Conversations on SoTL in Asia:
Highlights from the 2nd SoTL-Asia Conference, 21-22 Sept 2017

Dean Tin
CDTL Student Journalist


With the aim of bringing together academic teachers and others in higher education interested in supporting student learning, especially those in Asia, the inaugural SoTL-Asia Conference 2017 was organised by the National University of Singapore.

A/Prof Chng Huang Hoon, Associate Provost (Undergraduate Education), shared in her welcome address that the key aim of this conference was for participants to gain a better understanding of the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL), in particular, how we as educators can begin to think about and do SoTL in our own classrooms in Asia (video).


Over 60 participants representing universities in Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Japan, and the Middle East took part in the two-day conference from 21 to 22 September 2017. 


The conversation began with Professor Peter Felten’s enlightening talk, which invited participants to consider three fundamental questions:

  1. What is SoTL, or more specifically, what is SoTL Asia?
  2. What is SoTL for? What works?
  3. What does SoTL do? What is it meant to do?

Prof Felten stressed how contexts shape inquiries. Through examples from different disciplinary contexts, he showcased what quality SoTL looks like and how such inquiries have had an impact student learning.  He then requested participants to think about what SoTL meant in their respective contexts and introduced the idea of student partnership in SoTL inquiries.


The conversation continued with a thought-provoking talk by A/Prof Peter Looker of Nanyang Technological University, who argued that SoTL, which started in the West, must be contextualized. Teaching, he said, is neither a static process nor an isolated behaviour; rather, it is a dynamic interaction of social acts informed by cultural traditions. During his talk, A/Prof Looker gave examples that illustrated the thought patterns between both cultures that further supported his argument for contextualization. While the contexts, be they cultural or disciplinary, may be different, A/Prof Looker believed that theories and principles are the links that can translate rather than generalize across cultures and disciplines.


In the next session, Prof Grahame Bilbow of Hong Kong University, provided insights into his experience in facilitating SoTL at the institutional level through what he termed a “modified community of practice”.

Prof Bilbow stressed the importance of meso-level dialogues in facilitating SoTL, since important decisions about teaching usually happens at this level. Course leaders, coordinators, and department management teams have a high degree of autonomy to shape the directions of the curricula and courses. Recognizing this diversity, Prof Bilbow highlighted the need for international benchmarks to maintain the quality of pedagogical professionalism. He shared criteria and standards of the UK Professional Standards Framework (UKPSF) and a course where he engaged department heads and other academic leaders at his university in SoTL work using the UKPSF. Amidst this, Prof Bilbow underscored the importance of aligning value, content, and context.


In two parallel sessions that exemplified doing SoTL in different contexts, Prof Toru Iiyoshi and Ms Jeanette Choy led a discussion on Technology Enhanced Teaching and Learning (TETL) ,while A/Prof Wu Siew Mei and Dr Adrian Michael Lee shared examples of SoTL in the disciplines.



To bring the SoTL-Asia dialogue to the next level, A/Prof Johan Geertsema, Director of CDTL, again emphasized a key theme of the event, namely the importance of inclusivity and respect for diversity.   


From the Perspective of a Student Journalist

As a student, attending SoTL-Asia was inspiring. It showcased the professional passion and zeal of dedicated educators. Though coming from a diverse array of disciplines, all participants showed an honest, genuine interest to develop their pedagogical skills.

Questions were raised and issues were tackled; there was also the recognition that there are cultural differences between the East and West, which has an impact on teaching practice. More importantly though, is the epiphany that teaching is not a static process; rather, it is a dynamic, organic process that requires constant adaptation to acclimatize to cultural differences. Indeed, it is the fundamentals, or the underlying mechanisms, that are to be appreciated.

About the Author

Dean TIN is second-year undergraduate at the National University of Singapore, specializing in Life Science. Apart from writing, he enjoys the finer things in life: reading, fine dining, and jazz.