"Disciplinary Styles in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning." Paper presented at the 7th International Improving Student Learning Symposium, September 1999.

Mary Taylor Huber
Presented at the 7th International Improving Student Learning Symposium, September 1999.
"Disciplinary Styles in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning." Paper presented at the 7th International Improving Student Learning Symposium, September 1999.
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"Disciplinary Styles in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning." A paper presented at the 7th International Improving Student Learning Symposium Improving Student Learning Through the Disciplines.
6-8 September 1999, University of York, UK

I am delighted to be at this conference, and wish to thank Christopher Rust and Felix Lam for inviting me and to thank you for joining me in this session on Disciplinary Styles in the Scholarship of Teaching. This topic itself is testimony to changes in teaching and learning that are taking place across higher education in the United States and, as we've seen here at York, in other countries as well. We know that there have always been a few hardy souls who have made teaching and learning in higher education a central focus of scholarly concern. We also know that there are small groups of scholars who identify themselves professionally as educators in their particular fields. For most faculty members in higher education, however, discussions about teaching and learning tend to be fugitive affairs. Our colleagues may care deeply about their courses, their students, and their department's curriculum, but do not usually see their own teaching and learning as a matter for scholarly inquiry and communication. As a recent recipient of a prestigious teaching award told us a few weeks ago, "I may be an award-winning teacher, but when it comes to the scholarship of teaching, I get a zero." Now, with heightened expectations for social and financial accountability, more formalized criteria for evaluating teaching performance, the explosion of information technologies, the popularization of new pedagogies, and a commitment to educate a more diverse set of students, faculty members across the board are being encouraged to take a more professionalized, systematic interest in curriculum, classroom teaching, and the assessment of student learning. And this is just part of the change that's taking place. Growing numbers of college and university instructors are indeed trying to improve their practice, but some are also beginning to ask questions and seek answers that may be of wider interest, and to share what they are doing with campus colleagues and disciplinary peers. What this all adds up to, we at The Carnegie Foundation believe, is the beginning of a scholarship of teaching and learning across higher education and of an academic culture more open to the investigation, documentation and discussion of significant issues in the teaching of one's field.

Today, I want to consider the look and feel of what's beginning to come out under this new flag. Reflecting on the experience of participants in a new Carnegie Foundation program aimed at fostering a scholarship of teaching and learning in higher education, I will take up three related issues concerning the role of the disciplines in shaping the work at this early date. The first concerns the evolution of discourse about teaching and learning within the disciplines; the second asks how disciplinary styles influence the design of projects on teaching and learning; and the third concerns the nature and role of interdisciplinary exchange. These issues are important to examine, I suggest, because they will affect the future positioning of this work.

Conversations About Teaching and Learning

First, a word about the Carnegie Academy for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, which we call CASTL. Funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts and The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, CASTL's higher education program is a $6-million, five-year effort to foster a scholarship of teaching that aims to improve the quality of student learning and raise the level of conversation about teaching in colleges and universities of all kinds. Now in its second year, the program is approaching this task in three ways: first, through national fellowships for individual scholars in selected disciplines who wish to investigate and document significant issues and challenges in teaching and learning in their field; second through a companion program for colleges and universities prepared to make a public commitment of their own to fostering teaching as scholarly work; and finally, through work with scholarly societies who are interested in supporting teaching and learning in the disciplines. The idea is not just to encourage individuals who want to explore ways to improve practice, but also to help foster communities of scholars who share, critique and build upon each other's accomplishments.

Yet what kinds of communities should these be? CASTL's program is built on the premise that these should be disciplinary communities, in part because of the importance of the disciplines to a scholar's academic identity, and also because teaching is not a generic technique, but a process that comes out of one's view of one's field and what it means to know it deeply (see Shulman 1987; Grossman et. al. 1989). But CASTL is also committed to the value of conversation and exchange among the disciplines, as a way of building and strengthening the cadre of instructors in and around the academy who are committed to exploring teaching and learning as part of their teaching practice. As Shulman notes, every faculty member in higher education belongs to both a "visible" and an "invisible"college, and one must work with both to "expand the focus of journals, academic conferences and hiring processes to give a higher profile to the scholarship of teaching" on campus and beyond (1999:17).

