Using SoTL to create guidelines for teaching

On the Resources” page of the International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (ISSOTL), I came across a link to “Guidelines on Learning that Inform Teaching,” a project by Adrian Lee, Emeritus Professor at the University of New South Wales, in Sydney, Australia. Through his work in his position as Pro Vice Chancellor (Education & Quality Improvement) at the University of NSW, Lee decided to work with others to create a set of guidelines, based on research, on what “works” in teaching.

The main ideas behind the project are stated as follows:

  • As academics, our task is to help students learn.
  • There is a vast research literature on how students learn and examples of good teaching based on this research.
  • As we claim to be research intensive institutions should not our teaching be based on this research?

But, as Lee notes, most faculty are very busy, and don’t have time to look into the relevant research on teaching, on top of their own research and teaching activities (I am lucky to be able to spend my sabbatical time doing lots of research into teaching, given that I’m in a teaching position, but most people don’t have that luxury). So he decided to distill the research into a set of guidelines, with links to relevant research papers.

Lee’s paper, “From Teaching to Learning,” linked at the bottom of the front page of the website, provides information (towards the end) on how the guidelines were developed. It also provides a great summary of some other excellent work done at UNSW on professional development for faculty re: teaching and learning–some things to learn from there, for institutions!

There are 16 guidelines, each with its own dedicated page. On those pages are quotes from various research papers that are meant to illustrate the guideline. I found these somewhat helpful, but would liked to have seen more narrative description of each guideline and what kind of research supports it. Perhaps one or two disciplinary examples would have helped illustrate the guideline a bit better, though those are all collected in a different section (see below). There are also links to research papers related to that particular guideline, for those who are interested in seeing some of the sources of the guideline. Of course, this effort is hampered by the fact that so many SoTL articles are not open access, so they can’t be easily linked to. Or rather, he could have put links to them, with notes that they are subscription only–so those whose institutions do have subscriptions could read them. Still, interested faculty could look up some of the non-linked papers themselves if their institutions have subscriptions.

There is also a section that hasDiscipline-specific exemplars,” which has links to ways people are putting the guidelines into action (whether they are consciously aware of these specific guidelines or not!) in different disciplines. The “humanities” section is fairly sparse at this point, but Lee asks for exemplars and provides his email address.

Finally, each guideline has a “toolkit” designed to encourage reflection on each one by individual teachers (linked at the bottom of each guideline page). It asks instructors to think of examples, to engage in reflection on the guideline, to consider obstacles to implementing it, and more. I find the toolkit a bit sparse, and think that more instruction could be helpful–more specific questions to guide reflection, for example. And perhaps a prompt to ask instructors to come up with a way they could use it in their own teaching in the future.

Lee’s larger project is to encourage institutions to set up their own guidelines, for a similar purpose–to help faculty think about the current research in a distilled fashion, and see examples of work being done at their own institution and elsewhere that conforms to the guidelines. On the homepage he links to three universities that have used the 16 guidelines as a model for their own set of guidelines. For example, MIT has a page listing exemplars of the guidelines from MIT itself.


I think this is a very important concept–for those who don’t have the time to go to workshops on teaching where they might get similar information (or those for whom such workshops are not available), it’s helpful to have research-based information on quality teaching in higher ed available. Of course, a project like this requires upkeep, and some of the links on the site are currently broken (including the link to one of the three universities with their own, similar guidelines, University of Bedfordshire-UK). In addition, the latest papers linked to on the site are from the mid-2000s, and it would be nice to have later papers available as well. Still, what Lee is really hoping will happen is that universities create their own guidelines and sites, and keep these up to date; and that’s an excellent idea.

Do you know of any colleges or universities that have similar sorts of guidelines, backed by research? If so, please give links in the comments and I’ll send them to Adrian Lee! Or, if you have some discipline-specific exemplars for one or more of the guidelines, please post those below.
P.S. I’m off and on out of town for the next month, as it is summer here in Australia (where I am for sabbatical), so I may be a little slow in responding to comments!