Frequently Asked Questions



1. What is the scholarship of teaching and learning?

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There are a variety of definitions for the scholarship of teaching and learning, also referred to as SoTL. Most of the definitions contain components from the descriptions provided by Lee Shulman, President of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. Lee Shulman suggests that for an activity to be designated as scholarship, it should manifest at least 3 key characteristics. It should be:

  • Public
  • Susceptible to critical review and evaluation
  • Accessible for exchange and use by other members of one's scholarly community.

He notes that teaching, like other forms of scholarship, is an extended process that unfolds over time and embodies at least the following 5 elements:

  • Vision
  • Design
  • Interactions
  • Outcomes
  • Analysis

Source: Shulman, L. S. (1999). Course anatomy: The dissection and analysis of knowledge through teaching. In P. Hutchings (Ed.), The course portfolio: How faculty can examine their teaching to advance practice and improve student learning. Washington, DC: AAHE.

2. What is the SoTL Community, and why is it important?

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In many higher education institutions faculty are committed to teaching but due to large course loads, have little time for the reflective practice that sustains and energizes daily work (Brookfield, 1995; Schon, 1995). To answer this, MCC has created a unique community of practice that includes members who have been engaged in the scholarship of teaching and learning since 1998 along with others who have joined in subsequent years. This model of ongoing involvement in a community of practice is well suited to colleges where the dilemma is not teaching vs. research but, rather, teaching too much.

Professors who value teaching and want to study their practice often do not have the time or support to do so. In addition, in academic settings that focus on teaching, the culture of peer review is not well established and can seem burdensome instead of beneficial. Through the support provided by the MCC Carnegie Group, faculty at MCC have designed strategies to accommodate the “teaching too much” dilemma while at the same time creating a setting supporting inquiry and peer review.

3. What are the benefits of SoTL for participants, institutions & students?

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Professors teaching several courses each semester are excellent candidates for implementing the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL). The deliberate process of being public, open to critical review, and presenting ideas in forms others can build upon sets the stage for more mindful approaches that can be adapted and revised in ongoing practice. The focus on assessment of student learning that is central to SoTL can help faculty to appreciate assessment as an integral part of all courses and not view it as a mandate coming from external sources. Such changes in individual faculty who teach multiple courses can have profound effects on the learning of many students. Such changes in a large group of faculty can create an institution that is truly centered on student learning.

4. What is the long term value of the SoTL Community at MCC?

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In colleges that value teaching, research is not seen as superior and faculty do not have to struggle with the stress of a "publish or perish" culture. However, they do have a different struggle of sustaining their enthusiasm while teaching the same introductory course for the thirtieth time to a group of often unprepared and unmotivated undergraduates. Colleges typically have faculty development programs to help professors learn new approaches and stay current, but there are few settings where a group of faculty can join in a community to study their craft in a collaborative way over time.

Middlesex Community College has sustained an effective, evolving, cross-disciplinary community of practice in which participants have shared teaching and learning experiences in the context of relevant teaching and learning literature. Participants have completed projects that exemplify the scholarship of teaching and learning, continue to use the SoTL lens in preparing and teaching their multiple courses, and persist in exploring unifying themes for group study and workable ways to implement peer review. Participants have also had the opportunity to make their work public through presentations at local, state, and national conferences as well as through a joint publication. This aspect of “going public” with results is critical for faculty to be a part of the larger higher education community, but it is often one of the most difficult tasks to accomplish when teaching loads are demanding.

5. What are resources to learn more about SoTL?

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Mary Taylor Huber and Pat Hutchings of the Carnegie Foundation have summarized key issues and questions about SoTL work in their book, The Advancement of Learning: Building the Teaching Commons (2005). Kathleen McKinney's book, Enhancing Learning Through the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning: The Challenges and Joys of Juggling (2007), provides guidelines for professors who are interested in engaging in SoTL projects.

Last Modified: 10/7/13