SoTL as Public Scholarship

My discussion-starting handout for the Elon conversations.

Earlier this year, I spoke with a few groups of faculty at Elon University about academic blogging as public scholarship, especially when thinking about our work in the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL).  The blogosphere invites us, as David Perry acknowledges, “to experiment  with form rather than content, to find ways to make an academic concept accessible to a broader public.”  Beyond blogs, though, the 21st century provides us with plenty of other public spaces where we can and should be communicating what we know and what we want to know in SoTL.

I acknowledge that I’m a little late to this particular party.  The SoTL Advocate‘s Jen Friberg, Kathleen McKinney, and guest bloggers, and ISSOTL’s social media (Twitter, Facebook, and the ISSOTL blog) powered by Jessie Moore immediately come to mind as just a few of the platforms extending the reach of SoTL beyond academic journals, books, and conferences. More of us need to be reaching out, though, and we need to reach even further — to the platforms frequented by that broader public beyond the university.

Contrary to the arguments against academics taking to the social media streets, where apparently our “power … evaporates” or we’re purportedly reduced to “rancorous factionalism” (Fraser, 2019), I believe we can, in fact, effectively contribute in these public spaces. (I confess that Fraser’s Chronicle of Higher Ed article asserting that “Social media has made scholars impatient, vicious, and dull” is what inspired agitated me to finally write this post.)  As Dan Bernstein has observed, “SoTL-active faculty members are already telling the story of teaching” and serving a kind of translational role between our local campuses and various “external intellectual communities” (2013, p. 36, 38)–not to mention translational roles between different disciplines.  We’re used to think about communicating within and across different audiences, practicing (but certainly not perfecting) an agility in how we talk about our knowledge and our work. So we’re primed for what we might call SoTL as public scholarship.

The two have common roots in Ernest Boyer’s expansion of recognized scholarships: his notion of “the scholarship of teaching” (1990) grew into SoTL, and his later description of “the scholarship of engagement” (1996) encompasses what we now call public scholarship, with the goal of developing spaces where “the academic and civic cultures communicate more continuously and more creatively with each other” in order to “[connect] the rich resources of the university to our most pressing social, civic, and ethical problems” (p. 27).

Goettel and Haft’s (2010) definition is often cited when describing public scholarship. More often than not, though, it’s excerpted in a seemingly definitive list of requirements, but I here paste it in full to include its flexibilities:

In the arts, humanities, and design disciplines, engagement is initiated by artists, scholars, design professionals, and citizens, and encompasses multiple types of knowledge creation. Such scholarship and practice can take a variety of forms including work that expands the place of public scholarship in higher education itself by developing new engagement programs, methodologies, and evaluation metrics, as well as artistic, critical, and historical work that contributes to public debates and to understanding pressing social issues. Often, such scholarly and creative work is jointly planned and carried out through campus and community partnerships. The basic unit of such work is more often the project than the course. The final products of this activity also can take a variety of forms, such as books intended for broad audiences, community dialogues, art installations, and collectively conceived performances. (p. 363)

Their chapter’s focus on the arts, humanities, and design–fields that aren’t always at the center of traditional conceptions of “scholarship” or research–is helpful in illustrating more broadly the range of possibilities for what public scholarship might look like, and what SoTL as public scholarship might look like.  Here are just a few starting thoughts inspired by Goettel and Haft’s definition:

  • SoTL as public scholarship can be “initiated by [practitioners], scholars, … professionals, and citizens,” so the work can start with questions and concerns from lots of places, not just our classrooms (where we most often start), which means that its “basic unit” may be “the project more than the course.”
  • SoTL as public scholarship can be “jointly planned and carried out through campus and community partnerships,” and can “contribute to public debates and to understanding pressing social issues.”
  • SoTL as public scholarship “encompasses multiple types of knowledge creation” and “can take a variety of forms,” including but not limited to “artistic, critical, and historical work,” as well as “books intended for broad audiences, community dialogues, art installations, and collectively conceived performances,” and more.
  • SoTL as public scholarship “expands [its] place … in higher education itself by developing new engagement programs, methodologies, and evaluation metrics.”

Imagine what this might look like. Quick: think about some of our most pressing social issues or public debates. Better yet, ask someone off campus. In what ways might SoTL contribute, challenge, resolve, or illuminate?

