The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Undergraduate Distance Education

Article excerpt

Abstract

The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching's initiatives on the scholarship of teaching and learning (SOT&L) holds great promise for discussing the many complex pedagogical issues surrounding web-based education in general and undergraduate distance education in particular. Serious research on the meeting of SOT&L and undergraduate web-based education is minimal; initial literature reviews reveal that SOT&L has not been used as a context for researching student learning in distance education. Specifically, this research project, using the Carnegie framework, addresses the following issues: how students and instructors perceive, experience, reflect, and assess web-based education and their learning roles in it, in comparison to traditional onsite education.

Introduction

Teaching is the highest form of understanding. -- Aristotle

Over twenty years ago, prominent distance education theorist Michael Moore asked specifically, what do we know about helping distance learners learn? Research in the distance learning field has addressed this question to some extent, but continually high attrition rates suggest that distance learners are still straggling, for a variety of reasons. My concerns with web-based learning and instruction in particular stem from my research on the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning initiatives in the scholarship of teaching and learning.

While Ernest Boyer brought the idea of scholarly teaching to the fore over ten years ago, as he recognized a general diminution of the value of post-secondary level teaching, there has been little application of the principles of scholarly teaching and learning in relation to online or web-based education, which is gaining prominence and popularity in higher education, as the National Center for Education Statistics reveals. Throughout the 1990s, post-secondary institutions have continually grown to value research above and beyond teaching or service, despite the intimate ties that bind all three. Boyer asserts, "teaching is often viewed as a routine function, tacked on, something almost anyone can do" (1990, p. 23). And, unfortunately, this mentality is now seriously pervading online education. Through the scholarship of teaching and learning, we can begin to address and even answer the important questions surrounding teaching and learning in web-based environments.

It is worth quoting Boyer at length, as he identifies teaching as

   a dynamic endeavor involving all the analogies, metaphors, and images that
   build bridges between the teacher's understanding and the student's
   learning. Pedagogical procedures must be carefully planned, continuously
   examined, and relate directly to the subject taught.... Great teachers
   create a common ground of intellectual commitment. They stimulate active,
   not passive thinkers, with the capacity to go on learning.... Good teaching
   means that faculty, as scholars, are also learners. All too often, teachers
   transmit information that students are expected to memorize and then,
   perhaps, recall. While well-prepared lectures surely have a place,
   teaching, at its best, means not only transmitting knowledge, but
   transforming and extending it as well. (p. 23-24, emphasis original)

Since Boyer's work, others have built on the concept of the scholarship of teaching and made explicit the scholarship of learning as well. For instance, Cross and Steadman (1996, p. 2) require that

   students must be actively engaged in formulating their own learning
   questions and thinking critically about them [and] teachers must be
   actively engaged in formulating their own questions about learning and the
   impact of their teaching upon it.... Observing students in the act of
   learning, reflecting and discussing observations and data with teaching
   colleagues, and reading the literature on what is already known about
   learning is one way teachers can implement the scholarship of teaching. …