CASTL was inspired by many streams of thought and practice, including work that deepens our understanding of teaching knowledge (Shulman 1987), sharpens our focus on student learning (Cross 1990), broadens our definitions of academic scholarship (Boyer 1990; Glassick, Huber, and Maeroff 1997), and widens our view of the audience for teaching, to include peers as well as students (Hutchings 1996, 1998; Shulman 1997).i Most of this work shares a concern with the level of conversation about teaching and learning among college and university instructors. Unlike the rich discourse most scholars enjoy in their own fields, talk about teaching has been impoverished by a familiar litany of complaints. For starters, most faculty members have had no training as teachers, a problem graduate programs are only beginning to address. Second, teaching has not counted for much in the reward system, especially on the research university campuses that tend to shape the ambitions of higher education more generally. And finally, teaching has been the most difficult to evaluate, in part because it has been so hard to "make public." Most disciplines work with a traditional set of pedagogical practices, but are only now developing a critical discourse about them.

We can turn to the field of literary studies for an example of the prevailing pattern and how it is beginning to change. You may be familiar with the work of Wayne Booth, a distinguished literary theorist at the University of Chicago, who is also a passionate advocate for undergraduate teaching. In The Vocation of a Teacher, his collection of speeches and essays, Booth offers a charming footnote on the sources of his knowledge about teaching, which is diagnostic, I think, for the field as a whole. He first lists several books "that teach about teaching by force of example" -- Ashton-Warner's Teacher (1963), Barzun's Teacher in America (1945), Erskine's My Life as a Teacher (1948), Highet's The Art of Teaching (1950), Narayan's The English Teacher (1945), and Passmore's The Philosophy of Teaching (1980).ii On the more technical side, he lists (and I quote) "Joe Axelrod's obscure little pamphlet on 'The Discussion Technique in the College Classroom (or some such title), published sometime in the late forties and now, so far as my own shelves can tell me, lost to the world." But, Booth admits, "More important than any of these have been thousands of staff meetings and conversations with colleagues in America and England...." And, he adds, "I am... not even beginning to list the many works that have influenced my thinking about [my subject] or about what I ought to teach." (Booth 1988:209-10, n.1)

I take this account as fairly typical for most faculty members, and not just in literary studies. There's a willingness to separate questions about content about which one claims expert knowledge, from questions about teaching, about which one does not. There's the heightened importance of meetings and personal conversations where the "wisdom of practice" is exchanged. And, finally, there's literature: not scholarly bibliographies that include up-to-date developments, but works that one has found more or less by chance at critical moments in one's career. Most of the books Booth cites are classics of their genre. Collectively, however, they testify to the short reach of specialist research on teaching and especially on learning.iii

This "expert" research on teaching and learning remains foreign territory to many academics in the US, despite the best efforts of teaching and learning centers, national curriculum initiatives, conference and workshop organizers, and popularizing publications. In part this is because academics are not in the habit of reading about teaching and learning: thus when a problem turns up, they are more likely to ask advice from an old friend or colleague than to go to the library for help. I think, too, that academics are turned off by popularizations that don't give readers a hold on the research and arguments of the original work (Shulman 1997; Cross 1998). Indeed, as Pat Cross has argued, expert research on teaching and learning will likely be discovered by scholars only when they start asking questions that such literature may help them formulate and resolve (1998).

In fact, this is beginning to happen in literary studies right now, spurred in part by the changes in the culture of higher education that I mentioned before. For example, recent issues of both The Chronicle of Higher Education in the US and The Times Higher Education Supplement in the UK include an account of a "teaching seminar"initiated by Elaine Showalter, past president of the Modern Languages Association and professor of English at Princeton University. In this seminar, Showalter and her graduate student teaching assistants compiled teaching portfolios, kept journals, and explored the literature on teaching and learning in higher education in order to help them learn how "to convey content, information, and critical sophistication to their jaded, recalcitrant, or aesthetically resistant students" (1999:B6). Showalter confesses her initial fears in presenting herself as a "pedagogical expert," but concludes that "now, two teaching seminars and several hundred dollars later, having gained much more in intellectual excitement and new ideas than I risked in putting my ego on the line, I'm eager to share my bibliography with other instructors in the liberal arts" (1999:B5).

