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Higher Education and the American Dream

Marvin Lazerson

Part III. The Teaching and Learning Conundrum

Chapter 6. A revolution in teaching and learning?1

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  • 1 A prior version was co-authored with Ursula Wagener and Nichole Shumanis.

Has a lot of rhetoric been expended on a potential revolution in teaching and learning? Yes. Have public policies emerged to require or invite improved student learning? Yes. Are numerous teaching innovations being undertaken? Some. What initiated and sustains these activities? Probably external pressures and a few people in higher education devoted to the improvement of teaching. With all this activity, why should we be so agnostic about a teaching and learning revolution? Because there are few serious incentives to improve the quality of learning and because improving the quality of learning is exceedingly difficult. There are no silver bullets!

1Let’s face it, there is no large-scale, serious movement to improve the quality of teaching in higher education. The claims that new technology is dramatically altering the way students learn and the ways professors teach are overstated, a cross between naïve and self-serving. If you believe them, there are a lot of other things I would like to sell you. There are, nonetheless, tremendous concerns about the quality of what students are learning, the ‘value-added’ by colleges or universities to what students already know. With conflicts erupting over how high tuition should be in the context of universities and colleges needing more money and students (and their families) angry at costs, issues of value-added and knowledge gained are on the table. Something is happening; we just do not know exactly what the something is.

2Rumblings about the quality of teaching and learning began as a sidebar to the economic difficulties and caustic criticisms of higher education during the 1980s. Critics saw higher education as a poorly run industry, fiscally irresponsible and managerially inefficient, and they focused on organizational restructuring and ways to constrain expenses. In the jargon of the day, well-run organizations require efficient structures, strong leadership, and cost containment. Teaching and learning should also be measured along these lines, and when the critics looked, they discovered that college students learned too little, that professors taught very few hours per week, that students were leaving college before completing their degrees, and even when they did graduate, they were ill-equipped for the labor market.

3The worries about teaching and learning in the early 1980s began as afterthoughts, which grew as complaints about higher education increased. Public officials picked them up and called upon professors to teach more often and more efficiently. Officials suggested that the public had a right to see evidence that students were learning and that public accountability included educational outcomes, as well as the standard reports to accrediting agencies and to auditing and accounting firms. On campuses, conversations turned to teaching and curricular innovations. Some schools tampered with their general education offerings, revising required and elective courses; many increased the number of course offerings and developed interdisciplinary majors as ways to make learning more inviting and attractive. Greater expenditures on technology to support teaching and learning occurred. A few schools, especially in the health professions, introduced competency-based learning to test how competent students were at using their knowledge. Teaching and writing centers were established, designed to help professors and graduate students become better teachers and aid students in preparing papers. Learning communities started to become popular, especially at residential schools where faculty and students could spend more time together, but also within a few community colleges. These efforts were attempts to rebalance the conversation about what matters in higher education by adding teaching and learning to the organizational restructuring, managerial changes, and cost-cutting that was coming to dominate reform. As a consequence, how professors taught and how much students learned became part of the public dialogue over higher education.

4National reports by higher education organizations were one forum for stimulating interest in teaching and learning, and criticizing curricular content, teaching practices, learning outcomes, and insufficient student involvement in their learning. The rhetoric was lofty—”value-added,” “collaborative and cooperative learning,” “classroom assessment,” and “teaching as scholarship.” Studies of the brain helped educators to better understand cognitive processes. For one of the first times in American higher education history, attention focused not only on “what is taught,” but “how it is taught,” “what students learn, “and “how they learn it.” Given the heightened attention to organizational change, the national conversation about teaching and learning that ensued raised questions about the mechanisms of change. Given the organization of higher education, how could reforms be implemented?

5Many of the initial answers came from outside higher education: change had to be imposed by public bodies through a punishment-and-reward system activated through the assessment of learning outcomes. From within higher education the answer was quite different: professorial participation in shaping and implementing curricular and pedagogical change depended upon faculty buy-in. Faculty as a collective—as opposed to individual faculty members— had to be persuaded to take teaching and student learning seriously. To bring about this change, higher education’s value and reward system would need modifications, including the elevation of teaching’s status and a new understanding of teaching as a researchable, valued, and rewarded scholarly activity. This violated the prevailing norms that scholarship was more highly valued than teaching and that teaching was an individual faculty member’s responsibility protected by academic freedom. Public demands for accountability had to be balanced, if not held in abeyance, by the sanctity of higher education’s autonomy.

6These conflicting presumptions—the public’s demand for documented measures of accountability versus higher education’s belief that its vitality depended upon maintaining its autonomy—shaped and constrained the teaching and learning revolution. Within those constraints, some within higher education engaged (and continue to engage) in vigorous efforts to encourage professors to take learning seriously, even as resistance to change remains high. The task was made even more difficult, because how to produce good learning is itself highly complex; even with the best of intentions, outcomes are always uncertain.

6.1 American education at risk

7The teaching and learning reform movement took shape in the 1980s as the U.S. economy stumbled and a wave of criticism overtook elementary and secondary education. The triggering event was the Reagan administration’s National Commission on Excellence in Education, A Nation at Risk (1983). In bold and frightening language, the Commission charged Americans with committing economic and national security suicide by failing to uphold academic standards in their schools. The curriculum, the Commission believed, had been watered down—“dumbed down” was the commonly used phrase—teachers were ill-trained, and money was being spent wastefully. Students knew little mathematics or science, read poorly, and wrote even worse. It was long past the time when public officials could ignore the nation’s educational deficiencies.

8A Nation at Risk initiated a national catharsis. State after state in the 1980s and early 1990s passed legislation increasing the requirements for high school graduation and demanding statewide standardized testing. The Reagan and Bush administrations of the 1980s and early 1990s, hardly proponents of increased federal intervention, introduced a national report card on how students were doing based on a series of standardized tests taken by elementary and high school students, while simultaneously opening debate about the creation of national academic achievement standards. States quickly joined in, legislating more rigorous high school graduation requirements, standardized learning assessment, and establishing minimum learning standards review committees in a variety of subjects. Mandates for more comprehensive teacher assessment led to the creation of new organizations or invigorated interest from existing organizations to hold teachers to higher academic standards. Educational outcomes—what students actually knew—took on greater importance, with the debate centering on how to determine what they should know and how to implement measures to make more learning happen. The movement to improve the quality of elementary and secondary learning was given still further impetus when the results of international achievement tests showed American students to be behind their counterparts around the world (Elmore and Fuhrman, 1990).

9By the early 1990s, the charges that America’s public schools were malfunctioning had stimulated a host of efforts, some contradictory, to improve the quality of teaching and learning. The tension between accountability measures, largely driven by those outside the educational system, and the attempts within schools to reconceptualize the environments for students’ learning—by, for example, introducing smaller classes—was often palpable. Demands for higher academic standards and more standardized testing of outcomes, a more rigorous curriculum, better teacher training, portfolios that assessed student learning, the reorganization of school districts and individual schools into smaller entities, the creation of charter schools, greater parental choice, and increased parental involvement in their children’s education, all competed with one another. At the same time, a new mantra of learning, based in part upon research into how children learn, told educators to make schools more “learner-centered.” Translated, this seemed to mean some combination of holding all students to higher academic standards, emphasizing active learning and student engagement, making schoolwork relevant to students, and individualizing instruction.

10Inescapably, criticisms of elementary and secondary schooling spilled over into higher education. One source came from the corporate sector. During the early 1980s, with a national economy in the doldrums and seemingly being overwhelmed by Asia’s boom, corporate leaders undertook massive restructuring of their operations. They quickly conceived of higher education’s problems in the same terms, as ones of organizational inefficiencies, weak governance and decision-making structures, poor leadership, and excessive costs of operation artificially hidden by rapidly rising tuition charges. Politicians weighed in, painting higher education with the same “tax and spend” brush that so successfully spearheaded Republican political triumphs. Public colleges and universities were like other public agencies—overly subsidized and protected by government from the rigors of marketplace competition. Professors became another version of federal bureaucrats, in the language of the day, simply putting in their time without being held to clear measures of accountability. Angrily, critics charged that professors taught too few students for too few hours with too little interest. Academic leaders were denounced as weak and obstructionist, unwilling or unable to make forceful decisions in a timely fashion. As Harvard’s president, Derek Bok, noted in the mid-1980s, “Governors and other public figures are openly wondering just what results are being obtained in exchange for the billions spent on higher education” (Bok, 1986).

