Academic journal article The Journal of Faculty Development

Overcoming Some Threshold Concepts in Scholarly Teaching

Academic journal article The Journal of Faculty Development

Overcoming Some Threshold Concepts in Scholarly Teaching

Article excerpt

Scholarly teaching, the act of systematically examining the links between one's teaching and student learning, remains a challenging idea for many faculty members. We argue that two threshold concepts - teaching as an inquiry-based process and teaching as a public act - serve as powerful hurdles to the more wide spread adoption of scholarly teaching approaches in higher education. In this article, we discuss why these pedagogical frameworks serve as threshold concepts, as well as methods that we have devised to support faculty members' development of a more scholarly approach to their teaching.

It can be very satisfying to work with colleagues on teaching; the activity is inherently interesting and most instructors want very much to be good at this part of our profession. In most cases, colleagues who enter into conversations with either of us about their teaching are already engaged by their work in the classroom, so we interact with volunteers who are open to guidance and who come to these encounters in search of ways to become even better at their craft. In some contexts, teaching center leaders, faculty teaching fellows, and faculty participants view it as their role to share some methods common to being considered a good teacher. For instance, it is clearly good to be transparent about goals and procedures in a course, to get to know students and be approachable, and to engage students in the active construction of their understanding. Often packaged as "teaching tips," these and many other guidelines are welcomed by colleagues new to college teaching, as well as by more experienced colleagues who are not content with the reception their teaching is getting from students or colleagues.

In the last fifteen years, however, the college teaching discourse has evolved significantly, and many people now think of teaching as a scholarly act that includes innovation and inquiry into learning. While scholarly teaching is no longer a rare or unknown approach to our profession, the majority of our colleagues continue to treat teaching as it has been seen for a long time. The motto "stand and deliver" describes well both the practices and the general attitude of many faculty members, and those of us in teaching centers and other teaching leadership roles have not made huge progress in bringing the many forms of scholarship of teaching and learning to a broad base of our faculty colleagues.

Many variables account for the relative dearth of scholarly teaching on many campuses, including the amount of time available for learning new forms of teaching, the reward systems of higher education, the values and assumptions of senior faculty members, and even the expectations of students about their roles in learning and ours. We have observed, however, that even among those who come to the table ready for innovation, it is not easy to promote teaching as a scholarly enterprise. Our analysis suggests some key aspects of scholarly teaching function as threshold concepts, serving as intellectual barriers that make it difficult even for interested and cooperative faculty colleagues to transform their work from informed delivery to scholarly inquiry into learning. In the rest of this essay we unpack two of those threshold concepts, and we report on activities we have designed to help faculty colleagues overcome these thresholds.

Challenges In Scholarly Teaching

Teaching as a scholarly act, first defined by Ernest Boyer in Scholarship Reconsidered (1990), requires that teaching involve not only transmission of knowledge, but also a transactional relationship between the learning of the student and the teacher. For individuals to act as scholarly teachers, they must first identity questions and challenges in their teaching, become familiar with the relevant pedagogies, engage in classroom-centered inquiries to examine their teaching practices, and then share the results of their inquiries with others. As described by the Australian Scholarship of Teaching Project (2000), a scholarly approach to teaching is discipline-specific, reflective, inquisitorial, responsive, and communicative. …

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