Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Is the Scholarship of Teaching Scholarship? Or Alternatively: To
CAT or Not To CAT?

At Xavier we have this academic institute called CAT, which stands for the Center for the Advancement of Teaching. I am a big fan of this resource, especially the people who work there. I remember my first days at Xavier, before the semester started, trying very hard to get classrooms set up with projectors and sound systems. The director of CAT was extremely helpful in enabling me to use some of their classrooms. Since then, I have taken advantage of many of CAT’s resources. I’ve attended their workshops, and even given a couple myself. When I had to print a camera ready copy of a book that I wrote, I used a printer owned and operated by CAT. I’ve used their facilities to digitize movies, and I’ve used their financial resources through grants to get software and a digital movie camera that I use often. I have worked closely with Bart on a number of projects, including a website called BibleDudes. I use Bart as a resource several times a semester, and he has been extremely helpful. I also worked with Gayna on a couple of projects, and she has been helpful as well. Currently I’m in a Course Portfolio Working group sponsored by CAT. In this group we reflect on teaching and our classes. I have no doubts at all that CAT helps me to be a better teacher.

However, around campus I have heard from many people that I shouldn’t invest so much time and energy in CAT projects. I have heard and notice that there is a wide gap between those who do CAT and those who don’t, and those who do are in the minority. I have heard that my time would be much better spent on so-called “real” research instead of this scholarship of teaching stuff. Maybe it is good advice. With the vast amounts of time that I have invested in creating BibleDudes, for example, I could have easily written and published two academic books. While I have continued to publish in academic peer-reviewed journals, and see the importance of continuing to do so, much of my work lately has focused on making the difficult topic of biblical studies accessible to my students. Thus, I wrote The Bible for Dummies with my students in mind. However, many people in academia see that publication as a joke. But to my students, they are really impressed with this publication, and could care less about the academic books and articles I have written. So, in some ways I am a better teacher for having authored The Bible for Dummies.

The fact is that I have a limited amount of time, and have to be intelligent about how I spend it. I’m sold that the scholarship of teaching is very valuable scholarship. I need to learn from others ways to improve my teaching. Just last week I had some students present a Bible Mystery that answered why Michelangelo’s statue of Moses depicts him with horns on his head. They clearly presented to the class their answer, and it was entertaining and informative. I asked the students if they all understood, they unanimously said yes, and then I randomly called on them to answer the same question. It wasn’t until the 9th student I called on that he/she could articulate the answer. The students and me were all shocked at how hard teaching is. So I realize that teaching is extremely difficult, and that I need to continuously seek out better ways to convey material. I realize that training students to think critically is much more important than memorizing lists. I also will continue to work with CAT, and do my best to let others know that the scholarship of teaching is valuable scholarship.


Anonymous said...

I also teach at Xavier and have found that my thinking about what I do in the classroom has been greatly expanded by sundry CAT experiences: workshops, technology projects, and the like. The scholarship of teaching does *count*--according to the Faculty Handbook, which is the "Bible" for the Rank and Tenure Committee. Whether or not the individuals on that committee follow this scripture is a matter for their own consciences.

Tim Bulkeley said...

It's a global dilemma, not a Xavier one. We are all working in systems (even if our own institutions claim to be enlightened when we seek a new appointment) that in fact rate scholarship higher than teaching. The idea of the "scholarship of teaching" is an attempt to change this. But just look at how tenure or Performance Based Research Funding systems actually work.

Our students grade us a teachers - our emploiyers and colleagues rate us as researchers. So detailed work on an obscure ANE text rates much higher than The Bible for Dummies. Sad but true...

However, if you are tenpted away from BibleDudes just ask yourself which causes more joy on earth, let alone in heaven ;)

Anonymous said...

I think the scholarship of teaching is very important scholarship.