The readings Showalter recommends share with Booth's a marked bias towards the styles of writing and argument familiar to people in humanities' fields, but result from a systematic sampling of literature that is up to date. They include book-length guides to teaching, which summarize recent research on learning (Schoenfeld and Magnan's Mentor in a Manual, McKeachie's Teaching Tips, Lowman's Mastering the Techniques of Teaching, and Eble's The Craft of Teaching), essays and case studies on classroom discussion (Teaching and the Case Method, by Barnes, Christensen and Hansen and Education for Judgment, edited by Christensen, Garvin and Sweet), one book on research findings (Ramsden's Learning to Teach in Higher Education), memoirs of teaching careers (Tompkins's A Life in School and Kernan's In Plato's Cave), and inspirational works like Palmer's The Courage to Teach and Brookfield's Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher.

What Showalter has done so publically helps give legitimacy to a process that science studies scholars call "reconstruction" (Hess 1997:139)-the effort to reinterpret and remake knowledge as it moves out of its own expert producer group and into other groups elsewhere. Making public the results of her efforts to engage expert literature on teaching and learning (and pronouncing it intellectually exciting to do so), is an important contribution to the scholarship of teaching and learning in literary studies and neighboring fields. It will help broaden the range of reference that practitioners in these fields can draw on as they identify and examine issues relevant to work with students and classroom practice.

Disciplinary Styles

And this brings me to the question of disciplinary styles, because one of the main challenges to developing a scholarship of teaching and learning in higher education is that in most disciplines this process of "reconstruction" has just begun. There are a few exceptions and promising developments, but there remains a great deal more to be done before it is commonplace for scholars to examine their teaching practice in light of what is known or imagined possible in one's own or other fields. It is true that vigorous curricular movements, like the "new calculus" or "multiculturalism" have raised pedagogical consciousness in many academic departments,vv but there is still a long way to go before work on teaching and learning is brought more centrally into the world of disciplinary scholarship (Shulman 1993).

What does this mean? As my Carnegie Foundation colleagues, Pat Hutchings and Lee Shulman argue, this means taking an attitude of inquiry towards the subject, and it means making one's work public so that colleagues can review it according to accepted standards, so they can critique it, and so that they can then build upon it in their own work (1999). This kind of work is being undertaken by a small but increasing number of scholars these days, including those associated with the national fellowship and campus programs of CASTL (the Carnegie Academy for the Scholarship of Teaching Learning). They are asking how to improve student learning in a course they teach; they are looking at what kinds of learning might be desirable to aim for; they are experimenting with ways to document what happens in a course; they are seeking ways to make it available for colleagues to comment upon and review (see Shulman 1998). And, one of the things we are finding out is that scholars usually begin by following disciplinary models developed for other purposes when faced with the new task of exploring teaching and learning in their field.

A recent course portfolio project coordinated by the American Association of Higher Education is a case in point.(Hutchings 1996: 49-60; Hutchings 1998; Huber 1998). Indeed, Bill Cerbin, a Carnegie Scholar, and course portfolio pioneer, describes the very origin of the idea of documenting the unfolding of a single course from conception to results through an analogy to the investigative traditions of his discipline, psychology. "I began to think of each course...as a kind of laboratory-not as a truly controlled experiment, of course, but as a setting in which you start out with goals for student learning, then you adopt teaching practices that you think will accomplish these, and along the way you can watch and see if your practices are helping to accomplish your goals, collecting evidence about effects and impact...the course portfolio is really like a scholarly manuscript...a draft, of ongoing inquiry" (1996:53).

