves the use and development of:

  1. Knowledge – this component of the framework outlines the nature of the knowledge base teachers bring to the act of teaching, including elements such as prior experience of disciplinary knowledge, and knowledge and conceptualisation of teaching and learning.
  2. Practice – including investigation and evaluation of teaching, reflection on practice and communication of the insights gained. Further, ‘the art of teaching at the core of this model…. is the act of academic engagement in deliberate, collaborative meaning-making with students.’ (530).
  3. Outcomes – this covers the outcomes of teacher and student collaboration, namely their learning from the process, including artefacts created through that process.

These three elements together provide the basis for scrutiny via opportunities to publicly share insights from the process. Hence, SoTL takes on a practical nature, and appears to share any characteristics of action research which has emerged as a popular methodology in HE research on pedagogy (for example, Burchell and Dyson, 2005; Greenwood, 2012). Trigwell and Shale (2004) briefly consider the importance of values in their model, including characteristics such as honesty and open-mindedness, but this does not act as the basis for a wider ethical perspective, and does not explicitly appear within their model of activity-based SoTL.

The contributions outlined above might be characterised as focusing on the activities and pedagogic perspectives which constitute a scholarly approach to teaching and learning. Consideration of the ethical and philosophic is exemplified by Kreber (2005) who develops a critical lens towards SoTL, and Skelton (2009) who emphasised the moral dimension.

Kreber (2005) argues for the place of SoTL as a process of opening up the pedagogic debate to encompass a wider perspective which considers the philosophical foundations of teaching. The importance of change in practice is emphasised, particularly with respect to emancipation and empowerment as drivers to advance and open the pedagogic act to new ways of thinking. The chance that SoTL may become a closed and narrow technist pursuit is challenged,

‘… there is a danger for scholars of teaching to pursue primarily instrumental, and perhaps interpretive or communicative rather than emancipatory, knowledge about their practice in student learning.’ (Kreber, 2005: 402)

Kreber therefore puts forward an explicit agenda which sees change and improved action as being at the core of SoTL whilst ensuring this is achieved through a wider lens of change within higher education more generally; here teaching and learning are seen as part of a wider educational agenda. She argues that a critical postmodern lens leads to 3 implications for SoTL:

  1. The need to see SoTL as ‘critical enquiry’ thereby calling into question how it is practised and by/for whom.
  2. Wider considerations including the form and content of curricula and the purpose of the University.
  3. Based on these, the question as to ‘what students learn and why.’ (402)

Skelton (2009: 109) focusing particularly on the concept of teaching excellence argues for a moral stance on teaching and learning, stating that:

‘For me “excellence” can only follow from a serious commitment to the reflexive development of a value-laden and morally defensible practice.’

This practice is defined as requiring a personal philosophy of teaching (‘ the need to develop a personal standpoint on teaching is necessary…’ (109)), and ‘the need to live out educational values in practice.’ (109), leading to teaching excellence as a moral pursuit. Further, at institutional level, this moral perspective should lead to a fostering of varied cultures of debate and practice, leading in turn to the sharing and growth of ideas and practices within a supportive environment, an alternative to looking towards sets of externally generated standards. Finally, he argues that this can only occur where teaching and research are not set against each other, but are taught together to ‘support a holistic notion of excellence.’ (111). Therefore, SoTL may begin to take on a wider and more critical character linked to the development of pedagogic practice through an activity based approach (Trigwell and Shale, 2004) whilst also being critical (Kreber, 2005) and moral (Skelton, 2009) in nature.

Questions remain over the role of SoTL in the wider Academy. McFarlane (2011) critiques SoTL as actually debasing research into teaching and argues for a greater level of theorisation, policy and practice orientated work, with research and teaching as an integrated whole. As he argues,

‘I believe that the distinction between ‘subject-based’ and ‘pedagogic’ research is entirely erroneous. What really matters is whether a piece of research is based on sound methods, has something interesting or useful to ‘say’ and has been properly peer-reviewed before publication.’ (127-128).

The discussion and debate relating to the form and focus of SoTL is therefore still alive and is keenly contested as it was over two decades ago when Boyer (1990) first considered the relationship between teaching and research. However, there are interesting aspects within the work of those discussed above which can be brought together to build a framework which brings together some interesting aspects of a Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. These include a commitment to understanding and extending knowledge, to generating a practice-led perspective on teaching and learning, whilst also ensuring a moral and critical dimension.

