Multitasking Millenials

So I’m giving a lecture about rhyme scheme today near the beginning of Poetry Class and I suddenly realize that virtually every student in the room is assembling their portfolios (to turn in at the end of class) while I’m speaking: binders are CLACKing, papers are shuffling, pages are riffling. I literally hear myself raising my voice to compensate, and then loose my cool. “What are you people DOING?” I cry out, baffled. I say a few vaguely threatening things and complain about their manners. Later I vent to a colleague, and she tells me “It’s this generation. They’re good at multitasking.”

Millenials again. I agree that today’s college students are whiz kids at IMing while they talk to one another. And I agree that they might be able to drive a car and work a cell phone at the same time. Corporations see “multi-tasking” as the skill of a productive worker. But I see it as an inability to concentrate for an extended period of time. Part of my job as an English prof — a scholar of reading — is to teach concentration skills. I believe multitasking might actually have negative consequences we haven’t considered, most of all on learning. And studies back me up.

  • Multitasking can lead to catastrophe. Obviously, air traffic controllers and automobile drivers can cause death. The brain can’t keep up with two things at once. Research at U Michigan’s Brain and Cognition Lab examine how “juggling is not always easy, and in many cases can lead to greater inefficiency.”

  • CNN reported in 1991 that Multitasking is actually counter-productive. Going from task to task generates little gaps of “switch time” that often slow down work performance and decrease productivity.

  • Multitasking carries health risks, according to studies by the FAA and U Michigan. Obviously, you can crash your car if you’re not paying attention by talking on a cell phone and changing a CD at the same time. Safety is one thing. Health is another: multitasking puts extra stress on the body, which incrementally generates exhaustion, mental burnout, anxiety and depression. There is no difference between multitasking for pleasure (playing a computer game while eating ice creaam) or for work (typing a memo while reading a tech manual).

  • Multitasking decreases brain activity. In other words, learning suffers. Edward Willet cites research that claims that when test subjects listen to sentences while rotating an object, the brain activity generated by listening to sentences decreased by 53 percent. HALF! Literally, half of what I’m telling my students goes in one ear and out the other if they’re doodling on a PDA or organizing their binders.

  • Multitasking can be antithetical to liberal arts education. Mark Wollf, in a Humanities discussion list, put it best:

    I think the multitasking afforded by technology is antithetical to the
    kind of education we promote in American liberal arts colleges. With
    multitasking you do not think so much as react to stimuli. To think
    critically in the liberal arts tradition, you have to focus on ideas and
    dwell on them. You do not process.

Wollf’s concern is that adding technology to the classroom can render concentration obsolete. I’m not so sure technology is to blame entirely; it’s just part of a complex problem. Teachers sometimes reward students for being engines of productivity over anything else. We might consider rewarding quality rather than quantity more often. Teaching concentration skills and valuing the ability to focus has become part of our mission. I don’t think we should capitulate to those who claim it’s “natural” for the Millenials to multitask and therefore we need to adjust. Multitasking is not a skill; it’s a form of managing distractions and an attempt to maximize pleasure. Learning takes concentration.

Or maybe I just want my students to do their homework before — and not during — class. They’re so good at multitasking that they procrastinate.

The Children of Theory

Students today, he asserts, are engaging neither with history nor with post-structuralism. “What is sexy instead is sex,” he announces, in the first chapter, on “The Politics of Amnesia”: “Quietly spoken middle-class students huddle diligently in libraries, at work on sensationalist subjects like vampirism and eye-gouging, cyborgs and porno movies.” Cast adrift in the stormy currents of postmodernism, they prefer to focus their energy on “the history of pubic hair” or the evolution of Friends, a trend that Eagleton regards as “politically catastrophic”.

From an interview with Terry Eagleton, regarding his new book, After Theory. This book seems to be concerned with the movement away from truth and morality in contemporary literary criticism. Eagleton — a Marxist whose book Literary Theory: An Introduction, I liked enough to use in my Literary Criticism course — doesn’t blame students or teachers for this vacuous research, per se, but culture: “In the old days, rock music was a distraction from your studies; now it may well be what you are studying.”