To people in other fields, the look and feel of a course portfolio is somewhat different. For example, Steve Dunbar, a mathematician, thinks of analogies to modes of presentation in his own field: "When I get done I'm going to have something fewer than 50 pages-maybe closer to 30-that I can give to colleagues to assess...for mathematical content and validity of data: Were my goals good goals? Did I actually meet these goals?....(R)eviewers can analyze the portfolio as they would a piece of research. [It will be] comprehensive and data-based in a way that people haven't often seen" (1996-57-58). And consider Carnegie Scholar Bill Cutler's course portfolio for an Introductory Survey in American History (see Cutler 1998:19-24). He approached this task as though he were creating both a narrative record of what happened in the classroom and an archive to back it up, including artefacts like the syllabus and reading list, student papers, and alternative perspectives from the graduate students who served as teaching assistants.

Clearly, disciplinary styles empower the scholarship of teaching not only by giving scholars a ready-made way to imagine and present their work, but also by giving shape to the problems they choose and the methods they use. Here we may find helpful Joseph Schwab's elegant distinction between the substantive and syntactic structures of the disciplines, by which he means, first, the conceptions that guide inquiry in a discipline (1964:25), and second, the "pathways of enquiry [a discipline or small group of disciplines] use, what they mean by verified knowledge and how they go about this verification" (1964:21).v In other words, when we look at scholarly projects on teaching and learning, we can ask how they have been informed by substantive and syntactic structures from the authors' own fields.

Let's look at the substantive area first. Randy Bass, a Carnegie Scholar who teaches American Studies in an English department, suggests that the scholarship of teaching and learning involves transforming a "problem" one has encountered in the classroom into a "problem" for study, meaning a problem that has some body of thought and literature behind it (1999). Bass himself realized he had a classroom problem when his students evaluated him poorly after he introduced internet activities into his course. Transformed into a problem for study, this became an inquiry into his goals for student learning, an issue with deep roots in the humanities, where the tension between general education and close reading has engaged humanists in debate since at least the 16th century.ii Bass concluded that his primary goal was not for students to cover a large number of books, but for them to leave his course reading more like experts who can interpret a text in light of other texts and events of its times.

Consider, by contrast, another English professor, Beverly Guy-Sheftall, who teaches women's studies at a historically black college for women in the US south. Guy-Sheftall's classroom problem concerned students' resistance to material on gender, sexuality, and race which is mostly at odds with their strongly held beliefs. To make this a problem for study, Guy-Sheftall engaged ideas from a new wave of feminist pedagogy, which acknowledges the necessity for some emotional discomfort if learning is to take place. She interviewed students about their changing attitudes towards the subject-matter throughout the course, looking closely at their answers for insight into which materials were helping them to move more effectively around the highly charged gender issues discussed in class.

Like Bass and Guy-Sheftall, most Carnegie scholars choose topics about teaching and learning that have resonance within the conceptual structure of their discipline, thus giving their problem for study intellectual authenticity and weight. The same can be said of methods: most people inquiring into teaching and learning try to make use of the normal procedures in their discipline. For example, quite a number of our applicants from the sciences and mathematics have been involved in curricular reforms that advocate some use of cooperative learning in the classroom and want to prove its worth. But proof means something quite rigorous in science fields. As one applicant wrote, "In order to convince the teachers of organic chemistry (as well as other science disciplines) that there truly is a place for active and cooperative learning in the chemistry classroom, they will need to see good data that support this theory. Scientists are scientists and they know that the data do not lie."

In certain social science fields, a similar spirit prevails. Carnegie Scholar Dan Bernstein, a psychologist, is using the experimental methods of his field to help him decide which teaching techniques are helping his students gain a better understanding of psychological measurement. He started down this path when he realized that his students did not seem to be getting some of the key concepts from his well-polished lectures alone. Hypothesizing that students might do better with more opportunities to interact with the material, Bernstein gave one group of students a live lecture on the topic, gave a videotape of his lecture to a second group of students, and gave an interactive author-ware program on the topic to the rest. When reviewers of the study suggested he needed better control conditions, Bernstein then compared performance among groups reading irrelevant material, groups reading relevant material, groups hearing a live lecture, and groups working on the web. "This is what you get when you enter into that community," Bernstein jokes, "additions of more conditions." He continues to test and retest new innovations: "Statistics are fine," he says, "but replication is the most important thing you can do."

