Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) - Conceptions of scholarship

Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) - Conceptions of scholarship

It seems that Boyer (1990) was one of the first to propose the idea of the scholarship of teaching, alongside other types of scholarship.  An excerpt of Boyer’s conception of different types of scholarship is presented in Box 1.

Box 1: Boyer’s (1990) definition of scholarship and the different types of scholarship

'We believe the time has come to move beyond the tired old “teaching versus research” debate and give the familiar and honourable 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.  Specifically, we conclude that the work of the professoriate might be thought of as having four separate, yet overlapping, functions.  These are: the scholarship of discovery; the scholarship of integration; the scholarship of application; and the scholarship of teaching.'

  • The scholarship of discovery - 'comes closest to what is meant when academics speak of "research".'
  • The scholarship of integration'making connections across the disciplines, placing the specialities in a larger context, illuminating data in a revealing way, often educating non-specialists too.'
  • The scholarship of application'the application of knowledge moves toward engagement as the scholar asks, “How can knowledge be responsibly applied to consequential problems?  How can it be helpful to individuals as well as institutions?” And further, “Can social problems themselves define an agenda for scholarly investigation?”'
  • The scholarship of teaching - 'The work of the professor becomes consequential only as it is understood by others.  Yet, today, teaching is often viewed as a routine function, tacked on, something almost anyone can do.  When defined as scholarship, however, teaching both educates and entices future scholars.  Indeed, as Aristotle said, “Teaching is the highest form of understanding.”'

    On the topic of the scholarship of teaching, Boyer continues:

'As a scholarly enterprise, teaching begins with what the teacher knows.  Those who teach must, above all, be well informed, and steeped in the knowledge of their fields.  Teaching can be well regarded only as professors are widely read and intellectually engaged. 

Teaching is also a dynamic endeavour involving all the analogies, metaphors, and images that build bridges between the teacher’s understanding and the student’s learning.  Pedagogical procedures must be carefully planned, continuously examined, and relate directly to the subject taught.  They stimulate active, not passive, learning and encourage students to be critical, creative thinkers, with the capacity to go on learning after their college days are over.

Further, good teaching means that faculty, as scholars, are also learners.  All too often, teachers transmit information that students are expected to memorise and then, perhaps, recall.  While well-prepared lectures surely have a place, teaching, at its best, means not only transmitting knowledge, but transforming and extending it as well.  Through reading, through classroom discussion, and surely through comments and questions posed by students, professors themselves will be pushed in creative new directions.

In the end, inspired teaching keeps the flame of scholarship alive.' 

Excerpts taken from chapter 2, pages 16-24. 

To summarise Boyer’s assertion, the scholarship of teaching is proposed to be one type of scholarship, alongside other types such as the scholarship of discovery (research).  Included in this conception of the scholarship of teaching, Boyer suggests that the scholarly teacher must be up-to-date with regard to the subject-matter that they teach, that they teach in a manner is reflective, intentional, flexible and adaptive, and that facilitates student learning (employing more student-centred, and so less didactic, methods).

Hutchings and Shulman (1999) take Boyer’s definition of the scholarship of teaching further by asking two questions:

  • what is the difference between excellent teaching, scholarly teaching, and the scholarship of teaching?
  • to what extent is student learning considered as part of this?

These questions, they propose, are crucial if we are to know what we are striving to become as scholars of teaching, and how to do this in practice.  Box 2 summarises Hutchings and Shulman’s answers to these questions.

Box 2: Hutchings and Shulman’s (1999) conception of the scholarship of teaching and learning

Regarding excellent teachers, Hutchings and Shulman suggest that ‘all faculty have an obligation to teach well, to engage students, and to foster important forms of student learning.’

Teaching is scholarly, they propose, ‘when it entails, as well, certain practices of classroom assessment and evidence gathering, when it is informed not only by the latest ideas in the field but by current ideas about teaching the field, when it invites peer collaboration and review, then that teaching might rightly be called scholarly, or reflective, or informed.’

And, finally, as regards the scholarship of teaching: ‘in addition to all of this, yet another good is needed, one called a scholarship of teaching, which in another essay, we have described as having the three additional central features of being public ("community property"), open to critique and evaluation, and in a form that others can build on:

A scholarship of teaching will entail a public account of some or all of the full act of teaching — vision, design, enactment, outcomes, and analysis — in a manner susceptible to critical review by the teacher's professional peers and amenable to productive employment in future work by members of that same community (Shulman, in The Course Portfolio, 1998, p. 6).

A fourth attribute of a scholarship of teaching, implied by the other three, is that it involves question-asking, inquiry, and investigation, particularly around issues of student learning.  Thus, they propose the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning.

