Well, what is ‘scholarship of teaching’?

Photo on 19-03-13 at 4.32 PM - Version 2My article published in the Journal of the Australasian Law Teachers Association last month included a brief discussion around ‘scholarship of teaching’ (SoT) and how that might apply in practical legal training. I am still thinking about what SoT ‘is’, and as I read around the topic I learn more about how problematic the term can be. I undertook a small literature review this week drawing on around 50 peer-reviewed sources, to learn more about problems of defining SoT, SoT elements, and related issues. This post is directed to the problem of defining SoT, and reviews ‘elements’ shared in the literature.

Problem of defining SoT

‘Despite ‘blockbuster’ conferences … and new journals (such as the International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning)’, says Boshier (2009), ‘most university faculty members or academic staff do not know what [SoT] means’. There’s no ‘complete consensus’ on the meaning of SoT, asserts McKinney (2006), and ‘social construction of a shared meaning’ for SoT ‘is fraught with difficulties’. In 2001, Kreber said ‘there is still confusion regarding the meaning of “scholarship of teaching,” with different people espousing different definitions’; however, in 2002 Kreber shifted a little, ‘once downplayed as an amorphous and elusive term devoid of any clear meaning, the scholarship of teaching has gained much clearer contours over the past few years’. In Australia more recently, Devlin (2012) observed ‘numerous attempts to pin down the notion of the scholarship of teaching’ and linked this to ‘[one] of the challenges of defining the scholarship of teaching is that ‘the grandfather’ of the concept, Ernest Boyer, did not really define it per se‘.

Which brings us to the oft-cited Boyer (1997), and Glassick et al (1997). Boyer located SoT within four manifestations of scholarship: ‘the scholarship of discovery’, ‘the scholarship of integration’, ‘the scholarship of application’, and ‘the scholarship of teaching’, each of which overlap. As Glassick (2000) would later observe, these concepts emerged out of Boyer’s earlier research with Rice in 1989, involving 5000 faculty at a range of higher education institutions, however debates around ‘measurement’ of quality of scholarship of teaching highlighted some ambiguity around what SoT ‘is’. Out of subsequent research around this issue, Glassick (2000) reports 6 ‘themes’ emerge: ‘clear goals’, ‘adequate’ preparation’, ‘appropriate methods’, ‘significant results’, ‘effective presentation’ and ‘reflective critique’.

After Glassick (2000), Trigwell et al (2000) sought to devise ‘a multi-dimensional model’ that describes scholarship of teaching. The model can be visualised as a table with four column headings, ‘informed dimension’, ‘reflection dimension’, ‘communication dimension’ and ‘conception dimension’. Under these headings are descriptors of ‘qualitative variations’ of how individuals engage with a dimension of SoT. For example, under ‘communication dimension’ the variation ranges from an individual doing nothing to publishing in a international scholarly journal. I will not reproduce the table here, but I commend Trigwell’s article to you.

Investigating ‘elements’ of Scholarship of Teaching

I wanted to learn more about how those articles described elements of scholarship of teaching, and the prevalence of those elements across the articles. I imported about 50 articles into NVivo computer-aided qualitative data analysis software You can look at a tree map of the main elements here.

In brief, ‘sharing’ scholarly work (usually by publication) for ‘external scrutiny’, was the most prevalent element described for scholarship of teaching. Having clear ‘aims’ or goals for research came next, followed by ‘self reflection’ and ‘knowledge’ (usually through familiarity with literature and research regarding teaching and learning). ‘Critical inquiry’ (includes critical engagement) came next, then ‘discovery’ (for example, searching for novel insights or solutions to problems), followed by appropriate ‘preparation’ and ‘methods’. Other less prevalent (but still important, I think) terms were: interdisciplinarity, systematic (or methodical) approach, analysis, application (applying scholarship to practice), comparisons, intellectual engagement, integration of knowledge and practices, practical approaches, and the ability to synthesise these things.

Sharing or publishing scholarship for external scrutiny or peer review (and to share the benefit of new knowledge) was generally accepted as integral to scholarship of teaching. However, some writers observed that sharing need not be confined to peer-reviewed journals, and other scholarly outputs are possible. I am interested in this aspect and will research it further.

Other Issues

Several other issues (teacher engagement with scholarship of teaching, for example) percolated through the literature and I will write more about these in the future.

If you want to share your thoughts about SoT in PLT, please feel free to comment or email me.

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Boshier, R 2009, ‘Why is the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning such a hard sell?’, Higher Education Research & Development, vol. 28, no. 1, pp. 1-15.

Boyer, EL 1997, Scholarship reconsidered – Priorities of the professoriate, The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, Princeton, New Jersey.

Devlin, M 2012, ‘The scholarship of teaching in Australian higher education: a national imperative’, in Keynote address at the Vice-Chancellors Colloquium, The University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia, May 30, 2007.

Kreber, C 2001, ‘Conceptualizing the Scholarship of Teaching and Identifying Unresolved Issues: The Framework for This Volume’, New Directions for Teaching & Learning, no. 86, p. 1.

Kreber, C 2002, ‘Controversy and Consensus on the Scholarship of Teaching’, Studies in Higher Education, vol. 27, no. 2, pp. 151-67.

Kreber, C 2005, ‘Charting a critical course on the scholarship of university teaching movement’, Studies in Higher Education, vol. 30, no. 4, pp. 389-405.

Glassick, CE, Huber, MT & Maeroff, GI 1997, Scholarship Assessed: Evaluation of the Professoriate. Special Report, Jossey Bass Inc., San Francisco.

Glassick, CE 2000, ‘Boyer’s expanded definitions of scholarship, the standards for assessing scholarship, and the elusiveness of the scholarship of teaching’, Academic medicine : Journal of the Association of American Medical Colleges, vol. 75, no. 9, pp. 877-957.

McKinney, K 2006, ‘Attitudinal and structural factors contributing to challenges in the work of the scholarship of teaching and learning’, New Directions for Institutional Research, vol. 2006, no. 129, pp. 37-50.

Trigwell, K, Martin, E, Benjamin, J & Prosser, M 2000, ‘Scholarship of teaching: a model’, Higher Education Research and Development, vol. 19, no. 2, pp. 155-68.

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