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Academic Coaching & Writing
 

I. Understanding the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning

Feb 16, 2018 by Caroline Eisner

I began teaching first-year composition and British survey literature courses in 1992, without ever thinking about why I taught the way I did. I even won a teaching award.

I didn’t begin to think about how I was teaching until 1998, when Randy Bass, my office mate, invited me into his thinking about thinking about teaching and learning. He invited me to work with a group of faculty, which he was calling “The Visible Knowledge Project,” to share classroom experiences with colleagues.

Randy Bass, then director of the Georgetown Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship (CNDLS), taught me three essential questions to ask myself about my teaching:

  • What am I doing now that I would like to do better?
  • What pedagogical problems would I like to solve?
  • What do I wish my students did more often or differently?

He explained to me that if I dug deep enough, the answers would transform both why and how I taught. With these three questions, I found myself in the midst of what I would quickly learn was the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL). I was learning to look at the choices I made as a teacher and how those choices directly affected how my students learned.

That was almost 20 years ago, and nowadays many faculty at all different points along the academic spectrum are being asked to show what, how, and why their students are learning.

Some quick history: In 1990, in Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate, Ernest Boyer described the Scholarship of Teaching as “making knowledge understood by others.” He wrote that “scholars investigate and share publicly the impact that various teaching methods have on student learning, which begins with what the teacher knows from experience, and explores a way of transmitting, transforming, and extending knowledge.”

In 1999, Lee Shulman in “Taking Learning Seriously,” pushed academics to undertake this scholarship of teaching, outlining three key attributes of scholarship: “it becomes public; it becomes an object of critical review and evaluation by members of one’s own community; and members of one’s own community begin to use, build upon, and develop these acts of mind and creation.” Your SoTL work begins with you in your classroom with your students and ends with you taking what you know from your classroom with your students and sharing and publishing it in your field.

Both Boyer and Shulman recognized that while the vast majority of faculty spent most of their time at work teaching, their scholarly research was (and in many institutions still is) most prized and rewarded. In fact, in many disciplines, administrators and colleagues still consider the scholarly attention to teaching to be the lighter side of work in higher education. However, this may no longer be the case at many institutions. SoTL work has gained traction as student-learning outcomes have become more important for college administrators.

Over the next eight weeks, this blog series will outline how you can engage in the important work of the scholarship of teaching and learning. You will learn about:

  • Designing your own SoTL project
  • Articulating clear learning objectives for student learning
  • Assessing student learning
  • Framing a SoTL question for research
  • Conducting scholarly research
  • Going public with your SoTL project: Where to go public
  • Going public with your SoTL project: How to go public

In next week’s blog, you will learn about asking the “scholarly” questions about your teaching and your students’ learning. The answers to these questions will form the basis of your SoTL research.

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