The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Paradox

By Walker, J D Baepler, Paul; Cohen, Brad

Abstract. The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) arose, in part, out of a need to rebalance the triadic mission of large academic institutions that have traditionally emphasized research over teaching and service. But how do you encourage SoTL when the faculty reward structure is weighted toward traditional research? Therein lies the SoTL paradox. The authors describe a program developed at the University of Minnesota to engage faculty in SoTL projects by relying on the nonmonetary rewards of scholarship, trust, and cross-disciplinary community. Keywords: faculty development, research, Scholarship of Teaching and Learning

To be sure, considerable work must still be done to bring institutional reward to scholarly work on teaching and learning. But a focus on institutionalization may obscure a quieter but dramatic development going on at the faculty level-the development of what we’re calling “the teaching commons,” a conceptual space in which communities of educators committed to pedagogical inquiry and innovation come together to exchange ideas about teaching and learning and use them to meet the challenges of preparing students for personal, professional, and civic life. (Huber and Hutchings 2005, 26)

Large academic systems in the United States often promote a threefold mission of research, service, and teaching with a mandate to balance these functions. Yet prestige and attention in large research institutions often reside in the research efforts of the university (Scott 2006). Consequently, the academic reward system mirrors this emphasis in promotion and tenure decisions, and although good teaching may be expected, it is rarely privileged. The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL), has emerged in part, out of this realization with an aim to alter institutional reward structures (Bender 2005). Such alterations, particularly at institutions that have defined themselves by their research, have proven difficult (Robinson and Nelson 2003), and as Huber and Hutchings (2005) note, this focus on “institutionalization” may be misdirected. We face the paradox of promoting a SoTL agenda in an atmosphere that does not yet fully reward SoTL activities. Operationally, a pressing challenge in the short term is to explore ways to elevate and accelerate SoTL performance on our campuses in spite of static reward structures.

There are several options for naming and defining the kind of scaffolding that could aid scholarly inquiry into classroom questions. They include the “teaching commons,” (Huber and Hutchings 2006) “faculty learning communities,” (Middendorf and Pace 2004; Richlin and Cox 2004) and “learning academies” (Shulman 2004). All of these, although varied in their genesis and purported aims, help define an intellectual arena and a cohort of researchers. All of these can be created without rewriting an institution’s tenure code or significantly reworking the reward structure. In addition, each of these support structures is extremely flexible. For example, Lee Shulman outlined four possible models of “teaching academies” for different higher learning contexts. They are teaching academies as: (1) interdisciplinary centers; (2) aspects of graduate education; (3) technology centers; and (4) distributed centers (Shulman 2004). Shulman also suggested that there were likely additional models that would arise out of cross-fertilizing the four, so new configurations of support and collaboration will likely emerge. Although we have not used Shulman’s nomenclature, the University of Minnesota has essentially created a kind of learning academy or teaching commons to foster SoTL in a Research 1 school.

Since 2005, the University of Minnesota’s Twin Cities campus has partnered with the Archibald Bush Foundation to improve student learning specifically in large enrollment courses. As one of its core goals, the partnership has a mandate to “foster a scholarly and collaborative approach to addressing student learning issues” (Carrier, Jorn, and Weinsheimer 2004). Through this program and through a commitment to repositioning the advancement of teaching in a scholarly framework, the university has begun to recognize the research value of teaching and learning. In this article, we examine how we motivated and supported faculty members from across a research-intensive university to engage with SoTL despite the lack of significant institutional changes. The fact is, with relatively little compensation and no evident shift in the reward structure, faculty have committed to deep engagement with SoTL. We define full engagement with SoTL as involving three dimensions: (1) engaging with scholarship; (2) putting scholarship into action; (3) contributing to scholarship. We describe these dimensions of engagement more fully below and detail what we take to be keys to successfully creating what in essence is a learning academy or teaching commons.

A Shared Problem-Large Enrollment Courses

The Innovative Teaching and Technology Strategies (ITTS) program originally began in 2001 but was launched anew in 2005 with a focus on redesigning large enrollment classes. Large gateway or foundational classes are a staple of Research 1 universities and will likely continue to be a reality at such schools for the near future. The entrenched challenge of the large lecture affects tens of thousands of students at the Twin Cities campus and thus presented both a campus-wide issue and a cluster of important research questions for our participants:

* How do you increase student engagement in the learning process?

* How do you increase depth of understanding?

* How do you improve student performance?

* How do you increase the quality of assessment and provide timely and frequent feedback?