For many instructors, however, pedagogy is still a new topic for mainstream scholarship in their field, and even in psychology, as Bernstein would be the first to agree, classroom research does not present ideal conditions for following most methodological protocols. If you are working in a field where quantitative methods predominate, it is often hard to observe the normal scruples about sample sizes and representativeness, along with the other niceties that normally warrant confidence in research results. Of course, scholars may find this work very helpful in focusing attention on student learning and in thinking about what works best in their courses. But, some worry that methodological issues may limit their work's reach beyond their own classroom, and that it may not find a receptive audience among their disciplinary peers.iii Indeed, even when your field emphasizes interpretation over explanation, and welcomes ethnography, contextually rich case studies, or close readings, it can be a challenge to develop an approach to the study of teaching and learning that both you and your colleagues find interesting and sound.

Interdisciplinary Concerns

Such discontents are to be expected when scholars venture outside the usual bounds of discourse in their intellectual community. For parallels, we can look at what happens in other newly developed areas of inquiry before shifts in disciplinary practice are normalized. In my own field, anthropology, traditional ethnographic practices have been changing over the past fifteen to twenty years. Yet, as George Marcus notes, it is still the case that exploratory projects into new interdisciplinary areas, like science studies, can seem "personal and relatively undisciplined, as not quite anthropology" (Marcus 1998:242). This new work can be exciting, but until its anthropological readership picks up, a "certain accountability" is missing. Without "a sustained discussion among anthropologists...the close assessment of arguments and ethnographic claims has been curtailed." In the meantime, however, something is gained because anthropologists engaged in exploratory ethnographic work with new kinds of subjects are finding audiences among colleagues in other disciplines who are viewing that same territory from different points of view.

Interdisciplinary communities are equally important for the scholarship of teaching and learning. Indeed, they are so important that the Carnegie Foundation has been trying to encourage the formation of such groups and networks of scholars both nationally and on individual campuses. For one thing, these communities can be sanctuaries, where people can find friendly critics for their work, and with whom they can engage in "corridor talk" about who's doing what, conference opportunities, getting published, finding money, career strategies and all the other information that is typically passed on informally about the conduct of scholarly work (see Downey, Dumit, and Traweek 1997.) For our national fellows, this includes a listserv for ongoing informal communication, and opportunities to meet face to face during the two-week sessions that mark the beginning and end of their fellowship and for a couple of days mid-way through the academic year.

These scholars often express relief at finally having a group of colleagues with whom they can talk without going back to square one, and with whom they get collectively smarter about general pedagogical issues that appear to go beyond subject matteriiii. For example, in presenting her work on teaching women's studies, Beverly Guy-Sheftall noted that she had become more reflective about student learning due to the Carnegie program, and more willing to take risks, including risks to her own values and beliefs. However, it is important not to confuse collegiality and support with interdisciplinarity per se. By some criteria, you only have real interdisciplinarity when you have "the explicit formulation of a uniform discipline-transcending terminology or a common methodology" (Gibbons et. al 1994:29). Guy-Sheftall, however, is convinced that differences between the disciplines in regard to the scholarship of teaching are profound and deep.

And she may be right. One's own disciplinary style may give direction to one's own work in this new area, but it can also limit one's appreciation of other people's work. Women's studies, for example, is more sensitive than most to the moral and political dimensions of pedagogy. And there are also problems arising from the different ways in which new knowledge is produced. One Carnegie Scholar, a psychologist, explained the problem this way: "Being at a relatively small school, I am aware of the different approaches to traditional research among disciplines, and how research in a discipline is sometimes belittled by other disciplines. For example...I've heard psychology types dismiss English lit. research as purely speculative and lit. types dismiss psychology as inhumanely mechanistic. While I don't think such criticism inevitable, research does differ among disciplines and it seems logical to me to anticipate the same kind of tensions [in the scholarship of teaching and learning] that exist in traditional research."

