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Keywords:

  • scholarship of teaching and learning;
  • SoTL;
  • standards;
  • criteria;
  • entry points;
  • writing;
  • genres;
  • research;
  • Carnegie Foundation;
  • CASTL

Abstract

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Emerging Criteria and Standards for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning
  5. Generative Assumptions, Marks of Quality, Conventions of a Scholarship
  6. Generative Assumptions
  7. Conclusion
  8. Bibliography

This article argues that there is an identifiable scholarship of teaching and learning in theology and religion that, though varied in its entry points and forms, exhibits standards of excellence recognizable in other forms of scholarship. Engaging in this scholarship enhances a professor's possession of practice and often reveals insights into student learning and the contours of a field that can advance both educational and disciplinary projects. Through conversation with a form of the scholarship of teaching and learning that emerged most clearly in work associated with the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, we describe starting points and generative assumptions that have been employed in the discourse of the scholarship of teaching and learning in theology and religion as they have emerged in submissions to Teaching Theology and Religion over the past decade and a half and point to its benefits. See responses to this essay by Charles R. Foster, Stephen Brookfield, and Pat Hutchings published in this issue of the journal. Responses by Reid B. Locklin, Joanne Maguire Robinson, and Nadine S. Pence appear in next issue issue, 16:3 (2013).


Introduction

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Emerging Criteria and Standards for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning
  5. Generative Assumptions, Marks of Quality, Conventions of a Scholarship
  6. Generative Assumptions
  7. Conclusion
  8. Bibliography

Two decades ago in Scholarship Reconsidered Ernest Boyer proposed a scholarship of teaching to be valued equally with distinct scholarships of discovery, integration, and application.1 Boyer included a scholarship of teaching in his categorization as part of his effort to expand, even explode, the dominant definition of scholarship – discovery of new knowledge as exemplified by laboratory science. Boyer considered that definition too narrow to take account of the work going on in an array of disciplines across a wide range of institutions of higher education in the United States. His project must be understood as part of a larger movement to rethink higher education that had multiple political and cultural motivations. No discussion of the scholarship of teaching is neutral.

Boyer was not the first to call for teaching to be taken seriously in higher education, but his proposal garnered widespread attention and inaugurated a new phase in ongoing conversations about teaching and learning in that setting. Perhaps most significantly, it was one that took the conversation in a new direction. Some college and university faculty had been publishing about their teaching and student learning for a long time, but considered this writing to be service more than scholarship. Other faculty, however, engaged in this type of inquiry but did so explicitly as scholarship, primarily by combining disciplinary expertise in a cognate field, for example, engineering, English, math, management, psychology, or religion, with expertise in educational theory. Boyer's proposal opened up a space within which inquiry into one's teaching practice on the part of those who were experts in their discipline but not in education, could, even should, be considered scholarship. That proposal forced re-examination of how inquiry into pedagogy and student learning is categorized as service or scholarship within disciplines, especially within those that did not already have well-established communities of discourse around teaching.

Since Boyer's proposal appeared, discussions of the nature and characteristics of the scholarship of teaching (to which “and learning” is now commonly attached), its relationship to excellent teaching and to scholarly teaching, whether and how it is inflected by the materials and methods of different fields, whether it is obligated to present results directed primarily to improvement of student learning, its connection to the personal/vocational/formational dimensions of liberal and professional education, the importance of its connection to educational research, and whether emphasizing publication strengthens or weakens it, have been widespread and ongoing.2 Those disciplines that have had well-established journals devoted to the subject of teaching, for example sociology, management, physics, and religious education, have been less challenged by Boyer's proposal. Newer journals, like Teaching Theology and Religion, are more heavily influenced by the second-phase discussion initiated by him.3 So too has been the general scholarship of teaching and learning across fields that has emerged, promoted through organs such as The Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning from Indiana University and the International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning out of Georgia Southern University. This article's central focus is on questions about the scholarship of teaching and learning that have emerged since Boyer made his proposal.

Questions of definition, characteristics, and criteria exist for scholarship in any field and inform judgments about its nature and quality. They are particularly fluid and contested when a new form of scholarship is emerging. The fluidity and contested character of the scholarship of teaching and learning can be accented by a guild bias that, for example, portrays this scholarship as, at best, derivative and secondary in importance and, at worst, not really scholarship at all but rather a collection of ephemeral anecdotes. In some circles there is also healthy skepticism about the political agendas that may drive the scholarship of teaching and learning, such as an administrative desire for efficiency and control that implicitly endorses a corporate model of higher education. Even after exercising a robust hermeneutic of suspicion regarding the entire project, however, constructive possibilities remain for a scholarship of teaching and learning. Among them are: growth in understanding and refinement of one's craft resulting in more effective and satisfying teaching; the capacity to draw on contextual, cultural, and guild factors more astutely to create a better learning environment for students; the ability to articulate one's work more fully and powerfully in relation to one's institution and its mission as well as to one's own and a guild's or profession's vision of the purpose of the project of education, and more. In fact, a powerful scholarship of teaching and learning may well be one of the best counters to the instrumentalist and reductionist impulses in the educational reform movement today. But what does such a scholarship look like? Specifically, what does such a scholarship look like in the broad fields of theology and religion, on which this journal focuses?

