Using a Scholarship of Teaching Model to
Enhance Your Teaching
By Tami Eggleston and Gabie Smith
Have you ever tried to improve your teaching? Our assumption is "yes," but that these attempts have not always gone well. Have you ever wanted to make a change, but didn't know exactly where or how to start? Have you ever felt slowed down by a sense of academic inertia and needed a jump-start to make a change? Did your changes actually improve your course(s) and student learning or did you simply assume you succeeded or fell flat? We have good news; there is a strategy and process that will help improve your teaching - the scholarship of teaching model. We can imagine some eyes glazing over at the mention of theory and models and you may be asking, "Can a theory or a model really help enhance courses through better teaching and learning?" In this article, through simple steps and teaching examples, we hope to help you make effective pedagogical changes to increase student learning.
A couple of years ago, we tried to incorporate more technology into our teaching and developed what we thought was a clever classroom activity that involved assigning "virtual personas" for students to use on electronic discussion boards. For example, a young white male student might be assigned the role of a 40-year-old Latina woman and then have to respond to a discussion prompt such as explaining attitudes about counseling or child rearing. The first semester was a dismal failure but we were not discouraged, assuming that we were teaching an unusual group of students. The next semester, we replicated the same assignment with the same results. So, we asked a colleague in the English department to assist with fleshing out the personas and the discussion questions. Interestingly, she was so intrigued by the virtual persona activity she also tried to incorporate it into her teaching. Although three faculty members thought the activity was original and had great possibility, it was clear that the students had very different ideas. They were still not posting answers on the website boards, and when they did, their answers were unclear and they were certainly not getting what we thought they should from the assignment.
We decided to apply some of the scholarship of teaching model to discover what was wrong, and help us to modify the activity. A primary tenet in the scholarship of teaching is the importance of assessing activities and getting feedback from students, so we asked for their feedback and got some specific suggestions: write better directions, provide assistance for finding research about their new persona, provide an exemplar for a good post, and improve some technology issues. After hearing from the students, we finally, and easily, determined what needed to be changed.
This virtual persona saga demonstrates a process that involves changing our courses to enhance teaching and learning with deliberation and a specified goal. The theoretical model of the scholarship of teaching developed by a variety of scholars, and modified into a simple five-stage model in this article, can assist instructors to make effective changes in the classroom, provide opportunity for sharing this information, and even bring fun and excitement to the endeavor.
Underlying this model is the understanding that the best teachers modify their courses to improve the teaching and learning process. The seemingly simple decision to improve the processes of teaching and learning quickly generates many questions such as what classes to modify, where to make changes, what to change, why make changes, and eventually, whether the changes did indeed enhance teaching and learning.
What is the Scholarship of Teaching?
Boyer (1990) and Shulman (1993) are leading proponents of a scholarship of teaching that views the act of teaching from the perspectives of design, enactment and critical analyses. "Pedagogical procedures must be carefully planned, continuously examined, and relate directly to the subject taught" (Boyer, 1990). In addition to making the process of teaching more scientific, additional benefits include increased excitement in the class, decreased chance of instructor burnout or stagnation, greater chances of faculty collaboration, more systematic and reflective activities, and ultimately enhanced learning for both instructor and student. The importance of the scholarship of teaching model lies in the fact that it does not emphasize a few techniques, strategies, or teaching tips, but rather focuses on a more macro level complex, integrated, and theoretical process for looking at pedagogy (Menges & Weimer, 1996).
Taking the Scholarship of Teaching Into the Classroom
Based on the theoretical approaches to the scholarship of teaching and our experiences, we propose a five-stage model for making meaningful and manageable changes in your courses.
Stage 1: Identify the Challenge or Need
Be reflective. Reflect on your classes or topic areas within a class with an eye for what could be enhanced or needs improvement. Have an open critical mind and listen to students. We actually keep a teaching notebook to list challenges, needs, and ideas as they present themselves in the classroom. We have found that when you take time to observe your classroom, challenges and research ideas become readily, and sometimes painfully apparent.
In more traditional empirical approaches this would be considered the development of the hypotheses. This first step is paramount in deciding what, where, when, and why you will modify your courses. For example, an instructor teaching Health Psychology might want to add more substance to his or her class by additional physiology and neurology. The dilemma is that the class is sophomore level and the professor worries that adding the biopsychology may be "too much." In this case, the need and challenge are clear.