SoTL Immersion

by Joanna Rankin
Community Rehabilitation and Disability Studies (Cummings School of Medicine), University of Calgary

Photo Credit: dchrisoh Flickr via Compfight cc

Having recently attended the ISSOTL 2017 conference, I have completed the SoTL Immersion that I proposed only a year ago. Dipping my toes into the deep waters of SoTL, this journey took me to the SoTL Commons conference in Savannah Georgia, to EuroSoTL in Lund, Sweden, (which also included a stop in Toronto, Canada to present about SoTL in Disability Studies at the Canadian Disability Studies Association Conference), and back to ISSOTL17. A newcomer to SoTL, this immersion has allowed me the opportunity to experience some of the foundational and diverse practices, developments and perspectives of an international array of SoTL practitioners who have warmly welcomed me into the fold.

This journey has left me feeling embraced, invigorated and inspired as part of something larger than myself and my classrooms, faculty or university. A homecoming of sorts, something that I wanted to be a part of, without having known it.

Beyond championing why each of the conferences I attended were amazing I would like to share my key take aways from each.

SoTL Commons (Savannah, Georgia): Strategies for Course Design, Learning, and Student Engagement

Other than the fact that I loved everything about Savannah, (the people, the food, the deep-fried pound cake, the architecture and the fact that it wasn’t snowing in March), this conference armed me with a barrage of tools and innovative strategies to engage students. The generosity and eagerness of faculty to share their strategies, successes and failures was one of the most impactful features of my foray into SoTL. From very small innovations, to total overhauls, the innovative ways in which learning and materials were approached, from studying criminology through song lyrics, to using Twitter to assess statistical trends, the engaged, inventive and adaptive examples discussed exemplified the kind of teacher that I want to be.

EuroSoTL (Lund, Sweden): Pushing Boundaries

Offering another opportunity to explore a different part of the world, to ride a bicycle, eat seafood, and wander the meandering streets of Lund, for me, this conference brought forth the foundational role of partnership and co-creation in teaching and learning. I attended presentations about projects between peers, faculty and students. The weight given to the role of student engagement and partnership was a highlight of this conference for me. The examples set by faculty challenged my interpretations of traditional boundaries between students and faculty and encouraged a sense of collaboration rather than competition between faculty. These examples have given me the confidence and inspiration to pursue more open and collaborative ways of approaching research and learning which I have since implemented in my work.

ISSOTL (Calgary, Alberta): Exemplifying a Teaching Commons

As a SoTL newcomer, I have felt shy to participate and apprehensive about the value of my contributions. The ISSOTL conference provided a multitude of purposeful opportunities and activities which allowed and encourage collegiality and mentorship and was extremely welcoming to newcomers. I attended the newcomer panel session, was introduced to my peers and was encouraged to introduce myself to more established faculty. The gathering of this group of teachers and learners, experts, novices and everyone in between, truly exemplified what I understand to be a teaching commons. The opportunity to engage with needs and wants of teachers and learners and the welcoming of voices and ideas was both inspirational and humbling as I reflect on my future practice.

I started my SoTL Immersion by asking In what ways can SoTL inform my practice in enhancing student learning and engagement in my field of Disability Studies? As I come to the conclusion of this project, I feel part of an exciting movement in teaching and learning at the post-secondary level and have an array of strategies to bring to my disciplinary home. Mentored by my peers, actively mentoring students and engaging with new SoTL based projects big and small, I now am part of the larger SoTL community.



What It Looks Like: Experience as a Guide to SoTL Inquiry

by Emma Spooner

In this excerpt from her final essay for the SoTL Foundations Program for Graduate Students, Emma Spooner begins to think about developing her own SoTL inquiry.

SoTL Foundations Program
SoTL Foundations Program (Badge of Completion)

I loved the multidisciplinary approach of discussions of SoTL and the fact that it encourages cross-disciplinary research. I am just beginning my teaching career, but I have been lucky enough to have experienced many different types of classes and students as a student, as a TA, and now as an instructor. My current SoTL interest has been directed by these experiences, so I begin here in thinking about a potential project, guided by the “what does it look like?” descriptive- questions from Pat Hutchings’ taxonomy of SoTL research questions.