* How do you increase student satisfaction? (Cuseo 2007)

Our aim has been to help instructors investigate these general issues along with more fine-grained questions such as:

* How would the advent of a robot dog dance competition change computer science students’ perception of a particularly unpopular programming language?

* How would scratch-off (IFAT) quizzing affect group participation in large biology sections?

* Would the use of 3-D anaglyph maps help students overcome their aversion to, and poor performance with, topography concepts in geology?

In framing the original topic and encouraging these narrower and more particular investigations, our aim has been to help instructors conceive of their pedagogical issues as research questions. We have tried to affect students’ learning experiences-like the level of student engagement-by helping faculty to posit and enact classroom interventions and to seek evidence of the impact of these changes.

Designing the Program Structure

Because we asked participants to engage in research studies and because faculty have busy lives, we knew we needed a commitment that would last more than one academic year. Many recent studies have shown that faculty at American colleges and universities face increasing time pressure from the demands of publishing in their disciplines, teaching, and administrative work. (See, for instance, the HERI survey at CSU-Fullerton [http://www web_examples/fuller ton.pdf], the Council on Family and Work survey [ facsurveys.html], a 2000 survey of University of Pennsylvania faculty [http://www pubmed/11597875], and the Federal Demonstration Project’s Faculty Burden Survey [http://www.thefdp. org/ Faculty_Committee.html#P11_2305].) The envisioned scholarly approach to course redesign meant that participants would need to formulate a research question, gather baseline data, devise an intervention plan, implement changes in the course, evaluate the results, document and write up the results, and disseminate their findings. This process was conceived within a design-based research framework that emphasizes, among other things, an iterative design cycle of implementing, evaluating, and refining the interventions (Design- Based Research Collective 2003). All of this, we realized, would take considerable time, and a one-year program would barely get teams off the ground. Faculty were therefore asked to sign an agreement that committed them to a three-year study. This formal document helped establish not a legal bond but a strong social contract to seriously engage in the program and to approach teaching problems in a methodical, systematic, and scholarly fashion. It also allowed sufficient time both for a community to form comfortably and for research to be modified and repeated over six semesters.

A second key structure in the grant was the demand that faculty understand themselves as part of an integrated course team. When faculty applied to the program, they were asked to designate a group that ideally comprised an instructor, a graduate student, an experienced undergraduate, and a technology worker. Additionally, an evaluation consultant and a teaching consultant drawn from central support units were paired with each team. While there was some variation among the teams, all participating faculty were committed to a team structure. The team structure provided numerous benefits, from the introduction of multiple perspectives on the course and proposed interventions to a division of labor in the scholarly process. The consultants provided an additional benefit in virtue of working with multiple teams: they were able to easily share research and methodologies across teams and, thus, an interteam collaboration was built directly into the structure of the program. In all, twelve groups were assembled, and they drew from such diverse fields as geology, dance, management, architecture, theater, history of medicine, and biology. In addition to their interdisciplinary diversity, the teams were selected evenly from 1000-level and 3000- level courses, representing introductory and midlevel curricula. Once constituted, all twelve course teams met monthly throughout each academic year for 90-minute sessions to work on common pedagogical issues or to interact with guest experts who talked about pedagogical theories and strategies like student management groups, concept testing, brain research, and active learning. These program meetings helped the participants to exchange ideas across disciplines and course levels. They also instilled a sense of common purpose. For instance, participants knew that when they signed up for the program they would eventually be expected to codify their work in a scholarly form. Sometimes they used these big meetings as proving grounds for their research, to have questions answered, or to probe the group for ways to improve their work. The group meetings helped to form a learning academy or teaching commons and helped to facilitate what Huber and Morreale (2002) have called a “trading zone among the disciplines” (19).

In addition to these big meetings, each team met monthly to work on course issues specifically. These sessions were documented by the consultants; their meeting logs were distributed back to each team. Beyond a procedural requirement, the logs helped the teams keep track of ongoing tasks, evaluation plans, and outstanding questions; they also acted to clarify what happened in wide-ranging meetings. Essentially, they created an ongoing narrative of each team’s progress and emphasized a tacit accountability among team members. Indeed, we believe the efforts of the consultants created an ethic of reciprocity that encouraged the teams in their scholarly efforts.

A Foundation for SoTL: Three Facets

The experience of the ITTS program has convinced us that it is possible to promote a scholarly approach to teaching without changing structural features of the faculty’s working environment. This is particularly important at a large research institution such as the University of Minnesota because individual departments define which activities are accepted and valued for promotion and tenure. It is highly unlikely that any administrative official or body would attempt to enact such a change over departments by fiat. Before we can expect a large institutionwide change, we may very well have to seek transformation by other means, like the ITTS initiative. It is critical, then, to examine how coteries of faculty can gradually transform their professional identity under these conditions.

