Written by Austin Holland, PhD candidate in the Department of Geographical and Sustainability Sciences

Prior to participating in the Graduate Teaching Fellowship program, I had little formal understanding of Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL). For those who have not heard of SoTL, it is a wide body of literature that uses a variety of methods to evaluate and enhance education at all levels. There are a variety of peer-reviewed journals dedicated to this research. My short experience with SoTL has aided in my development as an educator and how I view teaching.   

During our first meeting as graduate fellows, Katherine described SoTL as a broad field of inquiry that aims to improve teaching through research. Interestingly, I had participated in this type of research at the Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. As a graduate assistant for Dr. Gillian Acheson, we read about the representation of women in introductory textbooks, then created a research project to investigate this same issue in introductory geography textbooks. As a young researcher and educator this project provided an opportunity to understand the research process, and the importance of critically reflecting on the materials we provide students.  

As I was planning for my Center for Teaching workshop, “Creating Community in Virtual Classes," I relied heavily on SoTL research on online learning as the foundation of my presentation. There were a variety of different journals, like the "American Journal of Distance Education," that enabled me to provide evidenced-based information. Reading and reflecting on these articles gave me a sense of confidence in relaying this knowledge, but also offered sound advice that I have implemented in my classroom. This experience left me with a great appreciation for SoTL literature as a tool in designing my future coursework and activities, especially if (more like when) an issue were to arise. Because when an issue appears in a research project, we turn to the literature, so why wouldn’t we do the same for teaching?  

As I continue teaching, I plan to remain engaged with SoTL literature as a way to continue to critically reflect and develop my coursework. In doing so, I hope to create the best possible classroom experience for students at the University of Iowa and elsewhere. Reflecting on this research could also lead to identifying gaps in the literature, which would create opportunities for my own SoTL research. I would encourage those who are interested to do the same. A great resource to start is the Research & Scholarship Digest, which highlights monthly SoTL research. This was a webpage used in our fellowship as an introduction to SoTL and has been a bookmark on my web-browser ever since! If you are interested in learning more about SoTL at the University of Iowa, check out the SoTL webpage for events or to design a project with the Center for Teaching staff. If you are a graduate student interested in exploring teaching as research, take a look at the UI Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching, & Learning (CIRTL)