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some good ideas from the disciplinary commons

Some Good Ideas from the Disciplinary Commons

Sally Fincher, David Barnes, Peter Bibby, Jim Bown, Vicky Bush, Phil Campbell, Quintin Cutts, Stephan Jamieson, Tony Jenkins, Michael Jones, Dimitar Kazakov, Thomas Lancaster, Mark Ratcliffe, Monika Seisenberger, Dermot Shinners-Kennedy, Carole Wagstaff, Linda White, Chris Whyley

7th Annual HEA-ICS conference, Dublin

30th August 2006

  • I’m going to:
  • Talk about scholarship in teaching
  • Talk about the Disciplinary Commons
  • Suggest why you might be interested in this
  • Give you a rationale and motivation for reading our paper
  • Stop
  • I won’t actually tell you what’s in the paper
  • Scholarship in teaching
  • The Disciplinary Commons
  • Why you might be interested in this
  • Scholarship in teaching
  • The Disciplinary Commons
  • Why you might be interested in this
scholarship in teaching
Scholarship in teaching
  • “Scholarly Engagement” or the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL)
  • Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate (1991)
  • Ernest Boyer (President of Carnegie Foundation for Advancement of Teaching)
  • Expressly written, in part, to bridge teaching/research divide
  • The work of an academic – whatever that work is constitued to be – should always be scholarly
boyer s four scholarships
Boyer’s Four Scholarships
  • Scholarship of discovery
    • creation of new knowledge within a discipline. Traditional “research”
  • Scholarship of integration
    • connects information & ideas between disciplines or areas of knowledge. Interdisciplinary, interpretive, integrative.
  • Scholarship of application
    • use of new knowledge for practical purposes. Serves the interests of the larger community by addressing consequential problems
  • Scholarship of teaching
    • applying research results & rigour to teaching
what does this mean in practice
What does this mean in practice?
  • “When someone joins your research group, you say ‘read these articles’. When someone comes to teach a subject for the first time we say ‘just get on with it’. Why don’t we give them a set of articles?”

Lauri Malmi

Koli Calling

17th November 2005

Because …
  • “How many professional educators, when engaged in creating a new course or a new curriculum, can turn to a published, peer-reviewed scholarship of teaching in which colleagues at other colleges and universities present their experiments, their field trials, or their case studies of instruction and its consequences? … In this respect the scholarship of teaching is dramatically different from the scholarship of investigation. It’s one of the reasons why any sort of progress is so hard to come by pedagogically—because blindness and amnesia are the state of the art in pedagogy”

Lee Shulman

  • Scholarship in teaching
  • The Disciplinary Commons
  • Why you might be interested in this
  • Scholarship in teaching
  • The Disciplinary Commons
  • Why you might be interested in this
commons aims
Commons aims
  • To document and share knowledge about teaching and student learning on introductory programming courses in the UK.
  • To establish practices for the scholarship of teaching by making it public, peer-reviewed, and amenable for future use and development by other educators: creating a teaching-appropriate document of practice equivalent to the research-appropriate journal paper.
seeking teaching appropriate documentation
Seeking teaching-appropriate documentation
  • Doing teaching is not the same as writing about it
  • And equally doing research is not the same as writing about it
  • Researchers have found good ways to report their work - but these don’t necessarily fit our purposes very well
  • Course portfolios might provide a reasonable alternative
course portfolios the good
Course Portfolios: The Good
  • Well-suited to our purposes.
  • Widely known as a method for advancing teaching practice and improving student learning (Hutchings, 1998).
  • Comprises a set of documents that "focuses on the unfolding of a single course, from conception to results" (op cit, p.13).
  • The purpose of the course portfolio "is in revealing how teaching practice and student performance are connected with each other" (Bernstein, 1998, p77).
course portfolios the bad
Course Portfolios: The Bad
  • They are produced by individuals, for benchmark or personal development: rarely is there reference to wider context, and they are indivdualistic in form.

