Books on bookshelf

Scholarship of Teaching

How Do We Capture the Intellectual Qualities of Teaching?

Scholars have long believed, as physicist Robert Oppenheimer said in 1954, “It is proper to the role of the scientist that he not merely find the truth…but that he teach, that he try to bring the most honest and most intelligible account of new knowledge to all who will try to learn.” But it was Ernest Boyer’s 1990 report “Scholarship Reconsidered” that took these ancient commitments of the scholar to teaching and carried the idea an additional step. He argued that teaching is not merely a logical outcome of scholarship but it is most properly thought of as a form of scholarship, along with the scholarships of discovery [what we normally call research], integration, and application. Teaching as scholarship implies that we recognize that the creation of a course is a challenging, creative, and consequential intellectual task and that every course we craft is a lens into our field and our personal conception of our disciplines or inter-disciplines.

As Russell Edgerton, Pat Hutchings and Kathleen Quinlan wrote in their discussion of the scholarship of teaching, “At bottom, the concept entails a view that teaching, like other scholarly activities…relies on a base of expertise, a ‘scholarly knowing’ that needs to and can be identified, made public, and evaluated; a scholarship that faculty themselves must be responsible for monitoring.” Lee Shulman, Boyer’s successor as President of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, argued that teaching is the highest form of scholarship because it, unlike any of the others, necessarily entails all of the others. “Indeed,” Boyer wrote, “as Aristotle said, ‘Teaching is the highest form of understanding.’ ”

Central Questions of the Scholarly Inquiry

The scholarship of teaching movement recognizes that teaching, properly conceived and executed, entails important intellectual activity. Much of that activity centers around four central questions:

  1. What do we want our students to be able to do intellectually (or physically, emotionally or socially) as a result of taking our courses?
  2. What will we do (or what can we do) to foster that intellectual (or other) achievement?
  3. How will we and our student best understand the nature and progress of their learning?
  4. How will we know whether our efforts have contributed to (or perhaps hindered) our students’ learning?

Teaching as Scholarship

Ernest Boyer, in his 1990 Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate, suggested that we should think of scholarship in four ways:

The Scholarship of Discovery
What we usually mean by research.

The Scholarship of Integration
Mark Van Doren: “The connectedness of things is what the educator contemplates to the limits of his capacity. No human capacity is great enough to permit a vision of the world as simple, but if the educator does not aim at the vision no one else will, and the consequences are dire when no one does.”

The Scholarship of Application
Ernest Boyer: “The application of knowledge, moves toward engagement as the scholar asks, ‘How can knowledge be responsibly applied to consequential problems? How can it be helpful to individuals as well as institutions?’ And further, ‘Can social problems themselves define an agenda for scholarly investigation?'”

The Scholarship of Teaching
Ernest Boyer: “The work of the professor becomes consequential only as it is understood by others… When defined as scholarship… teaching both educates and entices future scholars. Indeed, as Aristotle said, ‘Teaching is the highest form of understanding.'”

Professor Lee Shulman of Stanford has argued that the scholarship of teaching is the highest form of scholarship because, unlike any of the other forms, it necessarily includes all of the others.

Exercise One

The AAHE Peer Review Project has emphasized teaching as a form of scholarship. Much of that emphasis is reflected in the following exercise, originally developed by Lee Shulman, Stanford University, and Patricia Hutchings, AAHE, and modified here by Ken Bain, New York University.

Exercise I
Teaching As Scholarship: Reflections on a Syllabus

You may find the juxtaposition of “scholarship” and “teaching” a strange liaison. Teaching is often seen as technique, as presentational method, rather than as the kind of serious intellectual invention we associate with scholarly work. But for this assignment, we want you to think about the ways your courses and syllabi represent profound acts of scholarship.

Part I
Select the syllabus from one of your courses as the subject of a reflective memo (no more than five pages). The memo should provide a peer in your field with a window on the choices and rationale that underlie your syllabus. We offer the following prompts to guide you in this task–but we certainly don’t expect you to respond to each question. Our purpose here is to get you engaged in a certain kind of scholarly reflection about your teaching.