Emerging Criteria and Standards for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Emerging Criteria and Standards for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning
  5. Generative Assumptions, Marks of Quality, Conventions of a Scholarship
  6. Generative Assumptions
  7. Conclusion
  8. Bibliography

Patricia Hutchings and Lee Shulman have figured prominently in the development of a scholarship of teaching and learning in higher education over the past two decades and have described broad characteristics for it. They emphasize that this scholarship must become public. It is not scholarship until it becomes “an object of critical review and evaluation by members of one's community.” They also emphasize that this scholarship “requires a kind of ‘going meta’ in which faculty frame and systematically investigate questions related to student learning – the conditions under which it occurs, what it looks like, how to deepen it, and so forth – and do so with an eye not only to improving their own classroom but to advancing practice beyond it” (Hutchings and Shulman 1999, 10–15). The characteristics, as they describe them, preclude personal reflection as the sole focus of this scholarship.

Others use language regarding the “creation and dissemination of original work that makes a useful contribution to knowledge and practice of other teachers” (The International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning [ISSoTL]). Similarly, Elizabeth Rankin identifies making a contribution to a broad ongoing conversation in some field as one of the most important tasks for any writer. As she puts it, “as writers our first obligation is to think about what we are contributing to that conversation” (2001, 10).

Making a contribution to a conversation involves having a sense of what the conversation has been about, how it intersects with one's own interests, concerns, and problems, how systematic and sustained thinking about those topics can be made available to others in the conversation, and what those others potentially might be able to learn from one's own set of reflections. In Rankin's view, thinking of (scholarly) writing as a contribution to an ongoing conversation also highlights the necessity of thinking about one's audience early and often. In Hutchings’ and Shulman's terms, that involves coming to a clear sense of just who constitutes “one's community.” Thus, any writer needs to have as clear as possible a sense of how one's own situation and concerns are both similar to and different from those of a particular imagined audience. Reflection about one's own teaching, then, moves towards becoming scholarship not only when it is systematic and sustained, but also when it attends carefully to how the particulars of a specific teaching context, practice, or situation might be of interest to wider audiences.

These are broad characteristics that, while helpful, omit one of the central functioning features of scholarship in any field, namely conventions governing the kinds of questions or material considered worth bothering with. When scholars strive to establish a new area of scholarship they create a crosswalk by situating their new discourse in relation to previous scholarly discourse in a way that establishes the relevance of the new discourse by connecting it, by congruence or contrast, with more established discourse. In that sense, the scholarship of teaching and learning can create two kinds of potentially fruitful intersections. First, it can situate its particular problems or issues in relation to the specialized knowledge of a particular discipline or subfield. Second, it can situate its discussion of that problem or issue in relation to broader discussion of similar topics in another field or in the general literature about teaching and learning. Attention to the first kind of intersection roots discussion of teaching in the ongoing discourse of a particular field of inquiry; however, as Maryellen Weimer notes, “disciplinary perspectives can blind faculty to larger, different, and sometimes better views of instructional issues” (2006, xvii). The second intersection provides the advantage of a broader, sometimes comparative, perspective. Perhaps the most developed scholarship of teaching creates crosswalks to both specific disciplinary discussions of teaching and to broader discussions. Thus, the scholarship of teaching and learning with a disciplinary focus involves a constant shuttling through various kinds of crosswalks or intersections. One might envision the intersections as points where teachers, learners, curriculum or disciplinary traditions of knowledge and practice, social and cultural expectations, and the influence of the contexts of their engagement converge. That kind of intellectual movement through crosswalks and intersections among different forms of specialized discourse is also what can create a broader audience for an individual's treatment of teaching as an object of intellectual inquiry.

In developing a new area of inquiry, which generally involves preoccupation with legitimacy and methodological clarity, it is not surprising that those engaged in the scholarship of teaching post-Boyer gravitated towards methods that promised to deliver “hard” results. For example, the model of the scholarship of teaching and learning that emerged from work undertaken by faculty participating in the Carnegie Academy on the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (CASTL) leans heavily toward an understanding of inquiry as carried out in the natural and social sciences. Within this frame, the scholarship of teaching and learning advances knowledge incrementally through “framing questions, gathering and exploring evidence, trying out and refining new insights in the classroom, and going public with what is learned in ways that others can build on. These practices provide an operational definition of the scholarship of teaching and learning” (Huber and Hutchings 2005, 20–21). The process can be summarized as a set of interrelated steps that do not unfold in a strictly linear manner:

  1. Identify a problem in or a question about student learning in a course
  2. Contextualize it in the scholarship of teaching and learning literature
  3. Propose a solution or a new way of understanding the problem
  4. Gather relevant evidence using appropriate methodologies
  5. Discuss the evidence with peers
  6. Make findings public through formal publication or other outlets

This approach has the virtue of a visible, defensible methodology and a singular focus on research questions shaped explicitly around student learning. Its methodology has contributed both to the creation of a community of conversation among practitioners and to the ability of that community to defend what it is doing as real scholarship. The method supports faculty looking critically and reflexively at their students’ learning and their own teaching practice. (See CASTL for examples of the work of the Academy.) But those virtues also enforce restrictions in focus and approach, restrictions that may miss legitimate scholarship of teaching and learning as it is appropriately done in other fields. In fact the Carnegie Academy itself anticipated using methodologies appropriate to multiple fields (Hutchings et al. 2011, 29–30). Also, in an earlier edited volume on “disciplinary styles” in the scholarship of teaching and learning, Huber and Morreale point to the different “intellectual history, agreements, and disputes about subject matter and methods” that different fields bring to their teaching and therefore to emerging work in the scholarship of teaching and learning (2002, 2). In short, while framing the scholarship of teaching and learning along the lines of the scholarship of discovery has the virtue of clarity of method and results, it cannot by itself advance the maturation of a robust scholarship of teaching and learning accessible across fields. The fundamental challenge for the scholarship of teaching and learning, whatever methodology it employs, is how it can move a conversation along through advancement of knowledge that results from the pursuit of incisive, well-shaped questions.