Sounds a little moralizing, and more conservative than the Eagleton I know, but it looks like yet another book to add to my reading list! My gut tells me that he’s right, but he’s also reacting to the waning of interest among media-raised grad students in Literature proper. I also suspect he’s missing the point: analyzing, say Buffy the Vampire Slayer, does give us insight into contemporary culture, even if it reifies the commercial text. But I better save judgment until I read it.


A humble reminder to self:

When I teach about the history of the recent past, I tell my students that one of the greatest dangers is that they think that they already know what happened and why. Similarly, in approaching the scholarship of teaching, we have to rid ourselves from the preconception that we already know the answers about teaching because we have done so much of it.Roy Rosenzweig, “The Scholarship of Teaching: Two Suggestions and One Caution” (from Inventio, 1999).

Inventio is a great online journal on the scholarship of teaching. The latest issue has articles pertinent to my field, English, in it’s special topic on “Over-Reading” (a common cry of some students, no?).

More is Less

Do small class sizes increase your chances of having weak teachers?

Joanne Jacobs found a report from a Canadian newspaper that suggests so. The logic goes like this: if you lower enrollments, you’ve got to add extra classes, so then you need more teachers to staff them. And the more teachers you need, the more likely you’ll get people who are average or below average in front of the room.

Hmmm… sounds sensible. And yet, if this were true, then any large institution with a large pool of teachers would be filled with poor teachers, no matter what the class size. But that’s not the case — larger places tend to draw the best teachers into their ranks, because they can often afford to pay higher salaries. In any case, the logic doesn’t follow; the dynamic is more complicated than can be predicted. A quality of a teacher’s work functions independent of the talent pool. And besides, one counter-argument might assert that the smaller the class size, the better the teacher is able to manage student needs and the less overworked they’ll be by paper grading. In fact, even if that teacher starts out below average, if they are allowed to grow and develop “on the job” in a classroom that is manageable and not overcrowded, then perhaps over time the teaching pool as a whole will increase in quality. But if you put a batch of poor teachers into a terrible working condition, it follows that they’ll likely remain poor for a very long time.

Homework Unloaded

Maybe not.

Maybe homework loads are larger than ever? Maybe homework is disrupting families, overburdening children and limiting learning? Maybe homework has taken the place of true school reform?

Um…maybe. But, my gut tells me that something else is going on here. Parents want educators to do everything, and do it away from the home. I think I need to read Etta Kralovec (et. al)’s book, The End of Homework to see if there’s truth to what at first blush sounds audacious to me: that homework is limiting learning. Could this possibly be an projection of parental anti-intellectualism, an attitude that some “millennials” are absorbing from their parents? Or do parents just need to learn better strategies for helping kids with homework?

Um…maybe. Still researching this…but finding tons of fascinating articles on the so-called ‘homework wars’… a topic I hadn’t heard about before this morning.

Homework Loads

Newsflash?: Stories are breaking across the news today that students study less than an hour a day (I learned that a Brookings Institute study is responsible from Dennis Jerz’ Literacy Weblog). I’m not surprised by this; a number of entering freshman in my experience often seem to either lack basic study skills or otherwise are apathetic toward schoolwork. The Irascible Professor tied this trend to grade inflation trends earlier this year, based on the CIRP.

Ironically, this runs contrary to the view of the Millennials I reported last night. Are today’s students “achieving” or are they “sheltered”? The contradiction between these elements is producing a sort of schizophrenia that spins on a disjunction between means (work) to ends (the spoils of success). I can’t tell if this is really anything new, except it may very well be the case that Millennials love to work in teams and probably don’t see intellectual work as important as compared with other forms of labor which get the greenbacks. If commercial culture keeps de-emphasizing education, it will only get worse, and schools may very well become obsolete. Don’t believe me? Ever see an abandoned schoolhouse? I drive past one in my town almost every day.

