1 Instructor as Scholar

Instructor as Scholar

Content Menu:

The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL)

Scholarly Teaching

The Value of SoTL and Scholarly Teaching for those in Instructional Roles

Considerations for your SoTL Project

What areas of teaching practice would you like to explore?

Other Tools to Support SoTL Research, Design and Organization

Designing Your SoTL Project

Ethics of SoTL Research

Publishing and/or Presenting Your SoTL Research


This module examines how you can use your classroom, your courses and/or your professional area of practice as a research lab to explore how you might improve your teaching practice and positively affect learner outcomes and their satisfaction with the overall learning experience. It invites you to consider research about teaching and learning within your discipline and provides a process to implement a research plan. This kind of action research is often called the “scholarship of teaching and learning” (SoTL), and it involves an awareness and appreciation of effective, research-based, discipline-appropriate pedagogical approaches for examining your own practice.

Learning Objectives


Create an action plan to examine key questions about improving learning outcomes in a specific discipline area using your own professional practice, informed by the research of others, to build your SoTL plan.


  • Explore key characteristics of SoTL.
  • Identify instructional practices or teaching strategies from your own discipline that you would like to explore or test within your own courses.
  • Identify a range of research strategies that suit your discipline.
  • Identify a framework for analysis of your research.
  • Select a strategy for sharing your research for others to build on.

Time Commitment: This module will take about 5+ hours to complete depending on your level of engagement.

The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL)

Everybody involved in teaching has questions about the success of their practice. We deal with some of the questions informally all the time. In other cases, we seek to formalize our enquiry by doing research, and that is what SoTL is about. The purpose of SoTL is to improve learning by implementing optimized teaching practices based on research and evidence to support changes in practice. To learn more about SoTL, watch this Illuminate, Research on Teaching and learning video (10:48 mins) from the University of Lethbridge. This video features Dr. Jan Newberry and Dr. Shelly Wismath defining SoTL in the context of their own professional practice.

Scholarly Teaching

The Scholarly Teacher applies evidence-based practice to enrich student learning (https://www.scholarlyteacher.com/about). When teaching and learning are grounded in the scholarship of  teaching  and learning  we treat our classrooms and programs as a source  of interesting questions about  learning;  find ways  to explore  and shed light on these  questions; use this evidence  to  design and refine new activities,  assignments, and  assessments; and  share  what  we have  found  with colleagues  who can comment, critique,  and build on new insights  (Huber and Hutchings, 2005). Scholarly Teaching studies “what has been done, look for opportunities to use empirical work completed by others, and then make adjustments according to current demands.” Important to this process is considering what existing empirical work is exclusionary, one dimensional, and dated before building your pedagogy upon it. Consider researching pedagogical practices, attaining resources, and collecting empirical data that are decolonial, intersectional, inclusive, and diverse.

Here are some links that might help you think through these ideas:

Scholarly teaching is, at its core, an approach to teaching that is informed by inquiry and evidence (both one’s own, and that of others) about student learning. It focuses on examining the ways in which we construct the learning environments that we offer students, the attention we pay to students and their learning. In the book, Making Teaching and Learning Visible (Bernstein, Burnett, Goodburn and Savory, 2006), the authors make the point that, “An excellent teacher is one who is engaged in a well-prepared and intentional ongoing investigation of the best ways to promote a deep understanding on the part of as many students as possible.” (2006, p. 215) And, that, is what Scholarly Teaching is all about.  It is about seeking evidence that what we are doing is getting at the heart of learning and it is about sharing what we know and the evidence that we have with our colleagues.

The Value of SoTL and Scholarly Teaching for those in Instructional Roles

Many SoTL practitioners, publications, and journals list potential benefits of a proactive approach to classroom scholarship, some of which are articulated in “Making a Case for SoTL.” This video (2:14 mins) also makes a case for institutions to support those who are engaging in SoTL research.

From the list of potential benefits below, pick the top three statements that would motivate you to become more engaged in SoTL activities. You might also consider other benefits that you can think of that are not on this list.

  • Improved outcomes and assessment scores.
  • Useful data for assessments, program reviews, retention strategies, and accreditation processes.
  • Faculty development opportunities.
  • Increased reflection on teaching and learning among colleagues.
  • Increased diversity in voice and perspective in your pedagogy.
  • Stronger institutional values on teaching and learning.
  • Promotion of new networks among members at institutions.
  • Scholarship opportunities in the form of presentations and publications.
  • Opportunity for outside funding to support program innovation.
  • Renewed excitement about teaching and learning, and greater self-awareness.

