From the Director: The State of SoTL at UST


Many of us came of age at St. Thomas under the influence of Ernest Boyer’s Scholarship Reconsidered, with its affirming view of faculty as a “mosaic of talent” and Boyer’s plea for “a more inclusive view of what it means to be a scholar.” While the scholarship of discovery has long been valued in the academy, he argued that we ought to promote other forms of knowledge production as well: the scholarship of integration, the scholarship of application and the scholarship of teaching. That was 1990, and Boyer’s call ignited interest in research on teaching, or what is now called SoTL – the scholarship of teaching and learning. In 1998 the Carnegie Academy for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (CASTL) was formed to “render teaching public, subject to critical evaluation, and usable by others in both the scholarly and the general community” and books and journals dedicated to the topic soon followed. As Huber and Morreale (2002) write: “Today, inquiry into college teaching is more than just a specialist’s concern. Across the academy, ‘regular’ faculty are taking systematic interest in curriculum, classroom teaching, and the quality of student learning.”

I recently discovered that we have a vibrant community of SoTL scholars when I solicited examples of relevant research from faculty for a celebration of teaching reception. It came from all over – creative research and publications describing innovative courses and pedagogical strategies from physics, music, the Law school, business, psychology, social work – from every corner of our two campuses. Our faculty are demonstrating that the best teaching is a communal act; great teachers are those who are willing to learn from their own experiences, and willing to share with others what they’ve learned.

Some still fear that SoTL work is not as rigorous as its more traditional counterpart, the scholarship of discovery. Yet the journals publishing research on teaching implement the same peer-review processes used by more traditional outlets. People don’t engage in SoTL work because it’s easy (or easy to publish), because that’s not the case. They engage with it because they have a passion for understanding what’s really going on in their classrooms and are motivated to create environments for optimal learning, and they want to share what they’ve found so that others can benefit. By intersecting teaching and scholarship we import to our understanding of teaching the value of intellectual openness from the research tradition, and the practice of sharing knowledge with peers. For so long, teaching has been a private, closed-door enterprise; SoTL advances a fresh air policy that allows teachers to share ideas, successes, failures, strategies, and innovations. Expert and advocate Lee Shulman subtitled one of his essays on the scholarship of teaching, “Putting an end to pedagogical solitude.”

There is also a pragmatic benefit for the teacher/scholar engaging in SoTL and, like my predecessor Sue Chaplin, I like to promote its efficiency value –particularly for younger faculty trying to accomplish so much in six years. With the scholarship of teaching you can work on improving your teaching AND publish at the same time. Yes, another multitasking opportunity.

This Spring we are devoting two Fabulous Friday sessions to faculty engaged in SoTL. Last week we heard two fascinating and diverse examples: Daryl Koehn from Ethics and Business Law shared her innovative use of art in the classroom to provoke nuanced reflection on ethical issues in the business world, and Verna Monson and Neil Hamilton from the Law School shared their ongoing theoretical-empirical project on advancing the ethical formation of law students. The audience included faculty from a wide range of disciplines and the ensuing conversation was rich and vibrant as faculty reached across disciplinary boundaries to make connections and learn from each other.

On March 30 we’ve invited four College of Arts and Sciences faculty members who have published SoTL articles recently to share their findings and talk about their experiences. I hope you’ll join us (see our website for more information and to register) and jump into the ongoing conversation. Finally, many don’t know about the wide array of publication venues for this kind of research. In a related article in this issue, I’ve pulled together some resources, including websites and papers that list journals – both discipline-based and general/interdisciplinary – that publish this work.

I’ll conclude with some words from Parker Palmer’s The Courage to Teach: “There are no formulas for good teaching, and the advice of experts has but marginal utility. If we want to grow in our practice, we have two primary places to go: to the inner ground from which good teaching comes and to the community of fellow teachers from whom we can learn more about ourselves and our craft” (1998, p. 141).

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