In part as a reaction to what she sees as a narrow focus on a certain type of research as characteristic of the scholarship of teaching and learning, Maryellen Weimer proposes a helpful distinction between “educational research,” the work undertaken by professional students of education, and “practitioner pedagogical scholarship,” the systematic reflection by working teachers on their own practice in its multiple contexts (2006, 21).4 In her survey of the field, she documents how practitioners’ scholarship has taken a wide variety of forms. She appropriately asks, “why push pedagogical scholarship in the direction of research when there are already whole fields doing the kind of research that enlarges the frontiers of knowledge? What benefit is gained by having practitioners doing the same work?” (2006, 158). (Hence her choice of “pedagogical scholarship” over the “scholarship of teaching and learning.”) In addition, she senses an anxiety about the general credibility of the scholarship about teaching and learning. Striving to broaden the forms of scholarship that can be acceptable to include a range of approaches grouped under the general heading of the “Wisdom of Practice,” Weimer argues that “what needs to change are the assumptions that this is the best kind of pedagogical scholarship and that making more pedagogical scholarship research-based will establish its credibility” (2006, 159).

In fact, it is Weimer's second form of scholarship about teaching and learning, inquiry pursued by teachers who have not been trained in educational research, that has both accounted for the dramatic increase in literature about teaching and learning in higher education and also provoked questions about its credibility as scholarship. That is certainly the case in the fields of theology and religion. In Weimer's view, part of the problem stems from the general absence in the scholarship of teaching and learning literature of resources that effectively describe what constitutes “good” scholarly work (2006, xv). In particular, the prominence of personal narrative in the literature produced by practitioners raises questions about the evidentiary force of such stories and their relevance beyond the particular elements of an individual's own context. Weimer's solution, however, is not to reject accounts based on the “wisdom of practice” out of hand, but rather to seek to develop marks of quality that can separate more persuasive from less persuasive accounts of any kind. In general she observes that “extrapolating experience-based knowledge from practice involves reflection and analysis that makes explicit what is understood implicitly and seemingly accomplished naturally” (2006, 54). In effect, Weimer encourages practitioners to open up to scrutiny how and why they do what they actually do in their teaching.

In doing so, Weimer pushes in the direction of critical, sustained reflection on practice that the Advisory Board of the Wabash Center emphasized in its 2002 conversation (Foster 2002). Unfortunately, her helpful survey of the scholarship of teaching and learning gives no indication of being aware of the lively discussions about teaching, learning, and their contexts in the fields of theology and religion that have been going on since long before Boyer in such outlets as Religious Education, Theological Education, and Religion and Education, or more recently in Teaching Theology and Religion, Spotlight on Teaching, or Colloquy. Still, her attempts to identify specific standards for evaluating different types of scholarship of teaching and learning are useful. For example, she argues that teachers’ “personal accounts of change” in classroom practices will be most effective when they (1) “recognize the knowledge base that justifies the change,” (2) “critically analyze the change in depth,” (3) “contain evidence that adaptation occurred,” (4) “draw appropriately bounded implications,” and (5) “use relevant and rigorous assessment methods” (Weimer 2006, 65).5 Weimer looks forward to identifying “a continuum of quality” for any type of approach to the scholarship of teaching and learning and hence to remedying the lack of specific resources that define “good” scholarship in the field. She acknowledges that “the credibility of any scholarship is a function of its quality, and quality is measured by agreed-upon standards. For pedagogical scholarship, the difficulty lies in determining what and whose standards should apply” (2006, 150). Weimer considers the educational research model to be one legitimate way of undertaking the scholarship of teaching and learning, but she also argues that there is ample room for alternative approaches and she begins to articulate the standards that will help readers to distinguish more and less credible examples of those other approaches.

As Samuel B. Thompson, Craig E. Nelson, and Rita C. Naremore note in agreement, “Scholarship is reflective and creative. It can result from reflecting on the processes and outcomes of research or personal teaching experience and creating something new” (www.issotl.org/tutorial/sotltutorial/u1a/u1a3.html). This broader conception of the scholarship of teaching invites reflective practitioners to bring to it skills honed in their disciplinary research. While a broader conception allows for more creativity and discovery, it raises the stakes for articulating and building consensus around description, definition, and criteria for the scholarship of teaching and learning generally and in particular fields. Whether there can be a real scholarship of teaching and learning that is something other than field specific or an imitation of educational research remains an open question, one to which analysis of a decade plus of submissions to Teaching Theology and Religion might help contribute an answer.

Not all writing about teaching and learning constitutes “scholarship.” Memoir and tip sharing, while useful, do not fit general understandings of scholarship, though they are published and widely read (for example Tompkins [1996] or Bender et al. [1994]). The term itself denotes something more than expressive, confessional, or descriptive narrative. The “something more” has to do with assumptions about what constitutes suitable material for scholarship, appropriate entry points and modes of interrogation, expectations of theoretical or conceptual interpretation, and significance of conclusions beyond the merely personal. So, while it is important not to circumscribe the boundaries of “real scholarship” of teaching and learning in a field too narrowly, boundaries do exist. In newer forms of scholarship these boundaries may be more implicit than explicit in any given field.

