Externally Sourced Instructional Resources

I read Keith’s blog entry today, and it got me to thinking about why we are so resistant to using each others materials, and what we can do about it. Cooperation and collaboration in producing good quality instructional resources is rare to the point of being unheard of.

I think there is one reason that Keith neglected to mention, and that is the hope of stardom. What I mean by that is in the competitive research world, there are massive egos and the opportunity for blips of stardom (being the top researcher in an area that only interests 14 other people in the world drives many). However, HE teachers, the ones who aren’t really in the research game, look for their chance for stardom in producing a best selling textbook or teaching gimmick. That’s a solo effort (or possibly a duet). As a result, we get inundated with “original” ways of looking at virtually every subject in the world (something Keith alluded to). Because every teacher has their own special way to reach students, and many of them publish their approach in hopes that they will gain niche stardom and all the fame and fortune (usually about £47.50/year) that follows.

As a result, there is no tradition of working together to produce high quality materials.

To use high quality resources that publishers market (and there is some superb quality stuff out there) is unacceptable – either because the cost is too high (the institution won’t fund it), or your colleagues will accuse you of selling your soul to the devil.

OERs are great, but usually mediocre quality. How do we establish a tradition of getting together to produce high quality materials? If they are already out there and freely available, where are they? How can we become co-producers and sharers in a world where no one wants to consume?

We do ourselves and our students a real disservice by not moving in this direction. Since information is abundant, we should be adding to it as a community and sharing our additions with each other. But more importantly, we need to be using what has already been made.

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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.