Finally, they conclude: ‘A scholarship of teaching is not synonymous with excellent teaching. It requires a kind of "going meta," in which faculty frame and systematically investigate questions related to student learning — the conditions under which it occurs, what it looks like, how to deepen it, and so forth — and do so with an eye not only to improving their own classroom but to advancing practice beyond it. It is the mechanism through which the profession of teaching itself advances, through which teaching can be something other than a seat-of-the-pants operation, with each of us out there making it up as we go. As such, the scholarship of teaching has the potential to serve all teachers — and students.’ 

Excerpts taken from pages 13-14.

According to Hutchings and Shulman therefore, the scholarship of teaching and learning (a term that seems to have been introduced by them) involves four aspects:

  • being an excellent teacher in practice; 
  • implementing teaching practices that are well considered and informed by pedagogical literature (scholarly teaching);
  • disseminating aspects of teaching practice for peer review;
  • and being focused on facilitating learning. 

The implication of this conception of scholarship is that it is to some extent hierarchical, whereby someone who is engaged in the scholarship of teaching and learning is also both an excellent teacher and has a scholarly approach to teaching (see Kreber, 2002, who explicitly proposes a hierarchy in her similar conception of excellent teachers, expert teachers and scholars of teaching). 

Thus, what Hutchings and Shulman seem to add to Boyer’s conception is the notion that scholars of teaching would not only be up-to-date with the discipline that they teach, but also, to some extent, with the literature on teaching, and that they would in fact also add to this literature themselves, or at least make their work public in some other way.

Alongside Hutchings and Shulman, Trigwell, Martin, Benjamin, and Prosser (2000) again emphasise the importance of both engaging with and indeed contributing to disseminated knowledge regarding teaching.  They also stress in addition the value of reflection on one’s teaching, and a focus on the enhancement of student learning (see Box 3).

Box 3: Trigwell et al. (2000) – four attributes of the scholarship of teaching

Trigwell et al. propose:

'The extent to which a teacher is engaging in the scholarship of teaching might therefore be described in terms of these four dimensions as follows:

(a) the extent to which they engage with the scholarly contributions of others, including the literature of teaching and learning of a general nature, and particularly that in their discipline;
(b) the focus of their reflection on their own teaching practice and the learning of students within the context of their own discipline: whether it is unfocused, or whether it is asking what do I need to know and how do I find out;
(c) the quality of the communication and dissemination of aspects of practice and theoretical ideas about teaching and learning in general, and teaching and learning within their discipline; and
(d) their conceptions of teaching and learning: whether the focus of their activities is on student learning and teaching or mainly on teaching.'

Trigwell et al. go further to describe what the combination of attributes on these dimensions may look like, in terms of teachers who are more or less likely to be engaging in scholarship.

'...we would describe teachers who are less likely to be engaging in the scholarship of teaching as tending to be using informal theories of teaching and learning to inform their practice. These teachers are more likely to be teacher-focused than student-focused. They would engage in little reflection on what they do in teaching, and if they reflect at all it would be reflection on what they do, not on what students experience. They would be more likely to keep their ideas of teaching and learning to themselves and to see teaching as a personal, private activity.

Teachers who are more likely to be engaging in scholarship of teaching seek to understand teaching by consulting and using the literature on teaching and learning, by investigating their own teaching, by reflecting on their teaching from the perspective of their intention in teaching while seeing it from the students’ position, and by formally communicating their ideas and practice to their peers.'

Excerpts taken from pages 163-164.

To summarise the conception of the scholarship of teaching as proposed by Trigwell et al., they propose that the activity that someone engages in might be identified as scholarship of teaching to the extent that it reflects the following: knowledge of others’ disseminated scholarship of teaching; focused reflection on own practice; dissemination of own practice; and a student-centred perspective.

Although dissemination of teaching practices and ideas has been explicitly mentioned as an important aspect of the scholarship of teaching according to Hutchings and Shulman (1999), Kreber (2002), and Trigwell et al. (2000), this is emphasised further by Trigwell and Shale (2004) as the defining characteristic of scholarship (see Box 4).  They also emphasise that the aim of scholarship is to influence the teaching practice of teachers (not just to increase knowledge of teaching and learning per se), and to improve student learning, as they note the exclusion of students and their learning processes from many of the conceptions of the scholarship of teaching.

Box 4: Trigwell and Shale’s (2004) conception of the scholarship of teaching

Trigwell and Shale seem to be arguing that unless scholarly teaching processes are made public, it is not scholarship, hence it is the output that is the scholarship, not the scholarly teaching processes themselves.