11The attacks were vitriolic, the kind of anger that comes from trust betrayed. The higher education system that had grown so fast and become so powerful had badly stumbled and was in urgent need of repair. In what became the standard litany of the 1980s, Chester Finn, Jr., a former official in the U.S. Department of Education, issued an indictment of colleges and universities for admitting unqualified students, coddling them, and resisting genuine assessments of student learning. Explicitly tying his critique to the emergent criticism of America’s public schools, Finn charged that “American colleges and universities have thus far largely escaped the intense scrutiny to which our elementary and secondary schools have been subjected. This reprieve should not, however, be taken as proof that higher education has somehow eluded the qualitative decay that has weakened the schools” (Finn, 1984).

12Voices from corporate America reinforced these views. With corporate leaders assuming greater influence on state boards of higher education and boards of trustees, attention centered on organizational and economic failings, with business leaders faulting colleges and universities for not adopting the principles of corporate America—cutting costs, re-engineering and restructuring business operations, and demanding more efficient and more productive workers—and for not having a genuine ‘bottom line.’ In contrast to the world of business, colleges and universities lacked serious mechanisms of accountability. Indeed, in order to counter this notion that higher education lacked accountability, higher education began to refer to student learning as its bottom line. Public officials quickly acknowledged that this might be the case, and then turned back to higher education to demand proof that it was in fact producing results. As Governor John Ashcroft of Missouri, chair of the National Governors’ Association Task Force on College Quality, wrote, “The public has the right to know what it is getting for its expenditure of tax resources; the public has a right to know and understand the quality of undergraduate education that young people receive from publicly funded colleges and universities. They have a right to know that their resources are being wisely invested and committed” (National Governors’ Association, 1986).

6.2 Learning, assessment, and accountability

13The view that higher education was in deep need of reform found expression in a host of national reports through the 1980s, from the National Institute of Education (1984), the National Endowment for the Humanities (Bennett, 1984), the Association of American Colleges (1985), and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching (Newman, 1985). Perhaps the report with the greatest public policy impact, the National Governors’ Association’s Time for Results appeared in 1986. Chaired by three of the country’s most prominent governors—Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, future president Bill Clinton of Arkansas, and Thomas Kean of New Jersey—Time for Results painted a broad canvas of what was needed for states to improve the condition of elementary, secondary, and collegiate education. To the governors the need for reform was self-evident: economic productivity required a better-educated workforce.

14The Governors’ Association Task Force on College Quality concentrated on learning, or more accurately, as the task force’s chair wrote, on the lack of “a systematic way to demonstrate whether student learning is taking place.” For the governors, the central learning issue was assessment: “The Task Force on College Quality decided to focus on how colleges and universities can demonstrate that student learning is occurring. In addition to investigating how colleges and universities can assess student learning, the task force also studied data on how student outcomes can be used to assess the effectiveness of academic programs, curriculums, and institutions” (National Governors’ Association, 1986, pp. 20–21, 154– 165).

15The report highlighted the dominant theme in the public’s perception of what was needed to improve higher education—stronger measures of accountability. Public assessment of student learning was especially important because it would hold colleges and universities accountable in their primary business, teaching and learning. Assessment of student learning was a way to account for the large expenditures of public funds given to higher education, a way to justify the powerful influence colleges and universities had in awarding status to individuals, and, for some, a way to reverse the public’s loss of confidence in higher education. In this sense, the assessment of learning paralleled the bottom line in business, a way to account for the investments and a mechanism to improve return on investment.

16Assessment as public policy grew swiftly. Almost no state in the early 1980s required institutions of higher education to assess their students’ learning beyond the usual fare of course examinations and papers. By the end of the decade more than 40 states had taken action designed to get public universities and colleges to assess learning outcomes, and all six regional accrediting associations included outcomes assessment in their criteria for accreditation of both public and private institutions. Assessment of student learning, Patricia Hutchings and Theodore Marchese of the American Association of Higher Education concluded in 1990, was becoming “a condition of doing business” (Hutchings and Marchese, 1990).

17Actual state assessment polices varied, from those that mandated statewide testing of students (e.g., Florida) to those that sought to encourage institutional reporting on a variety of indicators of effectiveness as part of a general review process (Aper and Hinkle, 1991). Most states opted to require institutions to develop their own local assessment procedures consistent with their missions and student consumers. Such an approach was intended to acknowledge institutional autonomy and to allay schools’ fears of inter-institutional comparisons. At the same time, set-aside funds were made available to institutions in the form of grant-like incentive pools to encourage instructional innovation consistent with assessment.

18At the federal level, the Fund for the Improvement of Post-secondary Education (FIPSE), which had historically been at the center of efforts at innovation, turned its support to the development of campus assessment programs. The National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges (NASULGC) responded to the continued expansion of state assessment efforts by promulgating guiding principles regarding assessment policies, including focusing on the effectiveness of academic programs and the improvement of student learning and performance, calling upon states to use incentives rather than regulations or penalties, and to develop such incentives collaboratively with faculty.

19Fairly early on then, the broad shape of the assessment movement was set. States pressed colleges and universities to take the assessment of learning seriously and to use the outcomes data to reshape their curriculum and to alter teaching in order to improve what and how much students learned. Higher education organizations, like NASULGC, urged states to provide incentives for institutions to use learning assessment as a mechanism of change and urged campuses to “own” assessment as a way to improve academic programs and increase student learning—and not incidentally, to protect institutional autonomy. On one level, then, Hutchings and Marchese were right: by the 1990s the assessment movement was making major inroads into higher education and was playing an important role in prodding colleges and universities to talk about student learning.

20However, that was only part of the story. Faculty tended to view assessment as externally imposed and having little to do with their business of research and teaching, as well as being sensitive to the political and economic uses that state-imposed assessments could be put. Assessment also seemed yet another reporting requirement in a growing list of such requirements, and faculty responded negatively to the intrusiveness of the demands. With few incentives to cooperate, at least as perceived by faculty, professors showed little enthusiasm for being held responsible for student learning. The traditional norm was that professors brought knowledge to the classroom and taught it; college students chose to learn it or not. Postsecondary education, after all, was optional, not compelled. That norm among faculty was not easily overturned (Ewell, 1999; Banta and Associates, 1993).

21Multiple problems existed. One involved the conflicting messages, those being sent by the externally driven assessment movement and those being received by institutions. Because the assessment movement emerged out of the cascade of criticism about higher education, it became inseparable from efforts to hold colleges and universities accountable and often seemed more about accountability and power than about improving the quality of learning. Even those faculty genuinely interested in improving student learning found themselves fighting against a perception that doing so would be to capitulate to the bullying tactics that threatened higher education’s autonomy. Public bodies found the organizational complexities of colleges and universities confusing and frustrating. Meanwhile political and corporate leaders had little patience for inaction. Most higher education institutions had little experience in collective decision-making and even less in having to make and implement decisions quickly. Despite the rhetoric of shared governance and faculty responsibility for an institution’s success, most higher education institutions were collections of schools and departments that functioned fairly autonomously from one another, often viewing each other as involved in a zero sum gain, where one department’s gains were perceived as losses elsewhere. With the bulk of the faculty holding tenure, there existed few mechanisms to require change. The traditional pattern of leaving decisions about teaching and curriculum to individual faculty members and departments remained in place. It was hard to hold a meaningful conversation or to agree on new rules of the game in such circumstances.