This article specifically addresses the scholarship of teaching and learning in the fields of theology and religion, a discourse that has been particularly active beyond the field of religious education and theological education for twenty years or so. Both the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature have increased attention to teaching during this time in a variety of ways, from sponsoring program units at annual and regional meetings to publishing books and essays on teaching topics. The Association of Theological Schools has attended to teaching for a longer period, yet it shares with the AAR and SBL a more recent shift of attention to the scholarship of teaching and learning. The activity around teaching within these disciplinary professional organizations has been lively and now is established. But within the fields, a public discussion regarding what counts as the scholarship of teaching and learning in theology and religion as distinct from scholarly teaching or scholarship on learning carried out by religious education or other education professionals has yet to develop. If scholarship both emerges from and addresses communities of competent practitioners who observe and theorize their practice, then we are at a moment in the scholarship of teaching and learning in theology and religion when a first articulation of the conventions of the scholarship is timely.

Generative Assumptions, Marks of Quality, Conventions of a Scholarship

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Emerging Criteria and Standards for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning
  5. Generative Assumptions, Marks of Quality, Conventions of a Scholarship
  6. Generative Assumptions
  7. Conclusion
  8. Bibliography

Those who have attempted to develop general accounts of the scholarship of teaching and learning have approached that task in different ways. Nelson, for example, focused on what he called “genres,” though he did little to describe their particular literary characteristics, and moved from those that analyze specific moments of classroom practice to inquiries of progressively broader scope (2000). Weimer makes a fundamental distinction between the “Wisdom of Practice,” which can be expressed in a variety of formats, and “Research Scholarship” (2006). For her part, Patricia Hutchings (2000) has proposed a “taxonomy of questions” that drive scholarly investigation of teaching and learning. Her first type of question concerns “what works” in the classroom, something that always has an audience of teachers eager to improve their own practice. Hutchings’ second type focuses on “what is” actually happening in the classroom, such as the dynamics of discussion about a difficult topic or student perceptions of interdisciplinary courses. For Hutchings the third type of “question” articulates a “vision of the possible,” such as how to engage students in discipline-specific theorizing. Finally, Hutchings’ fourth kind of question concerns formulating new conceptual frameworks for thinking about practice (2000, 4–6).

It should be clear from these examples that there are multiple rough-and-ready attempts to sort through a diverse and constantly expanding body of literature about teaching and learning. The typologies thus far proposed are best conceived as preliminary efforts to impose some sort of order on a very diverse field of inquiry, rather than as exhaustive schemes of classification. But they do share some characteristics. First, they attempt to account for the diversity of forms in which the scholarship of teaching and learning is being written. Hutchings, who originated and directed the Carnegie Foundation's CASTL program whose participants tended to emphasize a scholarship of discovery model, acknowledges the diverse forms in which it is written. Second, they attempt to make that scholarship accessible in two complementary ways. They want both to show what practicing teachers can learn from what is being written about teaching and learning, and to encourage teachers themselves to develop their own projects in the scholarship of teaching and learning. The latter is particularly evident in Weimer's chapter entitled, “From Looking to Doing: Advice for Faculty.” Third, they make an effort to identify what constitutes “good” scholarship of teaching and learning, no matter what form it is expressed in. That endeavor is important because they all share the desire to improve teaching and learning, see the scholarship of teaching and learning carried on by teachers who are not experts in education as contributing to that improvement, and believe, as Weimer puts it, that “power resides in well-established findings” (2006, 15).

In the following section we make our own effort to identify and separate some distinctive ways of engaging in the scholarship of teaching and learning. We are covering a much narrower range than Weimer, Nelson, or Hutchings by focusing our discussion primarily on what has appeared in Teaching Theology and Religion since its inaugural issue in 1997. Our review reveals that as it is emerging the scholarship of teaching and learning in theology and religion has produced clusters of essays with some identifiable similarities.

What follows is an attempt briefly to describe those clusters. Our intent is to describe, analyze, and classify the scholarship of teaching and learning as it is emerging at a particular site of intellectual inquiry. While this preliminary sketch could form the basis for a later attempt to diagnose what is lacking and recommend types of scholarship that are particularly needed in the fields of theology and religion, we do not undertake that task in this essay. Further, it is important to reiterate that our focus is on the work submitted for publication and so we are not addressing in this essay the question of whether and how publication truncates significant dimensions of the scholarship of teaching and learning.

The descriptions are organized around the starting points for each, the inspirational or provocative moment in the act of thinking about teaching that seems to propel more sustained thinking and writing about what is going on. Although we provide brief references to particularly illustrative examples of essays in Teaching Theology and Religion that depart from each of the starting points that we have identified, a careful analysis of each of those essays is beyond the scope of this article. The frames the essays use vary, from the closer perspective of a particular class to the broader scope of the entire project of undergraduate education or theological education in our time. They thus track fairly closely Nelson's attempt to identify several different genres in the general scholarship of teaching and learning. Moving from the more particular to the more general, with some attention to elaborating sub-types, Nelson divides scholarship of teaching and learning work into reports on particular classes, reflections on several years of teaching experience, comparisons of courses and student changes across time, research on learning, and summaries and analyses of sets of prior studies (2000).

Our own rough typology bears, of course, some similarities to previous efforts at sorting out different approaches to the scholarship of teaching and learning, and we also try to indicate characteristics of weaker and stronger versions of these genres, the types of “standards” that Weimer has proposed for the general scholarship of teaching and learning.6 But our approach has its own, we think, distinctive focus. Our orienting conception is that in any scholarship there exists a set of assumptions that guide writers in framing fruitful questions and lines of inquiry and in discerning areas of focus worth a scholar's attention. These are generative assumptions, generative in that they offer potentially fruitful openings and ways into problems, questions, and situations that result in new knowledge or deeper understanding that is, at least potentially, generalizable and translatable to other settings. These generative assumptions open up points of entry into scholarship. We believe that in the newer scholarship of teaching and learning in theology and religion, the following assumptions as entry points have emerged.