Millennials Go to College

This afternoon, I attended an open General Assembly at SHU, where Director of Admissions Mary Kay Cooper presented a well-delivered demographic snapshot of today’s entering college students, drawn largely from the booklet, Millenials Go To College by Neil Howe and William Strauss. We were given seven core traits of students who meet this demographic (essentially, those born on or after 1982). They are: special, sheltered, confident, team-oriented, conventional, pressured, and achieving.

There is much more complexity to them than this, of course, but it can’t hurt, I suppose, to try to nail down how to work with the unique qualities of this generation. Although I am always uncomfortable about the fuzzy boundaries between “target marketing” and “sociological demographics,” it is true that all generations are shaped by their times, so I do give a lot of credence to what was presented today. There’s a super article online about this (but in .pdf format, unfortunately) called “Boomers, Gen-Xers, and Millenials: Understanding The “New Students” by Diana Oblinger (Microsoft’s Edu Guru) available at The Society for College and University Planning and EDUCause. Further researching this topic this evening online has opened my eyes quite a bit; or at least, given me some ways of compartmentalizing phenomena that I already have noticed. And I found good data attesting to how technologically savvy today’s students really are (as if it weren’t already obvious). Oblinger’s data reports, for example, that 84% of Millennials own their own computer. And they’re all tapped into e-mail, which is nothing “high tech” to them at all. 75% of all students use e-mail to get clarity on an assignment from a professor. 55% use it to set up live meetings. But only 19% of Millennials report contacting professors via e-mail MORE than face-to-face. (Still, that’s one out of five!!!)

I also found some millennials themselves arguing about all this on a discussion board. (How millennial of them!)

But far beyond trends and demographics are the implications of the “information age mindset” (Jason Frand) that is rapidly developing among today’s students due to their immersion in technology and the sea of info they must try to navigate and swim in to try to make sense of their world. An emphasis on “Doing, rather than knowing” (.pdf link) seems to be the paradigm for this generation, who expect rewards, feedback, and structure and appreciate collaborative work that produces solutions. At the same time, the Millennials seem to oversimplify the complexities of the world — they want push-button solutions and are adverse to the complexity of reality, they side with simplicity rather than creativity, and — scariest of all — groupmind rather than independent critical thinking.

Today’s college students are younger than the personal computer. I think that says it all.

You have to take a fish out of water to make it see that it is in the water. That’s one of my goals: to give students that outside perspective, even if it isn’t comfortable or predictable. Although knowing these demographics ostensibly should give me a way of comforting and working with the Millennials, it also makes me aware that they are less prepared for the “reality” of life after college than previous generations. As a teacher of creative writing and critical theory, I will be facing more and more resistance and the onus will be on me (and other teachers of liberal arts) to “liberate” students from their own blindnesses, even as we support and encourage them in their unique way of seeing.

Scholarship Reconsidered: Conclusions

In this entry, I conclude my reading log of Scholarship Reconsidered, by Ernest Boyer and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. I’ll cover Chapter 6 (“A New Generation of Scholars”) and 7 (“Scholarship and Community”) in one session. In a nutshell, these chapters discuss graduate student learning and the urgent need for renewal in scholarly institutions if they are to remain vital contributors to society into the future.

Chapter Six (“A New Generation of Scholars”) discusses the boom in graduate student learning at the end of the 1980s and predicts a need for more integrated, interdisciplinary scholarship with a greater emphasis on teaching skills. Graduate research generally becomes “a period of withdrawal” rather than connection (69). Graduate school is where scholars specialize, but not enough are trained in teaching, or even rewarded for it. In graduate school, students are given research assistantships (instead of teaching assistantships) as a reward for being the best and brightest, when those are the very scholars society would benefit from having teach (71). Those who aspire to teach are met with suspicion; it is as though enjoying teaching is a sign of a poor intellect, a withdrawal into teaching from the stress of research. A disdain for teaching is born in this environment, which carries over into professional life. Boyer cites Kenneth Eble on this matter: “[The professor’s] narrowness of vision, the disdain for education, the reluctance to function as a teacher are ills attributable in large part to graduate training” (70). Thus, Boyer asserts that we need to refashion higher education on every level, from the design of the major to the mentoring structure of graduate study, in order to train students to balance their research scholarship with the other three levels of the Boyer model (integration, application & teaching).

