Scholarship of Teaching and Learning – torn between the scholars and the teachers

On finding my role in my new job.

As many of you know, I’ve changed jobs a couple of months ago, and I am now in a position where I advise university teachers on their teaching while also trying to do research on how to improve students’ learning. And sometimes I feel like I am caught between a rock and a hard place*, and I have been discussing this with many people at my job.

On the one hand, my scientific self, training and background (as well all my scientist friends!) hold me to the highest standards of science.

On the other hand, I have those people that I am consulting, that want an answer from me right here and now.

How do you reconcile those two demands? Yes, I want to do science right. I want to have a large population to draw from, I want control groups, I want statistics. I want to only change one parameter at a time in order to know exactly what is influencing what, and how. And I want to give advise based on science, not gut feeling. On the other hand, I do want to help the people I am advising to improve their teaching as quickly as possible. Which sometimes means relying on my gut, changing more than one thing at a time, not having control groups, and giving in to all the other practical demands of teaching and university life.

Given the description of the position that I hold, helping the teachers is more important than doing the research. Yet I believe that what we develop as “quick fixes” can and should be made available to a wider audience. Even though it is only a report of what we did and not a scientifically sound result.

Assuming for a moment that we should publish, there is the question of where to publish. The “real” scientists won’t want my kind of studies in their “real” journals, even if we do evaluations, but the teachers wouldn’t read those kind of journals anyway.

From this blog I’ve learned that a lot of people (who wouldn’t necessarily read scientific papers on teaching oceanography) are following and enjoying this. And every week I get feedback from people who “spent at least an hour on your blog yesterday” (thanks Joke), “stalk my blog for inspiration and ideas” (thanks Jonathan), who have to tell me their experiences with one of the experiments right away and are typing with fingers red and blue from food coloring (thanks Kristin), who “aspire to be as creative as [me]” (thanks Fitz) who ask when I’ll be publishing my book or youtube channel (thanks Torge), who advertise my blog through various media (thanks Geli!!! And Kim and others), who tell me that after reading my blog they need to go and buy corn starch right away (thanks Ingrid). And this is just a random collection of feedback I found browsing my inbox.

This is amazing feedback and it means a lot to me that people find reading about my teaching helpful for their own. And that makes me think that maybe publishing results of my research on teaching and learning in this or some other blog would be so much better than trying to get it into journals where it doesn’t really fit and isn’t even really wanted. And where it would most likely not be found by those people who would use it as inspiration for their own teaching**. On the other hand that means that it would never be used by people who do research on teaching and learning, and that those two worlds – the scientific and the applied one – will continue to exist on parallel trajectories, next to each other but never intersecting.

So what to do? I’ll leave you to ponder this dilemma while I travel to Bergen to do some “real” science and meet some friends. Talk to you soon!

*neither the rock nor the hard place are too bad, though – this is still my dream job! ;-)

** “inspiration” means here that they consider it and either take it as is, or modify it, or reject it and come up with better ideas themselves. For me this blog is about inspiring thinking about teaching, not about me telling people what the solution is…

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