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A rave on the scholarship of learning

We believe the time has come to move beyond the tired old “teaching versus research” debate and give the familiar and honorable term “scholarship” a broader, more capacious meaning, one that brings legitimacy to the full scope of academic work. Surely, scholarship means engaging in original research. But the work of the scholar also means stepping back from one’s investigation, looking for connections, building bridges between theory and practice, and communicating one’s knowledge effectively to students.
—E. L. Boyer, 1990

A classmate from graduate school was recently hired to teach at a small teaching-oriented institution in the Midwest. Like many newly-minted Ph.Ds, he is now finding that he’s being asked to think more about the metaphysics of teaching rather than worrying about how to teach people how to program. This person asked my opinions on the following “meta-questions” about teaching:

  1. How would you define excellence in teaching?
  2. How would you define the scholarship of teaching?
  3. How do these concepts tie together?

They’re all very open-ended and difficult to answer. Note that the following responses are slanted towards my opinions on the subject and may differ from accepted norms. Standard disclaimers apply; your mileage may vary…

These terms are rather well defined amongst professional educators (by which I mean people who get the “Ed.D” degree from a Department of Education who are experts in the theory of teaching). Look at some of the information that you can find on the website for the “Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching” (yes, the same Andrew Carnegie who founded what is now US Steel Corp. and was one of the principal benefactors of Carnegie-Mellon University, go lookup his bio on Wikipedia).

The Carnegie Foundation defines “scholarship in teaching” in three parts:

  1. Scholarship of discovery: research and performance that adds to a knowledge base and the intellectual climate of an institution
  2. Scholarship of integration: drawing together and interpreting diverse kinds of knowledge
  3. Scholarship of application: applying knowledge to practical problems

Working from those definitions, you can define excellence in teaching by measuring, preferably in a quantifiable manner, how well an individual working within a program or a program in an educational institution addresses each of these areas. This is the equivalent of business planning in industry; you must define a set of objectives that you put in place to address these concerns and a set of goals that you must achieve to meet those objectives. Then a set of quantifiable measures are put in place that define whether or not you achieved the goals you have set for yourself.

In a perfect world, an institution’s policies, practices, and infrastructure are aligned with these goals. An institution has to evaluate anything it does against the measures it has put in place for itself and adjust, enhance, eliminate, and/or introduce polices, practices, and structures as required.

These are interesting questions that deserve further thought and ruminations. Look for more posts from me on this subject in the near future.


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