In the final chapter, Boyer warns of the complexity of social problems in modern life, and that narrow focus on the research model in most schools threatens to render campuses obsolete. Integrating the four-pronged Boyer Model into the modern campus and strengthening bonds with the world outside of the ivory tower offers a meaningful solution to today’s alienated intellectual and promises to help solve social ills. He appeals to university presidents to flex their muscles and energize their campuses in the name of progress and change. The sobering reality of the emerging obsolescent American college is evident in our track record, as Boyer notes by citing Derek Bok:

…what Rachel Carson did for risks to the environment, Ralph Nader for consumer protection, Michael Harrington for problems of poverty, Betty Friedan for womens’ rights, they did as independent critics, not as members of faculty….After a major social problem has been recognized, universities will usually continue to respond weakly unless outside support is available and the subjects involved command prestige in academic circles. These limitations have hampered efforts to address many of the most critical challenges to the nation. (76)

American education, Boyer sternly warns, “has never been static” and “must continuously evolve” (81). A team approach to renew our definitions of scholarship can lead to social renewal.

What Boyer portended in 1990 still remains an issue. Bok’s point about the failure in American colleges to change society is a bit one-sided — vastly important research has provided society with many benefits. But his point hits home: narrowly focusing on research alone in a vacuum often puts up blinders to current social needs. His four pronged model makes a lot of sense; it’s responsible, critical, and meaningful. At the same time, it has been my experience — even in graduate school — that research itself has shifted to accommodate some of what Boyer worried about in 1990. Cultural Studies, for example, integrates research from various disciplines in a socially progressive manner (albeit politically leftist), and opened a lot of eyes. The boundaries between disciplines are murky anymore because of open interdisciplinary scholarship. And for the best, I think. The lessons of one field can only benefit another if there is open interactive dialogue between them, whether in a campus faculty lunchroom or over the internet (the latter of which was still getting its legs when Boyer’s study was conducted). A lot has changed since 1990. And yet the tendency to over-specialize and withdraw from teaching is still taught in graduate schools, to some degree… if only as a survival tactic. Teacher training remains a supplement to specialized learning, unless a graduate student enters into a field where pedagogy is an integral element (such as Education, Composition, or Languages).

I’m not going to try to summarize all my thoughts in one entry now; I hope to come back to this book again and again throughout my weblog… indeed, this is one of the reasons I wanted to start with Boyer’s book, since the focus of this blog is on a phrase that comes from it: “the scholarship of teaching.” My copy of Scholarship Assessed has arrived in today’s mail and I will no doubt continue my reading journal apace, and thereby continue reflecting on Boyer’s important, if dated, study.

Derek Bok’s quotation made a large impression on me. In researching Bok — a former president of Harvard — I found the Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning and the pedagogical resources there look useful.
The link to Kenneth Eble above isn’t really to Eble, but to a paper that makes interesting use of his teaching principles in his book, The Craft of Teaching (which is now on my reading list).

One final pedestrian warning to anyone considering buying Scholarship Reconsidered: half of the book — literally — consists of the raw data of the surveys conducted by the Boyer Committee. It’s fascinating filler — with reports on, say, what percentage of faculty in different disciplines and at different institutions feel their enthusiasm to work has waned. 50% of the book is filled with raw data. I find this an ironic conclusion: in the end, Boyer’s book literally lets traditional research speak for itself.

Scholarship Reconsidered IV & V: Diversity in Time & Space

In this entry, I continue my reading log of Scholarship Reconsidered, by Ernest Boyer and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. I’ll cover Chapter 4 (“The Creativity Contract”) and Chapter 5 (“The Campuses: Diversity with Dignity”) in one session. In a nutshell, these chapters advocate for maximum flexibility in “what counts” as scholarship over a teacher’s career and in different types of college campuses.

