SoTL through the Lenses of the Arts and Humanities

Brad Wuetherick, Dalhousie University

“A consensus has formed within growing circles in academia that there is scholarly research to be done on teaching and learning, that the systematic creation of rigorous knowledge about teaching and learning is a crucial prerequisite to responding to major challenges facing academia, that this knowledge must be shared publicly and should build cumulatively over time, and that the explorations of this area should be conducted by academics from all disciplines, not just those with appointments in schools of education.” (Pace, 2004)

As someone who supports faculty across the disciplines explore research questions about teaching and learning, I have regularly heard from faculty that they agree in general with the importance of scholarly research being done on teaching and learning, but struggle to be involved in SoTL as it means learning a whole new way of doing research.  In response, I have spent several years leading workshops and doing consultations with faculty to help them overcome that concern, championing the idea that SoTL praises “methodological and theoretical pluralism” (Huber and Hutchings, 2008, 233).  A large part of those consultations has been encouraging faculty to use their own critical lenses, developed through years of education and training in research within their own discipline, to answer various teaching and learning questions. Yet, in practice, it has often meant leading them towards using social science (educational) research methods seen as a more rigorous form of scholarship in the teaching and learning community.

Over the past few years, however, I have been increasingly questioning why social sciences research paradigms are privileged in SoTL, when different disciplines offer very diverse and valid ways of providing ‘evidence’ to answer questions about teaching and learning.  My own educational background is primarily in history and sociology, and as I became more involved in SoTL I always seemed to fall back on my sociology research methods background in designing both quantitative and qualitative SoTL research projects.  And while these methods have helped me explore a number of important questions, and having a background in social science research has been very helpful, I have found several times when my ‘historian’s lens’ has been especially valuable from a methodological and/or theoretical perspective.

Over the past few years, as I have reflected on the ways in which my disciplinary background (history) might inform my own SoTL practice, I have learned that I am far from alone in terms of wanting to explore the use of the various approaches and methodologies of the arts and humanities in SoTL.  There are a growing number of scholars asking what it might look like to truly embrace methodological pluralism in the SoTL community, particularly in groups such as the ISSOTL special interest group for the humanities (  Yet, this work still comes against resistance from many SoTL colleagues.

A recent call for a special issue of the Canadian Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, which I am co-editing with Michael Potter from the University of Windsor, stated:

As the community of SoTL scholars has grown across Canada and around the world, however, there has been a growing sense that SoTL work has been dominated by the epistemologies, philosophies, and research methods of the social sciences, a view that has been supported by SoTL journal editors and resources dedicated to introducing faculty to SoTL (Gurung and Schwartz, 2009; Jarvis and Creasey, 2009; McKinney and Chick, 2010; Chick, 2012). To quote Nancy Chick (2012) in a recent book on the current state of SoTL in the disciplines, “while many well-known SoTL leaders come from humanities backgrounds …, the on-the-ground work largely marginalizes the practices of their disciplines.”

So the question follows, “how does the apparent under-representation of (arts and) humanities-based disciplines affect expectations for SoTL, from norms for research design and methodology to the genre and style of its products?” (McKinney and Chick, 2010).

Far from providing any answer to such a question, the intent of this blog post is to invite you to join the growing conversation about SoTL through the lenses of the arts and humanities.  The CJSOTL special issue, which should be published later this year, called on scholars of teaching and learning to provide examples of SoTL work that uses the varied genres, approaches, research designs, theoretical and epistemological frameworks, and methodologies of the arts and humanities to explore key topics in teaching and learning.  And to further explore these issues, McMaster University (as part of their School of the Arts 50th anniversary celebrations) is hosting a one day symposium on April 10, 2014.  The symposium will feature a keynote by Nancy Chick, founding co-editor of Teaching and Learning Inquiry, and champion of arts and humanities based SoTL work.  Please join in the conversation about SoTL through the lenses of the arts and humanities.

To submit a proposal to the McMaster Symposium please go here:


Chick, N. (2012). Difference, Privilege and Power in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning: The Value of Humanities SoTL. In McKinney and Huber (eds). The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Across the Disciplines. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.

Gurung, R. and B. Schwartz (2009). Optimizing Teaching and Learning: Practising Pedagogical Research. Malden: Wiley-Blackwell.

Huber M, and P. Hutchings (2008). Placing Theory in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning.  Arts and Humanities in Higher Education. 7: 229-244.

Jarvis, P. and G. Creasey (2009). Strengthening SoTL Research: The Voices of Journal Editors. Featured session at the International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning annual conference. Bloomington, Indiana. Oct 22 – 25.

McKinney, K. and N. Chick (2010). SoTL as Women’s Work: What Do Existing Data Tell Us? International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 4 (2).

Pace, D. (2004). The Amateur in the Operating Room: History and the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, American Historical Review, 109:2 (October).

This entry was posted in Blog. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to SoTL through the Lenses of the Arts and Humanities

  1. Pingback: Examining Teaching & Learning through the Lenses of the Arts & Humanities | SOTL Canada

  2. Pingback: Examining Teaching & Learning through the Lenses of the Arts & Humanities »

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *