Friday, September 2, 2011

On the marginalization of the "scholarship of teaching and learning"

"[T]here remains a troubling gap between rhetoric about teaching's value and the realities of teaching's recognition and reward."

This statement from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching's latest release (The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Reconsidered:  Integration and Impact) sums up one of the main arguments of the book, namely, that institutions would do well to modify faculty reward structures to recognize the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) as valid academic work on par with traditional research scholars may do within their discipline, be it physics, economics or theatre.  

One associated with such a change is the fact that at most institutions (particularly large institutions), decisions about promotion and rank advancement are guided by general policies which are then interpreted and applied by academic colleges and departments.  While the idealist in we would like to think that one day it might be a formal expectation (read:  requirement) that the vast majority of faculty members engage in substantial scholarship related to improving the way they teach or facilitate learning, that seems like a steep hill to climb.  However, a more feasible alternative would be for each college or department within an institution to commit to having one scholar who conducts a significant portion of their research on teaching and learning within that particular discipline or field.  

A structure like this would lead to at least a couple of productive things.  First, it would be a way for institutions to make good on the rhetoric commonly heard about the importance of good teaching and learning.  Additionally, a researcher in this position (I'll call them "SoTL fellows") would be better positioned to consult with their colleagues than would the traditional teaching and learning consultants working out of the Centers for Teaching and Learning found on most campuses.  They would be fluent in the disourse of the discipline, be familiar with curricula for courses taught in the department, have relationships with others in the college or department, and (hopefully) be engaged in enough traditional academic research that they are seen as credible scholars by those they consult with.  Finally, they could be effective advocates for promoting the SoTL among their colleagues and help them see the difference it can make in their experiences in the classroom, the lab, or the lecture hall.

An institution who was willing to make this sort of change would also be positioned to gather meaningful data about how the SoTL impacts teaching evaluations, learning outcomes for particular courses and programs, satisfaction rates among faculty members who do significant amounts of teaching.  In other words, it would create small cells of innovation across a campus that, in time, could have more far reaching effects upon the learning that students experience. 

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