July 1st, 2008

The Scholarship of Teaching in the Community College

By:

In his influential Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate, Ernest L. Boyer proposed that the definition of “scholarship” be broadened beyond the predominant emphasis on the scholarship of discovery to encompass the scholarship of application, the scholarship of integration, and the scholarship of teaching. What are the objectives of these four different domains of scholarship?

The scholarship of discovery is the most standard form of scholarship. The aim of this form of scholarship is to acquire knowledge for its own sake. The testing and generation of theory is also an essential facet of the scholarship of discovery.

The scholarship of application, also called engagement, is the application of disciplinary knowledge and skill to help address important societal and institutional problems. While the purpose of any of the four domains is to generate new knowledge and to disseminate it to others in various forms, the scholarship of application focuses on utility to constituencies outside a discipline and more importantly to society in general.

The scholarship of integration seeks to interpret, draw together, and bring new insight to original research. The scholarship of integration is serious discipline work that gives new meaning and perspective to isolated facts, illuminates data in a revealing way, makes connections across a discipline, and synthesizes the knowledge of the disciplines. The key question for this domain is, what do the findings mean?

The scholarship of teaching is the fourth domain that Boyer identified. The objective of the scholarship of teaching is the development and improvement of pedagogical practice. Thus, scholarship of teaching should not be confused, which it often is, with teaching effectiveness or the assessment of teaching.

The scholarship of teaching

This article is focused on the scholarship of teaching. Why? Because the scholarship of teaching fits the mission of teaching-oriented colleges and universities. Teaching-oriented colleges and universities compose the vast majority of colleges and universities in the United States. Boyer prescribed the scholarship of teaching for liberal arts colleges and some comprehensive colleges and universities. He also prescribed it for two-year colleges, particularly the community college.

The scholarship of teaching is a process through which the profession of teaching advances. It occurs when faculty systematically investigate questions related to student learning, and it happens with one eye on improving their own classroom performance while the other eye is focused on advancing the practice. So—and this is a very important point—it’s one way to help improve one’s own teaching but it always can make a contribution to practice that others can benefit from. By concentrating on the scholarship of teaching and doing it well, faculty members and teaching-oriented colleges and universities could experience a sense of enhanced professional vitality or reinvigoration.

What is the scholarship of teaching?

What are the components of the scholarship of teaching? One is classroom research, and the other is pedagogical content knowledge. Classroom research focuses on the “how and why” questions about teaching and learning. Why did students respond as they did? How can the material be presented more effectively? Classroom research attempts to answer these questions by turning classrooms into laboratories.

One example of classroom research would be experimentation with new teaching methods or activities. Another would be the development of methods to make ungraded assessments of student learning and course content, and still another would be trying a new instructional practice and altering it until it is successful.

The second component of the scholarship of teaching is pedagogical content knowledge. Pedagogical content

knowledge is knowledge of pedagogy specific to an academic discipline. Pedagogical content knowledge is knowledge of pedagogues specific to an academic discipline, with particular focus on how to make the subject matter understandable to students. Examples of activities related to pedagogical content knowledge are the development of examples, materials, class exercises, or assignments that help students how to learn difficult course concepts. Another would be creation of an approach or strategy for dealing with class management problems facing teachers of a particular type of course. Yet another would be creation of an approach or strategy to help students think critically about course concepts.

Assessing the scholarship

Naturally, there are some issues and concerns in assessment of the scholarship of teaching that one needs to consider. If the mission of an institution is to emphasis the scholarship of teaching then the tenure promotion system must give some weight in tenure promotion decisions to faculty engaged in scholarship oriented towards this domain. A key question is, do the outcomes of efforts by faculty to develop or improve pedagogical practice qualify as scholarship?

Boyer contends that works appearing in forms apart from publications and refereed journals and scholarly books may be used as scholarly forms for faculty assessment. Put differently, publications and refereed journals and scholarly books and book chapters need not be the primary criteria used to assess faculty performance. Papers, presentations, reports, videos, computer software, and websites are publicly observable but unpublished forms of scholarship, especially when disciplinary knowledge and skill are applied, and some of the issues that we talked about under classroom research or pedagogical content knowledge are addressed.

Presentations must be recorded in some format so that individuals not in attendance may listen to or view the presentation. Another key issue is that documentation must accompany pieces of unpublished academic work that are publicly observable by peers. Put into different words, this requirement calls for the development of a portfolio. Such portfolios should include a faculty member’s statement outlining the goals and contributions made by the person’s scholarship, a curriculum vitae listing scholarly activities performed by the individual, and selected samples of unpublished scholarship put into a form amenable to public or peer observation. Of course, publications in refereed journals and books and book chapters may still be used to assess scholarship of teaching. Scholarship appearing in forms other than publications, in refereed journals, and in scholarly books may be viewed as scholarship if it meets three necessary criteria.

First, it must be publicly observable, as I mentioned previously. It must be amenable to critical appraisal, and it must also be in a form that permits exchange and use by other members of the scholarly community.

The question of support

How can colleges and universities support faculty engagement in the scholarship of teaching? What are some institutional support mechanisms? Temporary reductions in teaching course loads, mini-sabbaticals, release time during the academic year, and summer salary support are possible approaches to giving faculty the time needed for engagement of the scholarship of teaching.

Institutions could provide financial support for faculty to attend conferences on teaching and learning. What we’re really talking about here is how faculty can acquire an imagination for doing work in the scholarship of teaching, especially since most faculty are not trained in pedagogy. What’s the basis for the generation of topics? And clearly one factor is the attendance by faculty at conferences on teaching and learning, where they can hear what other faculty are presenting.

Another institutional support mechanism would be to hold teaching focus symposia on campus. These would be the forums in which faculty would present research that they’d been conducting or scholarship—for instance, some new instructional practice that they’ve been trying—and showing some of the difficulties (or successes) they had with it and making recommendations to peers on how it might be improved.

The scholarship of teaching may seem daunting at first to faculty members. But where there are sincere and creative efforts at support, there is no doubt that faculty members can move the scholarship of teaching forward.

John Braxton is professor of education in the Higher Education Leadership and Policy Program, Peabody College, Vanderbilt University.