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The Scholarship of Teaching & Learning From Rice to Boyer to Shulman: How a Movement Might Change Everything

by Tom Ott

This article is adapted from the SoTL presentation given on October 6, 2005, by Tom Ott.

The concept of the Scholarship of Teaching was introduced by Ernest Boyer in his 1990 Carnegie report, Scholarship Reconsidered. In that report, Boyer sought to expand the definition of scholarship beyond the limited borders of library research and formal publication. To what he called the scholarship of discovery or traditional academic research, he added integration, application, and, most importantly for faculty at community colleges, teaching.

Boyer described integration as the expansion of the borders of one’s discipline in an effort to see the connections among ideas and to provide a broader context for information. His scholarship of application makes the leap out of the college and university; and, while maintaining the necessary seriousness and discipline associated with scholarship, shifts attention to the larger world and how scholarship may be of concrete service along the entire continuum of society.

While Boyer’s scholarship of application makes the leap over the walls of the academy, the scholarship of teaching is rooted in the classroom, and has become over the years the focus of what has now become an international movement. Boyer wrote:

Basic research has come to be viewed as the first and most essential form of scholarly activity, with other functions flowing from it. Scholars are academics who conduct research, publish, and then perhaps convey their knowledge to students or apply what they have learned. The latter functions grow out of scholarship, they are not to be considered a part of it. But knowledge is not necessarily developed in such a linear manner. The arrow of causality can, and frequently does, point in both directions. Theory surely leads to practice. But practice also leads to theory. And teaching, at its best, shapes both research and practice. (15-16)

While Boyer’s work was building on that of his Carnegie colleague Eugene Rice in “The Complete Scholar” and “New American Scholar” (Bender, 42), it is Scholarship Reconsidered that laid the foundation for the subsequent teaching/learning agenda of the last 25 years by challenging the academy to see teaching as a discipline in its own right and equal to any subject that might be thought suitable for academic research.

Boyer’s work was followed in 1995 by an article in Change magazine by Robert Barr and John Tagg titled “From Teaching to Learning—a New Paradigm for Undergraduate Education.” In the opening paragraph of that article Barr & Tagg wrote:

A paradigm shift is taking hold in American higher education. In its briefest form, the paradigm that has governed our colleges is this: A college is an institution that exists to provide instruction. Subtly but profoundly we are shifting to a new paradigm: That of A college as an institution that exists to produce learning. This shift changes everything….(13)

The most immediately practical application of Barr and Tagg’s work would go like this: Faculty at post secondary institutions should not be hired solely as experts in their discipline but as experts at communicating that discipline in a context that privileges learning rather than the simple transmission of information. In the learning paradigm, assignments do not press solely for exam-time recall but rather ask students to interact with material in a way that creates structures of understanding rather than discrete cataloging of information. It asks that we not assume that students will engage because what we have to say is so important but that we work at finding ways for them to engage the importance of the work and to make that work meaningful to their lives.

In Barr and Tagg’s Learning Paradigm, the emphasis has shifted from the performer to the audience; and in that model, we need to be prepared to recognize what the audience brings to the hall. To put it another way, teaching needs to begin with an understanding of how people learn. It is not enough simply to talk at students and watch with satisfaction as they scribble notes that more often than not are rephrasings of what they will find in their textbooks. We must help them engage the material we present and that means recognizing that they are not the archetypal blank slate on which we may write the wisdom of our disciplines but people with experience and passions, circuits of belief and opinions. It may well be that the purpose of education is to refine the mind and sensibilities, but it seems arrogant to assume that neither exist when a student enters our institution, and more arrogant still to simply dismiss those experiences as insignificant. But worse yet, by not recognizing what students bring to our classes we miss a valuable opportunity to use what exists as a foundation for what we wish them to learn.

This was recently underscored in Eileen Bender’s Change magazine account of the history of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. Bender notes that attention to teaching and learning did not originate with Eugene Rice, Ernest Boyer, or Lee Shulman, who succeeded Boyer as president of the Carnegie Institute and whom I will return to in a moment, but that the foundations of inquiry into the teaching/learning dynamic have been constructed by researchers working in fields such as philosophy, psychology, mathematics and neuro-biology (42). Essentially, much of this research coheres around the not so simple question of how people learn.

