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The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) is a growing movement in post-secondary education. SOTL builds on many past traditions in higher education, including classroom and program assessment, K-12 action research, the reflective practice movement, peer review of teaching, traditional educational research, and faculty development efforts to enhance teaching and learning.

SOTL scholars come from various backgrounds, such as those in educational psychology and other education related fields, as well as specialists in various disciplines who are interested in improving teaching and learning in their respective fields. Some scholars are educational researchers or consultants affiliated with teaching and learning centers at universities.

Inquiry methods in SoTL include reflection and analysis, interviews and focus groups, questionnaires and surveys, content analysis of text, secondary analysis of existing data, quasi-experiments, observational research, and case studies.

The findings of SoTL research projects are peer reviewed and publicly disseminated to advance the practice of teaching and knowledge in the researchers’ respective fields. 

SoTL has the power to:

  • Foster mentoring of new generations of teachers
  • Build a multidisciplinary community
  • Promote academic advancement 

Will I Need IRB Approval for my SoTL Project?

Because SoTL involves research on student learning, it falls into the category of human subjects research. Therefore, the ethical principles of human subjects research apply to scholars completing SoTL projects. When reviewing research on teaching and learning, the IRB distinguishes between activities that are part of “normal educational practices” and research beyond such a scope. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Is what I’m asking of my students part of normal educational course work? Would this be expected of them regardless of whether I was doing this research project? If yes, these are “normal educational practices.”
  • Is what I’m asking of my students above and beyond normal course work? If yes, the IRB must review these activities more closely.

When applying for IRB approval, make sure to distinguish which project activities are normal educational practices, and which are research activities. Remember that these aspects of human subjects research are applicable:

  • Informed Consent - students should be informed of the advantages and disadvantages of participating in research activities, as well as any associated risks. Students then should be given the opportunity to opt out of participation without penalty.
  • Risk to Students – Risk to grades and learning, as well as risk to privacy, must be considered.