Experience #1 is from my experience as a grad student. Our program, during my time, required that we complete a “historical breadth” course-work component to meet degree requirements. My favorite classes encouraged students to pursue their own research interests within the parameters of the course topic. For instance, I took a course on Samuel Beckett and Modernism, topics very far removed from my 18th-century area of speciality. However, because my professor encouraged us to find a way to connect Beckett with our own interests, I became very invested in the course. (I think most of my family received copies of Samuel Beckett’s letters, all 2 volumes and 2000 pages of them, for Christmas that year.) I still remember most of the content of that course, and my final paper on Beckett and Samuel Johnson helped me learn not only about Beckett but broadened my understanding of my own speciality as well.

Experience #1 “What does it look like?” takeaway: find a way to connect students’ interests with course material in order to facilitate investment and learning accountability.

Experience #2 is from my experience as a TA. One of my last courses as a TA was for a first-year English Introduction to Fiction class for non-English majors. The class was structured so that the professor of record lectured on one day, and on the other day the 200 students were broken into smaller tutorial segments that the TAs facilitated. Because it was such a large class the TA’s control over the format and content of the tutorials was pretty limited. We all shared a regimented schedule of assignments and lecture formats. For me the class was interesting and the professor was engaging, but I found myself frustrated with the lack of progress students were displaying on their writing skills. Of course in a class that large there are exceptions, but the majority of the students seemed to be in the class to get a passing grade and that was it. They didn’t care if that passing grade was a D or an A as long as they got that credit and then never had to think about English again. I think students were not invested in the class because they did not see how the information and skills they were learning were applicable to them. The short stories, for instance, may have been entertaining, but the students were not making the connection between learning to close read and an applicable or transferable skill to their own disciplines.

Experience #2 “What does it look like?” takeaway: Something about this class did not work. Students didn’t see the transferability of the reading and writings skills they learned in English.

Experience #3 was in my own class.  After my experience #2, I wanted to provide students with the structure, tools, and methods—no matter their field of study—to process information, analyse critically, and be able to present their own position in a well-supported argument. However, the first half of the class did not go as well as I had envisioned. As a new sessional instructor, I had designed my class around topics that I knew well—18th-century writing. I got a lot of resistance to the poems and novels we read, and I found my class heading in the same direction as the class I experienced as a TA. I was struggling to make our readings relevant to my students, so I tried to connect the 18th-century works we read to current events. For instance, I paired Alexander Pope’s “Epistle to Burlington” with Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games in order to consider the ways in which each text opened up discussions on class divisions and social obligation. Afterwards, a student asked if he could explore “Epistle to Burlington” in relation to Keeping Up With the Kardashians for his final essay. His essay was by far the best piece of work he had produced all year: it was a well thought-out and insightful paper on “the social contract and the double-edged sword of vanity which promotes and impedes charity.”

Experience #3 “What does it look like?” takeaway: very similar to my first experience, students’ work improved dramatically when they had a personal investment in the topics they wrote about.

I started to wonder: Do interest-based learning activities and assignment stimulate more active student engagement? Do they also improve assignment performance? And how could I create assignments that met the English Department requirements and still allowed students to pursue their own interests? This is where I was in my thinking before coming to the SoTL Foundations Program’s discussion groups. Randy Bass’s article The Scholarship of Teaching: What’s the Problem? really spoke to me: he

didn’t really know if the students who [he] watched ‘improve’ from their early work to later work were really understanding the material, . . .  or merely learning to perform their knowledge in ways that had adapted to [his] expectations. (3)

This observation and his “inverted pyramid” practice about setting learning and teaching goals seems really important to me. In the first course I taught, the class was mostly about me. I taught works that I knew well, that I loved, or that I thought were important. In subsequent courses, I have tried to move away from the ‘me’-centered approach. Following Bass’ learning-focused pyramid questions, if “I had to pick one thing that students would retain from the course what would it be?” (4), then it would speak to both English and their discipline.  Students would learn that skills in English allow them to find their own voices and express those voices confidently and clearly no matter what discipline they come from. Students would also reflect on the skills they brought to English and how their field or discipline could contribute to the way they interpreted English works.