In a profoundly illuminating text, How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience and School, John Bransford and his associates make compelling use of three decades of research on how the mind works, and while their effort is comprehensive and ranges from learning behaviors of young children to adults, the message that emerges over and over is that “learning is enhanced when teachers pay attention to the knowledge and beliefs that learners bring to a learning task, use this knowledge as a starting point for instruction, and monitor students’ changing conceptions as instruction proceeds.” (p. 11).

While Boyer, Barr and Tagg, and a host of other teacher/scholars are owed a debt of gratitude for moving forward the idea of teaching as a discipline in its own right, it was Lee Shulman, who followed Boyer as President of the Carnegie Institute, who transformed Boyer’s Scholarship of Teaching into the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. For Shulman, there is a clear difference between the scholarly teacher and the teacher practicing the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. The former may be deeply committed to her students, to the principle of inquiry, to exploration of how her students learn and adapting her instruction accordingly with excellent result. However, she does so at the desk in her office or perhaps with a few colleagues who share a common approach to her work.

I know many such teachers and would pay them the compliment of confidently enrolling my daughter in their classes. However, what they are engaged in is not the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. And to differentiate that from the valuable work of thoughtful, even scholarly teaching, Shulman listed three criteria that had to be met:

  1. 1. The work should be public
  2. 2. The work should be susceptible to critical review and evaluation
  3. 3. The work should be accessible for exchange and use by other members of one’s scholarly community

While the criteria are clear, I have not always been certain what sort of work would count or how formal it needed to be; and as the literature of the last few years would demonstrate, I am not alone in my uncertainty. This becomes important when the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning becomes an integrated part of an institution’s academic agenda or in the case of some institutions the agenda itself, and professional recognitions such as tenure and promotion are tied to it However, I am sure of Shulman’s intention: If the activity of teaching and learning is to be taken seriously as a discipline that may be studied for the purpose of advancing knowledge of it, then it cannot be conducted in isolation, and its results cannot be confined to individual practice. The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning may reasonably be summed up by the title of Shulman’s 2004 collection of essays on education: Teaching as Community Property.

Not content with simply asserting a set of principles that would describe the Scholarship of Teaching and Learn ing, in 1999 Shulman joined the Carnegie Institute with the American Association for Higher Education to form the Carnegie Academy for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning campus project known as CASTL. This partnership fostered the action arm of the SoTL agenda and was intended, as Shulman wrote in “Taking Learning Seriously,” a chapter from his Community Property essays:

…to be a national network of community colleges, liberal arts colleges, and comprehensive and doctoral institutions that commit themselves to taking learning and teaching seriously by creating conditions on their own campuses that reflect in their own way the values, culture, and principles of the core academy. We envision these campus teaching academies as support systems and sanctuaries within their institutions to sustain the scholarship of teaching within departments and programs.” (45)

Today, well over 120 institutions of higher education have participated in the various CASTL campus programs, including Community College of Philadelphia.

Over the last two years, with support from the Office of Academic Affairs and the College Foundation, Community College of Philadelphia has partnered with Oxford College of Emory University, Kennesaw State University, Agnes Scott, and Wright Medical College as a member of the Cogitive/Affective Learning Cluster. The purpose of the Cluster is to develop specific ways to create a campus environment that clearly privileges the connection between the affective and cognitive domains. The Cluster sponsors an online journal: The Journal of Cognitive/Affective Learning, which has just published its third issue and has developed what we believe to be the most extensive bibliography dedicated to the literature of cognitive/affective learning.

While creating a campus environment that examines the connection between the affective and cognitive domains seems a rather daunting task, I am pleased to note that for the last two years a number of faculty involved in developmental education have been meeting regularly to address this relationship. This work has produced to date Viewpoints articles by Luba Borochok, Charito Aglaua, Rosemary McAndrew, and an article in the current issue on the use of rubrics by Maddie Marcotte. In addition, this year each member has committed to writing an article suitable for publication that addresses some aspect of our teaching that is consistent with the teaching/learning themes we have been exploring.