In “The Creativity Contract,” Boyer builds on his point that “most professors do not think of themselves simply as reseachers” and that for 70% of them, teaching is their primary interest (43). This conflict has major implications for faculty morale. He asserts that broad definitions of scholarship must be acknowledged by administrators in order “to counter burnout or stagnation” by professors (44). In a surprisingly “touchy-feely” move, Boyer speaks of the professorial career in terms of “seasons” where interests shift over time, and faculty in their “generative” phases late in their careers begin to reach for “new priorities, a larger sense of caring, a desire to reach out, share, and belong” (45). But Boyer’s also concerned for junior faculty and newly minted PhDs. He notes the high pressure on new faculty to acheive publication at the cost of the quality of their teaching and service, and implies that this sets them up for considerable personal strain. High productivity sacrifices the quality of their work. Remarkably, over 50% of new faculty surveyed claim “I hardly ever get time to give a piece of work the attention it deserves” (45).

Tracking how the pressure to produce unidimensional research in their field puts unique strains on faculty throughout their lifetime, Boyer argues for a flexible career path that allows for multiple forms of scholarship and moments of renewal. He advocates for “creativity contracts” — basically, 3- or 5-year plans that outline professional goals, possibly shifting from one scholarly focus to another, which faculty arrange and reflect upon with their supervisors. The degree of evaluation needs to be broad, individualized, and continuous. “Diversity, not uniformity, is the key” (51).

In the next chapter, “The Campuses: Diversity with Dignity,” Boyer examines the implications of his proposed model on institutions, rather than individuals. The problem, he believes, is that too many campuses are imitating one another rather than embracing their uniqueness — and that most adopt a notion of scholarship that is defined by research universities to their own peril. He looks at ways in which different types of campuses — research/doctoral universities, liberal arts colleges, community colleges, and comprehensive colleges — can become better structured by balancing their definitions of scholarship and creatively accommodating the scholarships of discovery, integration, application and teaching. Interestingly, he cites a study by Kenneth Ruscio which discusses liberal arts colleges as historically being centers of teaching and integrative studies, since “the work of academics in small colleges is, in fact, more horizontal reaching across disciplines and bringing together ideas from a variety of sources” (59). Yet they still hold themselves up to the standards of large research universities, even though they don’t have the facilities to conduct such research. He concludes with a call to arms:

Let’s have campuses where the scholarship of teaching is a central mission. Let’s have colleges and universities that promote integrative studies as an exciting mission through a core curriculum, through interdisciplinary seminars, and through team teaching. (64)

I was struck by how well our own campus at Seton Hill U allows for diversity of research and seeks to validate shifts in faculty needs over time. For example, Lee McClain, my colleague in the English department, has gone from being a Medievalist to a Pop Culture Critic to a Magazine journalist over the course of her career and our school has rewarded and supported her needs a great deal (and has written about this experience recently in The Chronicle). Our dean is a strong advocate for the “scholarship of teaching” and has arranged for bimonthly “teaching/learning forums” where faculty and staff discuss given topics. She also endorses the use of “creativity contracts” in the shape of “faculty development plans” which are vehicles for faculty to design a future trajectory of growth (say, writing a book) and outline the needs they might have along the way for that growth to be supported (say, a research budget). Not all faculty act on this opportunity (they would probably cry “no time!”), but I’m still impressed with how well my campus addresses Boyer’s call for creativity and flexibility.
Boyer’s discussion of stagnancy and faculty burnout is interesting to me. It reminds me that “heavy workload” is not always the culprit for burnout; also at fault are faulty time management skills and the fact that sometimes careers just “plateau” as work gets repetitive and laborious because nothing seems to change. These problems can happen on any job.