Considerations for your SoTL Project

Watch the video (5:00 mins) below to learn about SoTL projects. The video provides examples from three instructors who describe their research projects, the questions they were seeking to answer, and how they benefited from the experience. The video participants describe their large and small-scale questions, and research projects that were very specific to their disciplines and their interests. You may wish to start small with your own research.


Like any research project, a SoTL project requires you to formalize your research approach. Remember, what is different about SoTL is that the focus is on improving learning outcomes as a result of practices you implement, research, assess, and report. Typical considerations include:

  • Identifying a research problem or a challenge of practice that interests you.
  • Developing a research question from the identified problem or challenge.
  • Using relevant literature to inform your study.
  • Designing a specific project and choosing an appropriate methodology.
  • Obtaining Research Ethics Board (REB) Approval for your research
  • Finding support or funding to provide you time and space to conduct the research.
  • Considering a networking and dissemination strategy to share your research and invite discussion from colleagues.

Your own research experience may predispose you to follow a deductive or quantitative approach to test a current approach to the problem. Alternatively, you may wish to take a more exploratory, inductive approach using qualitative methods to illuminate new thinking about a teaching/learning problem. It is really up to you what approach you take.

What areas of teaching practice would you like to explore?

Is there a teaching practice that presents a challenge?  Would you like evidence that something that you do has an impact on the way your students learn?  Is there something you would like to try in your classroom and explore if it works the way you intended? There are some well-known areas of practice that SoTL researchers have probed through classroom projects. These resources from the University of British Columbia discuss some areas that may be of interest to you:

Other Tools to Support SoTL Research, Design and Organization 

The University of British Columbia provides SoTL Explorer, which you can use as you consider how to frame your projects in a research context. Examine this resource to further your understanding of SoTL. http://sotl-explorer.sites.olt.ubc.ca

Designing Your SoTL Project

Now comes the interesting part: Designing a SoTL project of your own. The University of Lethbridge and The Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO) provide useful links for planning a SoTL research project:


 Activity #1

Purpose of Task: The purpose of this task is to encourage you to start planning your SoTL project.

Task: Outline a research plan for an SoTL project in your area of interest.

Step 1: If you want to work in Google Docs, you can make a copy of the SoTL Research Plan template that is automatically saved in your own Google account. When the copy is made, edit the file name to include your name and institution name. Or, if you prefer to edit in another format, you can view the document now and use the File -> Download menu to save it as a MS Word document.

Step 2: Examine each of the practice resource links provided in the “What areas of teaching practice would you like to explore?” section of the Scholar Module and the UBC SoTL Explorer if you haven’t already.

Step 3: Edit your SoTL Research Plan (Google Doc or MS Word) to describe your thinking about an area of research interest and a potential framework you are considering. Be sure to include considerations of any ethical concerns with the research you are planning.


Ethics of SoTL Teaching

As you design your project remember that SoTL research primarily addresses the impact of one’s teaching practice upon learning. SoTL’s ethical challenges stem from the fact that this has the potential to create a power differential between the researchers and their learners. In situations where we conduct research in our own classrooms, these issues can be complicated by our dual responsibilities as both teacher and researcher and by the power differential inherent in the relationship between teacher and learner. Other potential issues may arise around the confidentiality of data, the use of instructional time for research and learners feeling compelled to participate in the research for fear of non-participation impacting their grades or course/certificate completion.

Institutions of higher learning throughout Canada have adopted the Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans (TCPS2) as the core human research ethics guideline. The information on the TCPS2 website covers the ethical conduct of all faculty (full- or part-time), post-doctoral fellows, graduate students, undergraduate students and staff ho conduct research with humans, including research on teaching, learning and student outcomes. The website provides considerable support materials. SoTL researchers should contact their institutions’ research ethics offices early in the research design phase to ask for advice about how to address any ethics issues that might arise during their SoTL research.

Publishing and/or Presenting Your SoTL Research

Before you present or publish your own SoTL research, take the time to examine and learn from what others have done. Watch the following video to learn about other instructors experiences with sharing  SoTL research.


Module Checklist
I have completed the following:
  • Identified three key characteristics of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) that professionally resonate with me.
  • Determined motivational reasons for becoming engaged in SoTL activities.
  • Outlined a research plan for an SoTL project in your area of interest.
  • Further refined my SoTL plan.
  • Determined a SoTL research plan dissemination strategy.
  • Shared my SoTL research plan within my institution. Note: This stage may take several weeks depending on your approach.
  • Check in: Reach out to the Teaching Centre if I have questions, concerns or ideas.

Additional Resources: The next page contains essential resources for planning and designing your blended/online courses.


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Teaching with Technology Copyright © by Kristi Thomas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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