It must be said, too, that the problem is exacerbated by the dominance of social science methods in traditional education research and in evaluation studies-a fact that presents a significant challenge to new recruits from specialties where that approach is not much appreciated or used. One university participating in our campus program has actually set aside money for colleagues who do have statistical expertise to serve as consultants to those who do not. Now, this is a wonderful idea: there's nothing wrong with this set of methods, and no doubt they open doors for those who master them. But it must be recognized that they can also be very discouraging to scholars with little interest or experience in this research tradition. At one session last June, the new class of Carnegie Scholars were debating whether they would accept as the scholarship of teaching a project that examined a single student's key moments of engagement with the material for a course. Most of the humanists said "yes," but the past editor of the journal Teaching Sociology, said that a report on research with a sample of one would simply not be acceptable in his field. To which an historian cried: "But do we all have to be social scientists?"

Clearly, the answer is "no." If scholarly attention to teaching and learning in higher education is to gain through multi- or interdisciplinary exchange, then a variety of questions need to be asked and a variety of approaches should flourish. Our Carnegie Scholars include psychologists like Bernstein, who are comfortable with statistical methods, but also humanists like Guy-Sheftall, who prefer "close reading"as a way to analyze student interviews and essays. The challenge here is to reconceptualize relationships between the disciplines, so that the lessons flow in all directions rather than demanding the diffusion of one privileged way of knowing.xx Our first class of Carnegie Scholars used a carpentry metaphor to express the same point: "If you only have a hammer then everything looks like a nail." As one of our business scholars concluded, the most intellectually exhilarating lesson of working with people from different disciplines was to learn about the many different tools they collectively had at hand.


The placement of the scholarship of teaching and learning in the larger world of knowledge production is very much up for grabs right now. Its genres, topics, and methods are being invented as we speak; its role in academic careers is being written case by case; new practitioners announce themselves every day; and they are just beginning to seek each other out. We can see that disciplinary styles are rightly influencing the way scholars approach teaching and student learning, but disciplinary "boundaries" in this area are not that well-established, facilitating border-crossing and collaboration across fields. One of the big questions now is whether scholars of teaching and learning can fascinate their disciplinary colleagues as much as they fascinate those from other disciplines working in the same vein. Can the discourse that is beginning to take on life in multi- or inter-disciplinary discussions be registered and legitimated within the heart of the disciplines themselves?

I think it is an open question whether this work will end up looking like "normal" academic science or not. Will the scholarship of teaching and learning find its home with other pedagogical discussions--on the margins of most disciplines? Will it gain ground in disciplinary forums and/or emerge as an interdisciplinary field of its own? And here's another possibility. Might the scholarship of teaching and learning live a more punctuated life, like those transdisciplinary, problem-solving, task forces that Michael Gibbons and his colleagues (1994) describe as a new mode of knowledge production? One thing we've learned from trying to encourage the growth of a scholarship of teaching and learning so far is that here there are no either/or's. The correct answer almost surely will be: "all of the above."

It's ambitious to try and foster the broad development of a scholarship of teaching and learning, but it's not starting from scratch. As we at this conference well know, there is a strong foundation on which to build. There are many forums in which the exchange of information and ideas about teaching and learning in higher education already take place. And there are many people investing a great deal of intellectual interest and energy in them. Many of these discussions are already squarely within the scope of what we are calling the "scholarship of teaching and learning," and many others are open to the ideas behind it. The aim is to enrich these conversations, expand their scope, and ultimately help make them so attractive and intriguing that scholars will WANT to turn to the literature, or to a pioneer colleague at another institution or even down the hall, for ideas and feedback as they try to make their own classrooms better places for all students to learn. As intellectually compelling work in the scholarship of teaching and learning becomes better known, teachers will not have to reinvent the wheel, but can build on-and contribute to-- what their colleagues have already achieved.

Comments and suggestions are welcome. Please contact the author at:

The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching 51 Vista Lane Stanford, CA 94305

or by email at <a href="mailto:huber@carnegiefoundation.org">huber@carnegiefoundation.org</a>.


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Reading Lists Cited

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