Generative Assumptions

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Emerging Criteria and Standards for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning
  5. Generative Assumptions, Marks of Quality, Conventions of a Scholarship
  6. Generative Assumptions
  7. Conclusion
  8. Bibliography
“Show and Tell”: Classroom Practice 

Stephen Brookfield (1995) provides guidelines for faculty to turn their attention toward and reflect on their actual classroom practice. What Brookfield understands and what more than a decade of submissions to Teaching Theology and Religion show, is a fundamental generative assumption of this portal into the work: insight about teaching proceeds directly from practice.

For many, this is the most common way into the scholarship of teaching and learning in theology and religion. A teacher notices, for example, that something occurs in class, perhaps a new instructional strategy that seems to work or, that students respond to an activity in a way quite different from what the teacher intended and expected. Puzzlement, surprise, chagrin, or excitement in response to something that occurred in a particular class session invites reflection on practice. Ann Burlein's article, “Learning to Drink Deeply from Books: Using Experiential Assignments to Teach Concepts,” (2011) exemplifies this entry point, one of the most frequent. This type of essay, which closely resembles Weimer's “personal account of change,” undertakes an anatomy of the “critical incident” and attempts to identify precisely why a particular teaching strategy did or did not work as anticipated.

  • In its weaker form this type of presentation remains a condensed summary description with generalized narrative and assertion of conclusions. Its general structure is “I did ‘X’,” “ ‘Y’ happened,” “I think this is good.” Weaker examples contain an ill-formed question or insight, leave dimensions of a question unaddressed or underdeveloped, are not connected to a larger conversation about the topic, exhibit a premature leap from event to interpretation, or are unclear about the significance and implications of the central topic. They also tend to disregard contextual factors that may have influenced the teaching situation.
  • This type of presentation is stronger when it communicates well not only the “what” and the “results,” but the “how” and the “why.” It provides insight into the strategic moves that a teacher has made in order to influence the process of learning in a particular way. The strategic interventions are made so real and presented with such clarity and comprehension of the process of teaching and learning that readers gain insight into their own situations and practice. Stronger presentations of this type develop the “how” and the “why” in conversation with other scholarship on or related to the topic. They persuade by showing the dynamic character of teaching and learning in the act, often deepening insight into that dynamism by putting it into its institutional and cultural contexts.
“Personal/Confessional/Vocational”: Person of the Professor 

The generative assumption in this case is that the person of the teacher is crucial to the processes of teaching and learning. It holds that insight comes from reflection on the experience and person of the teacher.

This assumption has been expressed most provocatively and influentially by Parker Palmer in his assertion that “we teach who we are” (2007, 1). As the subtitle of Palmer's widely read The Courage to Teach puts it, this necessarily involves “exploring the inner landscape of a teacher's life.” Powerful positive or negative experiences, transitions in life, or encounters with a text or situation often nudge faculty members toward looking at their lives, their vocations, and their work across a sustained time period or in relation to particular institutional, developmental, or cultural factors. This generative assumption holds that embedded in, or behind personal narratives are larger insights and issues.

Influential as it has been, Palmer's understanding of the person of the professor is not the only one to have been articulated. Jay Parini, for example, offers a bracing alternative in The Art of Teaching. Parini flatly declares that, “the notion of the ‘true’ self is romantic, and utterly false” 2005, 59). Though he acknowledges that “you have to teach out of who you are” and to make use of “some version of yourself,” Parini recommends developing a “teaching persona,” a mask that is consciously fabricated and employed in order to achieve particular pedagogical purposes in the classroom (2005, 105, 58). He sees teaching more as a performance, while Palmer sees it more as a disclosure. Edward Farley's “Four Pedagogical Mistakes: A Mea Culpa” (2005) exemplifies the person as professor approach.

  • Weaker forms of this type of essay include a personal narrative that remains personal and particular to the author only, with little or no indication of how the author's own experience might be relevant to others. It may also take the form of a personal testimonial – “this I believe” – that does not move beyond the author. In those instances, the emphasis on the personal can make the essay a “black hole” from which nothing of value escapes to a broader community of practitioners, or an echo chamber in which the “I” reverberates endlessly.
  • Stronger essays of this type use the personal as refraction of an experience or problem or issue with which many in the profession grapple. They make multiple connections between an author's personal experience and what the author knows (stronger) or suspects (somewhat weaker) is the experience of other teachers in similar contexts. These essays become stronger when they portray the personal as gateway into significant issues for a wider community of practitioners, cast the personal as the pivot on which crucial general issues of teaching and learning turn, or portray the personal as raising conundrums that are shared by teachers in similar contexts, or stages of career or sub-discipline. As with the previous type of essay, these works become stronger as they relate their findings to a broader community of practitioners and contribute to ongoing conversations in that community.
“Unified Field Theory”: Purposes and Politics of Teaching 

The generative assumption of this type of contribution to the scholarship of teaching and learning is that significant insight arises from a summation of experience in relation to the purposes and politics that inform teaching. An apposite example is Jonathan Z. Smith's consideration of “Teaching the Bible in the Context of General Education” (1998), where he reviews a set of possible meanings for the “general” in general education and attempts to situate the teaching of the Bible in relationship to each of them. Another example might be the discussion of “religious literacy” sparked by Stephen Prothero's (2007) book of that title and taken up as well by Timothy Beal in Biblical Literacy (2009).