Every course we craft is a lens into our fields and our personal conceptions of those disciplines or interdisciplines. Give careful thought to the shape and content of your course as if it were a scholarly argument. How does the course begin? Why does it begin where it does? (What is the thesis of the argument?) What do you and your students do as the course unfolds? What do you lecture about or lead discussions around? What are the key assignments and/or student evaluations? (What are the main points of the argument? What are the key bodies of evidence?) How does it end? Why does it end as it does? (Most scholarly arguments carry the intention to persuade. What do you want to persuade your students to believe? Or question? Or do you want them to develop new appetites or dispositions?)

How can a colleague develop a sense of you as a scholar by examining the various features of your course? In your field, or even in your own department, are there distinctly different ways to organize your course–ways that reflect quite different perspectives on your discipline or field? Do you focus on particular topics while other colleagues might make other choices? Why?

In what ways does your course teach students how scholars work in your field–the methods and values that shape how knowledge claims are made and adjudicated within your field? How does it teach them the logic of your discipline, that is, how scholars in your field reason from evidence, what concepts they employ, what assumptions they make, and what implications their conclusions have? How does it open doors to the critical dialogues and key arguments in which scholars on the cutting edge of your field are engaged? What big questions will your course help students answer? What intellectual abilities (or qualities) will it help students develop? What reasoning abilities must students have or develop to answer these questions? How will you spell out explicitly the intellectual standards you will be using in assessing their work and why you use those standards? How do those standards reflect the intellectual standards of your discipline? How will you help students learn to assess their own work using those standards? How will you lead the students to become conscious of the patterns of thinking and reasoning in which they have engaged, and if possible, connect this experience with experiences they have had in other courses?

What do you expect students to find particularly fascinating about your course? Where will they encounter their greatest difficulties of either understanding or motivation? What reasoning abilities will students need to do well in your course? How does the content of your course connect to matters your students already understand or have experienced? Where will it seem most alien? How do you address these common student responses in your course? How has the course evolved over time in response to them?

You might try playing with some metaphors for characterizing your course and its place in the larger curriculum or in the broader intellectual and moral lives of your students. Is your course like a journey, a parable, a game, a museum, a romance, a concerto, an Aristotelian tragedy, an obstacle course, one or all or some of the above? How does your metaphor(s) illuminate key aspects of your course?

Part II
Now give your report and syllabus to your project teammate in your department and take your teammate’s syllabus and memo in exchange. Using your colleague’s syllabus/report as your base data, imagine yourself writing a recommendation to a university-wide faculty committee that is considering your colleague for an award for distinguished service as a teacher-scholar. Your task, based on this syllabus/memo as a piece of evidence, is to interpret your colleague’s work and thinking to colleagues beyond your own field (three pages or less).

The same questions that we offer as a guide to construct the reflective memo may be helpful in preparing your commentary, but we also encourage you to think about the standards by which your colleague’s work should be reviewed. What is important to take into account? Coherence of argument? Distinctiveness of approach? Quality of reflection? Inventiveness of the course? Does this course have the potential to make a sustained, substantial and desirable influence on students? To what extent are your standards in this exercise similar to those you would use in judging the quality of your colleague’s research?

Ken Bain

Exercise Two

Capturing the Particulars of Classroom Practice

Kenneth Eble wrote about teaching, “It is attention to the particulars that brings any craft or art to a high degree of development” (1988, p. 6). This exercise is designed to uncover “this high degree of development” embodied in the particulars of classroom practice. What is it that good teachers in the different disciplines and interdisciplines know and can do in the classroom that will have a sustained, substantial, and positive influence on students? What episodes and “telling moments” reflect that know-how?

Identify a telling episode or some incident of actual classroom practice that reveals something distinctive about your approach to teaching your students. You might select a particular assignment you have made, a laboratory demonstration you have used, an interactive group activity you have organized, or a lecture and follow-up discussion you have conducted.

Outline (bullets, numbers, etc.) that classroom episode. In that outline you should make clear what you expected students to be able to do intellectually, physically, or emotionally after experiencing the episode; what you did in the episode; what your students were supposed to do; and how you determined whether the episode had the desired influence on the students (did it help and encourage them to learn something worth learning in a way that has had a sustained and substantial influence on how they think/act/feel without harming them?)

In addition to that outline, write a brief memo (one to five pages) on your episode using any of the following prompts that you find provocative:

What made it work? What did you assume about how and why people learn? Where did it fail? How would you change the episode next time? Why did you choose to document this particular classroom episode? Is it a particularly compelling, insightful or artful rendition of a key concept in the course or field? A new metaphor or demonstration you have developed to illuminate a topic that students perennially find particularly difficult? An exercise which allows students actively to experience and engage in scholarly inquiry? A unique interpretation you bring to the topic that distinguishes you from your colleagues?

