I was having one of those hallway conversations with a colleague of mine about her excitement over a new teaching approach. She is one of my best friends, has heard me carry on at great length about the Journal of Nursing Education, and has probably even read an issue or two. She is also a very active researcher and a prolific writer. So, when she had filled me in about what she had done with her graduate seminar, I said, as I often do when I hear exciting ideas, "What a great idea! Why don't you write up a short piece about it for the Journal of Nursing Education?" "Hmmm," said she thoughtfully, "I suppose I could." It was clear that she had not even thought about it, and here she is, my good friend and frequent contributor to the literature. And while she considered it, I thought about the countless other educators out there with scores of other wonderful ideas that will never see the light of day in published form.
In a recent article in Change, Lee Shulman (1993) insists that teaching will never reach its rightful preeminent position in the lives of faculty unless we begin to behave toward it in some of the same ways that we behave toward our research. He points out that when we teach, we often do so in isolation, with little opportunity for discussion, debate, or critique of our ideas, outside of the casual hallway conversation. As researchers, we are members of active communities with shared interests and concerns and commitment to actively engage in meaningful dialogue about our work. Part of that commitment involves a form of "community property," an artifact, a product that can be shared, exchanged, evaluated, built upon. Shulman claims, and I agree, that until we make the products of our teaching practices explicit, public, and the subject of debate, a scholarship of teaching is just not possible.
My friend's response to my query is not atypical. When I suggest to others that they write up their ideas, I get all sorts of responses. Usually, the first response, like my friend's, is a little startled. I think that they respond this way, in part, because they don't necessarily see their teaching work as acts of scholarship, with the same obligations to make their ideas public and accessible for debate. Yet, these same folks would claim that teaching is central to their academic lives. They also value important aspects of scholarship: systematic inquiry, thoughtful reflection, and public discourse about their field of endeavor through publication, presentations at professional meetings, participation in debate within a community of scholars, etc. Somehow, though, the link between teaching and scholarship has not been made.
Several years ago now, Boyer ( 1990) published a provocative work in which he proposed, among other things, the notion of a scholarship of teaching. He highlighted three features of this kind of scholarship: the in-depth understanding/command of the subject matter in a way that the teacher could "build bridges" between her understanding and that of the students; the carefully planned and continuously examined pedagogical procedures, relevant to the particular subject matter; and the continual extension of the faculty member's own knowledge and understanding through the act of teaching. While this idea has gained popularity in higher education circles, its meaning, as Hutchings (1993) recently pointed out, is still being invented. Ib create the kind of teaching approaches that I hear my colleagues talk about requires a scholarship of teaching. Their teaching rests on practical wisdom born of experience, a deep understanding of students' realities, and critical and thoughtful consideration of particular issues and problems for which they've craned their educational response.
Another obstacle to writing it up seems to be a sensibility about what constitutes scholarly writing: databased, linked to some bigger theoretical perspective, generalizable. Yes, all these are important; we must continue conducting educational research, developing and testing theory relevant to nursing education, searching for some guides that are generalizable beyond our particular institutions and classrooms. But challenges and issues in our teaching are surfacing far more rapidly than answers can be produced through systematic research and theory development. Ever larger class sizes, technological advances for teaching, increasingly more diverse student groups, changing clinical demands, and exploding knowledge base all require flexible, innovative, and adaptable teaching and teachers. A scholarly teacher learns something new about teaching daily, through responding to particular challenges and issues. And it is this kind of learning, and the pedagogical reasoning behind it, that needs to be made public, accessible for debate, critique, and extension.
So, if you're one of those countless educators with a great idea, why don't you write it up? When you write it up, describe the context, the issue or challenge that gave rise to the idea. Describe your experience with it, what seemed to work, what didn't, what new challenges were posed with it, what new questions were raised. Consult the literature, not necessarily to claim that it provided the basis for your idea, since it probably didn't, but to clarify any theoretical and empirical linkages that might be there, and to ascertain that your idea is indeed a new contribution to the literature. Have colleagues read your paper and evaluate it. Even if you never get around to submitting it for publication, you've opened another important avenue for creating a teaching community.
- Boyer, E.L. (1990). Scholarship reconsidered: Priorities of the professoriate. Princeton, NJ: The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.
- Hutchings, P. (1993). Windows on practice: Cases about teaching and learning. Change, 25(6), 14-23.
- Shulman, L.S. (1993). Teaching as community property. Change, 25(6), 6-7.