Research and writing literature reviews for the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL)

By Rachel Braun, Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) Program Specialist, Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning

In the fifth installment of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) Series, University of Calgary librarian Leeanne Morrow guided faculty, postdocs, and graduate students from across nine faculties in conducting research and writing SoTL literature reviews using the University of Calgary’s Libraries and Cultural Resources. Throughout the session, Leeanne encouraged participants to keep their disciplinary strengths and experiences in mind. As a researcher, you know your discipline well; one of the most exciting features of SoTL research is that it touches familiar disciplinary ground, and then branches out into others! Throughout this process, you can speak to a librarian at any time. Bartlomiej Lenart (Assistant Librarian, Douchette Library) can guide you in finding SoTL journals or groups. Your subject librarian can also support you, and will likely have come across SoTL in disciplinary-specific databases. I also invite you to browse the SoTL Guide, which includes an informative blog post by Nancy Chick and Margy MacMillan, “The SoTL Lit Review, The SoTL Librarian.”

Consider your approach

The Library Research Guides offer a wealth of resources and strategies for research and literature reviews in multiple fields and disciplines, including SoTL. Leeanne suggests researchers begin by exploring the SoTL research guide, then the research guide for their own disciplines, followed by the research guide for Education. From there, researchers can branch out where their SoTL inquiry takes them.

If you are trying a new research or literature review method, you can also consult SAGE Research Methods for excellent resources and strategies.

Practice effective research strategies

Regardless of your level of research accomplishment, it is essential to take notes effectively and make the best use of your writing time. Leeanne recommends using a literature review matrix to keep track of who said what in each resource. This practice is especially helpful when researching outside your own discipline and learning new disciplinary language. You can also save time searching for literature by setting up table of contents and search alerts using the RSS feed. This way, new articles are sent to you as soon as they are posted, rather than you having to conduct the same search repeatedly.

On your mark, get set, search!

Leeanne recommends the following strategies for different starting points:

Starting your literature review without a clue? Head to Google Scholar

  • Click “FindIt @U of Calgary” to run a basic search through the library database
  • Click “Cited by” and mine reference lists backwards and forwards to see how the conversation has developed

Know a bit of what you are looking for?

  • Browse library databases. Start by searching with the broadest search terms you can, and then refine content into specific subjects and disciplines from there. This browsing process is key for learning how to use new disciplinary language
  • Search beyond academic journals. Within SoTL, there is a wealth of lesser-known gems sitting in non-peer-reviewed materials, such as practitioner magazines
  • Look into subject-specific places for your discipline. SoTL literature is there, it’s just a matter of digging! Also, browsing disciplinary literature is an excellent way to learn discipline-specific terminology
  • Check out PRISM, the online collection of research (articles, papers, and conference proceedings) produced by faculty, staff and students at the University of Calgary

Looking to search in SoTL directly?

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