Mapping Scholarship in a large School of Social Sciences

Authors
Rose Gann (Head of Social and Political Sciences) and Julie Hulme (Professor in Psychology Education).
Nottingham Trent University

Table of Content

Mapping Scholarship in a large School of Social Sciences: sharing our approach and initial findings from this project.

The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SOTL) is widely recognised as providing an evidence base to enhance student learning. However, its definition is contested (Trigwell, 2013; 2021), and there are many reports claiming that SOTL is often undervalued and under-supported within universities (e.g. Hulme, 2022).

Nottingham Trent University (NTU) is a large modern university with excellent teaching and student support at the heart of its mission. Within the School of Social Sciences at NTU we were keen to find out how staff ‘on the ground’ understand and engage with scholarship. Supported by the School’s executive team, we set up a Mapping Scholarship project with the the twin aims of building scholarship cultures and identifying exemplars of ‘good’ scholarship at the disciplinary level (Felten, 2013).

The project received ethical approval from the School’s Research Ethics committee and was carried out during academic year 2022/23. It involved 8 interactive workshops, one for each of the 6 departments/institutes that comprise the School of Social Sciences. The workshops used Padlet to anonymously capture staff perspectives around a series of questions designed to provoke discussion on definitions and approaches to scholarship; factors that influence understandings of scholarship; disciplinary exemplars of scholarship; and building sustainable cultures of scholarship.

Our findings reveal high levels of uncertainty about what is meant by scholarship. This is particularly the case amongst early career staff and those joining the School via non-traditional routes (e.g., from practitioner roles). Participants’ thinking about scholarship had been influenced by formal and informal continuing professional development activities, such as, PGCert courses, course team discussions, reading SOTL literature, HEA accreditation and conference attendance. For some, learning about online and blended learning during the COVID-19 pandemic had introduced SOTL as an evidence base to inform teaching practice, but this was not universal.

Most staff were engaged in private and informal types of scholarship activity. While the value of public and systematic scholarship (Kern et al., 2013) was recognised, many participants questioned whether this aspect of scholarship should be valued over and above other types of scholarship activities – especially teaching and supporting students’ learning in the classroom – which, for many staff, took priority. Relatively few staff identified as scholars of teaching and learning and it was striking to note how many staff came to realise that they were, in fact, actively engaged in scholarship and/or scholarly teaching during the workshop discussions. Despite this, the number of disciplinary exemplars of on-going scholarship inputted during the workshops was small.

Staff responses suggest that more clarity on what is meant by scholarship and SOTL and how this it is distinct from teaching (Richlin, 2001) is much needed, along with a strong desire to enhance scholarship cultures through mentoring, scholarship groups, and role models. Alongside this, there was keen recognition of the need to (re)align structures, processes, and systems – such as appraisal documentation – to the scholarship career pathway to better acknowledge and enable staff development on this track.

References

Felten, P., 2013. Principles of good practice in SoTL. Teaching and learning inquiry, 1(1), pp.121-125.

Hulme, J.A., 2022. SUPPORTING AND DEVELOPING TEACHING-FOCUSED INDIVIDUALS TO PROFESSORIAL LEVEL. The Impact of the Integrated Practitioner in Higher Education: Studies in Third Space Professionalism.

Kern, B., Mettetal, G., Dixson, M. and Morgan, R.K., 2015. The role of SoTL in the academy: Upon the 25th anniversary of Boyer’s Scholarship Reconsidered. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, pp.1-14.

Richlin, L., 2001. Scholarly teaching and the scholarship of teaching. New directions for teaching and learning, 2001(86), pp.57-68.

Trigwell, K., 2013. Evidence of the impact of scholarship of teaching and learning purposes. Teaching and Learning Inquiry, 1(1), pp.95-105.

Trigwell, K. 2021. Scholarship of teaching and learning. Second Edition.

Note: This blog post was originally put out on the blog of the Association of National Teaching Fellows on 01.09.23 and can be accessed via: https://ntf-association.com/mapping-scholarship-in-a-large-school-of-social-sciences-sharing-our-approach-and-initial-findings-from-this-project/

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