Time management for teachers is difficult subject to address in any depth here, especially given the diversity in people’s teaching loads. But sometimes all it takes is calendaring and keeping a good to do list. If your life is completely disorganized and you’ve got papers stacked around your desk from three years ago, I recommend David Allen’s book Getting Things Done as a starting point.
Career planners talk about three kinds of “plateaus” — job, company, and life plateaus — all three of which are interrelated. You become “plateaued” when things get too predictable and there is no risk or challenge. But the worker/teacher has to take action to generate the change; they have to be willing to take risks and welcome challenges. The “publish or perish” system provides its own challenges, but writing for publication is more complicated than just striving to surpass an obstacle (e.g., to not be rejected); it also requires pushing one’s self to study in uncharted territory and write something new. That “something new” could very well be the scholarship of teaching. Boyer is asking school administrators to reconsider scholarship as an avenue for faculty to take such action and reinvigorate their community in the process.

Scholarship Reconsidered III: On the Diversity of Faculty Talent

In this entry, I continue my reading log of Scholarship Reconsidered, by Ernest Boyer and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. In Chapter 3, “The Faculty: A Mosaic of Talent” Boyer explores the diversity of faculty work and contemplates alternative methods for assessing a professor’s scholarly performance.

Boyer begins this chapter by exploring the ways in which institutions value research scholarship over other methods. Publication proves that one is “staying in touch” with one’s field, and thus it makes sense to incorporate publication records into faculty assessment. But Boyer proposes a common sense alternative: “Why not assume,” Boyer writes, “that staying in touch with one’s field means just that — reading the literature and keeping well informed about consequential trends and patterns?” (28). (He even goes so far as to suggest that faculty simply write a paper for the deans, chairs and evaluators about the recent trends in their field to prove it, rather than publish discoveries in research).

After mapping a major shift toward rewarding research “at the expense of teaching,” he outlines dissatisfactions among faculty about how they are assessed and evaluated for tenure and promotion. In the surveys conducted by the Carnegie Foundation that form the data set upon which this book’s recommendations are drawn, Boyer notes that more than 60% of faculty feel that teaching effectiveness should be the primary criterion for promotion, not publication. There are problems, too, with publication as a criterion: faculty are skeptical about the way in which their publications are reviewed by committees; faculty believe that quantity counts more than quality; different disciplines get different levels of funding for research; and different disciplines conduct research in radically different ways. 68% of faculty believe that we need better ways than publication to evaluate scholarly performance (34).

Next Boyer outlines some alternatives that will allow a full range of faculty talent to be assessed. He encourages a broader range of writing which should “count” as research: textbook authorship; “popular writing” for non-specialists; journalism; preparing software; communicating via TV and radio; and designing new courses or participating in curricular innovation.

Finally, Boyer dips his toe in the area of evaluating teaching. He calls this “a mare’s nest of controversy” not only because of the difficulties of judging it, but because it is valued differently at different institutions. He explains:

Teaching, as presently viewed, is like a currency that has value in its own country but can’t be converted into other currencies. It may be highly regarded on a sizeable campus, and yet not be a particularly marketable skill. Thus for faculty members whose primary loyalty is to their careers rather than to their institutions, teaching now counts little in increasing prospects to move on and move up. Consequently, excellence in the classroom all too often is undervalued. (37)

To better assess teaching, Boyer recommends that assessment come from three sources: students, peers, and one’s self. Aside from the usual methods that are in place for these areas, he offers some unique possibilities. He recommends that teachers prepare statements about their teaching philosophy (as they do when they apply for jobs). He suggests that faculty peers form “teaching circles” where they evaluate one another in a reflective manner. Submitting essays about classwork to teaching-oriented journals, too, might provide a method for assessing what goes on in the classroom. Asking former students to provide assessments of classes as much as current students. And finally, he suggests that “how to assess teaching” be taught in Freshman orientation, in order to make student evaluations more meaningful.

Boyer concludes by citing Kenneth Eble’s call to administrators to “Put less stress on evaluating what we have done and more on stimulating what we might do” in order to reward and encourage faculty creativity and talent (41). The next chapter will discuss creativity further.

