Situated Studies of Teaching and Learning: The New Mainstream – ISSOTL 2013 Plenary, Thursday, October 3, 2013

There is a tendency to view situated research such as SOTL as an attenuated or diminished form of scholarship when contrasted with the mainstream kinds of research published in social science or educational research journals. Traditional research aims to contribute to theory, to achieve generalized findings and principles that are not limited to the particulars of setting, participants, place and time. Situated research is always reported with its full particulars and seeks to describe, explain and evaluate the relationships among intentions, actions and consequences in a carefully recounted local situation. It is therefore seen as contributing less to “knowledge.”

I shall argue that the search for generalizations and principles that transcend participants and contexts is a vain quest. Lee Cronbach observed that “generalization decay.” Jerome Kagan recently called generalization, in both the social and life sciences, “insidious.” Even the gold standard, experimental studies such as clinical trials with randomly assigned treatment and control groups, are often of little value at the level of generalization, but potentially useful when analyzed in their particulars. Situated studies of teaching and learning will emerge as the new mainstream, the gold standard for educational scholarship. SOTL is not at the margins, but at the center.

Lee S. Shulman is President Emeritus of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and Charles E. Ducommun Professor of Education Emeritus at Stanford University. He was earlier Professor of Educational Psychology and Medical Education at Michigan State University. His research has examined the quality of teachers and teaching from the elementary school through professional and graduate school. He has studied medical decision making and the education of members of professions including teaching, medicine, law, engineering, nursing and the clergy. His research team at Stanford designed and field-tested the methods of assessing K-12 teacher quality that led to creation of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

Shulman is a past president of the American Educational Research Association (AERA) and of the National Academy of Education. He received AERA’s career award for Distinguished Contributions to Educational Research and the E.L. Thorndike Award for Distinguished Psychological Contributions to Education from the American Psychological Association. He is a fellow of both the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Lee was lured into the field of higher education by Pat Hutchings and Russ Edgerton, who are fully responsible and morally liable for any damage he has done. Learn more about Dr. Shulman at

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Suggested citation for video:
Center for Engaged Learning. (2013, October 11). Lee Shulman on Situated Studies of Teaching and Learning: The New Mainstream – ISSOTL 2013 Plenary. Retrieved from