Defining and Evaluating Scholarship Lite Content in Higher Education

A few years ago, a friend of ours in the University’s College of Education submitted materials to his departmental Promotion, Tenure, and Evaluation Committee, but because the bulk of his scholarship consisted of a continuing blog he wrote on K-12 education problems, the Committee found it difficult to evaluate his scholarship, for it didn’t fit conveniently into the established categories. Likewise, when we joined the technological revolution with these posts to “Welcome Scholars,” the question came up of how they would be evaluated as scholarship.

In our way of thinking, the profession needed additional terminology.

Defining The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning

When Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professorate (1990) appeared because “a new vision of scholarship is required” (13), Ernest Boyer’s typology divided scholarship into four categories:

  • The Scholarship of Discovery: pure research
  • The Scholarship of Integration: “making connections across the disciplines”
  • The Scholarship of Application: “the application of knowledge”
  • The Scholarship of Teaching (16-25).

Obviously, to evaluate these types of scholarship, various disciplines constructed rubrics that allowed for idiosyncrasies in their field. For instance, in our original discipline, English, quite prominent is the scholarly note, which is basically a 1200-2000-word article that focuses on a small element in a work (e.g., the grail myth in Cheever’s “The Swimmer”) with less research than found in a 5000-word article—i.e., scholarship short.

However, because Boyer had not offered much guidance or insight into the category, the Scholarship of Teaching evolved into the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SOTL). In fact, Maryellen Weimer stipulates that is the reason she wrote Enhancing Scholarly Works on Teaching & Learning (2006): “Virtually everyone agrees that, despite its significant contribution, Boyer’s monograph, Scholarship Reconsidered (1990), did not clearly and precisely define what is meant by the scholarship of teaching” (xviii). To fill this academic gap and to “make pedagogical scholarship more credible” (6), Weimer first defines SOTL as “published work on teaching and learning authored by college faculty in fields other than education” (19). Then, she elucidates on SOTL as “published practitioner pedagogical work [that] can be separated into two major categories: wisdom-of-practice scholarship and research scholarship” (40).

How Blogging Fits Into the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning

Blogging is a category having much in common with SOTL. Some posts are basically personal narratives (to use Weimer’s language) that rely more on opinions and experiences than research. Other posts are more research-oriented, what Weimer describes as “more often an isolated inquiry than part of an organized research program” that “does not generally build on previous or related work in systematic ways” (42); most such scholarship does not involve a thorough knowledge of educational research practices.

For instance, for New Forums we have basically published a series of books whose general category “It Works For Me” suggests they are not weighty research tomes, but compendiums of teaching, scholarship, and creative thinking tips that have been utilized and found effective by a scholar or instructor in the field. Interestingly, the entries in the seven books in our series reflect both of Weimer’s SOTL poles.

Blogging as Scholarship Lite

To us, scholarship lite necessitates a scholarly component-i.e., at least a single cited source central to the post’s argument. In this sense, scholarship lite resembles a scholarly note: It is characterized by less research and exists more as an isolated inquiry than a concentrated research project.

Scholarship Lite as found in blogging often resembles Weimer’s “research-oriented” pole. Obviously, though, not all blogging is scholarship lite; some blogs focus on personal experience followed by recommendations/guidelines based on that experience.

Let’s evaluate this post against those traits, and see if it comes out as scholarship lite.

  • Uses some research. This post cites the threshold research of Ernest Boyer, a book by Maryellen Weimer, and even some of our publications.
  • Creates an argument. This post tries to construct a crucial term, scholarship lite, to fill a critical void.
  • Doesn’t claim to be educational research/concentrated project. This post merely tries to establish a new concept in the scholarly vocabulary.

We need to emphasize a key idea. Scholarship lite, despite its contemporary and popular spelling, is not a pejorative term, but rather primarily descriptive. In this sense, scholarship lite is like the concept of popular literature/pop lit in simply explaining a concept; it is up to each discipline, department, and individual to decide upon its value.

Reflecting on “The Staircase Approach to Becoming a Published Scholar”

One final point is worth noting. In our It Works For Me as a Scholar-Teacher (New Forums, 2008), we spend a chapter on “The Staircase Approach to Becoming a Published Scholar,” emphasizing four consecutive steps a scholar can use to get to the top floor, publication:

  1. Begin locally.
  2. Present at state or regional conferences.
  3. Go to national conventions with your paper.
  4. Write short notes before long articles (35-37).

What we are suggesting now is an alternative approach to publication that perhaps is actually an elevator. The aspiring scholar might begin by writing blog posts that tend toward the scholarship lite pole. Posters find they often receive immediate feedback, which in turn accelerates the elevator. In addition, scholar-teachers can demonstrate the scholarship lite approach to their students, who probably feel more comfortable in the electronic arena. Win. Win.

Should we go a step further and label each post in a blog as a scholarly post or a personal post? That could be the subject of another post.



author Hal BlythePh.D Hal Blythe writes literary criticism to mystery stories. In addition to the eleven books he’s published with New Forums, Hal has collaborated on four books on a variety of subjects, over 1000 pieces of fiction/nonfiction, and a host of television scripts and interactive mysteries performed by their repertory company. He is currently co-director of the Teaching and Learning Center for Eastern Kentucky University. Meet Hal Blythe.

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