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CAUT Bulletin Archives

November 2004

Exploring Facets of Teaching & Learning in Higher Education

John Hoddinott

The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education: Contributions of Research Universities

William E. Becker & Moya L. Andrews, eds. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 2004; 368 pp; ISBN: 0-253-34424-7; hardcover $34.95 US.
Since medieval times universities have been teaching institutions and the rise of land grant and "redbrick" institutions in the nineteenth century saw them increase their focus on pure and applied research. That change was the subject of commentary at the time by John Cardinal Newman when he identified scholarships of teaching and research. However, it was the twentieth century work of the late Ernest Boyer that gave us a modern grounding on the various forms of scholarship we practice.

Boyer identified four areas of scholarship - teaching, discovery, application and integration. As an acknowledgement of research progress in cognitive psychology we now highlight learning rather than teaching as we appreciate that what the learner does can be more important than what the teacher does.

After Boyer's death his colleagues at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching continued to work on his four scholarships model. They reasoned that faculty work in these disparate scholarships would not be properly rewarded, through salary and promotion, unless there was a common basis for evaluation. While our various activities in the three research related scholarships are partly judged, somewhat independently, through the peer review process, no comparable system is widely practiced over the scholarship of teaching and learning.

In thinking about their disciplinary research scholarship most faculty (and probably their faculty associations) could agree that an evaluation scheme based on a scholar's ability to set clear goals, undergo adequate preparation, use appropriate methods, generate significant results, make effective presentations of the results, and engage in a reflective critique to improve future work would be an equitable one. Why not then use these same criteria to evaluate teaching and learning?

An example of what such a system might look like in practice at a large research-intensive institution, Indiana University, is contained in The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education. Its various chapters deliver what the editors promise - a variety of models of the scholarship of teaching and learning at research universities, the influence of discipline-based research on teaching leading to more meaningful student activities, advancements in the assessment of student outcomes through research, and the dissemination of ideas about teaching and learning across disciplines and institutions.

Readers can apply for themselves the evaluation criteria for teaching and learning to disciplinary contributions that range among mathematics, biology, econometrics, the history of photography and clinical practice in speech pathology, as well as more general examinations of first year experience programs, the assessment of student learning and grade inflation.

With the diversity of disciplines represented there is an equally diverse series of approaches to their individual scholarships of teaching and learning. The chapter by Lei Bao and Edward Redish on Educational Assessment and Underlying Models of Cognition requires skills in matrix algebra to appreciate, which may not be surprising when you consider the authors are physicists. Alternatively, Claude Cookman's reports on Transforming Students into Historical Researchers in his course on the history of photography. What unites these authors is an understanding of the importance of having students become active learners where they not only come to understand knowledge in the discipline but also the research methodologies underpinning it.

A good example of how contemporary quantitative methods can be incorporated into an undergraduate computer classroom is provided by William Becker and William Greene while biologist Craig Nelson provides a more personal and reflective piece on his own experience with a research-teaching-research career cycle.

With this mixture of personal reflection and quantitative survey approaches to teaching and learning, questions on the ethics behind such investigations are inevitable. Carnegie Foundation president Lee Shulman confronts this in the opening chapter. He distinguishes between instructors collecting data on student learning for grading purposes and collecting, analyzing and reporting data on the character of their teaching and their students' learning. He argues that if an institution distinguishes between "kinds of scholarly work that are embedded in acts of teaching and learning and those that are engaged for purely research purposes," and that if the students are "placed at no greater risk by the research than they would be in a teaching situation alone," then there is no need for an ethics review involving a human subjects board. A tri-councils ruling would be helpful here.

Shulman argues that we can hardly be a moral community with mission statements highlighting the central role of teaching and learning in our institutions if we do not investigate those processes and place them at the centre of scholarship. Later George Kuh highlights the paradox contained in our taking steps to advance the quality of the undergraduate experience while our institutions cannot yet claim they uniformly offer the highest quality experience for the typical student. The value in this book is in providing help to resolve that paradox.

John Hoddinott is a professor of biological sciences and associate dean of teaching and research, at the University of Alberta-Augustana Campus in Camrose, Alberta.