This type of scholarship is a way of bringing together the various factors that shape a teaching context, including faculty, students, institution, field, and the world in general into an integrated whole. Essays in this vein tend to start from a more abstract point, often from discussions of purposes of particular educational projects, such as general education, the major, formation of clergy, training of preachers, or the capstone experience. The virtue of this approach is that it invites a larger view, offers a broader horizon, and can provide a sense of coherence. It can provoke insight as readers respond to claims. It can help in interpreting the educational project to other constituencies within and beyond higher education.

  • Weaker examples of this type of contribution remain overly abstract and generalized. Often they are moralistic in tone, presenting their conclusions as self-evident without explicitly rooting them in any specific tradition or view of the world or the educational project. They are written in a manner that disregards particularities of individuals, institutions, or fields, and the diversity of purposes these may have. They promote a “one size fits all” solution to what are perceived as universal problems without encouraging readers to think carefully and critically about how they might adapt general insights to their own situations.
  • Stronger examples provide a coherent vision of a community engaged in a project and a conceptualization of work alongside which or over against which practitioners can locate their own practice. They sharpen readers’ senses of what is at stake and the full dimensions of an issue by provoking reaction. Stronger essays in this mode often contribute to identification of pivotal points or elements in the teaching and learning process or the influence of contextual factors on it. Presented well, they include illustrations and examples that clarify and prompt possible abstraction and translation to new contexts, a central determining factor of quality in the scholarship of teaching and learning.
“Philosopher's Stone”: Pedagogies and Theories 

Groups of faculty within higher education sometimes find themselves taken by a particular pedagogical approach or theory and the promise it offers for student learning. Critical thinking, the democratic classroom, service learning, and problem-based learning are a few of the organizing themes that have inspired such movements in the past few decades and are the focus of submissions to Teaching Theology and Religion. The generative assumption of this approach is that there can exist a single point around which most, if not all, of one's teaching not only can – but should – be oriented. Essays of this kind often make passionate arguments about how to teach or about something that is centrally important in teaching, for example active learning, multiple intelligences, student-faculty research, small groups, and so forth. Fran Grace's “Learning as a Path, Not a Goal: Contemplative Pedagogy – Its Principles and Practices” (2011) exemplifies this approach employed in relation to a newer pedagogy that has garnered significant attention in higher education recently.

These essays can vary from mildly to very strongly prescriptive. They tend to attract partisans, who may even self-identify as a “school” or “movement,” and sometimes equally strong resistance from the unconvinced. For example, a special issue of Religion and Education (Grace 2009) prints a variety of responses, appreciative and not, to the “Spirituality in Higher Education Movement” identified with the work of the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA. The enthusiasm of an essay that claims to have uncovered a fundamentally important approach to teaching can prompt interest and contribute to innovations in pedagogy or the larger curriculum, particularly when it strikes certain readers virtually with the force of revelation by clarifying and catalyzing the project of education for them.

  • Weaker efforts of this type offer too simple a view of the teaching and learning process that focuses intently on one dimension of it to the exclusion of other dimensions of relevence. Weaker essays will make an overgeneralized claim that is disproportionate in scope to the supporting evidence provided. They also are inattentive to the particularities of the various contexts of teaching about theology and religion in higher education in North America and beyond.
  • Stronger examples of this type of essay make a clear, passionate presentation of an exciting idea or new technique and locate that technique within its historical trajectory. They make claims that are proportional to the evidence adduced. As with the cases of the “Spirituality in Higher Education Movement” or the “Contemplative Pedagogy Movement,” they will tend to prompt continuing conversation as professors alternately develop, refine, qualify, or reject the central proposal that is being advanced.
“Resources in the Field”: Practical Possibilities of the Field 

The generative assumption of this type of contribution to the scholarship of teaching and learning in theology and religion is that effective teaching demands a deep and current knowledge of one's own discipline. Only with that type of knowledge is a teacher able to make informed decisions about what to present in the classroom and how to present it. Consequently, this type of essay often offers an anatomy of decisions made by a particular teacher in constructing a course syllabus or a unit of a course. Essays in this vein focus on the intersection of disciplinary knowledge with practical considerations involved in teaching certain courses and student populations in specific contexts such as the community college, the theological school, or the liberal arts college.

Fields change in terms of materials, questions, procedures, and contextual influences. Any one of these changes can prompt reflection on its implications for teaching in that field. For example, when a significant new set of Daoist texts becomes available in English translation, teachers of Daoism and East Asian religions need to consider how those texts might now be used in a particular course or course unit. This is precisely what prompted James Miller's “Of Alchemy and Authenticity: Teaching about Daoism Today” (2007). Even when the material under consideration does not itself have a pedagogical focus, essays of this type can have similarities with Nelson's “genre” of “summaries and analyses of sets of prior studies” (2000).

  • Weaker examples of this category simply report on or describe the newly available resources without offering a substantial account of the pedagogical issues created or raised by the materials. They are often presented as “I now teach these texts instead of those texts.” In a bow to the perceived need to remain current with developments in the discipline, there is a sometimes implicit and sometimes explicit tone of obligation about making the change. Focused overly much on the particular new material, weaker essays fail to develop the pedagogical issues such as the design of a particular course or unit or pedagogical strategies actually employed in teaching with the new material under consideration.
  • Stronger examples in this mode focus on the educational dynamics of using specific material in the classroom setting, bringing together students, professor, and material. They describe and analyze occasions for considering the alignment, or lack of alignment, of these three in the course. Sustained consideration of how to use the new resources may lead to identification of issues that requires the rethinking of a fairly widely shared consensus about how to teach “X.” Arguing from analogy, the essay may claim further that those issues may have implications for other fields. Stronger essays thus situate the new resources in the layers of the cultures, communities, and institutions within which teaching occurs.
“Field is the Problem”: Problematic Conventions for Teaching and Research 