What I have written so far is an overview of an academic movement that began formally in 1990 and has grown and strengthened over the last fifteen years and recently held its first iternational conference in Vancouver. But despite the remarkable work done by Lee Shulman and others at Carnegie and Barbara Cambridge at the now defunct American Association of Higher Education, it has not progressed solely under its own steam. While SoTL may well have succeeded on its own, I believe it has been fueled, at least in part, by a word that seldom receives enthusiastic applause, at least at CCP: ASSESSMENT.

A few years ago I was part of a panel of developmental educators who were asked to meet with a subcommittee of Pennsylvania legislators to defend the place of developmental education in state funded post secondary institutions. It was for me a deeply disturbing affair as I sat with my colleagues answering questions that ranged from rude to hostile and intimated that not only was Developmental Education double dipping, but that the dippers seemed to be having a pretty cushy time of it. I left that meeting feeling both disheartened and angry. By the next day, however, my anger had turned to wondering where that hostility had come from. After all, as my friend and colleague John Howe once remarked, “what we do here is akin to saving people’s lives.” And as a River-ward kid and former CCP student, I can attest that John did not overstate.

While I didn’t know it then, Ernest Boyer in Scholarship Reconsidered provided a very simple answer:

One reason legislators, trustees, and the general public often fail to understand why ten or twelve hours in the classroom each week can be a heavy load is their lack of awareness of the hard work and the serious study that undergirds good teaching (p. 23).

There may be a number of reasons why outside agents continue to raise questions about the perceived work (or lack of work) we do, but, as Boyer notes, one which seems compelling is because in the tradition of the insulated academy, we do not believe we should be called on to show what we are about; and so we don’t, seldom even among ourselves. This is unfortunate because it sets up an adversarial relationship with those who should be allies in a concerted effort to improve public education. Further, and with a consequence that threatens far more than the public perception of what we do, our tradition of insulation militates sharply against establishing a scholarly culture for the very thing we claim to be our professional mission.

In a text I have cited frequently, Honored but Invisible (1999), W. Norton Grubb, along with a number of associates, set about examining 32 representative community colleges across the country. This included interviews with 101 academic instructors, 114 occupational instructors, and 42 developmental instructors, as well many hours observing classroom practice. (Appendix A-1). Among his many findings, Grubb notes that while each community college positioned teaching as its main requirement of faculty, virtually none had established a coordinated, sustained program of professional development or engaged in activities that might be described as the scholarship of teaching. Grubb wrote:

With some notable exceptions… most community colleges do little systematically to help their instructors improve their teaching. As a result, teaching looks like an individual activity, varying enormously from person to person, without apparent rationale, and justifying the old saw that ‘good teachers are born, not made.’ But this isn’t necessarily so; it is so because community colleges, like so many educational institutions, have failed to assume much institutional responsibility for the quality of instruction (p. 49)

I believe that had Grubb examined Community College of Philadelphia we would almost certainly have been listed as among the notable exceptions. However, as you will hear in a moment, that claim does not come without a caveat.

In such a climate as Grubb describes, it is no wonder that legislators, trustees and the public fail to see the work that is necessary to good teaching. But the real problem is much more than a public relations issue; it is the failure of the academy to establish a culture that places the scholarship of teaching as its primary agenda, supported by a broad array of resources and initiatives consistent with great expectations. While this argument may not rouse otherwise occupied scholars at schools that purport to be top-flight research institutions, it should resonate strongly with those of us teaching at community colleges. For if teaching is our primary responsibility, why does it seem that we have so little public discussion of it?

Of course, I anticipate a great many colleagues ready to argue that they are in fact engaged in precisely what I am describing, and because I see so much exceptional teaching and work with so many creative, committed colleagues, I know this to be true. But what I believe also to be true is that Community College of Philadelphia has not developed a culture of teaching. We have not generated a public agenda in the context of teaching that makes use of inquiry to discover who precisely we serve and how we should serve them. We have not engaged The Scholarship of Teaching. This isn’t to say, as I have emphasized, that excellent teaching does not occur. It is to say that the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, unlike excellent teaching, which generally occurs in isolation, should be a communal, defining activity at our college. For if we are not continually preparing to teach and re-examining our practices across disciplines, what really are we about? If the college, as a public institution, does not construct and sustain a coherent agenda for the development of exceptional teaching across all disciplines, should we really be surprised when legislators and the public raise questions about our purpose? In this regard I believe the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning agenda can be a powerful agent for using assessment not as a bludgeon but as a tool for promoting a greater understanding of what engaged teaching actually is and how much effort is needed to accomplish it. For asessment is not loud applause over rising graduation rates, but earned applause over demonstrated learning achievements. It is not raising retention rates by half a percentage point because retention is good; it is knowing what good we might do that would encourage students to stay with us. Assessment should not be understood as administrators or legislators coming into classrooms to uncover suspected shortcomings, but of us coming out of our classrooms with conversations and articles about the wonder of what we do, presented with clarity and rigor.