Look to colleagues in other disciplines and other colleges to develop innovative activities. One of the exciting aspects of the scholarship of teaching model is the inherent collaborative opportunity. Sharing and learning with others will be both invigorating and fun. The health psychology instructor may want to talk to other faculty at his or her institution or colleagues teaching health psychology elsewhere for advice about additional biology in the course. Do not make changes for the sake of change, or change everything in every course at once. Ask yourself the following questions:
What course most needs change to increase teaching and learning effectiveness? In our course using the virtual persona saga, we decided our class needed more emphasis on ethnic and cultural diversity.
What is your primary challenge in this course? Ours was two-fold. In addition to adding diversity issues, we wanted students to utilize more technology.
What is/are the primary goal(s)/outcome(s) that you want to achieve? This was a difficult question, but we decided that applying theory to real world issues, developing empathy, and using technology were important goals. Interestingly, we had few readings, discussions, speakers and films/videos designed to increase empathy and understanding.
Stage 2: Develop the Teaching Technique
Create a change (activity or technique) to address the identified need. This step begins with creative generation of ideas that become progressively more specific in focus and purpose. Rather than simply plopping something into your course, the addition is now clearly linked to a pedagogical need. For example, an instructor teaching child psychology may decide that there is a need for an observational learning component in the course and, therefore, must find appropriate places for the observations to occur.
Start small. Small ideas often grow into meaningful classroom learning. You probably do not need to change an entire course. For the child psychology instructor, a small change may include simply asking for a 1-hour observation of children at any location (school, day care, shopping mall, etc.) and a 1-page reflection paper. Over time, with some student feedback, this project could evolve into a larger project with a service learning component and a longer paper.
Remember that pedagogy and learning come first. Let your pedagogical needs and challenges guide the process of improving your courses. Keep your focus on the outcome-effective teaching and learning. Reading pedagogical books such as Teaching to Transfer (Hooks, 1994) may assist with articulating your primary, global pedagogical objectives. For this stage, ask the following questions:
What change or innovation could be made to your course to meet your challenge or goals? In our case, we had a new technological tool and with the right assignment believed that empathy and understanding diversity issues could be enhanced. Once a goal is clearly identified, it is important to make sure that there are classroom activities that meet the goal.
What could I eliminate to allow for more time on the new activity? By adding more time for a virtual personal project, a "tired" outline summary for one of the chapters was eliminated to allow more time for student work and faculty evaluation.
Stage 3: Just Do It!
Implement the activity in one or more classes. Although some of these alterations may be time-consuming and perhaps risky, we have found that altering classes increases the energy level in the class fueled, in part, by our own enthusiasm. If the class is being altered to meet an identified need or challenge, the activity will seem worthwhile to the students if the instructor presents it in this light. For example, an experienced clinical psychologist may believe that the DSM gives students great structure for organizing and categorizing various disorders. Yet, the instructor may find that the students find the DSM confusing and they do not have enough insight and information to fully utilize the DSM classifications. What to do? The instructor can tell the students that they are going to embark on an experiment. They will receive more information about the DSM in one module of the abnormal psychology class (e.g., mood disorders) and less in another module (e.g., anxiety disorders). After the two modules, the instructor informs students that they will be asked for their feedback about what approach they believe helped increase their learning (e.g., the DSM-extra or the DSM-light). Students will appreciate knowing that you care about their learning.
Don't be afraid to fail. Even when changes are not effective, the excitement and the process create energy and enthusiasm in the classroom. The only way to truly fail is to not try to improve teaching and learning. When implementing a change in teaching, think about the following questions:
Are my instructions clear? One of the biggest problems with our virtual persona assignment was that the instructions were vague with phrases such as "research your persona." When we revised the assignment, we gave specific websites for students to visit to get more information about their persona.
Is the timing correct for the intervention? In our initial attempts, the activity was placed early in the semester, but students needed more course content and familiarity with the technology for the activity to be successful. Therefore, we moved the activity to later in the semester.
How are you going to "sell" the activity to the students? If you are incorporating an activity to meet a need, challenge, or primary goal, tell the students. The students are more likely to see the value of the activity when they understand the underlying rationale. For example, in our early attempts with the virtual persona activity, we did not bother to tell the students what we hoped they would learn from the activity. Needless to say, they did not figure it out on their own.
Stage 4: Did It Work?