Our experience working with faculty from across disciplines suggests that there are three facets of SoTL that are important to full engagement in scholarly activity: engaging with scholarship, putting scholarship into action, and contributing to scholarship. To some degree, these facets parallel the faculty development model first put forward by Smith (2001) and more recently elaborated on by Richlin and Cox (2004), although we have not specifically attempted to advance SoTL development from “Novice” to “Expert.” The model we used closely paired SoTL “experts”-the two consultants added to each team-with “novices” in a collaborative process involving all three facets of SoTL grounded in the course redesign efforts. In the ideal case, these three dimensions of SoTL combine to produce a rich, self- sustaining process with course redesign at its center (see figure 1).

Course redesign has the potential to encourage faculty to engage in the full spectrum of SoTL activities, each of which feeds back into the course redesign process. First, as they begin to consider options and make decisions regarding course improvement, they consult relevant literature. Second, as they design and implement changes, they create SoTLinformed assessment and evaluation practices designed to reveal the impact of course interventions and guide modifications. Third, as they reflect on the redesigned course and consider the next iteration, they “go public” and seek feedback through dissemination of their work.

1. Engaging with Scholarship.

The first aspect of SoTL consists of becoming involved with existing educational scholarship, often from the faculty member’s own discipline. We found that many ITTS program faculty were reluctant to search out, read, and absorb information about teaching and learning from existing educational scholarship. This reluctance arose from several factors, including lack of time, lack of familiarity with the educational literature, skepticism about the quality of educational scholarship, and doubts about the relevance of such scholarship to the faculty members’ concerns.

The key to overcoming this reluctance lay in mediating the faculty member’s initial exposure to the literature. Consultants were generally well versed in recent educational scholarship and could bring many years of experience in higher education to bear on their projects. They performed background literature reviews, shared key articles with their course teams, and helped to guide the development of interventions with this scholarship in mind. The general idea was to provide faculty with actual examples of good SoTL, rather than meta-analyses or theoretical pieces describing what SoTL might encompass. The examples often drew directly from the instructor’s particular discipline or from other disciplines working on the same or related questions. In some cases, the consultants highlighted significant sections of an article to make it extremely easy to engage the germane parts of the study. Particularly at the start, it is important not only to provide faculty with scholarship but also to discuss selections from it so they know the debates into which they are entering. The process of understanding scholarship has also been one of gradually understanding the relevance of scholarship to the redesign of one’s course.

The Biology 1001 team, for example, began the ITTS program with many doubts about the feasibility and effectiveness of active learning techniques used in large lectures. After examining a broad spectrum of literature on these techniques (including Crouch and Mazur 2001; Fink 2003), the team decided to divide their large (700+) lecture into two sections and to employ a wide variety of inquiry-based teaching methods, including cooperative quizzes, IFATs, and small group activities.

It was also important to provide a variety of SoTL literature. Consultants encouraged faculty to see many different types of work as models of acceptable scholarship, including practitioner pieces, experimental designs, case studies, and reflective articles (McKinney 2007; Weimer 2006). This catholic approach to SoTL was needed because different types of scholarship were appropriate for different teams, given their unique projects, disciplines, interests, and team dynamics.

Of course, one is not likely to have a great deal of success simply by distributing SoTL literature to faculty. One of the benefits of the multiyear commitment of faculty to the program is that it helped to develop long-term relationships among consultants and faculty members. These relationships were, we believe, an important source of motivation for faculty to engage in scholarly activities. ITTS course teams met with the same consultants on a monthly basis for two years (as of this writing). Over this time, the character of the regular meetings gradually changed, moving from a focus on the problematic aspects of the class in question to more constructive explorations of pedagogical possibilities. This occurred as consultants developed a detailed and sympathetic understanding of each team’s situation, often achieved by assuring the team that their situation may indeed be unique in some details but that the same general complaints and issues had emerged in other teams. After several months had passed, a relationship of trust and understanding was established, on the basis of which faculty could consider seriously their consultants’ recommendations regarding relevant literature.

During the two years of the grant, the consultants made an active effort to treat each project as a scholarly endeavor by providing relevant literature, distributing detailed meeting logs, compiling lists of publication and presentation venues, suggesting possible topics for papers or presentations, and collaborating in the writing process. We believe that this effort invoked a social norm of reciprocity, so that course teams felt obligated to match the consultants’ efforts with work of their own that was designed to push the projects forward. The end result of these efforts was that over time, most (though not all) ITTS faculty became less skeptical of, and even positively interested in, pertinent educational scholarship.

