Keeping Up With… The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning

Scholarship of Teaching and Learning

This edition of Keeping Up With... was written by Lauren Hays and Melissa Mallon.

Lauren Hays is Instructional and Research Librarian at MidAmerica Nazarene University, email: She is on Twitter at @Lib_Lauren. Melissa Mallon is Director of Peabody Library and Director of Liaison & Instructional Services at Vanderbilt University, email:, She is on Twitter at @librarianliss.

What is the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning?

At present, the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) is experiencing growth in higher education as more instructors and institutions become focused on student learning. The primary aims of SoTL are to study teaching in order to understand what is happening in the classroom, to improve student learning, and to share findings publicly with the teaching community. SoTL has its roots in the work of Ernest Boyer and his seminal work Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate. Since the book’s publication in 1990, SoTL has grown into an international movement. 

The SoTL literature is replete with research-based pedagogy. By reading SoTL literature, librarians will discover strategies and pedagogical techniques on how to better support student learning. Additionally, librarians can undertake their own SoTL research projects to learn how their teaching impacts student learning. Many educational and discipline-specific theories undergird SoTL research, including threshold concepts. Due to this, librarians may benefit from familiarizing themselves with SoTL studies for the purposes of enhancing information literacy instruction, particularly when working with the Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education. Understanding student learning both in general and in a discipline-specific context can help librarians tailor instruction to meet the needs of students. 

Why Engage in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning?

Whether engaging in the scholarship of teaching and learning related to their own teaching practices, or partnering with faculty or Centers for Teaching, academic librarians are in a unique position to participate in SoTL on their campuses.

SoTL support:

Many librarians already engage in SoTL activities but they do not necessarily call it SoTL. For example, at conferences such as LOEX and Library Instruction West most, if not all, of the presentations are focused on issues related to teaching and learning. Connecting this work that librarians are already doing with the SoTL field can be beneficial in expanding one's network. Due to SoTL scholars’ focus on student learning, librarians may find a strong network of support outside of academic librarian scholarship. On many campuses, the support for SoTL derives from Centers for Teaching and Learning (CTL). Leveraging the CTL, or equivalent department, may expand the opportunities for librarians.

Research on teaching practices:

To initiate a SoTL research project, many SoTL scholars start with problems they see in their own classrooms. The questions Pat Hutchings’ poses in her book Opening Lines: Approaches to the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning [1] along with Mia O’Brien’s SoTL Compass [2] are useful resources for librarians to generate initial ideas or research questions based on their teaching. The following questions and concepts are useful in developing SoTL projects.

Pat Hutchings:

  • What works? These questions ask what works to increase student learning.
  • What is? These questions ask what learning is and what is happening in the classroom.  
  • Visions of the Possible. These questions ask instructors to consider what could be in the classroom.  
  • New Conceptual Frameworks. These questions “shape thought about practice.”

O’Brien’s SoTL Compass:

  • What will my students learn and why is it worth learning?
  • Who are my students and how do students effectively learn?
  • What can I do to support students to learn effectively?
  • How do I know if my teaching and my students’ learning has been effective?

Influence higher education culture:

SoTL can also act as a conduit for higher education instructors to create a teaching and learning culture and engage in meaningful conversations.[3] There are many demands on the time of librarians--and the higher education community broadly. Finding time and ways to focus on teaching and learning, though, is necessary if our responsibilities include engaging with students. Working to build a culture where teaching, and subsequently student learning, is valued can spark meaningful change. 

Sharing in a public forum:

Sharing experiences and research related to teaching and learning is a core value of the SoTL community. Early SoTL writings established the importance of the teaching commons and making the work of teaching and learning “community property.[4] This philosophy fits in quite well with the teaching & learning occurring in libraries; information literacy impacts every discipline and, as a result of this, allows librarian the opportunity to publish and present their work outside of librarianship. 

Where to Share Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Projects?

There are many SoTL journals and conferences that are inclusive to librarian contributions, including the following.

SoTL Journals

  • International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching & Learning
  • Journal on Excellence for College Teaching
  • New Directions for Teaching and Learning
  • Teaching and Learning Inquiry
  • Teaching in Higher Education

SoTL Conferences

  • European Conference for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning
  • International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Annual Conference
  • SoTL Commons
  • Threshold Concepts Conference
  • International Society for Exploring Teaching & Learning

Librarians are encouraged to embark on SoTL projects on their own, but identifying faculty partners can provide a valuable perspective. Identifying a potential SoTL research opportunity may even provide an opening for librarians looking to expand their reach within a discipline.

How to Continue the SoTL Conversation

Additional information and resources on SoTL can be found in the archived presentations hosted in Spring 2017 by the ACRL Student Learning and Information Literacy Committee.[5] ACRL will also be publishing a book in 2018 titled The Grounded Instruction Librarian: Participating in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. SoTL is ripe for continued, as well as new, librarian involvement.

Recommended Resources

Barr, R. B., & Tagg, J. (1995). From teaching to learning: A new paradigm for undergraduate education. Change, 27(6), 13–26.

Bass, R. (1999). The Scholarship of Teaching: What’s the problem? Inventio: Creative Thinking about Learning and Teaching, 1(1), 1-10.

Boyer, E. (1990). Scholarship reconsidered: Priorities of the professoriate. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Bradley, C. (2009). The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning: Opportunities for librarians. College and Research Libraries News, 70(5), 276-278.

Felten, P. (2013). Principles of good practice in SoTL. Teaching & Learning Inquiry: The ISSOTL Journal, 1(1), 121–125.

Hutchings, P. (Ed.). (2000). Opening lines: Approaches to the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. Menlo Park, CA: Carnegie Publications.

Kanuka, H. (2011). Keeping the scholarship in the scholarship of teaching and learning. International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 5(1), 3.

Mårtensson, K., Roxå, T., & Olsson, T. (2011). Developing a quality culture through the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. Higher Education Research & Development, 30(1), 51–62.

Miller-Young, J., & Yeo, M. (2015). Conceptualizing and communicating SoTL: A framework for the field. Teaching & Learning Inquiry, 3(2), 37–53.

O’Brien, M. (2008). Navigating the SoTL landscape: A compass, map and some tools for getting started. International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 2(2), 1-20. Retrieved from


[1]  Hutchings, Pat. Opening Lines: Approaches to the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. Carnegie Publications, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, 555 Middlefield Road, Menlo Park, CA 94025, 2000.

[2]  O'Brien, Mia. "Navigating the SoTL Landscape: A Compass, Map and Some Tools for Getting Starting." International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning 2, no. 2 (2008): 1-20.

[3]  Mårtensson, Katarina. “Transforming patterns through the scholarship of teaching and learning.” The 2nd EuroSoTL conference proceedings. (2017). 6.

[4]  Shulman, Lee S. "Teaching as community property." Learning from change (2000): 24-26.

[5] Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. Association of College & Research Libraries Student Learning & Information Literacy Committee. Last modified July 26, 2017.