by Rebecca D. Cox, Assistant Professor of Education at Simon Fraser University and Jeni Hart, Assistant Professor of Higher Education at the University of Missouri
As the program co-chairs of Division J’s Section 4—Faculty, Curriculum & Teaching—for the upcoming annual meeting, Jeni Hart and Rebecca Cox share their musings about the “teaching” in faculty, curriculum, and teaching.
By our count, roughly one-sixth of the conference program for Section 4 is focused on the topics of postsecondary curriculum and teaching. Therefore, the majority of the Section 4 sessions is focused on faculty, rather than curriculum and teaching. This is not to suggest that the high quality research about faculty issues isn’t of value, rather we point this out to demonstrate the trends in current research submitted to Division J, and specifically to Section 4.
Why do we think this is problematic? We believe there is a need for sustained and rigorous inquiry into the complexities of teaching and, in turn, the implications for learning. Specifically, in this era of accountability, the public is very much interested in what is happening in college classrooms and the learning outcomes for students in those classrooms. As scholars in the field of higher education who want to influence public policy, we are uniquely positioned to conduct scholarship that can shape this national and international conversation. And while we are not recommending that all scholars investigate the same questions (in this case, questions about teaching and curriculum), we posit that there is substantial room for research in this area.
Upon further reflection of the dearth of proposals about teaching and curriculum in Section 4, we identified several possible explanations:
1. Submissions on teaching were directed to other sections within Division J. This may be a possible consequence of Division J’s separation between “teaching” (Section 4) and “learning” (Section 1—College Student Learning and Outcomes).
2. Submissions on postsecondary teaching were directed to other Divisions and SIGs. This raises the question of how Division J might encourage proposals on teaching and learning
3. Doctoral programs in the field offer few courses on teaching and learning, which limits the number of scholars who have a foundation upon which to build a research agenda in these areas.
4. The sheer difficulty of examining the complex and nuanced nature of teaching and learning may discourage researchers from taking it on, particularly if it means investing in an area in which they have little background knowledge while facing time constraints (e.g., degree completion or the tenure clock).
5. Other areas of inquiry in the field are “sexier,” and therefore curriculum and instruction may not be seen as viable areas of investigation. Researchers themselves, and/or colleagues and mentors, may not consider the topic of teaching as interesting. The topic may also pale in comparison to what is perceived to be more popular, fundable, or “current,” resulting in the pursuit of other research agendas.
6. Despite its centrality in the work lives of postsecondary faculty members, the practice of teaching remains largely private and invisible—even to the members of promotion and tenure committees, who rely heavily on proxies for teaching quality like student evaluations or a small sample of peer reviews.
Certainly, we recognize that our speculations as to why so few proposals in Section 4 focus on teaching and curriculum warrant a much deeper empirical examination. However, we hope that, at the very least, our musings provoke conversation among scholars about the need to support and conduct rigorous research in these areas. More importantly, we hope that such conversations result in more scholarship in these areas. As educational researchers, we have important contributions to make to the public debate about teaching and learning in the academy; if we ignore the conversation or assume someone else will conduct this work, we cannot be surprised when the public value of the academic enterprise continues to erode.