While I would love it if all my students left my classes thinking of Jane Austen as the best writer in the world, or that Mary Leapor’s poem “Crumble Hall” is one of the funniest poems ever written, what I really want is for my students to learn that English skills will also further their individual academic and career goals.


SoTL Foundations Reflections on International Graduate Students

by Galicia Blackman

In this post, Galicia Blackman shares some of her initial reflections from her final project for the SoTL Foundations Program for Graduate Students, which asks participants to develop a plan for SoTL inquiry.  

SoTL Foundations Program
SoTL Foundations Program (Badge of Completion)

Graduate school has its inherent trials, and studying away from home has an additional set of challenges. My foray into graduate research had anxieties that were not related to my status as an international student, but instead about moving away from my disciplinary interest. This is not my first time away from home for school, and I had a strong support system to acclimatize to life here at the University of Calgary, but even with all the domestic and academic support, I do feel the strains of adjusting to the norms of academia which differ from my expectations. I wonder about students who have to both make do without family support close by and adjust to language difficulties while also unpacking cultural academic norms.

As an international student coping with a range of differences from my foundational education experiences, I am curious about how international graduate students (IGS) move from adjusting, to coping, to eventually thriving. In my program experience, while coursework and relationships with several professors have been essential to my academic development, I have observed that much of my learning has occurred through the guidance provided by my supervisor. My interactions with graduate students from other faculties alerted me to the differences in faculty norms regarding supervisor-student relations. I would argue this is an important part of graduate student development. Much of my previous teaching in language, literature, and communication studies included the pedagogical practice of one-on-one conferencing with students about their essays or research projects. This use of talk in teaching language and literature frames my interest in the dialogic relationship in between IGS and their supervisors.

SoTL research can begin from a point of curiosity or an interest in a practical mystery about teaching and learning, and my disciplinary approaches in language and literary studies often begin with what could sound like a SoTL disposition: what’s really going on here?  

What kind of teaching goes on in the meetings IGS have with their supervisors? What is the nature of the learning which takes place within that relationship? How do IGS navigate the cultural nuances, sometimes even second-language nuances, as well as professional and personal nuances in order to maximize this critical relationship? How does the supervisor-student relationship help IGS develop the necessary skills for optimum performance and eventual success in graduate school? How does the relationship align with their graduate student life and career goals? What do international graduate students need from their supervisors to acclimatize to the nuances of higher education in an unfamiliar learning situation, and to thrive and graduate in a timely fashion? Is the supervisor-student relationship the most critical point of the graduate students learning in graduate school?

Currently the inquiry seems bigger than the traditional SoTL research project. I attribute this to my traditional approach in language and literary studies: beginning from a broad observed pattern and subsequently localizing it to the text under investigation. For this research to be conducted effectively, I would next need to streamline the research question to focus on the evidence of IGS learning in the interactions with their supervisors. I have also found it useful to frame my big questions in the intellectual context of literary studies and Chick’s reminder that, in looking at learning through the lenses of the arts and humanities, “we can and should ask big questions” such as “What do we reward and value in learners? In the university? What are we doing here?” (2015, p.1)

A preliminary consultation of similar studies (Agyirey-Kwakye & Abaidoo, 1995; Lechuga, 2011; Omar, Mahone, James, Ngobia, & FitzSimons, 2016; Trice, 2003) suggests that this is not a new area of research, but it is also not a major theme in educational research, perhaps because the IGS demographic is so diverse and difficult to generalize about. That is precisely why it is worth exploring in SoTL terms–especially context-driven, evidence-based terms.

This topic is not unique in its interest in learning outside of the formal four-walled classroom, but it is important in pointing to the multi-faceted nature of learning in higher education. It asks whether IGS are learning to simply fit an established graduate profile or to bring their unique perspectives to a truly global community. As an IGS myself, eager to succeed yet insistent on retaining my cultural heritage and identity in a competitive graduate school environment, I wonder about IGSs’ unstated learning experiences in their relationships with their supervisors.

Bernstein (2010, p. 4) states that “the goal of SoTL is to have every teacher treat every course as an opportunity to learn how to create better learning environments and generate richer educational experiences.” The goal of this SoTL inquiry would be to have every supervisor treat their interactions with IGS as an opportunity to create better learning environments and generate richer educational experiences.