22There were also serious and almost totally unaddressed questions about the relationships between assessments of learning and changes in academic programs and teaching. What did it mean to instructors when they were told that their students were not performing well on writing or historical knowledge? There were the dilemmas of measurement itself as well. Faculty rightly asked such questions as: “What do we want to know?” “Why do we want to know it?” “How should we measure it?” “What will we do with the answers?” Such questions were both defensive reactions to external pressures—ways of setting up shields until the political clamor died down—and genuine attempts to comprehend what was worth doing and how.

23By the end of the 1990s, it had become obvious that state-mandated assessments had not altered undergraduate education; public officials consequently lost patience with the slow pace of change and the occasional outright resistance of some (often prominent) institutions to the assessment agenda (Ewell, 1999). They became frustrated with the difficulties in getting clear measures of what students were learning and the difficulties in comparing data across institutions when assessment measures were being created institution by institution, thus making it exceedingly difficult to use the information to make budgetary and funding allocation decisions. With change barely noticeable, state legislatures and state boards of higher education shifted from the view that colleges and universities should set the terms of campus-based assessments, thereby giving substantial freedom to institutions and complicating inter-institutional comparisons, and started to demand more standardized and more easily measured indicators of performance: enrollment and graduation rates; degree completion and time to degree; persistence and retention rates; remediation activities and indicators of their effectiveness; transfer rates to and from two- and four-year institutions; pass rates on professional exams; job placement data on graduates and graduates’ satisfaction with their jobs; and faculty workload and productivity in the form of student-faculty ratios and instructional contact hours (Burke and Serban, 1998a, 1998b).

24The shift to performance outcomes and common indicators that could be more easily obtained, more easily quantified, and more easily compared attested to the complexities involved in measuring learning, and were simpler ways public agencies could make comparative analyses for budgetary allocations. These kinds of measurable outcomes could be viewed as alternative ways of assessing teaching and learning. Graduation rates, amounts of remediation, degree completion time, job placement, and faculty workload could serve as surrogates for direct measures of learning. And such data could be gotten from more compliant college and university administrators without excessive dependence on faculty buy-in. In short order, efforts shifted from state mandates that institutions create campus-based assessments to the creation of state-required performance- funding and performance-budgeting. The former tied state funds directly to public college and university achievement of designated indicators; the latter took a laundry list of indicators into consideration in determining higher education budgets.

25The movement toward common indicators tied to institutional and system-wide performance outcomes achieved robust growth. In 1998 half the states were using some form of performance indicators in their budgetary allotments to institutions and statewide systems, including Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, and Washington. The Rockefeller Institute of Government projected that even more states were likely to move in that direction in the next five years (Burke and Serban, 1998[a]). Although most performance-based budgeting policies affected less than 5% of the higher education budgets—sometimes available as new money offered as incentives—the policies were explicitly aimed to get institutions to change the ways they did business. In Tennessee, the first state to implement performance-budgeting, roughly 5% of the state’s budget for higher education was earmarked for incentive bonuses for institutions that met or exceeded state-determined and institutionally-defined goals, such as improved student performance on various tests and student and alumni satisfaction with their education. South Carolina’s General Assembly passed a more ambitious financing system in 1996, in which the amount of money that each public college received from the state depended entirely on its progress in meeting a list of goals (Schmidt, 1996).

26As the 21st century began, the assessment movement was both flourishing and in shambles. As an externally driven phenomenon, the movement had forced student learning onto higher education’s agenda. A survey of chief academic officers at almost 1,400 public and private institutions showed that the overwhelming majority— between 74 percent and 96 percent depending on the measure— reported collecting student assessment data, including progress to degree, basic college readiness skills, academic intentions, and student satisfaction with their undergraduate experience. But beneath the movement’s rapid implementation were some jolting revelations. Only around a third of the institutions assessed students’ higher order learning skills, affective development, or professional skills. The use of alternative forms of assessment, like the much talked about portfolios, capstone projects, and observations of student performance was infrequent. “Most institutions’ approaches emphasize the use of easily quantifiable indicators of student progress and pay less attention to more complex measures of student development.” Most powerfully, there was little evidence that any of the institutional assessment measures were being used either to improve institutional approaches to student learning or to make budgetary allocations (National Center for Postsecondary Improvement, 1999).

27The assessment movement was neither assessing learning in any direct sense nor was it connecting the findings of the assessments to faculty teaching, evaluations, or rewards. The disjunction between the assessments and faculty behavior remained substantial. To some extent, these failures derived from the externally driven nature of the assessment movement. Campus conversations often became mired down in complaints over assessment’s imposition and its threats to academic integrity rather than on the ways faculty taught and students learned. In contrast to the more hierarchical governance of corporations, higher education institutions had little experience in reaching collective decisions linked to quick implementation. Faculty trained to teach their disciplines showed little interest in assessments that went beyond the norms of course examinations and papers; they rarely possessed much understanding of how to link data from assessments to the ways they taught. Institutional leaders were themselves reluctant to press for concrete linkages between assessment’s findings and faculty classroom activities. Most often, they settled for the collection of data in ways that made their institution look good and help reduce political pressures. For many faculty, a heightened emphasis on teaching and learning seemed to put their commitments to research, and the status attached to research, at risk. While most academic administrators—72% in the survey cited above—reported they strongly supported student assessments, these same administrators identified only 24% of their faculty as being very supportive of student-assessment measures. Interpreting the survey, Ted Marchese, Change’s executive editor and vice president of the American Association for Higher Education, concluded: “the assessment movement, following 15 years of imprecation and mandate, has produced widely observed rituals of compliance on campus, but these have had only minor impacts on the aims of the practice—to improve student learning and public understanding of our contributions to it. To say the least, this is a disappointment” (Marchese, 1999).

6.3 Voices of reform

28The assessment movement was a high-profile public campaign to improve the quality of teaching and learning on college and university campuses. Its ambiguous results during the 1980s and 1990s attested to the difficulties of externally imposing changes on the ways institutions, and especially faculty, went about their business. From within higher education itself, however, other attempts to kindle stronger allegiances to the quality of student learning were being undertaken. In particular, a small group of individuals, in many cases linked to national higher education organizations, led a campaign to get colleges and universities to take teaching and student learning seriously. They were joined by faculty and administrators on numerous campuses pressing to reorient and invigorate their schools’ commitments to teaching and learning by connecting their goals to institutional missions and academic values.

  • 2 Obviously sharp differences exist among colleges and universities in the ways they treat research (...)

29Aware of how politically difficult change would be, especially at the large research-oriented universities, the learning reformers recognized the need to play the “imperative” card, that external pressures demanded change, while being careful not to provoke further faculty backlash with heavy-handed threats. They understood that professors held fast to the norms of faculty autonomy, the right to pursue the research of their choice and to conduct their classes largely unfettered by bureaucratic constraints or oversight. The reformers appreciated that higher education’s value system, even at many self-described “teaching” institutions, placed research at the top of the status hierarchy. It was thus necessary, the reformers believed, to show that teaching could be a scholarly, researchable activity. The reformers recognized that most professors knew little about alternative forms of teaching or ways of assessing their teaching, and that changes in teaching practice were time consuming. The learning reformers understood that their calls to invigorate teaching and learning challenged higher education’s institutional culture.2

30The national and local conversations on the improvement of teaching and learning that emerged were both defensive and proactive, designed simultaneously to blunt the interventions of external agencies and to turn faculty attention toward teaching and learning. The reformers called upon colleges and universities to make teaching and learning legitimate subjects of research and to focus on assessment and research in the classroom. A new language about the scholarship of teaching emerged, along with recommendations to modify a rigid research-oriented promotion system for faculty. Faced with the externally driven assessment and accountability pressures, the reformers contended that highlighting the importance of teaching and learning would protect institutional autonomy from encroachment by external agencies. Acknowledging the highly competitive market for students, they understood that the failure to show substantial interest in student learning undermined an institution’s attractiveness to students, with resulting fiscal consequences. Perhaps most poignantly, they valued student learning for its own sake, believing that higher education had been led astray in neglecting it. Six of these higher education reformers achieved particular prominence: Alexander Astin of the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA; Derek Bok and Richard Light of Harvard University; Ernest Boyer of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching; K. Patricia Cross of Harvard, UC-Berkeley and the American Association for Higher Education (AAHE); and Lee Shulman of Stanford University and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. They were not alone; on numerous campuses, groups of faculty and administrators engaged in battles to reshape faculty and student responsibility toward learning. But these six captured national attention; they were frequently cited and used on campuses to make the case for reform. Their stories illuminate what was happening.

