Tuesday, 2 September 2014

new beginnings

This week marks the end of summer in my household. In addition to the weather being noticeably cooler and leaves beginning to yellow, we start teaching and our daughter starts university this week. Exciting times but also sad in the loss of unstructured time. At the same time part of the excitement that my daughter feels about starting university is welcoming the structure that facilitates learning. Interesting that our lives need times of structure to apply ourselves but then also unstructured time to regenerate our energy and allow free association of the different thoughts accumulated over the year that need to be integrated in order to permit the creativity that makes our professional lives enjoyable.

Something new for me this year is being appointed managing editor of Collected Essays on Learning and Teaching (CELT). This is a scholarly journal published by the the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (STLHE) and contains peer reviewed articles arising from the society's annual conference on the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL). I am excited by this new venture because of my interest in developing learning environments and practices that resist the typical learning cycle of memorize/regurgitate/purge that seems to permeate much of higher education. I want to give my students life-changing experiences rather than simply a collection of courses appearing on a transcript. I believe that the papers published in CELT (and its sister publication CJSoTL) contain critical reflections on teaching and learning that when shared have the potential to transform students' learning experiences into ones that can positively shape who they will become.

I have been reading much SoTL literature over the past year about what makes teaching a scholarly activity and how that activity can be translated into scholarship. What has emerged for me is that SoTL is diverse in its approach to investigating teaching and learning being both experiential and objective in nature while simultaneously being robust in its critical appraisal of how evidence is collected and considered in the development of how we design the educational experiences of our students.

For me, Weimer (2006) makes the clearest statement of SoTL's goals: it needs to be both credible and viable. Viable in the sense that it needs to be read in order to have an impact on improving teaching and learning practices and thus must be both well-written and have something to say to educational practitioners. For it to be viable, SoTL must be credible by using acceptable methods of analysis and critical reflection on questions relevant to teaching and learning. If SoTL is going to have an impact on our students' ability to learn, it must be credible and viable.

Bernstein (2010), Felten (2013), and O'Brien (2008) present good structures for understanding the nature of SoTL and the different levels of engagement possible for educators and learners resonating with Weimer's (2006) criteria for how SoTL should be judged. For SoTL to be credible and viable it needs to have clear goals, a sound understanding of its scholarly and learning context, using appropriate methods to gather evidence of significance to the teaching and learning community that is critically considered and publicly disseminated.

As an editor of a SoTL journal my objective will be to support SoTL as a viable and credible force for improving the learning outcomes of our students. CELT will thus be one resource freely available online to help teachers develop their voice (Elliott-Johns 2011) and use evidence-based educational practices.


Bernstein, D. (2010) "Finding Your Place in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning." International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 4(2): Article 4.

Elliott-Johns, S.E. (2011) "Reclaiming a Writing Voice as a New Teacher Educator: SoTL as Portal." International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 5(2): Article 22.

Felten, P. (2013) "Principles of Good Practice in SoTL." Teaching & Learning Inquiry: The ISSOTL Journal, 1(1): 121-125.

O’Brien, M. (2008) "Navigating the SoTL Landscape: A Compass, Map and Some Tools for Getting Started." International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 2(2): Article 15.

Weimer, M. (2006). "Enhancing Scholarly Work on Teaching and Learning: Professional Literature that Makes a Difference." Jossey-Bass, An Imprint of Wiley.