What is the Scholarship of Teaching & Learning (SoTL)?
When faculty do SoTL projects, they turn their scholarly attention (usually devoted to research in their own disciplines) to the teaching and learning going on in their classrooms. They engage in systematic inquiry, posing questions about how their course designs and teaching practices affect students’ learning, and they collect and interpret evidence that might answer those questions and/or raise new ones.
Faculty who do SoTL projects also join an ongoing conversation about teaching and learning with colleagues across disciplines and around the world by reading and discussing past scholarship; attending and sharing their work at conferences; publishing their work in journals; collaborating on projects (including with graduate and undergraduate students); and, of course, by sharing what they learn with colleagues at their own institutions. Engaging in SoTL is also a form of professional development because faculty can use what they learn from their research to enhance their teaching.
Where can I explore SoTL journals and conferences?
You can explore journals that publish scholarship of teaching and learning (i.e., classroom research conducted by faculty in the disciplines) and/or education research (i.e., classroom research conducted by education experts) on this list compiled by the University of Minnesota. Kennesaw State also hosts a list of SoTL journals, and you can browse the full list or use the drop-downs on the right to search by discipline or topic. They also host an extensive list of teaching conferences. Illinois State University provides another great listing of SoTL conferences, both in the United States and abroad.
I would like to do my own SoTL project. How do I get started?
If you already have a clearly defined SoTL project in mind, the first step will be to get IRB approval (more on that below). If you would like support to formulate a SoTL project, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we will be happy to brainstorm and plan with you. (We also intend to form a community for SoTL practitioners as an interested group emerges.)
If you’ve never done research on human subjects before, the ethics of doing so and especially the IRB approval process may seem a little intimidating at first, but you will most certainly get the hang of it, and there is good support at FSU for those new to the process. Here some steps for getting started:
- First, you’ll need to do an online training in human subjects research through the CITI program. You can log in, indicate your affiliation to FSU, and complete the CITI Human Subjects Training. The training usually takes several hours to complete, but it need not be done in one sitting; you can save your progress. Additional information and instructions are available here. Once you complete the training, save your certificate of completion for future use. (CITI training must be recertified every three years.)
- Next, you’ll need to determine whether your particular project counts as doing research on human subjects. Most SoTL projects do, but some may not. You can just fill out a form, submit it online, and the folks in the Office of Human Subjects Protection (OHSP) will determine whether your project meets the federal definition. For this, you use worksheet 503D on the OHSP website (at the bottom) and submit it through the RAMP system. (The worksheet is also available directly in RAMP.) If your project does not meet the definition of research on human subjects, they will send you back an official letter saying so.
Note for those planning to publish: IRB approval is the first thing many journals ask for when you submit a SoTL article for publication. If our OHSP determines that your project does not qualify as research on human subjects, you can show the journal editors the official letter instead, and that will meet the requirement.
- If it turns out your project does meet the federal definition for research on human subjects, folks from the OHSP will respond saying so, and you’ll take the next steps. You’ll need to submit additional information through the RAMP system. In fact, the process of filling out the required forms can be helpful in thinking through your plan for your project. The OHSP provides templates, including one for the formal research protocol you will need to submit.
- As long as your research on human subjects falls under “normal educational practices,” your approval will be expedited because fewer people will be involved in approving it. If it goes beyond “normal educational practices” (e.g., you’re putting a heart monitor on students to determine whether an exam is stressing them out) it would need to go to the full IRB, which does take longer. Most SoTL projects will fall under “normal educational practices,” and will be expedited. Still, it’s important to submit a few weeks before your project will commence, so that you have approval in time to gather students’ informed consent before data collection begins.
Here is more information about the review process at FSU. You can also explore the full Investigator Manual here. If you do feel lost or overwhelmed at any point, there are folks at FSU who can help with research on human subjects/IRB, and folks who can help with research development as well. We also recommend this resource from Elon University: Scholarship of Teaching and Learning and the IRB, which delves more into the ethical collection of SoTL data.
Of course, we are here to support all of your teaching and learning work at FSU, including SoTL projects. We look forward to learning about and supporting your classroom research!