Scholarship Reconsidered I: Shifting Meanings of “Scholarship”

I’ve decided to read Scholarship Reconsidered by Ernest Boyer and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching from cover to cover. I’ll post a summary and my unstructured gut-level responses as I go from chapter to chapter. I’m finding it a fascinating study….

Chapter One — “Scholarship over Time” — is an excellent history of the shifting ground of American college missions over the past 350 years or so. Boyer tracks this history to uncover how it got to be that most of today’s college professors juggle three different missions: to teach others, to serve the community, and to engage in research as scholarship. As it turns out, these tendencies emerge from shifts in the cultural understanding of what function an institution should perform.

In those early days of the colonial settlers up through the 19th century, colleges were focused entirely on undergraduate learning and teaching was viewed as “a sacred calling — an act of dedication honored as fully as the ministry” (4). This “colonial college” version of scholarship treated professors as educational mentors, in and out the classroom. But as colleges multiplied and higher education became a place of practice rather than pedagogy, colleges entered into a “service-oriented” phase that emphasized serving the community. Thus, schools at the turn of the 20th century were beginning to specialize in attending to communal needs in what we call “applied research” (Boyer gives the example of academics spreading agricultural knowledge to pig farmers) (6). And individual states began rewarding this enterprise through land grants and other incentives. “Service” took on an expanded role: “the goal was not only to serve society but reshape it” morally (6). Around the same time, a Germanic model for “research” was gaining popularity in the states, which worked against the “service” paradigm: it stressed that professors view the everyday world from a distance in order to study phenomena objectively. Some schools began to make a name for themselves as centers of research, seeing it as their mission to advance disciplines as much as educate students or serve communities. And after WWII, when “the nation moved from an elite to a mass system of higher education,” the research universities swelled in numbers and in enrollment (11).

It is this paradigm of research — the Germanic model, which seeks to advance knowledge through the discovery of new information — that dominates the identity of most colleges and universities today. The phrase “publish or perish” — which ostensibly would advance the discipline through disseminating the findings of a study — is symptomatic of the institutionalization of research as the primary duty of the professoriate.

Professors are rewarded for publishing not only because they develop as scholars and advance their discipline via discovery, but also because they advance the reputation of their institutions in much the same way that a winning football team or a Nobel Prize might. Research became a way of quantitatively “keeping score” in a way that the local practices of teaching undergrads or serving the community or campus couldn’t.
But obviously, professors must still teach and serve, too. Most students assume that teaching is a professor’s primary obligation and to some degree that’s how the majority spend most of their time. There is a disjunction between the pressure to research and the obligation to serve and teach and Boyer’s book will go on to “reconsider scholarship” in a way that more accurately reflects what it is that college professors actually do as scholars, thinkers, learners, and teachers. Boyer’s model of the four facets of scholarship — discovery, integration, application and teaching — will be outlined in the next chapter.

UNSTRUCTURED RESPONSE:
I’m struck by how interesting this really was to read. Academic histories are not my favorite genre. Yet as I was reading the opening chapter to Scholarship Reconsidered, I was reminded of a book I read several years ago called Professing Literature by Gerald Graff. In that book, Graff explains how the art of reading stories became Literature with a capital L and a legitimate area of study in the academe, resulting in the institutionalization of certain forms of literary taste and teaching style. (I should go back and review that book some time — I bet there are parallels between the trends that Graff tracks and the history that Boyer maps out). Likewise, Boyer charts the emergence of today’s standards of performance — scholarship, teaching, and service — the powerful triptych which is used to evaluate professors for promotion and tenure. I enjoyed discovering the historical impetus behind these criteria; it’s a little liberating to recognize how historically-contingent one’s profession is. But the institutionalization of these criteria has led to some pathologies that are unhealthy (e.g., that in some institutions profs spend most of their time teaching, but tenure decisions often depends more on their publishing record).

