As I mature in the field of teaching and learning in HE (after 20 years at it, I think I can claim to have have matured a bit), I have decided that there is a world of difference between “research” into teaching and learning and the scholarship of learning. I have read and reviewed literally hundreds (no – thousands) of papers, listened to conference presentations galore, and participated in too many workshops and seminars to count. I have sat through keynotes, youtubed talks, discussed with scholars, and blogged with you. With hindsight, I can say that most of the “research” in Teaching & Learning in HE lacks scholarship.
This is not to say that good research doesn’t take place, it does. What I am saying is that the bulk of what is called “research” in higher education is action research – I have a good idea, I try it, it works, and I write it up. There is no theoretical grounding, “it works” usually means that the students liked it, and writing it up is all about getting something on a CV for promotion. There are very few of the teaching and learning journals that have any noticeable impact, and when you read the articles, you can see why. A decade ago, I was at a teaching and learning conference, and I asked a friend, who also happened to be the conference organiser, where the rigour was in the “research” that was being presented? She shrugged and said “you bring some”. Talk after talk, paper after paper, the hallmark of excellence is “I surveyed my students at the end, and they liked it”. When did students liking a learning activity become the kite-mark of success in teaching and learning?
The scholarship of learning involves understanding how people learn. The scholarship of learning is a vast field, with a great deal already understood. What is lacking is the academic discipline required to find out what it says. Applying the scholarship of learning to teaching practise is hard work. It involved time, effort, and energy. Time, effort, and energy to understand the principles. Time, effort, and energy to figure out how to move from principles to practice. Time, effort, and energy to implement the practice. Time, effort, and energy to measure the outcomes (if the implementation was planned to even allow for robust measurement). Time, effort, and energy to communicate this to others.
Even parts of the process are important. I am well known for innovation in teaching and learning. I cannot think of an innovation that I have introduced in the classroom that has not had real, tangible, positive outcomes that demonstrate improvement in learning. That is because I have put in the time, effort, and energy to familiarise myself with the principles of learning, and then I look at a problem in the teaching and learning process and ask myself if there is a change that can be introduced that will improve the experience of the learner (not necessarily make it more fun). I familiarise myself with tools that are available,and ask myself if there is a tool that can be introduced that will make a difference. I then carefully introduce the tool to make a change.
I find myself becoming an advocate for the scholarship of learning. I would like the scholarship of learning to replace much of the teaching and learning research that is being currently carried out. I would like HE teachers to become familiar with the scholarship of learning, and then begin the process of applying that scholarship in a thoughtful and planned manner. That is when we will see a real difference in teaching and learning in HE.
Let’s return scholarship to a place of pride at the centre of what we do.