Galicia Blackman is a graduate student in the University of Calgary’s Werklund School of Education
and a SoTL research assistant at the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning.



Agyirey-Kwakye, K., & Abaidoo, S. (1995). A study of the needs of international students at the University of Saskatchewan. Unpublished manuscript, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Canada.

Bernstein, D. (2010). Finding your place in the scholarship of teaching and learningInternational Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 4, 2.

Chick, N. L. (2015). Holding it up to the light: Looking at learning through the lenses of the arts and humanities. The Canadian Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. 6, 2. doi:

Lechuga, V. M. (2011). Faculty-graduate student mentoring relationships: Mentors’ perceived roles and responsibilities. Higher Education, 62(6), 757-771. doi:

Omar, F., Mahone, J. P., Ngobia, J., & FitzSimons, J. (2016). Building rapport between international graduate students and their faculty advisors: Cross-cultural mentoring relationships at the University of Guelph. The Canadian Journal for the Scholarship of  Teaching and Learning. doi:

Trice, A. G. (2003). Faculty perceptions of graduate international students: The benefits and challenges. Journal of Studies in International Education, 7(4), 379-403. doi:

Toward an Ethos of Attribution

Recently while driving home, I was listening to an academic podcast and was struck by a verbal pattern of the hosts.  They were referring to others’ ideas, research, and writing without clearly or explicitly identifying these others.  Although the episode’s web page includes links to some of these materials as “additional resources,” in nearly 20 minutes, the hosts drew heavily on a few sources without once mentioning a single name or title.

Instead, they referred to the institution where one of the studies took place:  “There were some folks at X University who did some research specifically on….”  They went on to use language like “The main thing that came out of the research was that…” and “What some people call….”  The underlined words are where, in academic writing, the authors’ names would appear.  They also spoke occasionally in passive voice, such as “a concept that has been identified as….” The passive verb “has been identified” of course allows the omission of who did the identifying.

I think a lot about attribution, citation, giving credit where credit is due.  In fact, I hold high an ethos of attribution–both professionally and personally.

A Toast
(photo filter by Dreamscope)

As an academic in general, I include generosity among my highest values.  (See one of my old newspaper columns.)  I’m inspired by Alison Phipps and Ronald Barnett‘s notion of “academic hospitality,” as in the “friendly and generous reception of guests or strangers or…new ideas” rooted in the Greek “philoxenia,” or “love of the stranger” (237-238).  They note that citations are one of the “place[s] where ideas and people meet and greet in celebratory, communicative and often critical modes” (253).  And so, like academic blogger Pat Thomson, I view “counter-competitive ways of doing and being scholarly” such as “reading other people’s work and giving feedback, working collaboratively, co-writing…, mentoring and supporting those who are where you were a couple of years previously, making your work available open access on academic platforms, setting up writing and reading groups, organizing seminars and so on” as central to my academic practice.

As a writer, I try to be as precise and clear as possible with sources for words, ideas, and inspiration, even erring on the side of overciting.  After all, I see what I see only because I “stand on the shoulders of giants.”*  Much of the time when I’m reading or talking or listening, swirling through my head are connections to the writings of others: additional resources, texts that agree/disagree/offer an alternative perspective, genealogies of books and articles that have led to someone’s comment, juxtapositions of authors that would make for a great dinner party, etc.

As a journal editor, I look closely at authors’ choices of quotations, how and when they cite each other (or don’t), and who cites whom.

As an English professor,  I love teaching how to elegantly integrate quotes into our writing, weaving others’ voices in with our own.

As a bibliophile, I love books of quotations.

As a woman (and introvert who doubly struggles to elbow into certain conversations), I try to “amplify” (Crockett) or “shine” (Friedman) a light on my peers’ good ideas to ensure they’re heard and given credit for their ideas.

As an American raised partially in Southern states, I’m not bashful about calling attention to others in public, much to the dismay of some of my Canadian friends and colleagues.    (I won’t call you out here, but you know who you are!)

Perhaps ironically, I’m not sure where this ethos came from.  Sure, I was schooled in the MLA, APA, and Chicago citation manuals, and I remember learning about plagiarism and how to prevent it.  And I know about the importance of using textual evidence when making claims.  But as Phipps and Barnett and Thomson reveal, there are affective, interpersonal, and power-related issues involved that for me make it less about being credible and staying out of trouble, and more about trying to be what I consider a good scholar and a good person.