In Boyer’s discussion of the Germanic research model, he quotes one scholar, Irving Babbitt, as saying that “German doctoral dissertations gave him ‘a sort of intellectual nausea.'” (9) I liked that passage. It describes how I felt when I read Samuel Beckett’s novel, THE UNNAMMABLE, which I felt as a sort of torture when I first read it, but which I now consider one of the most important experiences of my academic life. It taught me how to endure anything…and it is actually a successful, meaningful literary experiment. When I’ve re-read it, I’ve marveled over its genius. “I can’t go on, I’ll go on.” Anyway…..

Boyer’s book is short; I look forward to chewing up the rest of it quickly. The sequel, Scholarship Reassessed, is in the mail on its way to me.

Research || Teaching

I’ve been reading a few pieces here and there by a scholar named Sandy Middleton, an advocate for the Boyer model of “scholarship of teaching” who sees many parallels between the practice of teaching and the practice of traditional research.

Great stuff. Middleton suggests that publication is analagous to a successfully run class, in that students in a class sort of “jury” the teaching experiment (e.g., the class) in their end of term evaluations. I can see the parallels on this score, from the “rejected” class experiments (like, say, an exam that’s too hard for anyone to get an A) to the word of mouth that spreads if students love a course. Classes get “revised and resubmitted” when they are improved upon from year to year. Just as someone might “cite” my paper in the library, someone might “cite” something they learned in my class in their teaching of others. And so forth. But the longer I run with this logic, the more it feels like I’m creative writing, drawing an extended analogy rather than actually discussing the “scholarship” that goes into my classes.

Educator Blogs

Naturally, there are tons of other weblogs by educators. I’m on the hunt for the best of them. Initial findings I wanted to ‘blogmark’:


  • The Subtle Knife: a comfortable hotlist which organizes academic bloggers, research blogs, and major websites for teachers (and, okay, I like the title).
  • WebLogg-Ed: a great blog about educating with online journals … the hotlist of sites in the left margin looks exceptionally useful (first heard about this source on Sarah Rosenberg’s blog… ironically, she’s one of my students… thanks Sarah!)
  • The Educational Blogger’s Network: looks like a real good community blog

There are plenty more where this comes from, and I’d be happy to receive recommendations via the comment link (click “comments’ below), but I just wanted to note these few and share with any other teachers reading this who might be new to blogging or wondering what other teacherly blogs are out there.

Uncanny!

Moments after I posted the message about plagiarism (below), I discovered a plagiarized response paper from my film course. I wrote in the margins: “Well-written!” because the student was articulate >and< cited dialogue from the film verbatim. But that verbatim citation was waving a red flag at me: did she remember what that character said word-for-word? So I decided to look up a catchphrase on google and lo-and-behold: busted.

Other signs that led me to check on the paper: sophisticated style in a paper that is only three paragraphs long. It felt "excerpted" from something else (and it was). Also: plot summary written in an overly excited manner. Almost as if a reviewer were writing, trying to get me interested in attending the film (which they actually were). Uncanny!

A classic example of plagiarism: a student once began a paper in my World Lit class: "Forget everything you ever knew about Salmon Rushdie!" Would you really say that to your teacher?! I instantly recognized bookreviewese and lo-and-behold: hit #1 at Amazon.com.
I sometimes wish plagiarists would plagiarize a book on how to plagiarize. Then they might know better. Not.

Anti-Plagiarism

I just found a great resource of online articles about combatting plagiarism, compiled by librarian Sharon Stoerger. This has been on my mind lately as our school investigates plagiarism detection software like turnitin.com. One issue is whether or not such programs are any better than using google or ebsco host to detect plagiarism. I personally have used the metasearch engine Copernic Agent with many good results: I bust at least one student a semester using it (and it helps with my own research, as well).

The Blueprint

Eureka. I found a primary source (from several years ago, actually) for a lot of the impetus behind the movement toward “Scholarship of Teaching” and the renewed sense of mission among many universities today: REINVENTING UNDERGRADUATE EDUCATION: A Blueprint for America’s Research Universities. I think the ideas in this document don’t just apply to research universities, but to liberal arts institutions like SHU as well.

