3 attendees at the SoTL luncheon listening to presentations.

What is SoTL?

SoTL is an inquiry to understand or improve student learning and one’s own teaching practices that affect student learning through evidence-based practices. SoTL brings a scholarly lens to what happens in the learning environment.  

However, SoTL is much more than a research process. As a form of sociocultural inquiry (Löfgreen, 2023), SoTL describes a variety of epistemic, didactic, moral/ethical, and interpersonal dimensions of higher education. Potter & Kustra (2011) define SoTL as "the systematic study of teaching and learning, using established or validated criteria of scholarship, to understand how teaching (beliefs, behaviours, attitudes, and values) can maximize learning, and/or develop a more accurate understanding of learning, resulting in products that are publicly shared for critique and use by an appropriate community.” 

Beyond the focus on student learning, partnering with students is a defining characteristic of SoTL—inviting them into the “teaching commons” and promoting students’ shared ownership over learning. Student-faculty partnerships can take a variety of forms, from co-inquiry, to involving students in aspects of the research. Regardless of the form, faculty-student partnerships are beneficial for both parties and ensure that the student perspective is a part of SoTL.


  • This guide by Nancy Chick is a good place to start exploring SoTL.  

  • The Center for Engaged Learning at Elon University offers a series of videos that provide a great introduction to SoTL. 

  • Popovic et al. (2021) provide insight into the benefits and challenges of student partnership in SoTL, from both the faculty and student perspectives. 

Planning and designing a SoTL study

People often begin their SoTL journey with a problem, something they want to understand about student learning or what is working and what is not working in their teaching and learning context. Thus, the first step is identifying a potential project and developing questions to guide your inquiry and research design (see the video on the right for a taxonomy of research questions to help with this).  

Both quantitative and qualitative methods and data can help answer one’s research question and each has unique strengths. The most appropriate research design and sources of evidence will vary according to your question(s) and the context of your course, but SoTL researchers often draw on their disciplinary strengths and experience when choosing a research design. Choose an appropriate design that can answer your research question(s) and aligns with the organic structure of your course, with thought towards your time and expertise, but don’t be afraid to branch out and explore unfamiliar approaches if doing so improves your research.  

Regardless of approach, SoTL emphasizes obtaining direct evidence of student learning in a systematic and methodologically sound manner. The following resources will help get you started planning and designing a SoTL inquiry. 


Ethical conduct of SoTL

SoTL research involves human participants, and in Canada this requires adherence to ethical guidelines that have been put in place by the Tri-Council funding agencies. Indeed, there are some unique ethical considerations when conducting SoTL research (see image). To ensure the ethical conduct of research at the University of Manitoba, SoTL researchers must submit their research to one of the University of Manitoba’s Research Ethics Boards (REB) for review and approval before commencing their research. We recommend reaching out early and often to the appropriate REB office with any questions about the process, required information, or concerns about addressing questions. 

All researchers must also complete the Course on Research Ethics (CORE) to be eligible to conduct research with human participants. This self-guided course takes about 4 hours to complete. The following resources will provide a good grounding in the principles of the ethical conduct of SoTL research and potential strategies to address ethical considerations. 


Where and how to disseminate SoTL

Dissemination is an important aspect of SoTL; making our results public so that others can benefit from our experience and research. SoTL research spans a wide range of disciplines and research approaches, and as such, the style of your publication will depend on its genre (e.g., empirical research article, theoretical and conceptual article, reflective essay, opinion piece, self-study, conference and workshop presentation, or social media publication).  

Thankfully, SoTL journals welcome a wide variety of genres. The first thing that may come to mind about publishing results is peer-reviewed journal articles and conference presentations. However, going public with your SoTL research findings can also include having conversations with colleagues, presenting at lunch and learns, departmental colloquia, a university symposium, or even writing about your research on blogs and social media.  

The following resources may help you build your SoTL identity and become a good “SoTL writer” expressing yourself with a clear voice. 


  • For those looking to publish in a peer-reviewed journal, see these writing tips for SoTL from Kathleen McKinney.  

  • This excellent article by Healey, Matthews, and Cook-Sather (2019) may also be helpful to those who wish to publish their study.  

  • The University of Toronto’s journal database provides a nearly exhaustive list of SoTL journals, both discipline specific and general SoTL, to help SoTL practitioners identify publishing opportunities.  

  • The Center for Engaged Learning at Elon University has a great list of teaching and learning conferences for those looking for a conference to present at.  

  • On her blog, Nancy Chick also offers some great insight into how we can make our valuable SoTL work part of the public scholarship available to a broader audience. 

Contact us

The Centre for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning
65 Dafoe Road, Winnipeg, MB
University of Manitoba
Winnipeg, MB R3T 2N2 Canada