Situated Studies of Teaching and Learning: The New Mainstream

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.