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Scholarship in Support of Teaching

Nancy Freudenthal Claire A. Hardgrove
September, 1995

In recent years there has been considerable discussion of the balance between teaching and research in higher education. There are growing demands that faculty at premiere research institutions devote more of their time to teaching undergraduates. Simultaneously, smaller liberal arts schools with strong commitments to undergraduate instruction are increasing their expectations of scholarly output by their faculty. In either case, however, it is clear that teaching and scholarship are seen as fundamentally divergent activities, with one draining time, effort, and resources from the other.

The distinction between teaching and research is an old one. More than a century ago, Cardinal Newman described the purpose of the university as, “the diffusion and extension of knowledge rather than the advancement. If its object were scientific and philosophical discovery, I do not see why a University should have students…”(1) Lest the learned world become stagnant, he recommended that there be other bodies–institutes or academies–devoted to the creation rather than the dissemination of knowledge.

Boyer(2) has attempted to bridge the teaching/research dichotomy by broadening the definition of scholarship, developing a model based upon four different types of scholarship: discovery, integration, application, and pedagogy. He associated each type of scholarship with a particular point in a faculty member’s professional development or with a certain type of institution. Essentially, Boyer extended the “what” of scholarship; and as the subtitle of his work, Priorities of the Professoriate, indicates, the perspective is a faculty one.

For colleges which define themselves as “teaching institutions” there is another way of linking teaching and scholarship, one based upon the “why” (rather than the “what”) of scholarship. This is what we call Scholarship in Support of Teaching, a concept that is student-centered and grows out of a belief that faculty scholarship can and should make a significant contribution to undergraduate education.

Recently the Wingspread Group on Higher Education issued a report(3), one of whose three central themes is “putting students first”. Maintaining that “too much of education at every level seems to be organized for the convenience of educators and the institution’s interests, procedures and prestige, and too little focused on the needs of students”, (4) it speaks of “putting learning at the heart of the academic enterprise”.(5) Although the discussion does not specifically address the issue of research, it does declare that, “We know that teaching is more than lecturing. We know that active engagement in learning is more productive than passive listening. We know that experiential learning can be even more so.” (6) These are, we believe, just the educational qualities which should result from Scholarship in Support of Teaching.

What, then, do we mean when we speak of Scholarship in Support of Teaching, and why does it contribute to undergraduate learning? The justification long has been made that while the creation of knowledge may not be the primary mission of a teaching institution, research still has its place there because it promotes the vitality of faculty and helps them stay current in their disciplines. Both of these are desirable outcomes, but they might also be accomplished through programs of on-going education. Although the vigor and currency of the faculty obviously are necessary for quality teaching, there are additional important reasons why appropriate faculty research can be supportive of instructional excellence:

  • While faculty vitality might be maintained and supported by other means, there is nothing quite like the excitement of someone who is talking about “my work.” This can fill the classroom experience with an exuberance which stimulates and excites students in a unique way.
  • The active scholar is ideally suited to describe and discuss the process of research. We want our students to learn higher order thinking skills–not only facts but theory, to be able to think critically about how information is derived or how theories are developed. Through an appreciation of the research process, the student can move from passive knowledge to active understanding. One excellent way to familiarize students first hand with the ways of scholarship is for faculty to be able to talk about their own work.
  • At an institution devoted to undergraduate teaching, part of the learning experience should be an opportunity to collaborate with faculty on work in progress. As educators, our purpose is not only to replicate ourselves by training future scholars. We also should produce skillful practitioners and informed citizens who can use information and ideas more effectively because they understand the processes through which these were developed. Collaboration with faculty can be a particularly rich form of experiential learning through which to achieve these aims.
  • A record as an active scholar enhances a faculty member’s credibility in the classroom.
  • Faculty who are actively doing research and who are recognized in their disciplines are likely to maintain ties with colleagues from outside their own institutions, thereby providing their students with improved access to jobs or graduate study.

If there are compelling reasons why faculty at teaching institutions should remain active as scholars, the question remains whether there are ways in which the scholarship of faculty at such schools should be distinguished from that of faculty at research institutions. In our opinion, it is most appropriate to make such distinctions, but they should not be qualitative ones. If there should not be a difference based on the calibre of the work, there still remain the following valid distinctions:

  • An obvious and logical difference is one based on quantity. At institutions where teaching is the focus of a professor’s time and effort, the rate of scholarly productivity is necessarily slower. We can think of faculty at our own college and elsewhere who do work of national stature but need more time between books or articles than their colleagues elsewhere upon whom fewer teaching demands are placed.
  • Work considered as Scholarship in Support of Teaching must clearly be incorporated into one’s teaching. The thoughtful nstructor should find suitable ways of linking even complex and sophisticated research to undergraduate instruction. At some institutions scholarship may be tightly compartmentalized and kept separate from teaching. In such cases, the resulting knowledge may be valuable, but there cannot be a synergy of research and instruction. We already have discussed one notable way of bringing together teaching and scholarship: the collaboration of students with instructors on research projects. Although an usually valuable form of active, experiential learning, it may not be an opportunity available for all students. Nevertheless, there are other ways in which a faculty member’s research can be used as a part of instruction: as information in its own right, as a model of a discipline’s methodology, or as an example of a school of thought.
  • While at some research universities, work in the pedagogy of a discipline does not fall within the definition of acceptable research, we would include it as an appropriate form of Scholarship in Support of Teaching. The writing of textbooks not only shows currency and breadth in one’s field but also should demonstrate a considered analysis of a discipline’s themes and issues as reflected in the text’s organization and presentation. Similarly, we believe that writing about the teaching of a discipline can be a true form of scholarship. It must, however, be based upon a thoughtful examination of the nature, purpose, or philosophy of a field and go far beyond the proffering of helpful hints on teaching.

Once it has been articulated, to have an impact the concept of Scholarship in Support of Teaching must become part of a college’s or university’s culture, an aspect of its institutional thinking and language. There are also some quite concrete ways in which the links between scholarship and teaching can be reinforced. For example, applications for tenure or promotion normally ask for documentation of both teaching and scholarly accomplishments. This could be extended by the additional requirement of a statement describing the specific ways in which faculty members incorporate their research in their teaching and how it impacts upon their students. In similar fashion, colleges or universities could have their applictions for in-house research funding include a discussion of how the work to be funded would benefit undergraduate education.

Thus, what sets Scholarship in Support of Teaching apart is not quality nor content nor importance. Rather, it is marked by the crucial fact that at its core it is student-centered. The purposes of research are often described as ranging from the advancement of knowledge to the enhancement of the reputation of the university. Certainly, these are reasonable and even desirable results. Yet if the primary mission of an institution is undergraduate education, then its demands for faculty scholarship should be clearly linked to that mission. And so, Scholarship in Support of Teaching should become an integral aspect of an institution’s identity.

—– (1) John Henry Newman, The Idea of a University, edited with introduction and notes by I.T. Kerr (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1976), 5. (2)Ernest L. Boyer,Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate (Princeton: The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, 1990). (3)Wingspread Group on Higher Education, An American Imperative: Higher Expectations for Higher Education (Racine, Wisc.: The Johnson Foundation, Inc., 1993) (4) Ibid., 13. (5) Ibid., 14 (6) Ibid. posted 1/98