Scholarship & research
At Utrecht University maintaining and raising the quality of education, that is, teaching and learning, is considered very important. This drives the need for an approach to teaching and learning that is more systematic, research-informed and has its origins there where the learning is happening: the discipline based, classroom context. Teachers become reflective practitioners that use research to improve and/or innovate their own teaching practice.
In striving for high-quality learning environments for students where teaching innovations are encouraged and investments are made in the professional development of teachers, educational scholarship has a very important role. Being involved in educational scholarship means that university teachers themselves contribute to the knowledge on ‘what works and why’ in the context of their own discipline-based education.
Scholarship of Teaching and Learning
The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) is a form of educational scholarship (Felten, 2013; Kreber, 2007; McKinney, 2012). Here SoTL is defined as a systematic, research-informed approach to develop, implement, evaluate, and disseminate teaching innovations aimed to improve student learning and enhance educational quality in the classroom (Williams, 2015).
Discipline-Based Education Research
Another form of educational scholarship is Discipline-Based Education Research (DBER). The goal of DBER is to contribute to the theoretical knowledgebase of academic education within a discipline. DBER is thereby aimed at understanding and improving discipline -specific teaching and learning.
Both SoTL and DBER are research informed and reflective approaches to teaching and learning in which the teacher becomes a classroom researcher. Although the goals differ there is no rigorous division between these approaches, rather they form a continuum of decreasing contextual focus and increasing theoretical focus.
Learning analytics is defined as the analysis and reporting of educational data for the purpose of optimizing learning and the environment in which it occurs (Siemens & Gasevic, 2012). This educational data is often generated by digital (online) learning environments as soon as students log in. From that time on they leave a digital footprint that can be collected. By analyzing this data it is possible to make predictions about, for instance, the quality of the learning materials, the way teachers and students handled the material and the use of the digital learning environment (Van den Bogaard, Drachsler, Duisterwinkel, Knobbout, Manderveld, & De Wit, 2016). In educational scholarship learning analytics can play an important role because the data generates itself without additional effort from the students.
Engaging in SoTL, practically means that the teacher is a reflective practitioner that basis his/her teaching (innovations) on theories of teaching and learning of others and his/her own empirical data gathered in the classroom (research on own teaching). Furthermore, by doing this in a systematical manner, teachers critically reflect on teaching, inform themselves with educational literature, and develop instructional awareness.
Utrecht University developed its own model to specify the systematical process that teachers are engaged in when design and executing their own SoTL- (of scholarly) project in a researched-informed manner. It is called: The Utrecht Roadmap for Teaching Innovation and Scholarship. The roadmap is unique in that it combines a commonly used research cycle often described in SoTL-literature (i.e, identify the problem, formulate a research question, designing a study, collecting data, analyse, report) with an instructional design model, the so-called ‘CIMO’ logic method (Denyer, Tranfield & Van Aken, 2008). This CIMO method uses a specific context (C) to explore an intervention (I) which is thought of being implemented, by figuring out which (learning) mechanisms (M) will be activated in the learner due to the intervention, so that certain desired (learning) outcomes (O) will be reached. Explicitly thinking about these concepts in connection to each other and thereby using what is known about the mechanisms of teaching and learning in the literature will ensure that: each project is research-informed, focusses on student learning and stimulates teachers think about the ‘why’ of starting to innovate or improve their teaching. The steps of the roadmap are depicted in figure 1.
Benefits of SoTL
This scholarly, research-informed, approach to education has several well-established benefits for the quality of education:
- Teaching practice will be improved due to the positive benefits on students’ learning, course experiences, student satisfaction, and use of innovative, student-activating teaching methods (Hutchings, Taylor Huber & Ciccone, 2011; Brew & Ginns, 2008; Trigwell, Caballero Rodrigues & Han, 2012).
- It is a powerful form of professional development and life-long learning for teachers and a way to contribute to a career in teaching.
- It contributes to the knowledgebase on teaching and learning education within a discipline.
- It provides a continuous, effective and sustained contribution to the quality of teaching within Utrecht University.
Educational scholarship is one of the pillars of the Centre for Academic Teaching of Utrecht University. Besides Educational scholarship, this centre also focuses on educational innovation and teacher development.
SoTL support within UU
Due to the positive and valuable effects of educational scholarship, Utrecht University offers support to teachers who want to be involved in educational scholarship:
- There is an online training to support teachers with a self-chosen SoTL project which is called ‘Educational Scholarship: your education under a magnifying glass’ [Educate-it] ;
- There is a special interest group (SIG) on SoTL;
- There is expert support from Educational Consultancy & Professional Development: Femke Kirschner
- There is a senior fellow dr. Irma Meijerman with a main focus on SoTL;
- There are face-to-face courses that provide support and a discussion platform for teachers with a self-chosen SoTL project.
- There is an annual SoTL conference with presentations, workshops and posters on SoTL projects at Utrecht University and beyond.
- There is an innovation fund for SoTL grants provided by the Centre for Academic Teaching (CAT) of Utrecht University;
- There is support for applications at the national Comenius programme.
- Felten, P. (2013). Principles of good practice in SoTL. Teaching and Learning Inquiry, 1, 121-125.
- Kreber, C. (2007). What’s it really about? The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning as authentic practice. International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 1, 1-4.
- McKinney, K. (2012). Making a difference: application of SoTL to enhance learning. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 12, 1-7.
- Siemens, G., & Gasevic, D. (2012). Guest editorial – learning and knowledge analytics. Educational Technology & Society, 15, 1-2 Retrieved from http://www.ifets.info/journals/15_3/1.pdf
- Williams, K.M. (2015). Doing research to improve teaching and Learning. A guide for college and university faculty. 1th Ed.; Routledge: Oxon, UK
- Denyer, D., Tranfield, D., & Van Aken, J. E. (2008). Developing design propositions through research synthesis. Organization studies, 29, 393-413.
- Hutchings, P., Taylor Huber, M., Ciccone, A. (2011). Getting there: an integrative vision of the scholarship of teaching and learning. International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 5, 1-14
- Brew, A. & Ginns, P. (2008). The relationship between engagement in the scholarship of teaching and learning and students’ course experiences. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 33, 535-545.
- Trigwell, K., Caballero Rodriguez, K., & Han, F. (2012). Assessing the impact of a university teaching development programme. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education 37, 499-511.
- Van den Bogaard, M., Drachsler, H., Duisterwinkel, H., Knobbout, J., Manderveld, J., & De Wit, M. (2016). Learning Analytics in het Onderwijs: een Onderwijskundig Perspectief. Surfnet Retrieved from https://www.surf.nl/files/2019-04/rapport-onderwijskundigperspectief.pdf