Teaching as Scholarly Work

It’s faculty portfolio season once again, which means that a lot of us are thinking really hard about how to describe our contributions to the holy trinity of academe: Teaching, Scholarship, and Service. It all looks so neatly-organized in the Blackboard template: teaching stuff in this folder, scholarship in that one, service over here. But any degree of professional reflection–like, say, writing a portfolio narrative–quickly reveals that it’s not that neat in practice. These three areas of our academic work overlap frequently and considerably. Advising is “service,” but doesn’t it also involve some of the same types of pedagogical work we typically file under “teaching?” And does teaching stop when class is over, or do our efforts to critically reflect on and improve our practice “count” as well? It’s this intersection of practice and researching ways to make it better that I think is often underestimated when it comes to reckoning with the work we do.

Those familiar with the Boyer Model of Scholarship (and you ought to be, as it’s the model we use at Grand View!), the phrase “Scholarship of Teaching and Learning” or “SoTL” probably sounds familiar. But what is SoTL, exactly? The most concise answer is something like “systematic reflection on teaching and learning made public.” I like this approach, because there are many ways for scholarly work on teaching to find many different publics. But SoTL also involves more than just “hey, something worked well in discussion so I’m going to tell my department about it.” The approach below, although it’s from a R-1 context, gets at the ways in which SoTL resembles other fields of scholarly inquiry. According to Indiana University, SoTL

acknowledges that students, colleges and universities are best served when teachers practice scholarly teaching, and that no one is better situated to conduct the scholarship of teaching than those engaged with students on a regular basis. Premised on the belief that teaching is a scholarly activity to be valued as community property, one of the most important goals of the program is to foster significant, long-lasting learning for all students while simultaneously bringing recognition and reward to teachers who practice evidenced-based teaching.

This statement, I think, gets at the real heart of teaching as a scholarly activity–and I see it embodied on this campus all the time. Grand View’s mission is teaching-centered, but that doesn’t mean that teaching excludes all other areas of academic activity. In fact, teaching depends upon scholarship and a scholarly approach to remain vital and effective. There is an impressive and constantly-growing collection of scholarly work, research, and literature surrounding teaching and learning. We see its products, and the ways in which it can inform our practice, at Conversations on Teaching, or the Summer Institute, or even in the informal conversations we have with one another about “tips and tricks” in the classroom. Teaching, as the noted scholar Henry Giroux reminds us, is a profoundly intellectual act. And what better way to model the lifelong learning we expect from our students than to approach our own practice as scholarship? Seeing teaching and scholarship as separate, perhaps even mutually exclusive, activities, serves no one well. As Kisha Tracy argues,

We have a moral imperative, given the essential function of education, which is even more critical in the current political environment, to do our jobs to the best of our abilities. For graduate students, the nature of assistantships can relegate teaching to “what must be done” in order to do “what we want to do.” It is an attitude that can carry long past graduation. Teaching is a noble profession, and it is an unfortunate aspect of higher education that it is often, in modern times at least, perceived as less valuable, either explicitly or implicitly.

At Grand View, we order our priorities differently than the research universities, and center teaching more effectively. But our graduate training conditioned many of us to see a “teaching school” as less-than, and thus implicitly devalue the essential work we do with our students. There are varying periods of recovery from this mindset, but certainly being in a culture where teaching–and SoTL–finds ample support helps. As Tracy argues, the best way to take advantage of that support, and to improve at the work that is the essential foundation of what we do, is to embrace the scholarship of teaching and learning. Scholarship and Teaching flourish when they are intertwined. To not let them mutually inform one another as we teach and learn is to sell their potential short.

Even if they sometimes go in different folders.

Have a question? Need some help? Want to talk teaching and learning (maybe even in the scholarly sense)? Contact CETL here.

Have a great weekend, and if it’s your scene, enjoy all the football games!


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