… and the Ugly

  • Examples are isolated: there’s a nice one in Drawing over here, a couple of interesting ones in Maths over there but little comparable to my subject or situation
course portfolios addressing the bad
Course Portfolios: addressing The Bad
  • The power of form is well known for research outputs
  • Allows comparability
  • Allows for the reporting of different sorts of research, with different emphases
  • Content is guaranteed by peer review
  • The Journal paper is to research as …
the lab report

The Journal Paper

  • Title page
  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Materials and Methods
  • Results
  • Discussion
  • Literature Cited
The Lab Report
  • Title
  • Hypothesis
  • Materials
  • Procedure
  • Data
  • Calculations
  • Results
  • Conclusions
the portfolio is to teaching
… the Portfolio is to teaching ?
  • Context
  • Content
  • Instructional Design
  • Delivery
  • Assessment
  • Evaluation
  • Allows comparability
  • Allows for different sorts of practice, with different emphases
  • Content guaranteed by the nature of the evidence (and how it is structured) and peer review

Each section consists of a pair of elements – an artefact from the couse, and associated commentary.

disciplinary commons participants
Disciplinary Commons: participants
  • 19 itp teachers (latterly 17) from all over UK
  • Wide geographic distribution
disciplinary commons participation and reification
Disciplinary Commons:Participation and Reification


  • We meet every month over the course of an academic year (the lifetime of the courses we focus on).
  • All come to London (grateful thanks to LSBU).
  • We reflect, we share. We observe, we review.
  • We have the deep and meaty discussions about the minutae of our practice.
disciplinary commons participation and reification20
Disciplinary Commons:Participation and Reification


  • We expose details of our work, through documentation, peer review, peer- and self- observation.
  • We record our otherwise invisible practices—via course portfolios—so it exists without our continuing presence.
  • By working together, over common material using a common form, individual portfolios are enhanced by being part of the larger archive. (Thus overcoming the Ugly)
are we nearly there yet
Are we nearly there yet?
  • Scholarship in teaching
  • The Disciplinary Commons
  • Why you might be interested in this
are we nearly there yet22
Are we nearly there yet?
  • Scholarship in teaching
  • The Disciplinary Commons
  • Why you might be interested in this
unexpected outcome
Unexpected outcome
  • Through the process of participating in the Commons we gain an unusual depth of knowledge about practice in other communities. Knowledge normally only otherwise acquired through a process of “charismatic embedding”
  • And this knowledge is precisely at a level of scholarship – not individual reflection, not presented in a format more suited to the reporting of other sorts of knowledge (“papers”). Contextualised, comparative, collegiate – created & exchanged within the Commons
  • And unobtainable in any other way.
good ideas from the disciplinary commons
Good ideas from the Disciplinary Commons
  • So when we see Good Ideas in each others’ practice, we have a wider repetoire to draw on than - with the greatest respect - you do.
  • So, read the paper, look at the Commons, talk with the Commoners










Slide 5 & 6: Ernest Boyer, Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate, Jossey-Bass, 1991

Slide 8: Lee ShulmanTaking Learning Seriously Changes Magazine, July/August 1999. Volume 31, Number 4. Pages 10-17

Slide 13: Daniel Bernstein, Putting the focus on student learning, in The Course Portfolio, Pat Hutchings (ed.), American Association for Higher Education, 1998.

Pat Hutchings (ed.), Making Teaching Community Property: A Menu for Peer Collaboration and Peer Review, American Association for Higher Education, 1996.

Pat Hutchings (ed.), The Course Portfolio: How Faculty Can Examine Their Teaching to Advance Practice and Improve Student Learning, American Association for Higher Education, 1998

  • The Disciplinary Commons was devised together with Josh Tenenberg of the University of Washington, Tacoma and we ran our Commons in parallel through the academic year 2005/6.
  • The itp Disciplinary Commons was made possible through the award of a National Teaching Fellowship 2005 to Sally Fincher.
  • This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 License.