Your selection of inquiry methods should be guided by your research question and the research expertise you bring to your scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) work – or the research expertise you are willing to develop. Although your SoTL research may prompt you to try inquiry methods that are new to you, your disciplinary research expertise also might be relevant to answering your SoTL question. In the video below, for instance, SoTL scholars discuss using Arts & Humanities inquiry methods to answer SoTL research questions.

SoTL questions often are best answered with a mix of quantitative and qualitative research methods. Kathleen McKinney (2007) writes:

At the risk of oversimplifying these two forms of data, quantitative data are data in numerical form. Your measures are represented by numerical codes. Your analyses generally involve descriptive and inferential statistics. You are able to use larger samples. You have the potential to look at relationships between variables, to assess differences between subgroups, to discuss probabilities, to report incidence or prevalence, to test models, and to make generalizations. If your SoTL research questions need to be answered with numbers, you need quantitative data…

On the other hand, qualitative data are data in verbal or textual or visual form. Such data are more detailed and more directly reflect the voice of the participant. Qualitative work generally uses a naturalistic and interpretive strategy. The participants’ understanding of the meaning of the phenomenon is critical. You can obtain rich and elaborate data, look for emergent themes, draw some ideas about process, and quote the actual words of your respondents.

McKinney 2007, p. 68

Of course, using primarily qualitative data does not automatically mean that you cannot generalize your results; if you are working as part of a multi-institutional team and identify common results across research sites, you can offer tentative generalizations based on the learner, curricular, or institutional characteristics shared across your institutions.

Because a mix of qualitative and quantitative methods – and a mix of disciplinary inquiry methods – can offer a richer picture of student learning, Pat Hutchings highlights “the power of methodological conversation and collaboration across fields, as faculty borrow approaches and perspectives from colleagues in other areas. Developing a broader, more sophisticated repertoire of methods is clearly one of the challenges facing this work, and a necessary step in advancing the scholarship of teaching and learning as a field” (2000, p. 7).

SoTL inquiry methods include (but are not limited to):

  • Case studies
  • Content/discourse/text analysis of…
    • Student assignments
    • Student journals
    • Student course portfolios
    • Student reflections
    • Teacher reflections
    • Teaching portfolios
    • Video or audio recordings of class sessions
  • Experiments and quasi-experiments
  • Focus Groups
  • Interviews
  • Longitudinal tracking
  • Observational research
  • Questionnaires or surveys
  • Secondary analysis of institutional data (e.g., National Survey of Student Engagement data, alumni surveys, etc.)
  • Think-alouds

References and Additional Resources

  • Cross, K. Patricia, & Steadman, Mimi Harris. (1996). Classroom research: Implementing the scholarship of teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
  • Huber, Mary T., & Morreale, Sherwyn P. (Eds.). (2002). Disciplinary styles in the scholarship of teaching and learning: Exploring common ground. Washington, DC: American Association for Higher Education.
  • Hutchings, Pat. (2000). Introduction: Approaching the scholarship of teaching and learning. In Pat Hutchings (Ed.), Opening lines: Approaches to the scholarship of teaching and learning (pp. 1-10). Menlo Park, CA: The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.
  • McKinney, Kathleen. (2007). Enhancing learning through the scholarship of teaching and learning: The challenges and joys of juggling. San Francisco, CA: Anker Publishing.