ASE paper on scholarship (EiS, September 2007, p 30)

John Oversby

In recent years, the ASE Research Committee has aimed to promote a research-based culture at the heart of science teaching, mediate science education research findings to ASE members, promote collaboration between practitioners and researchers through activities such as action research, and contribute to policymaking that takes account of robust research conclusions. The Committee values science education research as an important tool for understanding teaching and learning which, with due reflection, could lead to more effective science education in schools. However, not all engagement with research involves the collection of new evidence. Scholarship is a form of engagement, which can lead to better understanding and action.
Of some relevance is the establishment of Chartered Science Teacher status in the UK. This requires teachers to engage with research and scholarship work, and its impact in the classroom. In this sense, the status requires science teachers to undertake some scholarship. The nature of science is very different from the nature of science education. The research upon which their respective disciplines are based differs in the types of data collected, tests for the reliability of interpretation and, often, the strength of the conclusions generated. For example, science education research is more often based on qualitative data, using social science techniques to analyse data. The outcomes are frequently fuzzy and can rarely be used to state, with strong certainty, which is the best action to take. It requires a good deal of effort for those trained in scientific research to adjust to such different ways of working and expectations.
A view of scholarship
The literature does not seem to be clear about the nature of research and scholarship. In my view, the distinction between research and scholarship features is one of empirical against secondary evidence. Both qualities are capable of producing new knowledge claims and both must be subject to scrutiny among peers, as a measure of the level of quality.
Valuing scholarship
Science education must recognise alternative forms of thinking, such asresearch and scholarship. Both are intellectual activities and can be engaged in by practising teachers. Science educators in higher education must take responsibility for teaching the skills of creating scholarship and researching, as appropriate. Mentoring on university-based and school-based ITT courses will be an important component
in developing this capacity. It could also do much to diminish the disconnection between empirical research and teaching. Education researchers often place impact in the classroom a low second in their writings. Impact is a complex matter, not simple application, and intellectual input is needed to accomplish this. Greater focus on scholarship by teachers could achieve this. We must begin to value links between research and practice, i.e. scholarship, in order to re-professionalise science teachers and to raise standards of teaching and learning in the classroom.
There are implications of taking scholarship seriously for teacher educators, teachers and policy makers. For some teacher educators, meeting the demands of the Research Assessment Exercise will continue to dominate their work, forcing attention on writing that embodies many research features. However, much scholarship will be created and honed in the teaching of pre-service and professional development courses at Masters’ level. As the body of knowledge about science education extends, and receives commentary from peers and others, a canon of scholarly wisdom will be established. Production of this knowledge, and opening it to public scrutiny, should be recognised and valued by the academic community. For teachers, an essential characteristic of good professional teaching is the engagement in scholarship. Scholarship could be enhanced by direct reflection on selected ‘research’ papers, assisted by groups like ASE producing suitable anthologies. Teachers need to have skills in evaluating research papers and programmes to develop these skills are already part of many pre-service and Masters’ courses. Formal recognition of achievements can come through the extensive network of university-based Masters’ programmes and Chartered Science Teacher status. A valuable outcome of teachers engaging with modest small-scale research in their own classrooms is that they become sensitised to existing research, and skilled in evaluating it. They also develop skills in using the research as one influence on their teaching. In relation to policy, the new TDA Standards for teachers refer only to ‘research’ for Excellent and Advanced Skills Teachers, and then only to what they call outcomes of research. However, I see all professional teachers engaging in scholarship and would like to see the ASE influencing policy makers in raisingexpectations for teachers to be scholars in the sense I have outlined above.