Perform multidimensional assessments of the innovation. These assessments can be simple Likert-type items or open-ended questions measuring students' perceptions of the innovation, attitudes towards participation, and self-reports of knowledge or ability improvements. For example, many instructors use a classic film of Milgram's research in Introduction to Psychology or Social Psychology. The instructor probably believes that there is enough "set-up" with an introduction and transition including emphasizing the importance of this classic film. However, do we know if the film is viewed by the students as classic and relevant or old and outdated? After the film, an instructor could hand out a brief survey asking how the video was related to the topic, if students understood the video or had additional questions, if they thought the video helped their learning, and if they thought of replications or alterations to the study that needed to be done after seeing this video. This survey provides the instructor important feedback. It also allows the students a chance to reflect on the video, making them more attentive viewers.
Whenever possible, assessment results should be anonymous and confidentiality assured. Other assessments include performance measures (such as scores on exams, papers, or project folders) and behavioral measures, including attendance, participation, preparation for class, or retention in major. For more information on classroom assessment, see Angelo and Cross (1993) and Brookfield (1995). Interestingly, we often fail to ask students what works and what does not. Most faculty have standardized campus-wide teacher evaluations, but these often fail to provide specific and constructive feedback that would suggest effective changes. To assess your changes, ask yourself the following questions:
What questions could I ask students about specific activities that I use in class? Finally, after the failed attempts we asked students if the instructions were clear, if they could find resources easily on the Internet, if they had any problems using the technology, and if they had suggestions for improving the activity. With this specific feedback, we were able to make the changes necessary to make the assignment a useful learning experience.
What questions could I ask students about things they like in certain classes or things they would like to see altered? In addition to asking about the persona assignment, we also asked for feedback about what students felt they learned from different assignments and general suggestions for an improved learning environment.
What do students perceive as the big picture or primary goals or outcomes? Perhaps one of the scariest questions involves what students see as the reason for different activities in the class. In our early attempts with the virtual persona, students were literally dumbfounded as to why we were doing the activity.
Stage 5: Share Your Knowledge
Disseminate the information to others by talking with colleagues, making scholarly presentations, writing for publication with external peer review, participating in "teaching circles" on campus, making reciprocal classroom observations, or applying for grants. Too many times we make excellent changes but then keep them private. We both have gotten many of our best teaching tips while conversing or just hanging out in offices with our colleagues. We also have found that sharing our ideas on campus via informal teaching circles helps to create a community of teachers. If teachers want to collect more data and formally share their work, there are a variety of avenues. For example, the Lilly Teaching Conference and the National Institute for the Teaching of Psychology are invigorating opportunities. To start the sharing and collaboration, ask yourself:
How could I share information about my teaching with my colleagues on campus? For example, we both added a cross-cultural project to our human sexuality course that involved student presentations about sexual topics (e.g., birth control, prostitution, marriage) in countries around the world. After we shared our activity with other colleagues, they easily implemented the ideas into their own psychology classes and even into other disciplines.
What conferences on teaching might I consider attending? These conferences help you identify your challenges and goals and also provide specific ideas for when, what, where, why and how to improve learning.
The five-stage teaching as scholarship model (or from another perspective, conducting pedagogical research) can be used to improve teaching and learning experiences. Not only does it enhance the classroom, but it can also lead to presentations and possibly publication opportunities. In addition, it is fun and invigorating to collaborate with others who are also passionate about teaching.
Of course, there are other ways to improve teaching. We have emphasized the importance of identifying specific needs, making precise changes, and then evaluating outcomes. An alternative approach is to look at the "big picture." List all of the projects and activities in one of your courses and determine what is missing, what could be deleted, and what can be improved. We believe this global course evaluation or teaching portfolio approach is beneficial and complements the teaching as scholarship model. In sum, whatever methods help make effective changes to the classroom and allow for greater knowledge of the teaching process are valuable. As Boyer (1990) noted, "Good teaching means that faculty, as scholars, are also learners (p. 24)."
References and Recommended Reading
Angelo, T A, & Cross, K P. (1993). Classroom assessment techniques: A handbook for college teachers. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Boyer, E L. (1990). Scholarship reconsidered: Priorities of the professorate. p. 24. Princeton: Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.
Brookfield, S D. (1995). Becoming a critically reflective teacher. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching Website www.carnegiefoundation.org
Cross, K P, & Steadman, M H. (1996). Classroom research: Implementing the scholarship of teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Glassick, C E, Huber, M T, & Maeroff, G I. (1997). Scholarship assessed: Evaluation of the professoriate. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Hooks, B. (1994). Teaching to transgress: Education as the practice of freedom. New York: Routledge.
Menges, R J, Weimer, M. (eds). (1996). Teaching on Solid Ground. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Shulman, L S. (1993). Teaching as community property: Putting an end to pedagogical solitude. Change, 25(6), 6-7.
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