This document is too huge to blog in one sitting. Thankfully, you can read it in chunks or browse itsacademic.com‘s summary of the Boyer Committee’s top ten recommendations. As a longtime believer in technology — and since our campus has been brewing up a new tech-based community in its emergent New Media Journalism program — I’ve been personally interested in the section of the report urging university faculty to “Use Information Technology Creatively”. Here’s my favorite paragraph:

If anything is evident, it is that the more information a person can obtain, the greater the need for judgment about how to use it. Obtaining information from the Internet is easy; children in elementary school can do it. But who teaches students how to take advantage of this mass of information? Who teaches them how to tell the difference between valuable information and clutter? How, in short, does a student become a more intelligent consumer in this supermarket of information? The answer, we believe, is by exposure to scholars–experienced, focused guides who have spent their lives gathering and sorting information to advance knowledge.

This is key: even though all teachers aren’t comfortable — even today — with computer-mediated communication, all teachers should realize that they already have many information literacy skills that beg to be passed along to their students. Too often I hear the lament that students are citing the internet uncritically; to me that sounds like one of the very things we can teach, no matter what the context, no matter what the class.

Commenting (again)

Two quick addenda:

1) Here’s a small bibliography of sources on end commenting, paper annotation, and other grading-related marginalia as a genre. Might be worth looking into.

2) I had a brilliant idea just now while grading a portfolio: to buy one of those “label” printers that they sell at Staples/Office Max/etc. and use those to type comments and append them to student papers. Or even just an uncut one-sheet of labels for my laser printer and cut them out and slap them on the papers when I’m done. That would save my wrist pain and their eyes when they try to decipher my scrawl. It might also help me streamline the process… hmm….and get me a label maker to boot.

Commenting

I’m still learning the culture and conventions of blogspace, and I’m happy to see that already some folks have found their way to The Pedablogue and kindly left some encouraging comments. And people like my colleague Dennis Jerz have even blogged and discussed my opening entries. It’s encouraging to know that I’m not just calling out into the abyss, so thanks!

“Commenting” is actually a major teaching topic, especially when it comes to writing marginal notes on a student paper. …

I just got out of a “Teaching and Learning Seminar” on campus, where John Spurlock, chair of the Humanities Division, gave a PowerPoint presentation on how he runs a distance learning course on Western Civ. The most interesting element to me, beyond his refreshingly humorous delivery, was his discussion of the writing-focus that his course has taken (as opposed to merely testing over the content, his students now produce “problem-solution” papers that force them to intellectually process history rather than rotely memorize content for tests). I enjoyed hearing how Spurlock comments on these distance learning student’s papers (using MS Word’s commenting feature). This is a method I also use for my teaching of creative writing students in the MA in Writing Popular Fiction program at SHU, but I picked up a few new tips I hadn’t considered before:

+ To do “end comments” write the word “comments” at the bottom of the original manuscript and then highlight it and generate a “comment” using Word. (I’d been writing commentary on a separate document for some reason; I guess I thought I was being respectful to the student’s original manuscript somehow).
+ Similarly, you can add a pseudo-link to “grade” or “criteria” to bracket these elements off from the focus on the manuscript.

+ Use Word’s mock “highlighter” to call attention to grammatical errors and typos that aren’t worth commenting on but are worth calling attention to (I’ve been doing this already, so it was good to see another person adopting this method).

Well, maybe these aren’t groundbreaking tips, but every little shortcut can help when commenting electronically, so long as a student knows what conventions you’re using. Sometimes we implicitly teach “how to comment” in our approach, so it’s important to think about how this works.
I could go on and on about the nitty gritty of how to comment, but I have papers I have to go comment on right now, so I’ll leave it at this and possibly return to this topic later…

Essential Definition II: “Scholarship of Teaching”

The “Scholarship of Teaching” is mentioned among faculty at Seton Hill University almost as if it had the power of a buzzphrase. And it does have a particular kind of power.

