Does the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) really make a difference?

By Natasha Kenny, Director of the Educational Development Unit

One elephant in the room related to the SoTL is,

Does faculty engagement in the SoTL really make a difference to teaching and student learning?

Trigwell (2013) presents an intriguing study to help fill this lingering gap.  He describes some of the broader purposes of the SoTL as:

  1. raising the status of teaching;
  2. improving one’s ability to teach more knowledgeably;
  3. providing a means to assess the quality of teaching;
  4. enhancing student learning experiences;
  5. raising the research profiles of individuals and departments; and,
  6. stimulating interest in teaching.

There is little doubt that the SoTL is gaining momentum in post-secondary institutions, but how are we measuring the impact of engagement in the SoTL in relation to these broader purposes? Does engagement in the SoTL really translate into better teaching practices and improved student learning?

Using the Approaches to Teaching Inventory (Trigwell et al., 2005), and a newly introduced Scholarship of Teaching Inventory (STI), the results suggest that teachers that describe a higher level of awareness of the dimensions of the SoTL, as described by the STI, were more likely to report using a student-focused approach to teaching. He concludes that when teaching is seen as scholarly and inquiring, and is disseminated and peer-reviewed, student learning is likely to benefit. He advocates that these results provide support for including the SoTL in the assessment of university teaching. The results of Trigwell’s study are congruent with those of Brew and Ginns (2008) who found that faculty engagement in the SoTL did in fact improve students’ perceptions of the learning environment.

Without a doubt, additional research is needed to assess how and if the SoTL is achieving its purpose.  However, it presents an important framework for helping to conceptualize: 1) an inventory to capture engagement in the SoTL, recognizing, “that there are many ways to defining SoTL and that such diversity is both welcomed and accepted” (p.96); and, 2) a methodological framework for assessing the impact of SoTL on teaching and learning. It would be interesting to extend this framework to help measure some of the broader purposes of SoTL, including its impact on post-secondary teaching and learning cultures (e.g. Does SoTL raise the status of teaching?).


Trigwell, K. (2013) Evidence of the impact of scholarship of teaching and learning purposes.  Teaching and Learning Inquiry: The ISSOTL Journal, 1(1):95-105.

Trigwell, K., Prosser, M., & Ginns, P. (2005). Phenomenographic pedagogy and a revised approaches to teaching inventory. Higher Education Research & Development, 24(4), 349-360.

Brew, A. and Ginns, P. (2008) The relationship between engagement in the scholarship of teaching and learning and students’ course experiences. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 33, 535-545.

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