Learning environments: Alexander Astin

31In the early and mid-1980s, Alexander Astin, director of the UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute, articulated two paths for learning reformers to follow. Having achieved national prominence for his work on student values, most notably through an annual sur - vey of college freshmen that was administered to more than 375,000 students each year at about 700 two- and four-year colleges, Astin’s first path challenged higher education’s ways of measuring educational quality; his second called for a new emphasis on learning environments.

32Astin began by claiming that the four traditional standards typically used to measure quality were badly flawed:

  • quality as measured by resources (e.g., endowment, external research funding);
  • quality as measured by reputation (e.g., faculty prestige, professional attainment of graduates);
  • quality as measured by student outcomes (e.g., retention and graduation rates, salaries of graduates); and
  • quality as measured by curricular content.

33These measures had little to do with the actual accomplishments of colleges in teaching their students. They said nothing about results— how well a college’s students learned what they were taught. A college’s quality, he argued, should instead be measured by the value added to its students’ learning and by the extent to which a college extended the talents of its students. If learning was to be taken seriously, higher education had to factor learning directly into assessments of institutional quality—and by extension, into an institution’s prestige (Astin, 1985a, 1985b).

34Astin’s second path more directly attended to learning itself: campuses and classrooms had to be reorganized to engage students if they were actually to learn. Initially in articles and then more widely under the aegis of the National Institute of Education’s Involvement in Learning (1984)—Astin was a member of the panel that drafted the report—he argued that effective learning required high expectations, student involvement in their own learning, and assessment and feedback as a means of furthering learning, themes similarly being articulated by many K-12 educational reformers. Indeed, the idea that schools of all kinds could be reorganized into more powerful learning environments was being supported by an outpouring of research on how people learn (Bransford, Brown, and Cocking, 1999). The standard methods of teaching—lecturing and discussion sections—it was clear, would not engage students. By the mid-1980s, Astin’s emphasis on student academic outcomes based on assessments of “value-added” as measures of institutional quality and his belief that campuses could be reorganized to focus on learning were being picked up. In 1985, the Association of American Colleges’ Integrity in the College Curriculum (1985) defined educational quality in terms of student learning. Beginning with “the problems”—declining SAT scores; college graduates with serious deficiencies in writing and lacking scientific and technical understanding; a curriculum without depth, breadth, or coherence; and professors who were too specialized and too concerned with research—the report advocated a college curriculum that emphasized modes of inquiry rather than a set of required courses. Colleges should emphasize “how to learn” rather than “what to learn,” phrases congruent with Astin’s views (Wagener, 1989).

35Astin’s voice sketched out two of the paths that learning reformers would and continue to travel. The first claimed that as long as measurements of institutional quality and status failed to include an institution’s contribution to student learning, little incentive existed to improve teaching. It simply made no sense to think of institutional quality without thinking about the quality of learning, thereby giving shape to the Quality Assessment movement of the last few decades. The second path contended that learning could not be improved without altering campus and classroom learning environments. The typical format of professors giving information to students and the students dutifully learning it was not going to have any substantial affect on learning, even when it occurred via technology. Both of Astin’s paths had to be followed. Assessments of learning had to be taken into account in reputational rankings of institutional quality and students had to be involved in their own learning if they were to learn. The paths were simultaneously clear and hard to follow.

The Harvard dynamic: Derek Bok and Richard J. Light

36Derek Bok, Harvard University’s president from 1971 to 1991, who served a short term as acting president in the early 2000s, was an unlikely candidate to push teaching and learning reform. But, like a number of other leaders of higher education in the 1980s, Bok was concerned with the public’s anger and bewilderment about skyrocketing tuition and the results of the billions of dollars annually spent on higher education. For higher education’s private sector, pressure to reform came from parents, potential students, the media, and a heightened competitive environment, rather than from state legislators and state accountability measures. Responding to these pressures, Bok asked, “What do we really know about the value of a college education? In fact, the evidence we have is at once thin and disturbing… There is little cause for celebration in research findings indicating that the average [college] senior knows only as much as students at the 84th percentile of the freshman class; it is even more disturbing to note other findings that reveal much lower rates of progress in such important activities as critical thinking and expository writing.” Adopting Astin’s language of value added, and essentially accepting that powerful external pressures demanded that higher education develop a marketplace bottom-line, Bok concluded that universities and colleges had to show that they genuinely added to their students’ knowledge. He urged faculty to determine common goals for undergraduate education, to connect those goals to their individual teaching, and to work to help students learn how to learn. While not giving way on the importance of research faculty at research universities, Bok exhorted the higher education community to take teaching and student learning seriously (Bok, 1986), a theme he has continued to take up (Bok, 2007).

37Seeking to reshape how college students learned was not a new phenomenon for Harvard, although the voice of reform had been largely absent from national conversations about education since the 1960s. That had not always been the case. In the last decades of the 19th century, Harvard President Charles William Eliot instituted a revolution in higher education by making electives—faculty and student choice in what to teach and to learn—the centerpiece of the university’s curriculum. The “house system” of the 1920s at Harvard and Yale ushered in a conception of living and learning that became a continuing motif of educational reformers. In the immediate aftermath of World War II, the Harvard faculty’s Redbook articulated an approach to undergraduate education that emphasized general education in the interests of creating more knowledgeable and responsible citizens.

38Still, Bok’s entry into the national debate about teaching and learning was surprising. Even more so was his decision to ask his Harvard colleagues to examine Harvard’s learning environment, an examination that Bok himself was undertaking in his annual reports on the quality of the university’s various schools. To facilitate the examination, he turned to a statistics professor, Richard Light, who held appointments at both Harvard’s Graduate School of Education and the Kennedy School of Government, to oversee a series of seminars with people from within and outside Harvard. Beginning in the fall of 1986, an initial group of 27 Harvard faculty and administrators convened the Harvard Assessment Seminars; over the next four years the group expanded to include more than 100 people drawn from more than two dozen colleges and universities. They sought to “encourage innovation in teaching, in curriculum, in advising, and to evaluate the effectiveness of each innovation.” Bok himself expressed his commitment to the enterprise by attending the Seminars’ regular monthly meetings for the first six months of their existence.

39Working in small groups comprised of faculty, administrators, and students, the Seminars surveyed samples of Harvard College undergraduates and alumni and then issued a nationally disseminated report (Light, 1990). Among the findings: student learning increased when students had immediate feedback on quizzes and assignments and when they were given opportunities for revision. Students learned better in small classes, when they used study groups, and when they shared their written papers with peers ahead of class. Not surprisingly, the findings were congruent with Alexander Astin’s views and the National Institute of Education’s Involvement in Education (1984). The most often cited teaching tip derived from a suggestion of Seminar participant K. Patricia Cross, that professors should use a “one-minute paper,” which asks students to respond to two questions at the end of each class: 1) What is the big point you learned in class today? and 2) What is the main unanswered question you leave class with today? Each of the questions was designed to foster student learning through active listening and to get students to think of the broad goals of the class rather than the details of any particular topic. As noted below, Cross’ instant replay paper was part of her effort to channel higher education’s assessment movement into classroom practice based on what faculty believed they were trying to accomplish.

