Scholarly Teaching


  • Alar Kilp




teaching in higher education, teacher’s academic development, research and teaching


Academic activities are recognized by three characteristic traits. First, they are public, which means that they are accessible throughout the world for all members of the professional community who are studying the same phenomenon or are engaged with the same professional work. Second, they are peer-reviewed by colleagues from the same professional community. Third, they are usable for all professional colleagues for distribution, citation, application, development, disputation and refutation. The article uses the metaphor of a ladder for discussing the professional development of teaching in a university. It identifies five levels in the development of the expertise of teaching: 1. The practical knowledge attained from individual teaching experience; 2. The teaching-related knowledge attained and shared during discussions with colleagues; 3. The “learning of teaching” in pedagogical courses for university teachers; 4. Teaching based on the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL); 5. Academic teaching which results in studies and contributions to the disciplinary knowledge of teaching and learning. Proper academic teaching takes place only on the two highest levels of the ladder. University teachers who have started teaching without pedagogical preparation can develop their professional teaching expertise by moving toward higher levels of the ladder. Unlike ladders in the physical world, on the higher levels of this ladder teachers keep doing the activities they did or started to do on the lower levels. Without exception, all academic teachers need to be experts in the substantive knowledge of the content. However, scientific expertise in itself is not sufficient for scholarly teaching. The scholarly teacher needs to have three types of competences: 1. Substantial knowledge of the domain and theme; 2. Basic pedagogical knowledge; 3. Pedagogical content knowledge, which combines the first two competences according to the particularities resulting from institutional context, characteristics of the study group, etc. Teaching and learning always take place within the institutional context. Until recently, probably the majority of teachers in Estonian universities teach non-academically. However, developments in European higher education seem unequivocally to be heading towards two career-paths for university teachers. Those who focused their expertise and career mostly on teaching are expected to start practicing and producing the scholarship of teaching and learning, which has become a new and universal basis whereby the quality of teaching is being assessed. The scholarship of teaching and learning is expected from those who are not doing academic research in a conventional sense. Those who pursue the research-based path of an academic career are expected to obtain the basic knowledge of scholarly teaching and to be able to explain the key elements of their teaching practice on the basis of disciplinary and pedagogical scholarly literature. Therefore, there ought to be enough incentives for all university teachers to consider teaching a scholarly activity and to practice it in a scholarly way as well.


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