Initial Publication Date: February 1, 2017

Publishing SoTL vs DBER

The scope of GER publications span the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) and discipline-based education research (DBER). Understanding what the differences are between these two areas of research is important in defining a research study, writing a manuscript, identifying a journal for submission, and communicating your work to others (e.g., P&T committees). The information below draws from a 2015 workshop on Getting your Education Research Published by Heather Petcovic and Kristen St. John, from the idea papers and publication experiences of participants in the 2016 GER workshop, and from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln DBER research group.

What is SoTL?

The goal of SoTL is to improve one's own teaching practice through innovations in pedagogy and curriculum and to serve as a model for others. SoTL studies are typically descriptive, and focus on innovations that addresses learning goals. Scholars systematically gather data that lead to self-reflection, improved teaching practices, and improved student learning. SoTL studies are often specific to a course and the instructor's personal context, but conclusions must be supported by evidence and have broader applications so as to serve as a potential model for other instructors and at other institutions.

GER community members have the following advice and considerations for publishing geoscience SoTL:

  • SOTL is an opportunity to think deeply, gather data purposefully, and disseminate your teaching excellence.
  • Professional development workshops can provide ideas and tools to early career faculty on SoTL research approaches.
  • SoTL research is a good option as a first foray into education research.
  • SoTL is also a sustainable research direction for those who plan to maintain their geoscience research career while also branching into GER.
  • Think broadly about where to submit your work.
  • The SoTL presence in newsletters (e.g. GSA today, In the Trenches), scientific meetings, and professional development workshops means that there are multiple outlets to disseminate your work.
  • Recognize that SoTL publications may not be highly cited, (i.e., a challenge with using metrics as measures of impact).

What is DBER?

The goal of DBER is to test theory and produce generalizable findings focused on teaching, learning, and ways of thinking in a science disciplines, in our case geoscience. DBER can also include investigations into the development and nature of expertise in a discipline as well as strategies for making science more inclusive. While DBER may differ slightly between disciplines, common to all is that researchers systematically gather data that leads to knowledge for improved teaching and student learning. The findings should be broadly applicable beyond a single course or instructional context; they are usually published in peer-reviewed journals. Further information is available in the 2012 National Research Council volume entitled "Discipline-Based Education Research: Understanding and Improving Learning in Undergraduate Science and Engineering."

GER community members have the following advice on publishing geoscience DBER:

  • Editors and reviewers will have high expectations for methodologies and theoretical frameworks. Therefore, it is important to make sure you are using and citing the appropriate methodological and theoretical references.
  • There are journals both in and outside the geosciences that may be appropriate to publish your studies.
  • Geoscience education graduate students, who may have a small, local community in their graduate program, can benefit from establishing a virtual community to support their education research.

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