Kreber (2013) has also extended her critical perspective on SoTL to consider the role which evidence plays in deepening and extending our understanding and practice of teaching and learning. She critiques the notion of ‘evidence-based practice’ as being too narrow as it attempts to nullify the complexity and unpredictability which is the day-to-day reality of academic practice. She argues that a ‘what works’ agenda may also tend to focus on efficiency, but not the wider aspects of why we are engaged in a particular practice. Taking Habermas’ (1971) , three knowledge-constitutive interests as a starting point, and using the work of Mezirow’s (1991) three forms of learning, Kreber creates a tripartite basis for the action of teaching;

  1. Instrumental learning – understanding and developing what is effective in teaching
  2. Communicative learning – understanding how students experience particular learning processes, i.e. how desirable we believe our strategies are
  3. Emancipatory learning – exploring assumed values, norms and traditions. As a starting point for considering alternatives.

These help in our understanding of the wider ramifications of the action of teaching, and our own learning. Kreber (2013) also argues that the pedagogic questions we ask ourselves are not necessarily answerable through a scientific reflection alone, but must also consider the moral aspects of practice. Consequently, she argues that SoTL requires us not only to ask ‘what works’, but also ‘what is to be done’ and ‘why do it’.

Scholarship of Teaching and Learning has been a contested field since its birth in the early 1990s. However, some aspects of pedagogic practice and development appear to offer a coherent framework for advancing and understanding practices and wider debates around teaching and learning in higher education. An activity based understanding such as that developed by Trigwell and Shale (2004) offers a perspective which is founded on a knowledge and understanding of pedagogic literature as a basis for the development of practice and reflection. Skelton (2009) augments this activity based perspective by emphasising the role of personal philosophies and moral imperatives in understanding and developing practices which we feel are ethically defendable. Kreber (2005, 2013) reminds us that we need to position our practice within a broader critical landscape, considering the wider ramifications of pedagogic work and the potential for emancipatory power in creating teaching and learning experiences. In addition, these practices need to be developed through a critical use of research via an ‘evidence-aware’ perspective which sees research insights as a useful starting point for further personal development, rather than as an order to follow. This leads to a multiple perspective model of Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (Figure 1).

SoTL1Figure 1: Synthetic model of Scholarship of Teaching and Learning


Boyer, E. L. (1990) Scholarship reconsidered: Priorities of the professoriate. Princeton, N.J: Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

Burchell, H. & Dyson, J. (2005) ‘Action Research in Higher Education: exploring ways of creating and holding the space for reflection.’ Educational Action Research, 13(2), 291-3000.

Greenwood, D.J. (2012) ‘Doing and learning action research in the neo-liberal world of contemporary higher education.’ Action Research, 10(2), 115-132.

Habermas, J. (1971) Knowledge and human interests. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

Healey, M. (2000) ‘Developing the scholarship of teaching through the disciplines.’ Higher Education Research and Development, 19, 169-189.

Kreber, C. (2005) ‘Charting a Critical Course on the Scholarship of University Teaching Movement.’ Studies in Higher Education, 30(4), 389-407.

Kreber, C. (2013) ‘Empowering the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning: An Arendtian and Critical Perspective.’ Studies in Higher Education, 38(6), 857-869.

Kreber, C. & Cranton, P.A. (2000) ‘Exploring the Scholarship of Teaching.’ The Journal of Higher Education, 71(4), 476-495.

Macfarlane, B. (2011) ‘Prizes, pedagogic research and teaching professors: lowering the status of teaching and learning through bifurcation.’ Teaching in Higher Education, 16(1), 127 – 130.

Mezirow, J. (1991) Transformative dimensions of adult learning. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Schön, D. (1983) The Reflective Practitioner, How professionals think in action, New York: Basic Books.

Schon, D. A. (1987). Educating the reflective practitioner: Toward a new design for teaching and learning in the professions. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Shulman, L. S. (1989) ‘Toward a pedagogy of substance.’ AAHE Bulletin, 8-13.

Shulman, L. S. (1993) ‘Teaching as community property: putting an end to pedagogical solitude’,

Change, 25(6), 6-7.

Skelton, A. (2009) ‘A ‘teaching excellence’ for the times we live in?’ Teaching in Higher Education, 14(1), 107-112.

Trigwell, K. and Shale, S. (2004) ‘Student learning and the scholarship of university teaching.’ Studies in Higher Education, 29, 523-536.