Since I first heard about the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL), I’ve been intrigued by this area of research.
I was copied on a Tweet this week from Nick Byrd, asking about where to find empirical studies and experiments about education practices/outcomes.
Someone replied to his request with this article from The Association for Psychological Science, which seems like a helpful resource.
However, I had a much longer reply that has been formulating in my mind since he first inquired. In this post, I’ll explore the broad area of study surrounding the effectiveness of education, as well as some of the subdomains under the broader research area that I find particularly interesting.
The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning
The broad area of this kind of research tends to fit under the domain of The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (or #SoTL on Twitter).
In researching items for this blog post, it would seem that #SoTL also has something to do with cigars (unrelated to our discussion of #SoTL). It can be unfortunate when a hashtag gets some overlap like that, but it was easy enough to skip over to focus on items of particular interest to me. To skip over any cigar references, the newly-established #SoTLchat hashtag is solely focused on conversations around the scholarship of teaching and learning.
Anyone interested in pursuing this research area may benefit from this article with “Advice for New SoTL Researchers” from the International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (ISSOTL). Another good starting point is this related discussion on Good Practices in SoTL.
Getting a background on the ethics involved in conducting this form of research is also important. The University of Calgary provided this overview of their ethical review of their research on teaching and learning.
In attempting to answer Nick’s question, I knew that I would be insufficient to address the wide-ranging areas that this body of research explores.
I’m going to discuss some of the parts of the scholarship of teaching and learning that I’ve read the most about. I also encourage you to browse the current and past issues of the Journal of Teaching and Learning Inquiry to find those topics that provide the most interest for you.
Research on Learning
At the risk of oversimplification, most of us want to know whether or not what we are attempting to do in our teaching is actually going to work. Or, if we’re already convinced of the benefits to our experimentation, we may come across skeptics who want to know the efficacy of our recommendations.
Past episodes of the Teaching in Higher Ed podcast that most relate to these questions are:
- Episode #094 with Pooja Agarwal on retrieval practice. “When we think about learning, we typically focus on getting information into students’ heads. What if, instead, we focus on getting information out of students’ heads?” The Retrieval Practice website is full of resources for exploring the research behind this approach to teaching.
- Episode #072 with Robert Bjork on cognitive psychology also emphasizes retrieval practice, as well as the role that forgetting plays in our learning.
- Episode #132 with Saundra McGuire on how to teach students how to learn. Her background as a chemistry professor had her continually seeking ways to support her students in their learning. Her interview with ACUE helps us understand “what changed the trajectory of her research and scholarship.”
- Episode #069 with Meg Urry on correcting mental models shares approaches we can use to help our students grasp complex information. As a professor of physics and astronomy, she recognizes that “real learning takes time,” and offers a prescriptive checklist for solving problems to help students think more critically.
- Episode #135 with Sarah Rose Cavanagh on her book, The Spark of Learning: Energizing the College Classroom with the Science of Emotion discusses the role that emotions play in learning.
- Episode #062 with Rebecca Campbell on the power of mindset. She shares on the episode, “It isn’t about teaching differently, but about framing the conversation differently.” She also describes ways to help students achieve more of a growth mindset, based on the research.
- Episode #047 with Todd Zakrajsek provides similar information as the episode with Rebecca, only this time regarding metacognition. He describes it as “thinking about thinking; knowing when you know.”
- Espidoes #037 with Tine Reimers did a deep dive on the research that explores approaches to developing critical thinking skills. The show notes include Tine’s taxonomy of some of the critical thinking theories and suggestions for how to grow critical thinking in our students.
- Episode #016 with Josh Eyler looks at biology, the brain, and learning. On the episode, he provide a framework for a biological basis of learning and recommends resources from Harvard’s graduate school of education on the mind, the brain, and education.
Books Worth Reading on Related Topics
In addition to the books that were highlighted in the episodes, above, I also must mention two of my favorite reads related to teaching and learning.
While both books are written in a less-formal tone than an academic journal article would be, they are based on extensive research on teaching and learning and have references to their primary sources, should you want to dive deeper than they do on any approach.
I know I have just skimmed the surface with this post, but it is time to get back to the writing I’m doing on my book. Now you probably know why I didn’t feel I could tackle this in 140 characters on Twitter, though.
What are others exploring about the scholarship of teaching and learning? How do you address those who are skeptical as to the effectiveness of some of our teaching methods? What resources did I miss that can help Nick familiarize himself more with this body of research?