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.



4 thoughts on “Thinking through a synthesis regarding Scholarship of Teaching and Learning

  1. A timely and thoughtful piece on the scholarship of teaching and learning just as we in the southern hemisphere return to the coalface of higher ed. Very pleasing to see the inclusion of emancipatory practices that respect the autonomy of students to ethically challenge their curriculum and their universities’ support for dominant practices such as neoliberalism that serve to increase social inequalities.
    The emotional and developmental aspects of learning, including the development of critical consciousness of self, others, and the (changing) world possibly deserves more emphasis in our scholarship of higher education.

    1. Thanks for your comment. I agree that the development of critical consciousness is important, and seems to me to be an underplayed aspect of discussion in teaching and learning as well as more generally within the Academy. I guess I tend to see it as part of the moral/ethical aspect of any approach to SoTL but obviously that is only due to my own ethical stance, and to make it more explicit is something which should certainly be considered. I’ll think on this a bit and perhaps put some thoughts up on this at a later date. Happy New Year and hope the start of term goes well for you.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s