'We see scholarship as being about making scholarly processes transparent and publicly available for peer scrutiny.  We use Andresen's (2000) ideas to describe a scholarly process as involving personal, but rigorous, intellectual development, inquiry and action built on values such as honesty, integrity, open-mindedness, scepticism and intellectual humility. We see teaching as a scholarly process aimed at making learning possible (Ramsden, 1992). It, therefore, follows that we see the scholarship of teaching as about making transparent, for public scrutiny, how learning has been made possible (Trigwell et al., 2000). ...scholarship of teaching is fundamentally an aspect of the activity of teaching. The focus is on teaching as an act, but with an outcome derived from scholarly inquiry and practice.' (pages 525-6)

However, Trigwell and Shale also note that the aim of the scholarship of teaching is not just to disseminate teaching practices and ideas, but to allow such scholarship to inform practice, so that teaching, and thus learning, is improved.

'We have difficulty with the argument that a reflective scholar of teaching who develops teacher knowledge could be a fine reflector and a poor teacher. ... For us, the most meaningful measure of the sophistication of a teacher's understanding of the concept of teaching is what they are able to do when they prepare for and conduct knowledge creation work with students.'  (page 527)

In a definition that builds upon Kreber’s (2002) hierarchical view of excellent and expert teachers and scholars of teaching, Trigwell and Shale propose further that:

'Teachers engaged in the scholarship of teaching are expert teachers who make public the way in which they have made learning possible. It is this last phrase (how learning has been made possible) that differentiates this conception of the scholarship of teaching from the . . . conception described by Kreber. It is not just teachers' knowledge that is made public, it is also the practice, or more specifically the pedagogic resonance, that has made learning possible that is made public.' (page 531) 

Trigwell and Shale’s idea that being a scholar of teaching should greatly influence one’s own (as well as others’) teaching practice is presumably one of several differences between the scholarship of teaching and the scholarship of discovery in relation to education (thus, pedagogical research), and emphasises the role of the scholar of teaching as a teaching practitioner as much as a teaching intellectual or theorist or philosopher (i.e. just having knowledge about teaching).

We will end this section with the three key aspects of SoT that Martin et al. (1999) identified as having the most consensus according to some authors whose work they mentioned (see Box 5).

Box 5: The consensus on aspects of SoT according to Martin et al. (1999)

'Each of [these] . . . authors (Shulman, 1993; Schön, 1995; Stenhouse, 1980) brings a particular perspective and emphasis to the debate, but overall there is consensus on three essential and integrated elements.  Scholarship of teaching involves:

  • Engagement with the scholarly contributions of others on teaching and learning;
  • Reflection on one’s own teaching practice and the learning of students within the context of a particular discipline;
  • Communication and dissemination of aspects of practice and theoretical ideas about teaching and learning within the discipline.' (pages 326-327) 

Questions for reflection:

  1. Which of these conceptions of SoTL (or SoT) do you most agree with? 
  2. Why is that? 
  3. Which do you most disagree with, and why? 
  4. Do you think there is anything missing from these different conceptions, and if so, what? 
  5. Are there any aspects of these definitions that you disagree with, and so think should be removed or modified? 
  6. How would you amalgamate these different ideas to form one main definition?

Boyer, E.L. (1990). Scholarship reconsidered: priorities of the professoriate. Princeton, NJ: Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. Available here.

Hutchings, P., and Shulman, L. (1999). The scholarship of teaching: new elaborations, new developments, Change, 31(5), p. 10-15. Kreber, C. (2001). Designing a teaching portfolio based on a formal model of the scholarship of teaching. In D. Lieberman & C. Wehlburg (Eds.), To improve the academy; 19; (pp. 268–285). Bolton, MA: Anker.

Kreber, C. (2002). Teaching Excellence, Teaching Expertise, and the Scholarship of Teaching. Innovative Higher Education, Vol. 27, No. 1, Fall 2002. 

Martin, E., Benjamin, J., Prosser, M. & Trigwell, K. (1999). Scholarship of teaching: a study of the approaches of academic staff. In: C. Rust (Ed.) Improving Student Learning: Improving Student Learning Outcomes, Proceedings of the 1998 6th International Symposium, pp. 326–331 Oxford: Oxford Centre for Staff and Learning Development, Oxford Brookes University.

Schön, D.A. (1995).  The new scholarship requires a new epistemology.  Change, Vol.27, Issue 6 (Nov/Dec), 27-34. 

Shulman, L.S.  (1993).  Teaching as community property; putting an end to pedagogical solitude.  Change, Vol.25, Issue 6 (Nov/Dec), 6-7.

Stenhouse, L. (1980).  Reflections.  In L. Stenhouse (ed.), Curriculum Research and Development in Action, London: Heinemann Educational Books, 244-262.

Trigwell, K. and Shale, S. (2004). Student learning and the scholarship of university teaching, Studies in Higher Education, 29:4, 523-536.

Trigwell, K., Martin, E., Benjamin, J., and Prosser, M. (2000). Scholarship of Teaching: a model, Higher Education Research and Development, 19:2, 155 — 168.