And so what would the application of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning look like at CCP? In my introduction to Martin Spear’s recent Viewpoints article “The End of Disarticulation,” I responded to a list of commendable professional development recommendations offered by Martin for improving the faculty culture by noting that much of what Martin offered as suggestions for strengthening that culture was already occurring: the SoTL Series, new faculty orientation and continuing development programs, teaching circles, the CASTL Program, department mentoring programs, Teaching Center programs, Professional Development weeks in both the Fall and Spring, and the Lindback Lectures. But far from correcting Martin, my comments noted that his suggestions had merit because while such efforts exist, they fail to cohere into either an academic vision or agenda that is publicly articulated, coordinated and sustained. As evidence of this I would suggest that the Teaching Center, while an important faculty resource, is really a place rather than a Center. The SoTL presentations, while hopefully enriching, are simply events. I have not seen the plans for new faculty orientation and continuing professional development, but I wonder if those organizing it have been able to locate what the Community College of Philadelphia is so that they might communicate that effectively to our newest members. In short, if Community College of Philadelphia is a teaching institution, what precisely do we value and how do we collectively demonstrate that we value it?

And so I now come to the place where after having made claims I offer an observation: I believe our culture over the last few years has become inhospitable to public debate. I realize, of course, that there is a tradition in the academy of unprovoked summary dismissal of a colleague’s work, usually with a well placed arched phrase intended to illustrate the brilliance of the respondent. I have never thought much of that tradition and do not believe it should have a place here. This is not to suggest that disagreement should not occur, only that it should occur in that other academic tradition— civil discourse in pursuit of understanding and the promotion of improved practice. It is a given that not everyone is comfortable making their work public. For this reason it is our responsibility as an institution and as colleagues to create and sustain an environment where risk may be taken with the expectation that professional courtesy will be returned. For if we do not feel safe making our work public, presenting it for critical review, making it accessible for exchange and use by members of our community, then we cannot achieve the kind of academic culture that I believe necessary to making the Community College of Philadelphia a great educational institution.

Finally, Allen Bundy in an article titled “Basic Skills Problems at Community Colleges” wrote:

Faculty must re-evaluate who they are. Teachers at community colleges now call themselves “professors.” The reflection of the popular American notion that changing a name changes the nature of the thing represented. Community College teachers are not professors.” (44)

Now, Bundy wrote that in the spirit of extolling the value of teaching. I understand what he meant and that he was well intentioned, and in my own blue collar way I rather liked that he said it. But he is wrong. We are professors of our disciplines and so too should we be professors of our vocation, which is to teach. It is our responsibility to be learned in the subjects we bring to our students and so too it is our responsibility to be learned in how we go about bringing our subjects to them. This is what the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning is about, and I believe if its principles were at the center of our college, encouraging all practitioners to think, speak and write about who our students are and how best to reach them, that would change everything.

References

Barr, R. B., & Tagg, J. (1995). “From teaching to learning—A new paradigm For undergraduate Education.” Change, 27(6), 12-25.

Bender, Eileen T. (2005). “CASTLs in the Air.” Change, Sept./Oct.

Bransford, J., Brown, A. L., & Cocking, R. R. (Eds.). (1999). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.

Bundy, Allen. (2000). “Basic Skill Problems at Community Colleges”. Change, May/June. 44, 46-47.

Boyer, Ernest. (1990). Scholarship Reconsidered. Princeton: The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

Grubb, W. Norton & Associates. (1999). Honored But Invisible. New York: Routledge.

The Journal of Cognitive Affective Learning. Online at http://www.jcal.emory.edu

Shulman, Lee. (2004). Teaching as Community Property. Jossey-Bass.

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