A Reading of Boyer

Note: I am extremely lucky to have been exposed to the thoughts of Dr Katharine Hubbard, Prof. Graham Scott, and Prof. Peter Draper around Scholarship. I admire their conceptions, but am keen to fashion my own; doing this requires sustained, reflective engagement with the literature.

I am a Teaching and Scholarship academic. Most people know what Teaching is (though identifying good teaching seems weirdly tricky), but Scholarship is much more vague. What is it?

There are two pragmatic answers: it’s whatever the promotion panel decide it is; it’s whatever you choose to make of it. Both of these should draw upon the literature, though. And the literature starts with Boyer.

Boyer wrote a book called Scholarship Reconsidered in 1990, which I read this week. He deals primarily with the Higher Education system in the USA, and opens with a properly fascinating history of this sector. A quote from a student in the 1890s really jumped out at me:

[They] came straight from the cornfields with only a summer’s wages inter pockets, hung on through four years, shabby and underfed, and completed the course through really heroic self-sacrifice. Our instructors were oddly sorted: wandering pioneer-school teachers, stranded ministers of the Gospel, a few enthusiastic young men just out of graduate school. There was an atmosphere of endeavour, of expectancy and bright hopefulness about the young college that had lifted its head from the prairie only a few years ago.

Throughout the account, he makes the point that Scholars and their activities (Scholarship) have a varied past. The book goes on to argue that the future of Scholarship should broaden its scope to ensure that it has a varied future.

It seems to me that Boyer’s core worry is that fetishising pure disciplinary research output has come at the expense of other scholarly activities (chiefly teaching). To combat this, he articulates four types of Scholarship in an attempt to legitimise their pursuit and goes on to describe how these could transform Scholars, Colleges, and even countries.

These Types still read with a bracing common sense, however much the passage of time has worn down some of their edge. The form of my job has clearly been influenced by Boyer’s model, and policy directions such as the UK’s Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF) seem to align fairly neatly with the Scholarship of Application. The Scholarship of Integration has become rather commonplace (even many PhDs now are interdisciplinary), supported by funding policies which acknowledge this Scholarship as worthy.

Boyer’s model of the Scholarship of Teaching is essentially teaching well. His concern is to value teaching itself as a worthy use of a Scholar’s time (and an employer’s money). This jars with my experience of SoTL in 2019. Although Boyer makes passing reference to the ‘classroom researcher’, the standard of today’s published pedagogic research is extraordinary. It seems in may ways more like the Scholarship of Integration. This seems like a deep irony; such Discovery-like pursuit of pedagogic research runs the analogous risk of devaluing teaching.

To explore this more deeply, I thought I could compare some of the Teaching & Scholarship pathway promotion items of a University in the North of England with Boyer’s types of Scholarship; I have focused on the Band 9 criteria (weirdly, no Band 8 criteria exist), and subjectively categorised each item in the ‘Scholarship’ and ‘Teaching’ sections using my own understanding of Boyer’s four Types.

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So the Scholarship portion of this contract seems slightly misaligned with (my reading of) Boyer’s Scholarship of Teaching, but this might be because the way that Boyerian ideas are woven into the Teaching portion (instead? as well?). The Teaching criteria read very coldly, but perhaps this is just the tone appropriate for this document. It is interesting to compare this muted language with the final sentence of a lecture which Boyer holds up as an example of good teaching:

What humanity has been telling us, [the lecturer] said, was: “love, act, or as a species perish!”

Perhaps the sober tone also reflects an understanding of Teaching which has been deepened by the very activities which Boyer valued: the systematic consideration of Teaching as a worthy Scholarly pursuit.

It might also be an embodied critique of Boyer’s categorisation: certainly, there is tremendous overlap between the Types of Scholarship. A full description of SoTL has significant overlap with Discovery, Integration, and Application. In the fullness of time, I hope to write a follow-up piece on Kern’s work, which makes this point rather elegantly.