Faculty who are pursuing scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) projects should be thinking about how to make a case for their SoTL work as part of their annual reviews and applications for tenure or promotions. At the same time, their peers serving on promotions and tenure committees may wonder how to evaluate this form of scholarship.

Like other types of scholarship, the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) has markers of excellence. In “Principles of Good Practice in SoTL,” Peter Felten (2013) identifies five of those markers:

Principles of Good Practice in SoTL list

All five markers are applicable to evaluating scholarship of teaching and learning projects during promotions and tenure reviews.

Working in partnership with students is not yet a widely achieved characteristic of strong SoTL research, but it’s a notable goal since students are key players in teaching-learning transactions. Students also can share insights about their experiences, critical moments in their learning, and how they read and interpret course materials.

Going Public with SoTL

SoTL work can appear in a variety of venues. Dan Bernstein advocates making teaching and learning visible through course portfolios, which can be reviewed by institutional peers or external reviewers (see the video below, and Bernstein et al., 2006). Portfolios can include SoTL research, and they are particularly effective for sharing results from pilot studies.

SoTL projects also appear in double-blind, peer reviewed journals. In addition to a number of SoTL-specific journals (e.g., Teaching and Learning InquiryInternational Journal of Scholarship of Teaching and LearningJournal of the Scholarship of Teaching and LearningMountain Rise, etc.), dozens of discipline-specific journals focus on student learning research.

In annual reviews and applications for promotions or tenure, SoTL researchers should be explicit about how their work is reviewed and by whom. At the same time, tenure and promotions review processes should recognize the value of SoTL work that is shared publicly and systematically reviewed, including SoTL work that does not appear in traditional peer-reviewed journals.

SoTL and Teaching

Beyond its role in a faculty member’s research plans, SoTL also can inform scholarly teaching. In a Center for Engaged Learning video, Pat Hutchings advocates for thinking of both scholarly teaching and SoTL as part of a larger whole, with faculty bringing “habits of inquiry, questioning, evidence-gathering to their work as teachers.”

Scholarly teachers apply literature about teaching, learning, and disciplinary knowledge to their classes. By engaging in SoTL in their classes – asking questions about student learning and conducting systematic inquiry to answer them – faculty can make evidence-based decisions about course revisions. Therefore promotions and tenure processes should give faculty latitude to discuss the impact of their SoTL work on their classroom practices and their students’ learning.

SoTL, Promotions & Tenure, and University Missions

If learning is at the center of a university’s mission, its promotions and tenure practices should demonstrably value SoTL projects. SoTL that reflects Felten’s markers of excellence can positively inform an institution’s local teaching practices and its students’ learning, while extending international conversations about engaged learning.

References and Resources

  • Bernstein, Daniel, Burnett, Amy Nelson, Goodburn, Amy, & Savory, Paul. (2006). Making teaching and learning visible: Course portfolios and the peer review of teaching. Hoboken, NJ: Jossey-Bass.
  • Bernstein, Dan, & Bass, Randy. (July/August 2005). The Scholarship of teaching and learning. Academe, 91(4), 37-43.
  • Felten, Peter. (2013). Principles of good practice in SoTL. Teaching and Learning Inquiry, 1(1), 121-125.