Scholarship of Teaching, Say Hello to the Web…

In a course I’m co-teaching with Britt Watwood, called Teaching, Learning and Technology in Higher Education, we’ve included blogging as a key means of supporting discussion and sharing ideas. The students in the course are part of a preparing future faculty program at our university, and they hail from a variety of disciplines.

We’ve introduced blogging in a two-pronged sort of way, in that we see it as 1) a potentially valuable way to engage in meaningful reflection on learning and practice, and 2) as an academic publishing platform with an eye toward supporting the role of being a public intellectual.

I think this can be a tricky two-step.

As I reflect on the discussion thus far, I think we may have inadvertently emphasized the academic publishing platform notion a bit too much. It seems that this is a slippery slope, as it can quickly tumble into concerns about openness, intellectual property and the like. What happens next is that the idea of an academic publishing platform on the web are often compared to and then conflated with traditional notions of scholarship. Perhaps this is a natural slip…but it misses the point a bit and inspires some FUD rhetoric…at least from my perspective. All the same, the discussion of how future faculty perceive and engage in new media environments – as both scholars and educators – is a crucially important one. It raises critical questions about peer review, authorship, collective knowledge, open teaching and community building that are worth exploring.

At this point, academic publishing on the web (blogs, wikis, video, podcasts, etc.) remains a fringe notion for the bulk of faculty members with whom I work. To suggest that this kind of work can potentially be a form a scholarship is often met with dismissive smiles and the kind of head tilting dogs do when they hear a high-pitched sound. Alas…

What I’d like to suggest here is that while academic publishing platforms (e.g., blogs) may not yet be considered a form of scholarship, I think that the process of writing in the open for academic / scholarly purposes can serve as an act in support of scholarship.

In 1990 Ernest Boyer made an important contribution to the literature of higher education by authoring the book Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate. In this book, Boyer argued for a broader definition of what constituted scholarship and called upon those in higher education to “…break out of the tired old teaching versus research debate and define, in more creative ways, what it means to be a scholar.” He outlined the following four areas of scholarship, that taken collectively – he argued – represent a more meaningful approach to recognizing and rewarding the scholarly work of faculty:

• Scholarship of Discovery – Build new knowledge through traditional research.
• Scholarship of Integration – Interpret the use of knowledge across disciplines.
• Scholarship of Application – Aid society and professions in addressing problems.
• Scholarship of Teaching – Study teaching models and practice to achieve optimal learning.

It is this last component, the Scholarship of Teaching, that I suggest could be supported and enhanced through open academic publishing on the web. Blogs provide a platform for sharing ideas, offering aspects of peer-review in the form of commenting, and engaging public as well as discipline-based communities of practice. For faculty members, the act of authoring ideas about education can inspire meta-cognition and support the kind of critically reflective practice that leads to the growth of knowledge in teaching.

While open academic publishing is currently in an emergent stage, it seems to hold great potential for thinking through important questions and issues about what it might mean to engage in scholarly teaching practice in the digital age.

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5 thoughts on “Scholarship of Teaching, Say Hello to the Web…

  1. I like your idea of an “act in support of scholarship.” I think a prescient point is, as you mention, that open academic publishing is relatively new. The first thing I think of in this context is PLoS (http://www.plos.org/), an initiative that is really gaining momentum. Manuscripts are stringently peer-reviewed, and if I recall correctly, each published paper is open for public comment in a structure reminiscent of blogging, except comments are peer-reviewed as well (not just approved). Interesting that PLoS has a blog, with it’s latest post welcoming Nature to the open access fold, showing just how new openness is to basic scientists, especially biologists.

    One of the issues that makes the scholarship of teaching difficult as a biomedical researcher, is that in the increasing money-first environment of the past few decades, I feel (and many of my colleagues agree) that the value of teaching has been in decline (I mean classroom, not one-on-one practical research training). Indeed, people who allocate some of their time to better their practice of teaching are stigmatized. I wish I could find a resource for you to back this up, but I can assure you that in my past experience I have been actively discouraged from teaching or even wanting to teach.

    Tools like blogging can bring about a revitalization of teaching effort, and I think as people have started to experience new tech. that there is starting to be a turn-around.

  2. I agree that most of posts I read on using blog to teach so far seem to be less positive (including mine unfortunately) than what is called for by the overwhelming advantages of blogging. I foresee a near future in which blog will not only be a support of good scholarship, like you are encouraging it to be regarded, but also a major form of assessment. We now hear stories of how interviewers are using Facebook pages to pre-assess prospective job seekers. I think we are getting there.

    “Change is always hard” was the confession of one teachers I spoke with today. She confessed to how she is still struggling with getting used to USB thumb drives after mastering CD from floppy disk. “I can’t even Tweet!”. But she is one of best teachers I have known in my life. Yet, imagine such a one on the review board or a study session for a grant proposal title “Blogging to teach”. How do you think she would vote? May be the nice and critically-thinking person in her would shout “yay! let’s go for it!” or may be the FUD-mongering part will supersede and say “what a waste of time and money”.

  3. @AnatomyFud Unfortunately, active stigmatization of teaching in higher education is not a new phenomena. I too have seen and experienced this in a range of settings and in conversations with faculty members. The view of the “teacher” in American society and culture is also generally regarded as a low-status endeavor…one that anyone can do. Once you get that PhD you are ready to teach, preparation to be a disciplinary expert = ability to teach in that discipline…Right? This seems to be a long-standing example of “the emperor has no clothes.” Perhaps this is one reason teaching in higher ed. gets stigmatized…another very real reason may be that it is not regularly rewarded so faculty will spend more time doing things that are. It is a rather effective way of maintaining the status quo, yes?

  4. @femiregg Thanks for the comment. With regard to your idea that lack of knowledge or limited experience can have an impact on reviewers viewing some proposal favorably or not seems to be an example of how things work regardless. While one might hope for an impartial / objective review, I suspect that bias, preference and valuing are ever-present. Do you have a different view?

  5. Pingback: A New Crop of Bloggers | Learning In a Flat World

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