Getting Started with SoTL

Getting Started with SoTL

This module includes a discussion of the factors that should be considered when starting a SoTL project including challenges, how to identify a problem and formulate a question, and how to begin a literature review.

Learning Objective

  • Identify common challenges faced when beginning a SoTL project
  • Describe how to identify a broad problem and then refine the research question
  • Give examples of SoTL research projects
  • Describe strategies for conducting a literature review


Beginning a SoTL project can be daunting and there are numerous factors that must be considered and challenges to be faced. These challenges may include:

  • Identifying a problem or area of interest
  • Developing a research question from that problem
  • Finding the relevant literature
  • Ethical concerns
  • Time and financial constraints
  • Project design and methodology


Of these challenges, the most critical first step is to identify a research problem. Faculty usually become interested in a SoTL project through reflecting on something in their own classroom experience as an instructor. It is helpful to start by thinking broadly about a teaching or learning issue, an assignment, a pedagogical strategy or something of that nature. The next step would be to attempt to put the problem into a question form. The faculty member can then begin to think about ways to study the question. What is already known? What information is needed? What are some possible data collection strategies? What resources are needed and what would be the time frame? What are practical and ethical concerns that may need to be addressed? At this point, the faculty member is considering the question in a broad context, but by walking through this series of questions, he or she can begin determining if the question they are interested in has potential as a SoTL project. The research question can then be refined and narrowed to create a project that is feasible and can produce meaningful results.

In general, SoTL questions are either deductive and are testing a current theory with the data or they are inductive and use the data collected to form a new theory. According to Hutchings (2000) the types of potential SoTL problems could be described as a taxonomy that includes the following types of questions:

  • “What is” questions describe an issue or behavior and refer to what it currently looks like
  • “What works” questions seek to find evidence for the effectiveness of strategies
  • Visions of the possible questions look at what could be done and explore new strategies
  • Developing new framework questions are those that attempt to find new models and ways of understanding the practice of teaching and learning

Keeping in mind those types of questions, it clarifies SoTL problems and questions to explore examples of SoTL projects. Topics for SoTL projects vary greatly by discipline, but following are just a few examples that may serve as ideas:

  • Do service-learning projects required by health science students translate to community involvement in their professional careers?
  • Does the use of in-class study groups increase scores on physics exams?
  • Does the use of Discussion Board assignments increase other types of participation in the classroom?
  • What factors influence student success in entry level math courses?


The following YouTube video, Examples of SoTL, includes three SoTL researchers describing their research projects, how they got interested, and what they gained from their project.


Once a problem has been identified and the research question has been formulated, a review of the literature is the next step and maybe useful in designing the project and deciding on methodology. Literature reviews for SoTL project can sometimes be challenging because of how the articles are classified in databases and search engines. Broad-based traditional education journals and discipline-specific pedagogical journals are good places to begin. Relevant SoTL articles can be found in any of these journals and education is the common theme of most journals that will contain SoTL articles. Because classification of the articles is sometimes tricky, it may be especially helpful to work from reference lists and bibliographies. A combination of educational journals, the internet, electronic databases, and other bibliographies should result in a comprehensive literature review. The following link provides additional search engines that may be useful for SoTL projects – Conducting a Lit Review.

Once the challenges associated with beginning a SoTL project and conducting a literature review have been addressed, planning and designing the project can begin. The following modules will address issues related to project management, design, and methodology.


Suggested Readings

Atkinson, M. P. (2001). The scholarship of teaching and learning: Reconceptualizing scholarship and transforming the academy. Social Forces79(4), 1217-1229.

Francis, R. (2007). Getting started with SoTL in your classroom. International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning1(2), 20.

Gilpin, L. S., & Liston, D. (2009). Transformative education in the scholarship of teaching and learning: An analysis of SoTL literature. International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning3(2), 11.

Hatch, T. (2005). Into the Classroom: Developing the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. Jossey-Bass, An Imprint of Wiley. 10475 Crosspoint Blvd, Indianapolis, IN 46256.

Huber, M. T., & Morreale, S. P. (2002). Disciplinary Styles in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning: Exploring Common Ground. AAHE Publications Orders, PO Box 1932, Merrifield, VA 22116-1932.

Hutchings, P., Huber, M. T., & Ciccone, A. (2011). The scholarship of teaching and learning reconsidered: Institutional integration and impact (Vol. 21). John Wiley & Sons.

Hutchings, P. (2002). Ethics of Inquiry: Issues in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. Carnegie Publications, The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, 555 Middlefield Road, Menlo Park, CA 94025.

Hutchings, P., & Shulman, L. S. (1999). The scholarship of teaching: New elaborations, new developments. Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning31(5), 10-15.

Poole, G. D. (2007). Using the scholarship of teaching and learning at disciplinary, national and institutional levels to strategically improve the quality of post-secondary education. International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning1(2), 3.

McKinney, K. (2010). Enhancing learning through the scholarship of teaching and learning: The challenges and joys of juggling (Vol. 139). John Wiley & Sons.

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Introduction to SoTL:

Value of SoTL:

Getting Started with SoTL:

Working on Your SoTL Project:

Designing a SoTL Project:

Ethics & SoTL:

Presenting SoTL Research:

Publishing SoTL Research:

Extra SoTL Links:

SoTL Mastery Exercise:


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