40The Harvard Assessment Seminars helped advance discussions of teaching and learning among Harvard’s faculty, administrators, students, and alumni, while staying clear of any substantial assessment of Harvard’s teaching practices or student outcome measures, ironically, two of the things Bok had found most important. The impact at Harvard itself is difficult to assess. The most concrete example of impact occurred in Harvard’s Danforth Center for Teaching and Learning, which was renamed in honor of Derek Bok and shifted its traditional almost exclusive focus on graduate student teaching assistants to pay more attention to faculty teaching. Light himself has been unflagging in his commitment to improve learning on college and university campuses (Light, 2001).

41The national response to the results of the Harvard Assessment Seminars was substantial and immediate—Light called it “astonishing”— for they hit the higher education community at precisely the moment when teaching and learning were becoming public issues. Light initially requested that 1,000 copies be printed, primarily for distribution within Harvard. By the late 1990s, he had received 18,000 requests for copies; the number reproduced on campuses is incalculable. Much to his surprise, Light became a national spokes - person for improved teaching and a greater focus on student learning. His advice was sound and practical: pay more attention to how your students learn, stimulate greater interaction among them, respond quickly to their work, and ask them to assess what they have learned on an ongoing basis. Although the reports shied away from confronting higher education’s research-oriented reward and value system, they contained within them implicit and potentially powerful notions: universities and professors should take greater responsibility for how much their students learn and there were practical steps that would improve learning.

42Derek Bok and Richard Light combined to give further legitimization to the emergent focus on teaching and learning. Bok’s challenge that colleges and universities show value-added learning as an outcome of enrollment helped to push higher education toward a greater focus on outcomes, toward some notion of the business world’s bottom-line. Light’s proposals to modify teaching in the interests of greater student learning brought substance to what were often vague pleas to teach better. And, the implicit notion that faculty had more direct responsibility for how much their students learned held the seeds of a potential revolution.

The scholarship of teaching: Ernest L. Boyer

43In the half-century after World War II, higher education’s faculty reward system became dominated by the ethos of research. Institutional stature and individual professorial prestige were intimately connected to research productivity, externally funded research grants, and awards for scholarly research. So powerful was the ethos of research that many colleges and universities with self-proclaimed teaching missions substantially increased the role of research in faculty hiring and promotions until it became a given of professorial life—even as few faculty actually did very much of it. The conundrum for the teaching and learning reforms was simple to state, but exceedingly difficult to resolve. Given the enchantment with research, how could institutions and faculty be convinced to dignify teaching with the same status as research? How could higher education shift from teaching as an honored but invisible activity, to use W. Norton Grubb’s phrase, to teaching that was both honored and visible (Grubb, et. al., 1999)?

44The answer was actually quite simple, at least at the level of rhetoric. For Ernest Boyer, as well as for K. Patricia Cross and Lee Shulman (discussed below), higher education had to connect teaching and learning to faculty disciplinary and professional life. In particular, Boyer believed that scholarship could be redefined in such a way as to incorporate a wide variety of faculty work, including teaching. President of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching between 1979 and his death in 1995, former U.S. Commissioner of Education, and former Chancellor of the State University of New York, Boyer’s solution to the dilemma of how to give teaching public importance was brilliant: teaching would be recognized as a legitimate subject of research. As such, it could be subjected to the same kind of peer assessments as research. Rather than attacking higher education’s preoccupation with scholarly productivity, and thus asking higher education to choose between research and teaching in a zero-sum game, Boyer called for teaching itself to become a scholarly activity.

45Two reports by the Carnegie Foundation, both issued in 1987, initiated Boyer’s campaign. Burton R. Clark’s The Academic Life (1987) covered the landscape of what constituted professorial work. A well-respected sociologist whose article on the “cooling-out process” of community colleges was considered seminal by higher education scholars, Clark’s book highlighted the “paradox of academic work:” most professors teach most of the time and many professors teach all of the time and do not publish scholarly studies, but teaching is neither highly valued nor highly rewarded. Rewards went for something in which only a very limited number of professors were engaged—research (Clark, 1987, p. 98). Boyer’s College: the Undergraduate Experience in America (1987) presented the results of a three-year study of 29 colleges, highlighting a series of tensions embedded in higher education: discontinuity between colleges and high schools, student-versus-faculty expectations in the classrooms, and the pressure to publish versus teaching commitments. These tensions, Boyer believed, manifested deep confusion over institutional goals and revealed the need to establish a clear and vital collegiate mission. And that required an “integrated core… a program of general education that introduces students not only to general knowledge, but to connections across the disciplines, and in the end, to the application of knowledge to life beyond the campus” (p. 91).

46Boyer’s complaints and his proposed integrated core within a general education program were hardly new and his curricular prescriptions did not seem likely to elicit much comment or attention. Boyer’s centrality in the emergent discussion of learning came instead from his attempt to re-situate teaching as a research activity. Highlighting Clark’s finding that most professors spent most to all of their time teaching, Boyer claimed that most faculty, even those at small teaching colleges, nonetheless believed that research was more highly valued than teaching. Professors believed they worked in a system in which their primary activity—teaching— was diminished. And that problem, they and Boyer concluded, was rooted in a reward system that overemphasized research.

47Boyer’s answer, articulated in his most widely cited and controversial work, Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate (1990), broadened the definition of scholarship itself by defining in more creative ways what it meant to be a scholar. Rather than reject the value of scholarly research, a position that would have pitted him against the dominant trend of higher education, Boyer sought to convert teaching into a legitimate scholarly endeavor. He began by articulating four separate but overlapping functions of scholarship: discovery, integration, application, and teaching. He affirmed the importance of “the scholarship of discovery” (basic research) and of applied scholarship devoted to resolving social, economic, and ecological problems, the two kinds of research high - er education traditionally recognized and rewarded. But Boyer went further arguing that professors should be promoted and tenured for writing textbooks, for popular writing, for consulting and technical assistance to organizations, all ways of integrating knowledge and communicating it to larger audiences than those reached by traditional scholarship. These areas were infrequently commended or even taken into account by scholarly review committees. To give teaching even more legitimacy, Boyer believed, it needed to have its own rigorous assessment process. Boyer’s message was to give teaching the same weight as research by subjecting it to rigorous assessments and by allowing professors to consider the creation of curriculum and the improvement of their teaching as a scholarly activity.

48Tireless in disseminating his views, it seemed as if Scholarship Reconsidered was placed on almost every college and university president’s desk, a way of announcing to faculty and the public that “my institution” was paying attention. Professional organizations hosted sessions, often with Boyer as the keynote speaker. College and university administrators wanting to increase faculty commitments to teaching and to improve its quality began to use Boyer’s work to require fuller teaching dossiers in promotion and tenure decisions. Teaching as a scholarly activity—a phrase borrowed from elementary and secondary classroom research—became a new higher education buzz word, what Lee Shulman, who replaced Boyer as head of CFAT, called the rendering of “one’s own practice as the problem for investigation” (Shulman, 1999).

49And yet, while it had become hard by the end of the 1990s to ignore poor teaching, especially as institutions competed for students, and while some Ph.D. programs expressed greater interest in having their graduate students become better teachers, there was an add-on quality to the new emphasis on teaching. Boyer’s efforts seemed to further complicate being a professor, for one would have to be successful as a disciplinary-based researcher, as a researcher of one’s own teaching, and as a teacher. Faculty promotion would require successful teaching with no diminution of research productivity and the addition of a second line of research into teaching.

50Nonetheless, Boyer’s proposal to give teaching greater weight by according it scholarly status received enormous rhetorical support and helped make teaching and learning a legitimate conversation on college campuses. At the end of the 1990s, his commitment to teaching as a scholarly activity received a substantial boost when the foundation he had led, in cooperation with the American Association for Higher Education, initiated major efforts to convert “rhetoric to action” (Hutchings and Shulman, 1999; Shulman, 1999). Boyer’s re-conceptualization provocatively offered a way to integrate teaching with scholarship for institutions reluctant to diminish their research agendas. Politically astute in understanding higher education’s ethos, he opened a door through which the learning reformers could try to walk.

