Scholarship of Learning

After my last blog, I was (and still am) thinking about exactly what scholarship is. Dirks wrote a good summary of scholarship about 15 years ago, and I think it is a good, solid appraisal of what scholarship should be, except for the scholarship of teaching.

After reviewing the development of scholarship, and how it has defined HE, Dirks writes about the four types of scholarship espoused by Boyer in his 1990 work: Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate. According to Boyer, in HE, the types of scholarship found 20 years ago (and still heavily represented today) are the scholarships of discovery (research), integration (tying together disparate threads of knowledge), application (solving problems), and teaching (best practice).

I would like to see the scholarship of teaching replaced with the scholarship of learning. I would propose that teaching is the application of the scholarship of learning. The scholarship of learning is understanding how an individual takes information, from whatever source, and incorporates that into their experience, and in the process changing it from information to knowledge or understanding. My own definition of teaching is to foster learning, which means that any activity that fosters the transformation of information into knowledge and understanding could be defined as a teaching activity.

In order to properly engage in teaching, teachers must engage in the scholarship of learning. They must understand the internal, mental processes that transform information into understanding. They must find ways to stimulate those processes in their students.

When I think about teaching as the application of the scholarship of learning, I have to ask myself what role is played by many of the activities we regularly define as teaching activities? What is the place of lecturing in learning? Where does memorisation fit? Is recall or recognition an appropriate measure of learning? What purpose does an unseen final exam play in the transformation of information into understanding?

When I think about teaching as the application of the scholarship of learning, I have to ask myself  what role teachers currently play in teaching? How many teachers have any conception of what mental processes are involved in learning? How many teachers think about the effect of a teaching and learning activity on the information to understanding transformation?

In practice, the scholarship of teaching has grown up as an activity based on tradition. There is no expectation that subject specialists will have any scholarship of learning, instead they are expected to focus on the traditions of teaching and how that effected their own learning. We somehow miss out the internal transformation of information to understanding, and attribute learning to whatever environment the teacher has created – forgetting that learning is a completely internalised process that takes place within the learner.

Don’t get me wrong, I think that there is a lot of learning that takes place in education. I think there are a lot of good teaching practises. However, I am saying that the focus on teaching should be on applying the scholarship of learning.