*  Although we credit Isaac Newton for this phrase, it first appeared in a 12th century text by Bernard of Chartres (e.g., see Stock; Sarton et al.).

Works Cited

Chick, Nancy. “In the Company of Vampire Bats.” Rice Lake Chronotype, 11 May 2011.  Accessed 19. Jan. 2017.

Crockett, Emily. “The Amazing Tool that the Women in the White House Used to Fight Gender Bias.” Vox, 14 Sept. 2016.   Accessed 19. Jan. 2017.

Friedman, Ann. “Shine Theory: Why Powerful Women Make the Greatest Friends.” The Cut, 31 May 2013. Accessed 19 Jan. 2017.

Phipps, Alison, and Ronald Barnett. “Academic Hospitality.” Arts and Humanities in Higher Education, vol. 6, no. 3, 2007, pp. 237-254.

Sarton, George et al. “Notes and Correspondence.” Isis, vol. 24, no. 1, 1935, pp. 102–126.

Stock, Brian. “Antiqui and Moderni as ‘Giants’ and ‘Dwarfs’: A Reflection of Popular Culture?” Modern Philology, vol. 76, no. 4, 1979, pp. 370–374.

Thomson, Pat. “getting published? its (dis)positional.” patter,  19 Jan. 2015.   Accessed 19 Jan. 2017.

Toward an Ethos of Attribution

(photo filter by Dreamscope)

Recently while driving home, I was listening to an academic podcast and was struck by a verbal pattern of the hosts.  They were referring to others’ ideas, research, and writing without clearly or explicitly identifying these others.  Although the episode’s web page includes links to some of these materials as “additional resources,” in nearly 20 minutes, the hosts drew heavily on a few sources without once mentioning a single name or title.

Instead, they referred to the institution where one of the studies took place:  “There were some folks at X University who did some research specifically on….”  They went on to use language like “The main thing that came out of the research was that…” and “What some people call….

Read more….

A SoTL Primer

How many times did you introduce SoTL to someone new in the last year, and what did that introduction look like:  a definition, a description, a metaphor, a citation, a workshop, a book, a website?

primerI dream of a SoTL primer, a little anthology of key readings that would together provide some coverage, depth, and range of the field. I imagine a simple cover, a size that fits comfortably in my hands and lightly in my bookbag, lovingly worn pages with dog-eared corners and post-it notes throughout, and oh that book smell.

On a whim one day, I emailed the following question to an unscientific sampling of friends and colleagues:

If you were putting together a SoTL primer of 1 to 10 titles to introduce colleagues to the field, what would you include?  

Tiffany Doherty (a graduate student in sociology and the first SoTL Research Assistant I hired at the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning) is filling out the citations, working with lists that look like everything from “Barr & Tagg” to “Randy’s seminal article on ‘problematizing'” to a few fully formatted bibliographies. (Thank you, Tiffany!)

I’ll put the full list on my SoTL Guide once it’s ready, but for now, here are a few highlights:

So far, I’ve received 22 additional lists (plus mine). The lists were contributed by the following (in alphabetical order):  Dan Bernstein, Sean Brawley, Sarah Bunnell, Lendol Calder, Nancy Chick, Chng Huang Hoon, Tony Ciccone, Peter Felten, Mick Healey, Bettie Higgs, Mary Taylor Huber, Pat Hutchings, Sherry Linkon, Aaron Long, Karen Manarin, Beth Marquis, Janice Miller-Young, Gary Poole, Torgny Roxå, Nicola Simmons, Kathy Takayama, Roselynn Verwoord, & Brad Wuetherick  

Compiling all 23 lists into a single bibliography, there are 112 citations.

Here’s a word cloud of all of the authors in the comprehensive list. (The bigger the font, the more citations in the comprehensive list.)

SoTL Authors Word CloudHere are the Top Ten Citations from the comprehensive list.

Since five of the items in the Top Ten are entire books and one is a website, here’s the list of the Top Ten Short Pieces that would fit into my imaginary SoTL primer.

I’ll share more highlights and combinations soon, as well as the comprehensive list.

What’s your list?  Post it below, and I’ll share regular updates.