The generative assumption in this case is that there are well-established (and largely unexamined and taken for granted) conventions of both teaching and scholarship that shape the teaching of certain material in ways that may well be counter-productive. Those conventions prevent the students, professor, and material from being aligned in ways that promote learning. Dale Martin, for example, has argued that the dominance of the historical-critical approach to the Bible is not serving well the explicit goals of theological education, the training of pastors, or the congregations that they will eventually lead (2008). In a related vein, Wilfred Cantwell Smith persistently tried to re-orient the study and teaching of scripture, most notably in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, away from historical questions of the origins and formation of scriptural texts and toward their subsequent uses in the lives of religious people (1993). Marit Trelstad addresses issues in the field of theology as problematic in her “The Ethics of Effective Teaching: Challenges from the Religious Right and Critical Pedagogy” (2008).

Conceptualizations of fields and standards for disciplinary scholarship develop and change. Posing problems that a particular field presents to teaching is useful. Sometimes the problems in teaching a field can, in and of themselves, shed light on or provide support for reframing or revising a field. New categories may clarify central questions and procedures of the field. It may be that new questions are required to maintain the integrity and momentum of a field of study. Often these discussions can contribute to a clearer sense of the relationship of the field to other fields in theology and religion. For example, the Carnegie study, Educating Clergy (Foster et al., 2005), aligns the education and formation of institutional religious leaders with education in the other professions, business, law, medicine, and nursing. Through its comparative lens, the entire project raises the question of the formational dimension of professional education in novel ways.

  • In weaker examples of this category the discussion of the field remains on the field – its content, methodology, and procedures – and does not turn in any sustained way to actually teaching the field. The discussion grapples with guild issues, the author's disciplinary scholarly agenda, or institutional constraints to the full flourishing of the field at a particular institution, but it leaves the relation of all of those issues to teaching wholly or largely implicit. Thus weaker essays tend to have overgeneralized claims about teaching that are not supported by the analysis and interpretation of specific evidence. In addition, they may make sweeping claims of significance for their argument that are out of proportion to the evidence provided.
  • Stronger examples of this type of scholarship tie the nature of the field to the teaching of the field through sustained analysis and interpretation, and clarify multiple dimensions of the issue being explored and its implications for teaching. Stronger essays probe the connection between the nature of the field and the teaching of the field to a level of depth that discloses real or potential implications for the teaching of other fields in theology and religion, and even beyond. They exhibit both a thoughtful querying of the field and a thoughtful reflection on actual classrooms and curricula, both in the author's own context and more broadly throughout the field.

All of these generative assumptions hold across areas or fields within the broad and varied terrain of the teaching of theology and religion in higher education. They are inflected differently and quite specifically in different fields or sub-disciplines, be they Buddhist texts, practical theology, history of Christianity, or the intersection of neuroscience and philosophy of religion. But in general, these assumptions become entry points from which it is possible to garner insight. They can guide sustained and disciplined reflection on specific dimensions of teaching that enables someone to identify, examine, critique, draw conclusions, and generalize about those specific dimensions of teaching in a way that is made public to an envisioned community of readers, that is subject to critical review from peers, and that has the potential to be refined, revised, corrected, or built upon in a way that advances a conversation that influences practice. They have the potential to produce what Weimer calls “the power that resides in well-established findings” (2006, 21). They have the power to change the ways in which teachers understand and undertake their task of promoting deep and long lasting learning in their students. They are modes of scholarship on which others can build to form what Pat Hutchings and Mary Taylor Huber have identified as a teaching commons (2005, 62–63).

Conclusion

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Emerging Criteria and Standards for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning
  5. Generative Assumptions, Marks of Quality, Conventions of a Scholarship
  6. Generative Assumptions
  7. Conclusion
  8. Bibliography

Our identification of the traits of weaker and stronger examples of the essays that flow from each type of generative assumption represents an initial attempt to describe a “continuum of quality” that will make the evaluation of contributions to the scholarship of teaching and learning in theology and religion both easier and more of a shared enterprise. The “marks of quality” that we have identified have elements in common with effective academic writing in many fields as well as with the standards of quality articulated by Weimer (2006) and by Glassick and her collaborators (1997). A clear statement of the problem or issue to be addressed, comprehensible organization, an accessible form and style, and critical engagement with the evidence make for persuasive argumentative writing across contexts. That is to say, what makes for good scholarship of teaching and learning, and particularly scholarship of teaching and learning in theology and religion, has much in common, on a general level, with what makes for good scholarship in other fields of scholarly endeavor, or, for that matter, with good expository writing in general. One benefit of those similarities is that they show how engagement in the scholarship of teaching and learning can be perceived as being in continuity with a teacher-scholar's other scholarly endeavors.

Scholarship based on what Weimer (2006) calls the wisdom of practice does not entail abandoning one's established scholarly habits and procedures, but merely adapting them to a new arena of investigation. For example, regardless of the entry point by which an author comes to a project in the scholarship of teaching and learning, the task of creating a research space remains. The shape of that space, however, will reflect the contours of the entry point and its generative assumption (also see Swales and Najjar 1987, 175–192).

To be sure, teachers of theology and religion face some distinctive challenges that may not be widely shared. For example, Barbara Walvoord's (2008) research on introductory courses in theology and religion pointed to distinctive student expectations that such courses would somehow support and further their own religious or spiritual development, expectations that are much less frequently placed on introductory courses in chemistry or mathematics. Religion departments in church-related colleges frequently bear a distinctive and disproportionate responsibility for enacting their colleges’ missions through their contributions to general education programs. Seminaries face the particular challenge of educating and forming students in theological traditions while preparing them to practice ministerial leadership and care within and beyond tradition-specific institutions. But acknowledgment of distinctive challenges faced by teachers of theology and religion should not lead to their isolation; there remains much that can be learned from the general literature about teaching and learning.