While the phrase means what it says, and reflects the work of anyone who works in the field of Education, it also refers to the research of Ernest L. Boyer, who articulated different models for what should “count” as scholarship in his book, Scholarship Reconsidered. Boyer assert that scholarship has four separate but overlapping dimensions: the scholarship of discovery, the scholarship of integration, the scholarship of application, and the scholarship of teaching.

The latter is what I want to more consciously engage in this blog: teaching as scholarship. I already engage in “discovery” when I write and publish research papers; I already engage in “integration” when I practice what I preach; and I apply my scholarship in creative writing routinely. But the “scholarship of teaching” is something I only engage with informally. I want to become more active in this area. I want to pose problems about issues related to teaching; to study the problems posed; to apply what I learn from this inquiry into my teaching and to communicate the results of my inquiries here, in a forum where I can reflect and solicit feedback.

Essential Definition I: PEDAGOGUE

Since the title of this blog is a pun on “PEDAGOGUE,” I thought I better define this term for those reading who don’t know what it is. A “pedagogue” — at bottom — is simply an “educator.” You’d think that would be a good thing, but the term also has negative connotations in some contexts. Teachers are sometimes labeled “pedagogues” if they’re pedantic — that is, overly strict, close-minded, and self-important. And the word “pedagogue” comes from Greek Antiquity, where it referred to the slave who led his master’s children to school (Hyperdictionary).

I’m titling this blog “Pedablogue” to mock such elements in myself while at the same time concentrating the focus on pedagogy.

A New Purpose

Now that I’m done experimenting with blogspace, I’ve decided to streamline this blog and focus on the scholarship of teaching.

I’m sure it’ll be a “dry” blog, at times, and maybe long-winded (as this entry no doubt will be). But I hope to pep it up with autobiographical inquiries as well as responses to research which I hope to share here. In the spirit of the “scholarship of teaching,” I invite dialogue about anything I post and invite feedback/recommendations to me via e-mail at arnzen@setonhill.edu.

I’m launching into this trajectory of inquiry because I want to learn more about the art of teaching and engage in scholarship the way it’s meant to be — in a public forum, involving research, open dialogue, and reflection. I don’t always expect to find answers to the problems I’ll pose; in fact, I hope to discover problems I hadn’t realized existed and uncover new issues that might be relevant to whoever might be reading this weblog. In the process, I hope to refine my own teaching abilities and continue to bring new methods to test out in that labratory known as the college classroom.

The majority of my students tell me in evaluations that I’m a great teacher and they enjoy my methods. I was recently promoted to Associate Professor of English, and in that process my colleagues wrote letters testifying to my talents in this area. There are even days when — based on the students’ feedback “buzz” in a good class — I step out of the room at the end of the hour grinning ear-to-ear, knowing I’m doing something right. But I know that I can do better — in fact, it’s my responsibility as a professional to strive to improve. Because teaching isn’t really about the teacher, but about the dynamic that opens up when people of different knowledge bases and divergent backgrounds communicate.

One thing I know I can do better is increase my awareness of teaching strategies and theories. I spend an awful lot of time reading textbooks and novels and student papers — and I have sacrificed reading and writing about the art and craft of teaching. I want to more self-consciously research and study pedagogy, learning from the experiences and speculations of others. Even the very definition of the “scholarship of teaching” is something I want to explore… I hear a lot of talk about it, but I know I haven’t read nearly enough.

Have you? I will share not only my own self-interested musings here, but links to research you might want to read yourself. Writing for an audience will give me an incentive to keep learning about learning and sharing what I’ve learned. I want to turn others on to what I’m interested in. That’s what teaching probably is, anyway, at the bottom of it all. A desire to open a doorway — whether familiar or not — with someone else’s hand….