MRU Institute for SoTL

Publishing in the SoTL Big Tent

Last week we had a lively discussion in our SoTL Reading group about who gets published in SoTL journals, what kind of work meets a quality threshold of “good enough”, and where that invisible line should be drawn. The conversation turned to questions of inclusion, exclusion, and rigour in SoTL studies. We worried about perceptions of rigour by academics in other disciplines (or our perceptions of those perceptions). This makes me think about some of the unique elements of SoTL, which leads to an interesting environment in terms of publishing our work in peer-reviewed journals.

SoTL is a relatively “new” discipline

While connected to educational research, SoTL thinks of itself as distinct and fairly new in disciplinary terms. Boyer’s model dividing research into four categories, including the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning was published in 1990.  It is a discipline still feeling its way in some respects, and new journals continue to emerge and develop. I don’t want to overstate this, and doubtless someone will argue with me that it is not as new as all that, but in the university environment, we’re the new kid in town, which comes with certain challenges. We don’t have hundreds of years of disciplinary history to lean on, which lends a certain gravitas to disciplines that have been around since say, Plato.

SoTL scholars are usually trained academics from other disciplines

By definition, SoTL is undertaken by academics typically trained in other disciplines, from STEM to the humanities to the professions, and so on. Some SoTL researchers, like myself, come from the field of education, but we are in the minority. Indeed, to my surprise, I’ve had to struggle with how SoTL is distinct from my home discipline. For others, SoTL is a bigger disciplinary leap. We learn that some SoTL reviewers and journals may expect social science conventions in submissions, while others are more forgiving. If you publish within your own discipline’s educational journals, it is likely that disciplinary conventions will be applied to your writing. This can be a confusing state of affairs for new SoTL scholars.

Many journals actively attempt to encourage new scholars

We heard in our discussion from Miriam Carey, one of the editors of The Canadian Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, how the journal actively takes an inclusive and developmental approach to submissions. In an academic world where the currency of “rigour” and “standards” often translates to high rejection rates, the cost to a developmental approach may be concerns about lack of rigour.

Gary Poole, co-editor of Teaching & Learning Inquiry, in his opening keynote to ISSOTL 2017, spoke about the importance of reviewers remaining constructive in the process. I believe that we gain more than we give up with such approaches, and it is important to recognize new SoTL scholars take considerable risk in moving into the arena. Janice Miller-Young, Karen Manarin, and I have written about the challenges to disciplinary knowledges and identity new scholars often experience here.

I think this is an important discussion.  I don’t have a lot of patience with the notion that SoTL is somehow a “light” discipline, but I do think we need to continue asking questions about inclusion and quality as we develop deeper disciplinary roots over time.

— Michelle Yeo



2 thoughts on “Publishing in the SoTL Big Tent

  1. Thanks for this post. For me, a developmental approach doesn’t mean that rigorous discussion is missing. It means that rigorous discussion takes place between reviewers and authors, and hopefully later among readers. That’s what scholarship should be. And I don’t think rude or dismissive reviews mean that the journal has higher standards.

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