2. Putting Scholarship into Action.

After discovering, reading, and discussing educational research in their course teams, many ITTS faculty progressed to a second aspect of SoTL, namely incorporating scholarship into their course redesign projects. One way in which they did this was by adapting teaching techniques described in the scholarly literature to their own classrooms. Very few faculty, however, adopted others’ pedagogical methods without substantial modification, even when there was ample evidence of the efficacy of those methods. They preferred instead to develop their own approaches, inspired in part by what they read in the educational literature. We believe this dynamic was motivated to a large degree by the perceived particularity of teaching problems, or the view that one’s own pedagogical challenges are importantly unlike those faced by other instructors. Thus, while faculty shared a common teaching problem, the fact that they came from different disciplines and deployed different teaching styles virtually ensured that they approached their own class idiosyncratically. Using evaluation methods and tools produced by others was another way faculty engaged in scholarship and incorporated it into course redesign. We found a large amount of interest in literature on educational evaluation because faculty perceived evaluation as an undertaking of some complexity in which they had no expertise. Many faculty were particularly interested in locating measurement instruments that had undergone psychometric testing so that they could have confidence in the results of their evaluations. As novices in this field, they sought out accepted tools, expecting that this would help them situate their scholarship in a preexisting tradition. No doubt they knew that a tested instrument would be less subject to criticism, and they could concentrate on the data emerging from their class rather than the validity of the measure.

The Agronomy 1101 team, for instance, examined a wide variety of measures of critical thinking and student engagement for use in the evaluation of their project, including the Intrinsic Motivation Inventory, National Survey of Student Engagement, and the Group Assessment of Logical Thinking. The team is currently using the Approaches to Studying Inventory (Richardson 1990) as a dependent variable measure in a quasi-experimental study.

The consultation process was particularly important as faculty engaged in scholarship. Consultants helped their course teams refine their research questions and their assessment and evaluation plans; created or refined evaluation instruments (including surveys and focus group and classroom observation protocols); conducted both qualitative and quantitative data analysis when necessary and taught team members how to do this whenever possible; and offered to coauthor, copresent and/or provide feedback on draft presentations and publications. This partnership allowed faculty to sustain a line of inquiry and not come to a dead end because of an initial lack of expertise (Lattuca 2005; see figure 2).

To ease faculty transition to a new form of scholarship, we created a stepped series of opportunities. We encouraged a natural progression from their early private discussions of exploratory research to ever more public dissemination of their instruments, data, and conclusions.

3. Contributing to Scholarship

Finally, after integrating scholarship into their redesign projects, many ITTS faculty went on to produce scholarship of their own. Initial hindrances to this process included faculty members’ conviction that they had nothing worth contributing to the scholarly literature, a lack of understanding of what constitutes good scholarship of teaching and learning, and the view that the academic reward system does not value scholarly work of this sort.

Many of the aforementioned aspects of the consultation process contributed to the emergence of scholarly work from the course teams’ projects, such as assistance with the research process, acquainting faculty with the variety of efforts that qualify as SoTL, and so on. Consultants also provided faculty with specific calls for presentations, journal author guidelines, and paper abstracts from SoTL conferences.

In several ways, the structure of the ITTS program itself was also important in providing momentum for the production of scholarship. To begin with, the expectation that each team would disseminate its project’s progress and its evaluation findings both locally (at the department and college levels) and more widely (at regional and national conferences) was built into the language of the program. Consultants kept track of which course teams were presenting or publishing their work and made announcements to this effect at monthly meetings that included all of the ITTS teams, thereby providing a public reward for dissemination and creating a healthy peer-peer competition to pull more teams into the production of SoTL.

Further, modest funds were built into the program to support professional development opportunities for the faculty member and graduate student on each team. These funds were used to underwrite book and software purchases, conference attendance, and conference presentations. Faculty have attended and presented locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally, at both discipline- specific and other conferences, and have published in peerreviewed teaching/learning journals. The funding, while hardly a primary motivator, nonetheless smoothed the path toward the dissemination of scholarship by our course teams and served as tacit acknowledgement of the university’s estimation of their efforts.

Another important scaffolding technique involved regular presentations in the monthly meetings. Faculty members were asked to give brief presentations of progress they had made on their projects, including evaluation methods and results, at monthly meetings. We provided a presentation template that contained key components of scholarly work on teaching. In addition to a description of their courses, the teams were asked to articulate the pedagogical challenges they faced; the outcomes they sought with their respective interventions; their assessment and evaluation plans; and, to the greatest extent possible, their evaluation data and further research questions. In regular meetings with consultants, it became apparent that the course teams felt a certain amount of peer pressure to acquit themselves well in their presentations, even though no tangible consequences hinged on this performance. It was not uncommon for teams to joke that they had outshone others, and this competitive spark helped motivate faculty to view their presentation as a public discussion to a new group of peers outside of their own discipline. This constructive competition fed into the evolving social norm of reciprocity, so that course teams gradually gained confidence in their role to present and publish their findings.