There also may be distinctive contributions that scholars of religion and theology can make to the scholarship of teaching and learning broadly, even though they have thus far received very little notice. Well done, scholarship of teaching and learning in theology and religion shows how personal passions and commitments are parsed and prodded toward deeper, more accurate understanding and proportionate claims, through the employment of disciplinary methods on what is often emotionally, politically, and ideologically fraught material or situations. This scholarship exemplifies at its best the slowing down of the leap from experience or event to judgment that lies at the heart of the best of liberal education. This scholarship also offers a different path, perhaps a sobering and salutary one, for contemporary higher education agendas that embrace students’ interest in “spirituality” as an unquestionably positive force in the project of forming a tolerant, democratic citizenry, and that features moral formation of citizens, professionals, and institutional leaders as liberal education's goal to the exclusion of all others. The essays by theology and religion scholars responding to the HERI study on spirituality – a catchall term that is at best ill-defined – in the special issue of Religion and Education (Grace 2009), exemplify what these fields can offer. In addition, the fields of theology and religion bring to these larger discussions resources for excavating their implicit theological assumptions, and for articulating full-blown theological visions of teaching and learning, where appropriate. Whether these explicitly theological approaches to teaching and learning belong within a scholarship of teaching and learning in theology and religion proper, or are thoroughly theological projects belonging to more circumscribed conversations, is a question about a boundary of the scholarship of teaching and learning in theology and religion that deserves much more attention. The theological edge of the scholarship of teaching and learning is a crucial point of connection between the first wave of conversation about teaching that focused on moral education, formation, and educational research, and contemporary conversations about theological education, religious literacy, and the aims of liberal education. The latter has less explicitly acknowledged, yet still strong, theological dimensions, for example Lee S. Shulman's appeal to faith in Teaching as Community Property 2004, 46). All these possible contributions, connections, and questions remain to be explored and developed.

The central trait of the various forms of work in the scholarship of teaching and learning in theology and religion, regardless of entry point, is a commitment to “mid-range reflection,” an intellectual process that Patricia O'Connell Killen identified as the signature emphasis of all of the Wabash Center programs, including this journal, and to which Mark Schwehn pointed at Teaching Theology and Religion's six year mark (Killen 2007, 143–149; Foster 2002, 197). Mid-range reflection lifts issues out of the particularities of teaching, explores them, and reaches conclusions that can be of general relevance in other particular teaching settings, if adapted to those settings. The generative assumptions that we have identified in this essay all promote mid-range reflection. In fact, we believe that mid-range reflection is a quality of strength that pervades all the genres in the scholarship of teaching and learning in theology and religion. It is mid-range reflection that creates the “crosswalks” and “intersections” that connect a teacher's classroom practices to a disciplinary field and to the general scholarship of teaching and learning, one person's classroom experience to another's, and the intricacies of teaching in one sub-discipline to shared questions, problems, and solutions of the broad fields of theology and religion and even of all of those who work in higher education. As the metaphors of “crosswalks” or “intersections” suggest, there are many paths that can lead one into mid-range reflection, and many paths that one can follow in communicating that reflection to broader communities of interested teachers. But it is precisely that traffic back and forth, from the particularity of a specific moment of teaching and learning to broad generalizations about the processes involved in it, that is the foundation of meaningful, helpful, and genuinely scholarly work in the scholarship of teaching and learning in theology and religion.

Footnotes
  1. 1

    We want to thank Michel Andraos, Alicia Batten, Kathryn Blanchard, Ann Burlein, Gay Byron, Elizabeth Corrie, Daniel Deffenbaugh, Carol Duncan, Bruce Forbes, Rolf Jacobsen, Michael Koppel, Reid Locklin, Davina Lopez, Norris Palmer, Todd Penner, Tina Pippen, Luke Powery, Joanne Robinson, Robert Royalty, Elijah Sigler, Kristi Upson-Saia, Arch Wong, Lucretia Yaghjian, Pat Hutchings, and the anonymous reviewers for their responses to earlier versions of this article.

  2. 2

    The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching sponsored a major project on professional education that emphasized its formational dimensions. See as examples, Benner et al. (2010) and Foster et al. (2005).

  3. 3

    For an example of this discussion in the fields of theology and religion see Charles Foster (2002, 2002,2007). Both make a strong case against conflating the scholarship of teaching and learning with publication. Because this article focuses on work submitted for publication, a development of that case is outside its purview.

  4. 4

    Pat Hutchings, Mary Taylor Huber, and Anthony Ciccone discuss this issue as well (2011, 1–23).

  5. 5

    See also the summary of standards in Glassick, Huber, and Maeroff (1997, 36). Their standards are: (1) clear goals; (2) adequate preparation; (3) appropriate methods; (4) significant results; (5) effective presentation; and, (6) reflective critique.

  6. 6

    It relates, as well, to broader discussions of genres in scholarly research and writing such as the CARS (create a research space model) that John Swales describes or Susan Peck MacDonald's approach to genres in humanities and social science writing. (See Swales [2004]; MacDonald [1994].) We are grateful to Lucretia Yaghjian for pointing us toward these sources.

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  4. Emerging Criteria and Standards for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning
  5. Generative Assumptions, Marks of Quality, Conventions of a Scholarship
  6. Generative Assumptions
  7. Conclusion
  8. Bibliography
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