I liked the creative forms of assessment that Boyer encourages in this chapter. Particularly, I saw my own work reflected in his call for different sorts of publication to “count”: especially popular writing. I am lucky, I think, to be at an institution where my creative writing in popular genre fiction and poetry are actually embraced and rewarded. Part of this is because we run a graduate program in Writing Popular Fiction. But another part of the equation is that many of my colleagues and supervisors realize the value of popular writing and understand that, say, writing a poem, is a form of faculty work that feeds back into my teaching of poetry. Traditional academic publishing is rewarded just as much — if not more — but it is seen as part of a whole, not an end in itself. I appreciate that. I don’t know if I would be so active in my creative writing if it wasn’t rewarded by my institution. I’m not sure how “portable” my credentials are to other institutions, either — but that’s no matter to me right now, because I’m teaching in a program that is ideal for me.

Speaking of “portability,” Boyer’s contention that “teaching is like a currency that can’t be converted” from school to school is an interesting one. It explains to me why teaching is undervalued by some professors. The self-serving logic goes like this: “If publications are all that matter, why bother growing as a teacher when I can spend more time on research, racking up publications that will enable me to move to a better paying, more prestigious institution?” The problem with such “careering” lies not only at the feet of the self-serving professor who cares more about himself than his students — it is a symptom of an institutional pathology that encourages this attitude. If number of publications is all that matters because it is the most visible public way of keeping score, then there should also be a way to assess and reward teaching is an equally public way. Until more colleges reward teaching in the ways that Boyer recommends, the problem will probably only escalate. As many faculty realize, the “publish or perish” paradigm depends very much on the economy of publishing itself, rather than on their own importance. And commerce eventually drives the scholarship, rather than intellectual pursuit. Reconsidering Scholarship today is all the more crucial, given the growth in electronic publishing and other alternative forms of conducting research.

I liked Boyer’s point about using publication as an avenue toward evaluating teaching. There are many pedagogy journals that are available online or in print, and many refereed journals in any given field of study would consider essays on teaching that subject (there are several in English, of course). Faculty associations (like the MLAor NCTE in English) offer journals that explore teaching in the discipline; and then there’s the more general interest academic publications like The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Wow, I’ve written a lot more on this chapter than I anticipated, given that it’s a relatively short one. The next chapter looks very interesting to me, because it takes into account how to assess shifts in a faculty member’s interest over the years.

Scholarship Reconsidered II: The Boyer Model

In this entry, I continue my reading log of Scholarship Reconsidered, by Ernest Boyer and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

In “Enlarging the Perspective,” the second chapter, Boyer outlines four “separate but overlapping functions of scholarship which constitute the primary work of the professoriate: discovery, integration, application and teaching. These constitute “the Boyer Model” of scholarship.

Boyer takes issue with the assumptions we make about what constitutes “scholarship. People assume a linear cause-and-effect relationship between scholarship that moves from research, to publication, to application to teaching. It’s as though the latter are not considered part of scholarship at all, but “grow out of it” (15). Boyer contests: “The arrow of causality can, and frequently does, point in both directions. Theory surely leads to practice. But practice also leads to theory. Teaching, at its best, shapes both research and practice” (16).
Thus begins Boyer’s mission to parse out the four levels of scholarship into the following model. All four elements “dynamically interact, forming an interdependent whole” (25):

DISCOVERY: This element of scholarship is purely investigative, in search of new information. At the core of scholarship, it is “what contributes not only to the stock of human knowledge but also to the intellectual climate of a college or university” and Boyer considers investigation and research “at the very heart of academic life” (17; 18).

These scholars ask, “What is to be known? What is yet to be found?” (19)

INTEGRATION: This element of scholarship is what happens when scholars put isolated facts into perspective, “making connections across the disciplines, placing the specialties in larger context, illuminating data in a revealing way” — work that “seeks to interpret, draw together, and bring new insight to bear on original research” (18-9). Closely related to discovery, integration draws connections and examines contexts often in an interdisciplinary and interpretive way. Boyer sees integration as growing tend in universities, where disciplines are converging and the boundaries between fields is becoming blurry.

