Charlene D'Avanzo
School of Natural Science, Hampshire College, Amherst MA 01002

From the beginning, the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) in ecology has been a key motivation for creation and development of TIEE.  It is a main reason why NSF funded us several times (over $600,000 in total) and why ecology faculty value TIEE.  However, many of our colleagues whose primary focus is ecological research or management know little or nothing about SoTL – what it is, that is exists, why it is so important for some ecology faculty. This is not surprising, and I use this editorial as an opportunity to provide some history and background about the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. 

Scholarly teaching calls for a faculty member to take a scholarly approach to teaching – as they would in their scientific disciplines. This means asking questions, knowing the literature (e.g. theories about cognition and learning), developing and testing hypotheses, analyzing data, and revisiting hypotheses. As with other scholarship, faculty who practice SoTL make public their ideas, approaches and findings through posters, talks, publications and the like.

For the majority of faculty, such an approach to teaching is a big change. In colleges and universities teaching is usually private (except for student evaluations) and not subject to review by peers.  "The result," writes Carnegie Foundation President Lee S. Shulman, "is that those who engage in innovative acts of teaching rarely build upon the work of others; nor can others build upon theirs." SoTL seeks to change that.

Interest and discussion of research on teaching conducted by college faculty themselves has greatly increased in recent years, which Huber & Hutchings (2005) trace to Boyer’s work on teaching as scholarship (1990). The NRC (2002) and Fox and Hackerman (2003) underscore the potential of SoTL to drive change in science education. Indeed, Handelsman et al’s (2004) Science paper on scientific teaching (teaching and learning informed by empirical evidence) has been cited over 150 times since its publication (Google Scholar).

In Volume 5 of TIEE we introduced a new Research section to encourage and support scholarly work on ecology education. In that volume readers can see what practitioner research  - done by faculty on their teaching – looks like. The 6 articles written by 11 faculty include analysis of students’ abilities with quantitative aspects of ecology, changes in environmental values, and students’ skills with inquiry. In the present volume authors examine effective ways to teach evolution, a program in which high school teachers worked with conceptual models, and modules focusing on diversity for conservation professionals and college students.

This relatively new aspect of TIEE is extremely important. In numerous scientific disciplines (e.g. geology, physics, chemistry, aspects of biology) faculty are applying the rigor of research to their teaching. As a result of considerable work by ESA members, including TIEE editors and authors, ecology is seen as a leader in this effort (e.g. Ebert-May et al. 1997, D’Avanzo 2003). We certainly wish to continue in this role. Through TIEE, I especially wish to support younger ecology faculty who engage in practitioner research; their studies not only improve their own teaching and provide models for others to build on, a peer-reviewed ESA publication can also be very valuable in reappointment and promotion files.


Resources for more information about the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning