'This image shows the ISSOTL23 Utrecht conference theme: 'Context Matters'. The background reflects this theme graphically, with multiple train tracks connecting. Besides the logo of ISSOTL, the logo of Utrecht University's Centre for Academic Teaching and Learning is included, since that is the host of the conference. Data: 8 – 11 November 2023. Location: Railway Museum, Utrecht, The Netherlands

Conference theme: Context matters

“Context matters” is the theme of ISSOTL23. With this theme, we want to address the importance of context for teaching and learning, as well as for SoTL as activity, and stress the importance of SoTL in generating context-specific knowledge. We distinguish four different contexts:

  1. Teaching and learning context
    • Every SoTL project is situated within a specific context of a teaching and learning practice. This context influences teaching and learning, and the possibilities and outcomes of a SoTL project. Aspects of consideration are the characteristics of the student population (e.g., ethnic background, cultural background, study year, prior knowledge and socio-economic background), the type and place of a course in a programme, the expertise and participation of (supportive) teachers, and organisational aspects. Relevant to the teaching and learning context of a SoTL project is also the teaching and learning philosophy of the teachers and the university.
  2. Disciplinary context
    • Teachers that are engaged in SoTL often have a specific disciplinary background with its own academic identity, epistemology, research paradigms and methodological approaches. As such, teachers bring the strenghts of their disciplinary approaches, but also often need to cross disciplinary boundaries to get familiar with the SoTL field. Identifying and discussing disciplinary contextual effects could help in better supporting faculty to overcome these research boundaries and embrace new paradigms related to SoTL research. 
  3. Institutional context 
    • Institutions may differ vastly in their teaching and learning philosophy, in the role SoTL plays in teaching and innovation, and their academic culture. Establishing a SoTL culture depends on the institutional way of recognition, reward and support of SoTL. Examples are the role that SoTL plays in tenure, promotion and quality assurance, and opportunities offered at institutions to engage in SoTL such as local conferences. 
  4. Geographical, language and political context
    • To take the SoTL context to a more meta level, one could think about the national, financial, cultural and language elements that play a role in SoTL. Is every county equally (financially) equipped to establish and support a SoTL culture? What specific issues do institutes in different countries encounter in relation to SoTL? One contextual element is language, for example, that in some languages, such as Swedish or Dutch, there is no translation for SoTL.