by Sophia Abbot
This past October, the International Society of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (ISSOTL) met in Bergen, Norway, to share SoTL projects, practices, and findings. On the Center for Engaged Learning’s “What is SoTL?” page, we define SoTL as “faculty (sometimes in partnership with their students) undertaking systematic inquiry about student learning” (para. 1). The origins and continued heart of the field is individual instructors seeking a deeper understanding of their classroom practices in a desire to promote deeper learning.
But as the field grows, we recognize the necessity of engaging students more significantly than as addendums to SoTL. As McKinney (2012) writes, “What we know about teaching and learning should not be kept, even unintentionally, a secret from our students” (p. 4). McKinney is referring to the necessity that SoTL be accessible to students, which is an important reminder for writers more generally to be attentive to their audience. But when we study teaching and learning, we have an ethical obligation to make our work accessible to everyone who is participating in these shared purposes of higher education. If we are examining student learning, shouldn’t students be able to read and respond to such research?
“good practice requires engaging students in the inquiry process.” (Felten, 2013 p.123)
McKinney’s argument suggests we need to engage students in the reading, questioning, and complicating of published SoTL. Subsequent scholars like Peter Felten and Randy Bass push us even further – that there is a necessity for students to be engaged in the study of teaching and learning itself. As Randy Bass has said, “[the scholarship of teaching and learning] has to be transactional, and to be transactional, it has to include students as final partners in that inquiry” (video interview, 2013). The key questions of SoTL – what is happening in the classroom? what and how are students learning? are our teaching efforts effective? – cannot be answered without student input, and often these questions can be better answered with student partnership.
The Students as Partners movement has certainly pushed this point forward (see this CEL page), but I aim to emphasize here, on its own, that the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning has everything to do with students. As both a SoTL scholar and a student myself, SoTL inflects my classroom experiences, my capacity to engage, and my ability to learn. My engagement in SoTL has helped me understand and articulate what supports my learning, and has given me the space to advocate for my peers and myself. It has also helped me become an ally to my faculty, as I can better interpret learning goals and hold myself more accountable in our shared learning. If teaching and learning cannot happen without students, how can SoTL?


  • Center for Engaged Learning. (2013, Sept. 12). Why integrate student voices in SoTL? [Video file]. Retrieved from
  • Felten, Peter. (2013). Principles of good practice in SoTL. Teaching & Learning Inquiry, 1(1), p. 121-125. Retrieved from
  • McKinney, Kathleen. (2012). Increasing the impact of SoTL: Two sometimes neglected opportunities. International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 6(1). Retrieved from

Sophia Abbot is the 2018-2020 Center for Engaged Learning Graduate Apprentice and a student in the Masters of Higher Education program at Elon University.

How to cite this post:
Abbot, Sophia. 2019, January 10. What does SoTL have to do with students? [Blog post]. Retrieved from