By Mick Healey and Ruth L. Healey
“I can’t tell you how much I love this article! What a wonderful combination of pragmatic guidance and thoughtful argumentation about the SoTL lit review/search.” Nancy Chick, 20 March 2022, former editor of TLI
“I think your texts make a great contribution as two tandem-articles, and I am sure they will be important and inspiring reading for many SoTL-people, new as well as experienced.” Katarina Mårtensson, 18 November 2022, current editor of TLI.
Searching and reviewing the SoTL literature are under-researched areas. We argue, in two linked articles, that they are complex, context dependent processes that are much messier, nuanced, and iterative than are commonly presented. By adopting an academic literacies perspective, we argue that undertaking searches and reviews of the literature are socially constructed processes. There is not one right way to search and review SoTL literature and much depends on the purpose, context, and culture.
The idea for these articles came after we submitted a new version of our chapter on “Identifying and Reviewing the Key Literature” for undergraduate students for the 4th edition of Key Methods in Geography. Having made significant changes to that chapter, we started to think about searching and reviewing literature in other contexts. We thought a practical, though critical, review about searching and reviewing the literature on SoTL would be useful for both new and experienced SoTL practitioners. As we explored the literature it became apparent that there are a wide range of relevant interrelated topics, including academic literacies, academic identities, academic writing, discipline-based educational research, citation practices, and bias in database searches that need to be covered. It also became apparent that there are contentious areas in the literature, particularly surrounding the strengths and weaknesses of narrative and systematic reviews. What began as a lengthy single article, ended up as two linked articles, one on searching the SoTL literature and the other on reviewing the SoTL literature.
For the future, we call for SoTL authors to widen their citation practices and to engage in scholarly conversations with colleagues in a wider range of genres, disciplines, institutions, countries, and cultures, as well as those of authors from underrepresented demographic groups. In these ways we can demonstrate the values that should underlie SoTL practices. We also suggest extending the academic literacies perspective by examining the rich and varied lived experience of SoTL researchers and how they go about searching and reviewing the literature.