Classroom assessment and classroom research: K. Patricia Cross

51Most of higher education’s teaching and learning reformers were stronger on ideas and sweeping proposals than on developing concrete ways to change collegiate classrooms. Ways to implement new pedagogical strategies, deepen student learning, and be more creative in assessing learning were few and far between. The state-based assessment movement offered little help. While legislators and governors demanded greater accountability for learning, they essentially left methods to the same campuses and the professors who had, by and large, neither been invested in student learning nor been particularly creative in how to teach so that students learned more. How to conduct classrooms in which students learned had, however, begun to attract the attention of a few individuals and organizations. None was more influential than K. Patricia Cross. An initial member of Light’s assessment seminars while a Senior Lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education before becoming Gardner Professor of Higher Education at the University of California, Berkeley, Cross established an international reputation during the 1970s at the Educational Testing Service for her work on community colleges, adult learners, and lifelong learning (Beyond the Open Door, 1971; Accent on Learning, 1976; Adults as Learners, 1981). As an officer of the American Association for Higher Education and a member of its board of directors, she actively pressed student learning as higher education’s primary agenda. Cross believed that teaching was a profoundly intellectual challenge, one refreshed by the opportunity to assess the impact of one’s teaching on students’ learning. It was thus important, if the learning reform movement was to make serious inroads into higher education’s practices, to make its ideas concrete. She did that by offering advice on how to assess one’s teaching and undertake classroom research to the benefit of students. Connected by her earlier work to the nation’s community colleges and the realization that adult learners should be taught differently than 18 and 19-year-olds, Cross used her stature to gain access to public universities that were especially vulnerable to the existing political pressures to show improved learning. She made “how to do it” her calling card.

52Cross contributed two arguments to the learning reform movement. First, she found that almost no relationship existed between research on learning and collegiate teaching practices; college teachers paid little or no attention to what their learning research colleagues discovered. Second, she concluded that student feedback and the assessment of students could be used to improve teaching and student learning, provided these were done in a timely manner. The learning research community was having so little impact on college campuses because its work failed to pay attention to the actual classroom experiences of teachers—a charge also being laid against researchers in elementary and secondary education. Researchers on teaching and learning talked at rather than with faculty in an environment that undervalued teaching anyway. Professors were either oblivious to the research or ignored it, helping to explain why national reports were more rhetorical flights of fancy than agendas for change. Reflecting on the disconnect between learning research and teaching practice in a 1998 speech, Cross declared: “I am distressed to see researchers—the acknowledged authorities of our times—talk about learning with no reference to the experience of teachers who have spent lifetimes accumulating knowledge about learning. But I am equally distressed to see workshops on faculty development in which faculty exchange views about student learning with no reference to what scholars know through study of the matter” (Cross, 1998).

53Developing her arguments through the 1990s, Cross consolidated her views on assessment and research in the classroom in two books, Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers (with Thomas Angelo, 1993) and Introduction to Classroom Research (with Mimi Harris Steadman, 1996). College faculty could not be effective teachers unless they knew how to assess their teaching and their students’ learning. There were, she believed, techniques— like the one-minute paper, learning logs, and student learning goals—that opened doors to what students learned in the classroom, doors that traditional forms of assessment like term papers and examinations only partially opened because they provided so little direct feedback as to be of almost no aid to either faculty or students. Feedback and classroom assessments should be immediate, constant, and converted into changes in practice for teaching to result in genuine improvements in student learning (Cross and Angelo, 1993). Introduction to Classroom Research (1996) summarized and extended these views by taking the rhetoric about the scholarship of teaching and giving it “operational definition.” Since Cross believed the experiences of classroom teachers were the essential starting place for improvements in teaching and learning, she urged professors to engage in their own classroom research: observing students in the act of learning, reflecting and discussing observations and data with teaching colleagues, and reading the literature on learning. Determined to help faculty understand their teaching practices in order to improve student learning, Cross outlined the characteristics of classroom research:

  • learner-centered: the attention of teachers and students is focused on observing and improving learning, rather than teaching;
  • teacher-directed: classroom research changes the focus from teachers as consumers of research to teachers engaged in studies of learning in their discipline;
  • collaborative: students and teachers are partners in the research on learning;
  • context-specific: classroom research involves the teaching of a specific discipline to a particular group of students;
  • scholarly: classroom research requires identifying a research question, developing and carrying out a research design (Cross and Steadman, 1996, pp. 2–3).

54Cross’ work on classroom assessment achieved widespread popularity. More than 50,000 copies of Classroom Assessment Techniques were sold. The American Association for Higher Education, in which she played an important role, increased its commitment to helping faculty and colleges in how to undertake classroom assessments. Numerous public and private universities and colleges, facing sharp criticisms from legislators and boards of trustees, concerned about their enrollments and retention rates, worried about the market consequences of dissatisfied families, and wanting to distinguish themselves as places where students learned, used Cross’s ideas to initiate reforms.

55More so than any other higher education reformer, Cross sought to shift the focus of the learning movement by bringing it directly into the classroom, ceaselessly presenting her ideas to higher education organizations and institutions, and, not insignificantly, developing a core of colleagues, like her co-authors Thomas Angelo and Mimi Harris Steadman, to extend her mission. She reiterated Boyer’s view that teaching was a scholarly endeavor and made it concrete, showing how to undertake classroom research and continuous assessment. She thus used the status of research in an attempt to bring better teaching and improved learning to the classroom. Her arguments were both sweeping and concrete: faculty should understand and use research on learning; professors should understand the different motivations, academic backgrounds, and learning styles of their students; and they should carry out research in their classroom to improve their own teaching and students’ learning.

56But Cross’ very concreteness, her emphasis on how to do it, made collegiate teaching and professors seem akin to secondary school teaching and teachers. There was an aura of teacher education and teacher professional development in both her approach and her tone, with the ironic result that her claim that teaching was an intellectual activity risked being displaced by instruction in teaching methods. Her approach thus found greater appeal to faculty and institutions that identified with the problems facing high school teachers than it did with those whose primary identifications were with disciplinary scholarship. Faculty and institutions that took their cues from graduate level work found Cross’ proposals too close to secondary education to be comfortable. She was appealing to only part of the academic marketplace.

57By the early 21st century, Cross had spent more than two decades making the case that teaching and learning were the heart of the academic enterprise and that there were concrete ways to improve both, if only faculty wanted to do so. Her work generated enormous enthusiasm to improve teaching and learning and yet seemed insufficiently connected to what many professors thought of as scholarly. What Cross had shown was that it lay in the faculty’s power to improve the quality of their teaching and thereby to improve student learning. It was in the faculty’s power if only they would take the responsibility. And, in that, her work cast a long shadow over higher education’s traditional ways of doing things.

Connecting teaching to the disciplines: Lee Shulman

58It was apparent that with the appointment of Stanford University’s Lee Shulman to the presidency of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching (CFAT), Ernest Boyer’s efforts to create a scholarship of teaching would continue. For a number of years, Shulman had been calling for a tighter connection between the scholarly disciplines and the ways faculty taught. He believed that since the disciplines were themselves different, they should be taught differently. This meant that teaching was neither simply ‘methodological’— good versus bad methods—nor just disciplinary—presenting students with information about history or chemistry—but a deeply embedded combination of both, what Shulman called “pedagogical content knowledge.” The way one taught had to be varied by the discipline being taught. Shulman’s goal, when he assumed CFAT’s leadership, was thus simultaneously to extend Boyer’s notion of teaching as a scholarly activity and to convert that rhetoric into improved teaching practice.

59Shulman argued that teaching at all levels was not primarily a matter of learning the technique, an approach that he believed often dominated teacher education programs, but rather an enactment of teachers’ understanding of their disciplines. Engaging in a wide range of teacher reform efforts, he came down on the side of teachers’ disciplinary knowledge as the necessary condition of effective teaching, a theme he initially applied to high school teachers and teacher preparation. Given his commitment to disciplinary-based knowledge, it was a relatively easy step for Shulman to add higher education to the mix since, for most college teachers, their discipline was the starting point for their teaching.

