Legitimating Reflective Writing in SoTL: “Dysfunctional Illusions of Rigor” Revisited

  • Alison Cook-Sather Bryn Mawr College
  • Sophia Abbot Elon University
  • Peter Felten Elon University
Keywords: reflection, reflective writing, rigor, SoTL, student-faculty partnerships


In a classic 2010 article, Craig Nelson critiques his own previously held “dysfunctional illusions of rigor” that for years had constrained his teaching. He demonstrates that certain “rigorous” pedagogical practices disadvantage rather than support learners, and he argues for an expansion of what counts as legitimate pedagogical approaches. We evoke Nelson’s assertions to make a parallel argument regarding the traditional conventions of academic discourse. While formal scholarly writing may be well suited to capturing some of the outcomes of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL), these genres can also be exclusive; inadequate to the task of conveying the complex, incomplete, and messy aspects of the work; and neither interesting nor accessible to those who are not required to produce or to read publications focused on the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. We propose that reflective writing be legitimated as a form of writing for SoTL, and we use examples from a growing body of reflective writing about pedagogical partnership to illustrate our points. Echoing Nelson, we offer four reasons for this expansion of legitimacy: (1) the process of reflection is an essential component of learning; (2) reflective writing captures the complexity of learning; (3) reflection is an accessible form of writing for both new and experienced SoTL authors; and (4) reflective writing is accessible to a wide range of readers. We conclude by emphasizing the potential of including reflective writing among those modes of analysis valued in SoTL to expand what counts as rigor in the construction and representation of knowledge about teaching and learning.

Author Biographies

Alison Cook-Sather, Bryn Mawr College

Alison Cook-Sather is Mary Katharine Woodworth Professor of Education at Bryn Mawr College and Director of the Teaching and Learning Institute at Bryn Mawr and Haverford Colleges (USA). She has published widely on student voice and pedagogical partnership work and serves as founding editor of Teaching and Learning Together in Higher Education and founding co-editor of International Journal for Students as Partners, both of which publish reflective essays.

Sophia Abbot, Elon University

Sophia Abbot is a graduate student in a Masters of Higher Education program and Graduate Apprentice in the Center for Engaged Learning at Elon University (USA). She is finalizing a co-edited collection (forthcoming, fall 2019) about pedagogical partnership written in a diverse range of genres, including many reflective pieces.

Peter Felten, Elon University

Peter Felten is Executive Director of the Center for Engaged Learning, Professor of History, and Assistant Provost for Teaching and Learning at Elon University (USA). In 2020, he and co-author Leo Lambert will publish a book on relationship-rich undergraduate education.


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How to Cite
Cook-Sather, A., Abbot, S., & Felten, P. (2019). Legitimating Reflective Writing in SoTL: “Dysfunctional Illusions of Rigor” Revisited. Teaching & Learning Inquiry, 7(2), 14-27. https://doi.org/10.20343/teachlearninqu.7.2.2