How can I use the scholarship of teaching and learning to inform my practice?

Sometimes a challenge presents itself in the classroom that cannot be resolved through reflection or discussion with others. We may find ourselves locked in a ‘best practice’ debate with colleagues, trying to convince them of the advantages of portfolios over exams for example – only to find our (or their) opinions are backed up by assumptions.

Consulting the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL), particularly that relating to our discipline, is an invaluable means of bringing an evidence-base to our teaching practice. Willingness to draw on SoTL can help resolve challenges, aid in exploration of new ideas, and extend knowledge of areas of teaching and learning that inspire us.


The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) can be described as a synthesis of teaching, learning, and research that brings a scholarly lens to what happens in the physical or virtual classroom (Vanderbilt Center for Teaching, 2010).

SoTL emerged as a field in 1990, in response to a debate over the role of the academic in higher education (Boyer, 1990). While research was typically seen as the priority for academics, there was a growing awareness of the need to improve the quality of teaching as well. The emergence of SoTL encouraged teaching in higher education to be viewed as a scholarly pursuit.

Although definitions of SoTL vary, most agree that it is concerned with specific questions an educator has about teaching or learning in their context, is evidence-based, and results in findings shared with peers to expand a knowledge base. One does not need a degree in Education to engage with or contribute to SoTL.

The distinction between ‘the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning’ and ‘Scholarly teaching’ is sometimes used to clarify that as academics we are not expected to contribute to the SoTL evidence base as well as continuing research in our own field. Rather, as scholarly teachers, we are encouraged to ‘consult with’ and ‘critically reflect on’ the literature to inform improvements to our practice (Richlin, 2001).

Five Top Tips

Getting started with scholarly teaching:

  1. Bookmark the altLAB website for quick access to a range of curated resources designed to support evidence-based teaching practice at AUT.

  2. Consulting the literature may be as simple as typing a question into Google Scholar. For best results, log in via the AUT library first to ensure quick, full-text access to peer-reviewed journal articles.

  3. Create a One Drive folder to store interesting articles you come across in relation to key areas such as Assessment, Feedback, Learning and Teaching strategies and block out an hour in your calendar every couple of weeks to dip into that bank of knowledge.

  4. Set up a Community of Practice or ‘book club’. Creating a space for like-minded colleagues to meet and share literature once a month is a great way to keep a finger on the pulse without a large-scale commitment.

  5. Attend the annual AUT Teaching and Learning Conference (TLC) – to get a glimpse of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) in action on campus. In time, you may be inspired to partner with a colleague and present your own research into your teaching and learning context.

Useful Resources

  • Former AUT academic Neil Haigh led a team of researchers to conduct a literature review of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL), published in 2010. His summary report is available here.
  • Ako Aotearoa, a government-funded organisation which funds and publishes SoTL-related research, is a good source of open access articles and resources relevant to the New Zealand tertiary context.
  • Well-known Aotearoa New Zealand publications to check out include the New Zealand Journal of Educational Studies; and NZ Research.
  • Key Australasian publications you will come to hear about include: HERDSA (the Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia) and ASCILITE (the Australasian Society for Computers in Learning in Tertiary Education).


Boyer, E.L. (1990). Scholarship reconsidered: priorities of the professoriate. Princeton University Press.

Richlin, L. (2001). Scholarly teaching and the scholarship of teaching. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 86, 57-67.

Vanderbilt Center for Teaching (2010). A Scholarly Approach to Teaching.