60Because Shulman was committed to moving the scholarship of teaching beyond rhetoric and into practice, he was at pains to define it, both as a form of scholarly endeavor and as a way to change teaching in the interests of student learning. Recognizing that the scholarship of teaching and teaching in the interests of learning were hard sells, Shulman seemed to be taking on what was an insurmountable endeavor. Writing in 1999, in an attempt to clarify their understanding of the issues, Patricia Hutchings and Shulman wrote:

A scholarship of teaching is not synonymous with excellent teaching. It requires a kind of “going meta,” in which faculty frame and systematically investigate questions related to student learning— the conditions under which it occurs, what it looks like, how to deepen it, and so forth—and so with an eye not only to improving their own classroom but to advancing practice beyond it. This conception of the scholarship of teaching is not something we presume all faculty (even the most excellent and scholarly teachers among them) will or should do—though it would be good to see that more of them have the opportunity to do so if they wish. But the scholarship of teaching is a condition—as yet a mostly absent condition— for excellent teaching. It is the mechanism through which the profession of teaching itself advances, through which teaching can be something other than a seat-of-the-pants operation, with each of us out there making it up as we go. As such, the scholarship of teaching has the potential to serve all teachers and students (Hutchings and Shulman, 1999, pp. 13–14. See also Shulman, 1999).

61Using his position as head of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching (CFAT), with the help of Pat Hutchings (formerly director of the American Association for Higher Education Teaching Initiative and Assessment Forum), Shulman established the Carnegie Teaching Academy in 1998 aimed at moving the scholarship of teaching from, as he put it, rhetoric to action. This six-million-dollar, five-year effort, funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts and CFAT, reinforced and extended what had by the end of the 1990s become the learning reformers’ dominant modus operandi—the creation of a scholarship of teaching and learning, which would then improve the quality of student learning through new models of teaching and simultaneously raises the status of teaching itself.

62The first of three components of the Carnegie Academy for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (CASTL) was a national fellowship program that brought together over a five-year-period 122 faculty, deemed “Carnegie Scholars,” who were committed to inventing and sharing new conceptual models of teaching as scholarly work, to advance the profession of teaching, and to deepen students’ learning. Participants were selected on the basis of prior engagement in investigating and documenting teaching practice and student learning, as well as in working with peers and in larger networks on the scholarship of teaching. Each scholar’s project differed, from identifying the characteristics of a “good example” to assessing what students retained from science courses they completed. As a collectivity, CASTL’s projects were intended to share five characteristics, including exploration of teacher practice and the resultant student learning and a commitment to the development of students. To show institutional commitments, each participant’s campus had to contribute a release from ‘campus duties’— clearly not wanting to call for a release from teaching in order to improve teaching—$3000 for travel expenses, and a commitment to bring the participant’s work to the attention of others on campus. The goal was to create a community of teaching scholars whose examples and missionary zeal could extend Shulman’s aims.

63The second component of CASTL was the Teaching Academy Campus Program for universities and colleges in all sectors of higher education that wanted to make a commitment to new models of teaching as scholarly work. This program was run jointly with AAHE with the long-term goal of engendering a national network of campuses that provided a structure, support, and forum for the scholarship of teaching and learning. The campus program was a multi-tiered set of activities designed to initiate and build toward a network of institutions that actually changed the definition and practice of teaching on their campuses. After conducting “campus conversations” about the scholarship of teaching as a problem to be studied “through materials appropriate to disciplinary epistemologies, application of results to practice, communication of results, reflection and peer review,” institutions were expected to tailor this definition to their own situations and then select an area (or areas) for study and action, building on strengths, eliminating barriers, or bolstering campus ability to contribute to the scholarship of teaching and learning. Individual institutions quickly developed a variety of foci, exploring such issues as the effect of service learning on acquiring and generating disciplinary knowledge; intellectual property rights regarding syllabi, curricular materials, and web-based teaching materials; and instructional teams as curriculum builders. At a second stage institutions were expected to “go public,” using $5,000 grants to open their work to a wider audience for feedback and consumption. In a third stage, selected institutions were invited to become members of a National Teaching Academy.

64The final component of CASTL focused on collaboration with scholarly and professional societies. The goal was to spread the notion of teaching as embedded in the disciplines by working directly with disciplinary and professional organizations of academics. CASTL established a small-grants program to support activities such as the dissemination of examples of the scholarship of teaching and learning in the field, experiments with new outlets, and efforts aimed at making graduate programs in the field more responsive to new ideas about scholarly work.

65In reviewing these efforts, the breadth of commitment and the care that went into planning and organizing them stands in stark contrast to the more typical reform activities of throwing the reform at potential recipients with a lot of hype and some money. Shulman and his colleagues genuinely believed in building a community of people interested in investigating and documenting teaching as scholarly work. By redefining “scholarly work” to include teaching, by supporting presentations at scholarly societies, and by helping create networks of teacher-scholars, there is little question that they raised the profile and helped create a new kind of infrastructure that supported higher education teaching. These successes reflected Shulman’s goal to push the learning reform movement forward by adopting what is now the most common presumption of its protagonists from within higher education: reform will only occur when professors define teaching as a scholarly activity, seek to understand it as such, and revise their practices in light of research on teaching and learning.

66Simple to state, difficult to create. Shulman had shifted his early emphasis on getting elementary and high schools and teacher education programs to pay attention to disciplinary-based teaching to an emphasis on getting colleges and universities to take student learning seriously. It was an extremely hard task. There is certainly some evidence that the profile of teaching on campuses was raised during the years that Shulman headed the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. But perhaps more telling, when Shulman stepped down as head of the Foundation in 2008, his replacement was another Stanford professor whose primary interest had always been elementary and secondary schools. CFAT, for the first time in its more than 100-year-history seemingly had shifted its attention away from higher education, calling into question Shulman’s (and Ernest Boyer’s) agenda. Although CFAT moved to focus on teaching in community colleges, the shift signaled the loss of steam in the teaching and learning revolution.

6.4 The reformers’ dilemma

67Understanding how and why things happen illuminates the nature of the debates and the attempts at reform. Understanding that the assessment movement was the result of the drive for accountability at the national and state levels—and not the result of local campus initiatives to improve teaching and learning—sheds light on why the assessment movement’s reform efforts were framed as demands and threats to colleges and universities that they show better performance. A genuine conversation on how to improve student learning, however, depended upon a more intimate understanding of the complexities and realities of higher education’s value structure, depended more upon conversion and beliefs than heavy handed threats. The teaching and learning reformers understood that. They believed that higher education had indeed lost its way and that an industry that depended upon the dreams of millions to get ahead was self destructing by adhering to a status and reward system that subordinated collegiate teaching and student learning to research and the authority of the academic disciplines. Their views pointed to a deeper failure: Higher education’s value and reward system did not require professors to take more than minimal responsibility for student learning and student development. Enlarging the importance of teaching and expecting improved learning from students was in fact an opportunity to revise higher education’s system of values.

68The learning reformers started by using the research reward system itself as an avenue for change. If definitions of research could be expanded to encompass a scholarship of teaching, designed to aid professors improve the learning of their students, the very reward system that dominated and warped higher education could be effectively used in its reform. Boyer’s pleas to give teaching greater scholarly status, Cross’ efforts to show how one could undertake classroom research and assessment to improve teaching and student learning, and Shulman’s models of teaching based on disciplinary knowledge were all designed to re-conceptualize professors’ work along the lines that academically-oriented faculty could appreciate. The arguments were, in many ways, brilliant: Professors cared about teaching, but lacked the tools and the incentives to teach better and to take greater responsibility for student learning. If the reformers could show faculty that research into how their students learned could be genuinely fulfilling and rewarded, it could foster widespread support where it matters—from within the professorial community itself.