Finally, to give faculty members’ work greater exposure on our campus, we partnered with the University of Minnesota’s Academy of Distinguished Teachers, a body of faculty who have been recognized with teaching awards, to sponsor a local oneday meeting on research and practice. This biennial symposium welcomes a national keynote speaker and showcases the work of Minnesota faculty; in 2007, a special track will be reserved for faculty who have participated in the ITTS program. In some ways, a local conference lowers the stakes for instructors who may be presenting on SoTL for the first time, although some faculty would prefer the anonymity that a distant conference affords.

As of this writing, ITTS faculty have contributed to the scholarship of teaching in their disciplines in a number of ways. They have presented their work at conferences in the U.S. and abroad, including the International Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Conference, the Collaboration Conference, the Geological Society of America, and the Human Anatomy and Physiology Society. They have begun to submit their work for publication in peer- reviewed journals. For instance, the agronomy team’s problembased learning approach to teaching large classes is the subject of an article in the Creative College Teaching Journal (Brakke et al. 2006) and the Biology team has an essay in the Journal of College Science Teaching and articles forthcoming in Life Science Education and the Journal of Science Education and Technology.


Our experience suggests a number of recommendations for developing a SoTL program that may be of interest to staff and administrators seeking to promote scholarship on their campuses:

* Create a cohort of scholars around a shared problem to facilitate discussion and share resources.

* Design a multiple-year program to build commitment and to allow for instructors to create interventions that can be assessed and revised over several semesters.

* Issue a formal faculty agreement that strengthens the social contract among participants and clarifies expectations.

* Form diverse course teams to draw on a range of expertise and points of view and to divide the labor.

* Foster cohesion and trust within course teams by ensuring that the teams remain together for the duration of the program.

* Hold regular monthly meetings for all scholars in the cohort to share challenges and findings, draw on the work of experts, build camaraderie, and exchange work-in-progress.

* Allow consultants with SoTL expertise to mediate faculty’s early exposure to SoTL to help find and filter appropriate literature and highlight its relevance to the classroom issues in a particular course.

* Provide a variety of SoTL models from different kinds of sources and different types of scholarly explorations.

* Develop or provide a toolkit of evaluation methods to help instructors view the range of acceptable tools at their disposal.

* Generate lists of conferences and publications so that instructors begin to understand their audience and the viability of their own work.

* Offer help with writing, literature research, and poster design.

* Award stipends for SoTL conferences and professional development.

* Partner with established units on campus to hold a local teaching conference where findings can be shared and possibly mainstreamed.

With the luxury of appropriately balanced reward structures and SoTL-encouraging promotion and tenure processes, institutions can do much to promote SoTL across the faculty ranks (Miller, et al. 2004; O’Meara 2006). However, these conditions do not often exist, and we are left with the paradox of creating the conditions for SoTL without the incentives. Without a major institutional transformation, which may indeed happen over time, we need to create support structures such as the teaching commons or learning academy. They provide a measure of respectability for the teaching process and help to build confidence and trust within and across instructional teams. The ITTS program took a systematic approach to scaffolding and supporting SoTL at the University of Minnesota. The resulting activity suggests that-given the right kinds of support and encouragement-faculty will engage in the full range of SoTL activity even when the promotion and tenure reward structure remains fixed. AFTER DISCOVERING, READING, AND DISCUSSING EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH IN THEIR COURSE TEAMS, MANY ITTS FACULTY PROGRESSED TO A SECOND ASPECT OF SOTL, NAMELY INCORPORATING SCHOLARSHIP INTO THEIR COURSE REDESIGN PROJECTS. ONE WAY IN WHICH THEY DID THIS WAS BY ADAPTING TEACHING TECHNIQUES DESCRIBED IN THE SCHOLARLY LITERATURE TO THEIR OWN CLASSROOMS.


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J. D. Walker is manager for the Research and Evaluation Team, University of Minnesota. Paul Baepler is an instructional consultant for the Center for Teaching and Learning, University of Minnesota. Brad Cohen is assistant to the director of the Digital Media Center, University of Minnesota.

Copyright (c) 2008 Heldref Publications

Copyright Heldref Publications Summer 2008

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