On the Road with Disciplinary Styles in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning
By Mary Taylor Huber and Sherwyn P. Morreale

From the June 2003 AAHEBulletin.com

There is growing interest in using disciplinary vocabularies, themes, and methods to address discipline-specific concerns in teaching and learning. But there is also recognition that no discipline has all the questions or all the answers, and that much can be gained from interdisciplinary collaboration and exchange.

Those are just a few of the things that we learned "on the road" since AAHE published our book Disciplinary Styles in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning: Exploring Common Ground in January 2002. With essays by teams of authors in 10 fields, Disciplinary Styles examines how the scholarship of teaching and learning is faring within the disciplines, and among them in what science historian Peter Gallison calls the interdisciplinary "trading zone."

Disciplinary "Homes"

Our travels have taken us to a variety of campuses and conferences, where we have had the opportunity to engage different audiences in discussion and debate around the book's principal themes. We have found keen — and by all accounts growing — interest in the role of the disciplines in the development of the scholarship of teaching and learning. Workshop and symposia attendees are especially interested in how disciplinary differences affect the search for agreement about the meaning and value of this work within their academic communities.

We found that people are intrigued to discover that the disciplines provide differently furnished "homes" for the scholarship of teaching and learning. In Disciplinary Styles, we note that each discipline has its own intellectual history, agreements, and disputes about subject matter and methods that influence what is taught to whom, as well as when, where, how, and why.

Each discipline has a set of traditional pedagogies and its own discourse of reflection and reform; and each has its own community of scholars interested in teaching and learning in that field with one or more journals, associations, and face-to-face forums for pedagogical exchange.

Participants in our sessions are quick to acknowledge differences in these resources.

  • A chemist said, "Chemistry has long valued the scholarship of teaching as there have been journals focused on such issues for over a century and major educators have been recognized as well."
  • A literature scholar suggested, "Unlike composition, the culture of 'English Studies' is not used to or very receptive to the scholarship of teaching and learning."
  • A psychologist said, "We have a history of theory and research in psychology that allows us to be at the forefront of scholarship of teaching and learning but we have to learn how to use this history more effectively."

Also during our travels to various campuses, we found ready recognition of both the importance and the challenges of disciplinary styles of inquiry (related to conceptual definitions, favored research methods, and modes of presentation) for the scholarship of teaching and learning. On one hand, faculty members understand that their disciplinary colleagues will only see their work as scholarly if it falls within the range of their discipline's scholarly conventions — a preference for quantitative data in many of the sciences and in some social sciences, for example, or for strategies of textual interpretation in the humanities and more humanistic social sciences.

On the other hand, faculty members readily admit that the questions about teaching and learning they might wish to address may require a combination of approaches or may not, in fact, be amenable to the stringent requirements of some methodological protocols. As a biologist noted, to truly value the scholarship of teaching and learning, his colleagues would have to move away from the view that only those who use "scientific methods" (as typically understood in his field) are doing "science" and "valuable work."

Disciplinary Styles in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning: Exploring Common Ground cover

Interdisciplinary Exchange

This leads to another theme derived from taking the scholarship of teaching and learning on the road. We observed, and happily so, a great interest in interdisciplinary collaboration and exchange. During a recent campus workshop, faculty members were quick to suggest what their fields had to offer for "trade," and what they also might gain from conversations with other disciplines.

Faculty members offered the following examples:

  • A family studies professor suggested that family systems theory offered concepts and methods that could be helpful in examining group dynamics in the classroom.
  • A sociologist thought content analysis would be helpful across disciplines, because it can be both quantitative and qualitative.
  • A foreign language professor offered her field's experience in assessing oral language proficiency.
  • A communication professor suggested that the results of studies in instructional communication could be tested for relevance in any classroom in any discipline.
  • A pharmacist thought that his field could benefit from what management scholars could say about "leadership"; in addition, pharmacists could contribute their own expertise in methodology for a comparative study of teaching and learning in their classrooms with those in other fields.

International Themes

But here we come to an interesting set of issues, not absent in this country, but raised more insistently abroad. In the United Kingdom, a top-down system of university funding and quality assessment has given a rather sharp edge to debates about the scholarship of teaching and learning. England is one of several countries with a thriving community of higher educators who have strong interests in the scholarship of teaching and learning — both discipline-based and generic.

Among them, we have found ardent advocates of the position that there already is an established field of education research, with necessary and sufficient theory and methods for studying teaching and learning in higher education. These advocates take the position that inviting "amateurs" from other fields to contribute to the enterprise through classroom-based research is likely to waste everyone's time and money.