69During the 1980s and 1990s and into the 21st century, the official organizations of higher education joined the chorus. The American Association for Higher Education, prodded by close relationships to the reformers, took up the argument that higher education’s value and reward system was at odds with the central obligations of teaching and student learning. AAHE undertook a series of projects on assessments and faculty roles designed to help colleges and universities make the assessment of student learning congruent with faculty values. In addition to hosting national conventions, workshops, and symposia, AAHE’s journal, Change, under the editorship of Theodore Marchese, regularly published articles on assessment, new ways of teaching, and learning reforms. The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching regularly convened panels and meetings of scholars that resulted in reports such as Scholarship Reconsidered (Boyer, 1990) and Scholarship Assessed (Glassick, et al., 1997).

70Although the rhetoric of the learning reformers became widely used, documented improvements in teaching and student learning do not seem to have occurred. Boyer’s conception of a scholarship of teaching received enormous national attention, but it neither reshaped college and university campuses nor altered traditional teaching practices. While Cross’ classroom assessment techniques achieved considerable popularity, reforms have primarily occurred within limited sectors of higher education, and their breadth and depth seem questionable. Her insistence that faculty engage in classroom research as a way to improve learning posed a serious threat to most professors’ usual way of doing business. It appears to have had little impact on colleges and universities that continue to place scholarship at the forefront of their reward system, although individual professors seem to use her ‘one-minute’ end-of-class summaries. Shulman’s programs, while supported with substantial funding, were too often based on the premise “we will give opportunities to and they will teach the rest,” an uncertain foundation from which to initiate change in an industry or an organization.

71The learning revolution thus seems far away, replaced by a new wave of reform based on a technological imperative that, if enough technology is used, students will truly learn more; the era of Power Point and web-based interactive distance learning is upon us. Assessment, outcomes, value-added are now buzz words on campuses, even as they lack any serious connection to teaching practices and faculty rewards. There may be a certain amount of campus conversations on alternative approaches to teaching and the assessment of student learning, but there also appears to be little dialogue of substance and implementation of reforms at most colleges and universities that would enhance student learning. The slogan “involvement in learning” is widely bandied about in a variety of forms, and there are hundreds of active classrooms where students take responsibility for their learning. But such efforts have not yet led to serious assessments of student learning; the internet itself, although in constant use by students, is often seen as a threat by professors—witness the outcry over Wikipedia’s accuracy even as it has become the students’ research tool of choice. Most strikingly, there have been few real changes in a value and reward system that remains fixated on faculty research and scholarly production, although many colleges and universities insist that teaching evaluations be part of faculty review for promotion and tenure.

72The rhetoric and the limited changes suggest that the efforts to change teaching and improve learning are actually battles over institutional values and rewards. Almost all the signals of the last decades said that scholarly productivity and research grants gave the institution value and brought rewards to professors—promotion, tenure, higher salary, and prestige in the free-agent marketplace. Gradients exist in the broad spectrum of colleges and universities, but even many of the institutions that define their primary mission as teaching give research grants and publications high status. For faculty who want to make teaching and student learning the centerpiece of their existence, little institutional support exists. Professors remain connected to their disciplines; they teach subject matter and assess the students’ levels of knowledge through tests and papers, sometimes projects and classroom participation, and give out grades. They are highly resistant to efforts to make them more responsible for students’ learning and hostile to external agencies that make demands, including even their own university’s administration. The pressure to change is blunted by the continuing student demand for higher education. The classroom continues to be treated as a private domain protected by academic freedom; “thou shalt not enter” continues to be a professorial prerogative. While there are a spate of institutional and some national awards recognizing outstanding teaching, and some professors have achieved prominence for analyzing why their students were not learning and then modifying their teaching, the recognition has done little to revise institutional cultures.

73The values/rewards dilemma is exacerbated by the continuing influence of the origins of the learning reform movement. Initiated by fiscal concerns and criticism of higher education’s organizational and governance structures, the reform of teaching and learning was initially seen by external bodies as a way to hold institutions accountable and to establish a basis upon which to make budgetary allocations. As state legislatures and governors concluded that their imposition of student assessment was neither leading to greater accountability nor were the results aiding them in their fiscal decisions, they quickly shifted to performance outcomes that were relatively simple to measure and to compare across institutions: retention and graduation rates, scores on standardized professional tests, acceptance rates into graduate schools, alumni salaries, student-faculty ratios and contact hours. The goal continues to be to hold higher education accountable for the funds it receives and the effect seems largely to be professorial resistance to taking responsibility for student learning seriously.

74There are at least two other continuing dilemmas that face the efforts to improve teaching and learning. The first is simply the problem of imitation and the hostility of most graduate departments preparing future professors. Most new professors more or less imitate what they remember of their professors’ modes of teaching. In the best of circumstances, they choose to build upon the best of the professorial instructors—but even when they try to innovate, the weight of decades of schooling in which instructors talked at students, who had to learn what they were being told, is too great to overcome. This is exacerbated by graduate programs that do not take their students’ future roles as teaching professors all that seriously. The road to professorial success in the academy, and certainly at the elite institutions, remains research productivity. Why would you teach doctoral students how to teach, when they are going to get faculty jobs, promotions, and tenure largely based on their research?

75The second dilemma is, unfortunately, barely noticed. Or, if it is, the recognition of it usually comes in the form of complaints about the wired generation, the instant gratification generation, the ‘is it going to get me a job’ generation—take your pick. As Rebecca Cox (2009) has shown, the gap is huge even between those instructors seeking to engage their students in learning, hoping that they will take away from the engagement ways of thinking about issues, able to distinguish among different pieces of evidence, and aware of complexity and their students, who often have very narrow definitions of “real” instruction and “useful” knowledge. Students and professors may misunderstand one another in fundamental ways that can only be overcome with a great deal of commitment and energy on both sides. The view, too often still held by those in higher education, that faculty are there to teach their subjects and then get out of the way of the students so that they can learn and complete their tasks, retains much of its traditional power—over both students and faculty.

76Still, if the revolution has not occurred, the rumblings about learning have become too loud to ignore, especially as colleges and universities find themselves in intense competition for students. Community colleges, faced with growing competition from open access four-year institutions and from for-profit distance education suppliers and seeing students go through revolving doors, entering and leaving with regularity, are looking for ways to connect the college more tightly to job markets, to improve transfer programs to four-year schools, and to create more sustainable learning environments. Four-year institutions are worrying about high incompletion rates, students who simply disappear, at substantial fiscal cost to the school, whose failure to graduate lowers the institution’s ranking and raises a red flag to public officials and accreditation agencies about educational quality. In response, they are instituting early identification and intervention programs for students experiencing academic difficulties and trying to connect those programs to learning. Learning and writing centers have been increasing in number, as have writing sections connected to departments and individual courses. Highly selective institutions are modifying their self-descriptions to show that they are more student-learner centered than their rivals. Almost in spite of itself, higher education has been driven to experiment with learning. Residential and non-residential institutions are trying out “learning communities” to connect faculty and students in the pursuit of improved learning. Efforts at curricular reform include rethinking general education and core requirements and introducing and expanding interdisciplinary majors. Student portfolios to assess student learning continue to have some saliency, although the optimism of two decades ago has not yielded fruit. Teaching experiments receive administrative support, at least when there is no financial crisis. A number of campus teaching centers and awards for teaching exist. Competency-based learning in health education has extended to other areas. And, growing rapidly, distance education and the use of interactive technology may challenge the most sacrosanct traditions of teaching and learning. There is no revolution, but maybe there is hope for improvement.


1 A prior version was co-authored with Ursula Wagener and Nichole Shumanis.

2 Obviously sharp differences exist among colleges and universities in the ways they treat research and teaching. Nonetheless the ethos of research is so powerful that its spillover profoundly affects every level and almost every institution, with the result that efforts to improve teaching and learning have to take the research reward system into account. Since there are very few direct challenges to the research imperative, efforts to improve the quality of learning almost always have to walk gingerly around the research question.

© Central European University Press, 2010

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