Advancing the Scholarship of Teaching through Collaborative Self-Study

Article excerpt

Many higher education institutions emphasize the importance of teaching in their mission statements. Good teaching is no longer simply a faculty member's duty; it is critical to the credibility of an institution. However, a relatively small portion of university resources are devoted to the development of faculty as teachers. Few university professors in any discipline receive pedagogical training to prepare them for the teaching task. The opportunities that are provided by institutions typically focus on quality assurance--bringing the poorest teachers and courses up to some level of minimum acceptance--instead of enhancing the overall quality of teaching (Kember & McKay, 1996).

Professors who seek to improve their teaching skills prefer frequent faculty-initiated conversations to annual administration-sponsored workshops (Palmer, 1993), as professors rarely have opportunities for ongoing conversations about teaching with colleagues. Moreover, when such conversations do occur, important discoveries may not be captured because participants do not document or transmit their teaching knowledge. Thus, the top-down model of teaching improvement is unlikely to meet the diverse needs of faculty across the disciplines.

Self-study research is a mode of scholarly inquiry in which teachers examine their beliefs and actions within the context of their work as educators (Whitehead, 1993) and explore pedagogical questions. It allows professors to renew their instructional tools as well as discover new tools to convey the rich and changing complexity of knowledge in a discipline (Shulman, 1986a). When compared to participation in traditional teaching workshops, self-study research has numerous benefits. It specifically addresses the faculty member's teaching context, including the subject matter, student population, and other unique aspects of a class. Rather than playing the role of passive participants, faculty members engaged in self-study research actively control the purpose, agenda, and timing of their work as well as its outcomes. Self-study research also enables faculty members to create a tangible product from their work in the form of teaching knowledge that is transferable to colleagues. This accomplishes academia's mi ssion to reach beyond routine knowledge and seek answers for new questions (Debicki, 1996).

For over a decade, education faculty have used self-study research as an effective tool for both teaching improvement and knowledge discovery. Although self-study research has occurred almost exclusively within the discipline of education, it holds great promise as a mode of inquiry for university faculty in every academic discipline. Self-study research has several characteristics that make it well suited for use university-wide. First, faculty can use self-study research to advance knowledge about how to effectively teach various subjects in higher education. Shulman (1986a) suggests that good teaching requires instructors to have pedagogical content knowledge-an understanding of what makes the learning of specific topics easy or difficult. Primary and secondary school teachers obtain their pedagogical content knowledge from the research of university faculty in the field of education, who study such areas as mathematics or reading instruction. University faculty, however, seldom have access to an outside r esearch team that generates pedagogical knowledge matching the faculty member's specialized subject matter. Professors must themselves generate discipline-specific pedagogical content knowledge. Self-study research is a valuable tool for accomplishing this task.

Second, self-study research encompasses many research approaches and methods, allowing university faculty members to build upon their existing research expertise. For example, some self-study techniques already are familiar to faculty members who employ videotaping, journaling, or peer feedback to improve their teaching practice. …