We also have found advocates of a complementary position who think that the "professionalization" of pedagogy as a kind of education research is less likely to improve mainstream practice than a more informed and community-based "amateurism," supported by the U.K.'s network of discipline-based centers, known as the Learning and Teaching Support Network.

Recognition and Reward

While U.S. educators generally seem more relaxed about such issues of boundaries and turf, readers of Disciplinary Styles may note that in chemistry and in mathematics, teaching and learning scholars are seeking better working relationships with education researchers in their disciplines. In a number of the social sciences, including psychology, sociology, and communication, education has long been a specialty of the house. This means that faculty members in these fields who take up the scholarship of teaching and learning have a body of work in their own disciplines to consult.

However, it also means that they must situate their own classroom-based work within the formal research of disciplinary colleagues working in this general domain. In some of the humanities (such as composition and some brands of interdisciplinary study), virtually all "disciplinary" research has a pedagogical dimension, while in others (such as literary studies or history), scholars of teaching and learning have the area pretty much to themselves.

Disciplinary Styles in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning

Following the publication of their co-edited publication, Disciplinary Styles in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, Mary Taylor Huber and Sherwyn P. Morreale have conducted faculty workshops and symposia on this topic in the United States and the United Kingdom.

For more information on Disciplinary Styles in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning: Exploring Common Ground, including how to order, see www.aahe.org/pubs/disciplinary_styles.htm.

Understandably, the ways in which the scholarship of teaching and learning is situated and pursued in different fields affect how disciplinary, and departmental, peers view the work. In our travels, we often hear faculty members express concern about these issues of legitimacy and the status of their work. Faculty members say they are involved in the scholarship of teaching and learning for many reasons: to improve their students' learning, to explore new pedagogies, to engage in teaching as serious intellectual work.

Despite these goals, however, they are aware that some colleagues neither understand nor appreciate their efforts, perhaps because of a lack of interest in pedagogical issues or because the concepts and methods appropriate to classroom inquiry are not considered mainstream in their discipline.

Colleagues offered the following examples:

  • A chemist in one of our sessions said that the greatest challenge to the scholarship of teaching and learning in his field is "developing investigative methods that are accepted in the community and recognized as credible evidence regarding student learning."
  • A sociologist cited a need in her discipline for "the use of non-quantitative studies as evidence for knowledge."
  • A philosopher talked about "the discipline's sorting out of appropriate measures for student learning."

These disciplinary issues are amplified by anxieties about institutional recognition and reward. Many participants in the sessions that we have facilitated over the past two years presently hail from campuses that are revising their formal faculty guidelines to encompass and encourage a wider range of scholarly work.

This is all to the good for scholars of teaching and learning who can document their efforts to improve classroom practice and the character and quality of their students' work. However, many of these scholars are still uncertain of the fate of their "scholarship" in the sense of it being counted as "research." Junior faculty members, in particular, worry that no matter how good the guidelines, the scholarship of teaching and learning will not be given sufficient weight for tenure and promotion without the full support of departmental and disciplinary colleagues. As one psychologist put it, there is a pressing need in most disciplines to "create a community of acceptance and interest" in this kind of work.

Two-Way Street

We have been impressed in our travels by the energy that people are investing both in doing the scholarship of teaching and learning and in supporting it on their campuses and in their disciplinary associations and networks. We are convinced that one important source of that energy is the opportunity this work provides to look inside one's own discipline, to explore what it means to know that discipline deeply, and to find new ways to help students think and act based on what they have learned.

As we continue to take Disciplinary Styles on the road, we look forward to more conversations with faculty members and administrators about how the disciplines are contributing to the development of the scholarship of teaching and learning. We are also aware that we are traveling on a two-way street. In the Modern Language Association journal Profession 2002, John Guillory, in his article, "The Very Idea of Pedagogy," reminds his English literature colleagues that "close reading" and indeed, "much of what constitutes criticism in the 20th century emerged out of contexts in which the teaching of literature was precisely the object or issue in question." We want to talk more about how the scholarship of teaching and learning, which owes so much to the disciplines, is returning the favor and contributing to the richness of the disciplines themselves.


Mary Taylor Huber is a senior scholar at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. Contact her at huber@carnegiefoundation.org.

Sherwyn P. Morreale is associate director of the National Communication Association. Contact her at smorreale@natcom.org.



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