These scholars ask “What do the findings mean? Is it possible to interpret what’s been discovered in ways that provide a larger, more comprehensive understanding?”

APPLICATION: This element of scholarship is the most practical int hat it seeks out ways in which knowledge can solve problems and serve both the community and the campus. As opposed to merely “citizenship,” Boyer argues that “to be considered scholarship, service activities must be tied directly to one’s special field of knowledge and relate to, and flow directly out of, this professional activity” (22). He importantly notes that knowledge is not necessarily first “discovered” and then later “applied” — “new intellectual understandings,” Boyer writes, “can arise out of the very act of application…theory and practice vitally interact and one renews the other” (23).

These scholars ask “How can knowledge be responsibly applied to problems? How can it be helpful to people and institutions?”

TEACHING: This element of scholarship recognizes the work that goes into mastery of knowledge as well as the presentation of information so that others might understand it. “Teaching, at its best, means not only transmitting knowledge, but transforming and extending it as well” — and by interacting with students, professors themselves are pushed in creative new directions (24).

These scholars ask “How can knowledge best be transmitted to others and best learned?”

I was already aware of this model before reading this book, but reading it has given me a concrete way of understanding not only what “counts” as scholarship, but what matters about it… and ultimately, what matters about my teaching. If I am not teaching all four elements to my students, then I am not training them to be fit scholars.

Indeed, “the scholarship of teaching” might sound like the least applicable scholarship to teach students (since they are the student, not the teacher), but the fact is I do teach students how to teach: as their role model in front of the class, everything I do teaches teaching to some degree. Moreover, whenever I ask students to dialogue in group work, perform peer editing of papers, or share their research with the class in the form of paper presentation, they are often practicing the work of advising and teaching. I even do this consciously when I ask students to “teach us” an assigned article/chapter in special presentations that involve designing handouts to distribute to the class complete with discussion questions.

Although this chapter is simple in outlining the model, Boyer ends with the scholarship of teaching in a way that really rallies the flag for the act of teaching and casts his bias (in my view) in favor of it. He asserts how much work goes into teaching, and how this work really does constitute scholarship. He writes, “Teaching can be well regarded only as professors are widely read and intellectually engaged. One reason legislators, trustees, and the general public often fail to understand why ten or twelve hours in the classroom each week can be a heavy load is their lack of awareness of the hard work and the serious study that undergirds good teaching” (23). YES.

Boyer also talks about the problems of evaluating service in this chapter, because he sees “service” as a level of professorial work that often becomes a catch-all for citizenship and “doing good” rather than the application of scholarship in a meaningful, reflective fashion. He calls into question activities like committee work that is unrelated to one’s area of study or civic acts like participating in town councils and youth clubs, due to the amorphous definition of service. He asserts that service should be “serious, demanding work, requiring the rigor — and the accountability — traditionally associated with research activities” (22). Is representing the college at a food drive really a form of “scholarship of application”? It is when I go with my freshman class, because it supports the issues of social justice that I teach and study… it proves that I can practice what I preach when I preach against social oppression or the politics of everyday life. It isn’t scholarship when a person do it just because they believe it’s good for the community, or just to have something listed on their vitae.

The scholarship of discovery and integration need little discussion; these are what we all assume college professors do when they engage in “research.” Yet I think “integration” gives me a better context for thinking about cultural studies and other interdisciplinary ways of thinking that I’ve not only practiced but have been taught when I was in graduate school. And it’s interesting, too, that cultural studies sometimes calls into question, say, the scientific method or the application of research in instrumental ways (see Adorno and Horkheimer).

But that’s moot: the point that Boyer is making is that these two forms of scholarship are not the only ones that should count. And that seems obvious to any scholar who performs this work. This material is useful not only in terms of considering how faculty should be evaluated by the institution, but how faculty should evaluate themselves.

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.

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.

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‘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.

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.