What did you hope students would be able to do intellectually or physically as a result of this session? Did you hope to change any attitudes? Why did you decide to use these practices to promote these learning objectives? Did the class session go as planned or deviate from your design? How so? Why? Did you change direction to take advantage of some new opportunity, get around an obstacle, or deal with a new circumstance?

What context is needed to understand the sample? What questions are you trying to help students learn to answer? What larger questions will these answers illuminate? What reasoning or other abilities are you trying to help students develop? Where are we in the unfolding of this help? What have you and the students been doing up to this point in the term? What topics have you considered? What will you do in the days and weeks to follow? What will you ask students to do?

This exercise was developed by Ken Bain based on an earlier exercise developed by Russell Edgerton, Pat Hutchings, Kathleen Quinlan and Lee Shulman.

Exercise Three

Putting the Focus on Student Learning


In the first two exercises, we asked you to think about your teaching as it is designed and proposed (through the syllabus) and conducted (through actual classroom practice). But the conceptions and behaviors of teachers are only part of the educational picture. As teachers and as colleagues trying to assist each other with teaching, we also consider students and their learning. We consider how students understand (or don’t) our explanations and queries; what sorts of misconceptions or questions about our fields they bring or construct; how we monitor and help direct their learning through appropriate assignments, exams, projects, and the like; and what new understanding they leave with at the end of a class or the course.

For this exercise, we ask you to reflect on your teaching in terms of student learning.

Part I

Choose an assignment–that is, instructions for a student project, paper, problem set, classroom assessment, computer simulation, etc.–that is designed to promote and/or elicit an important aspect of the learning you intend for students in one of your courses. (You may find it helpful to focus on the same course as in the syllabus exercise, though the choice is yours.). Attach to the assignment several samples of student work, illustrating a range of responses, perhaps with your feedback included.

Write a brief reflective memo (two to three pages) in which you comment on what the assignment/student-work samples reveal about students’ learning in your course; think of the audience for your materials/memo as a committee that is conducting a departmental program review and wishes to construct a map of what and how students’ learn about your field as they move through various departmental courses.

As you put together your work samples and write your reflective memo, use any of the following prompts that you find provocative:

1. Why did you choose this particular assignment (as opposed to some other assignment) to reflect on? How is it important to your overall intentions, course design, conception of your field and the way you want students to understand it? Are there distinctly different formats or focuses you could have chosen for this assignment which would have highlighted different dimensions of the idea or the field?

2. Why did you structure the assignment in the way that you did? How does its particular question, problem, or application reveal differences in student understandings or interpretations of a critical concept you are teaching? What patterns emerge as you study your students’ work?

3. What, in particular, do you hope your students will demonstrate in their work on this assignment? What kinds of questions will they learn to answer? What reasoning or other abilities will they develop? Drawing on a scientific research metaphor, what was your hypothesis about what students might learn from this class, unit, or course? What evidence does the assignment provide that would serve to confirm or disconfirm this hypothesis? Where else do you look for such evidence?

4. What does your assignment and the students’ responses to it tell you about how students are constructing the ideas that are central to the course and to your teaching goals? What misconceptions do they have about these ideas? How do you identify and address student errors and misinterpretations?

5. On what standards do you judge student work on this assignment? How do these standards compare with those you would use in a more introductory/advanced class? How are your standards related to the standards you would use to evaluate a piece of scholarship which a colleague has asked you to critique?

6. What thoughts do you have about improving your assignment, your course, or your teaching as a consequence of completing this reflective exercise?

Part II

This exercise asks you to try your hand at just one of a number of ways through which one might document student learning. There are other ways to gather information about this aspect of teaching. For example, one might gather information through classroom assessment techniques, or probe students’ thinking more deeply through individual or small group interviews. Even student ratings and comments on classes might provide evidence about student learning. Probably you can think of additional options, as well. What advantages and disadvantages do these alternative methods offer? What combination of them would offer a useful/fair/appropriate picture of your students’ experience as learners.

Developed by Russell Edgerton, Pat Hutchings, Kathleen Quinlan, and Lee Shulman and modified by Ken Bain.