Note: The following article was written as the term paper for EDEF 675, Fall 2004, instructed by Professor Ernestine Enomoto of the Department of Education at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa. Please pardon any errors or omissions. Refer to the References section for additional information on the topic. Be advised that Internet links may not be current.
Scholarship of Teaching and Learning:
The Political Role of Research at Kapi‘olani Community College
While research had long been viewed as outside the scope of community college faculty responsibility, research is now becoming an integral part of faculty life (Vaughan, 1991). In the sphere of community colleges, faculty research has come to be based on the concept of “the scholarship of teaching and learning” (Herteis, 2002). Rather than a concern purely with original research, the current concept of research relies more on classroom practices and student outcomes as the objects of scholarly investigation. This type of scholarly research is now evident in such community college faculty assessments as tenure review and faculty self-evaluation, and as desirable qualifications for the hiring of new faculty members.
In the following paper, I examine the political role that scholarly research plays in the institutional culture of Kapi‘olani Community College (KCC). I begin by describing the socio-political context of the issue of scholarly research at KCC, followed by the framework that I will use to analyze the issue of research in the college. Next, I provide a brief review of the literature most directly relevant to scholarly research before I analyze the issue using my chosen theoretical framework. I conclude with implications that this sort of political analysis has on the issue of scholarly research within the community college.
Within the community college system, research is not a required function of faculty members. This is primarily due to the fact that research traditionally is not part of the mission of the college (Vaughan, 1991). Furthermore, requirements for research are not explicitly tied to hiring guidelines for community college faculty. In light of these constraints, research in the community college can be described best as a desirable function of faculty. It is a desirable function for college administration in that it promotes professionalism and collegiality within the college culture. It is a desirable function for faculty members in that it stimulates professional development. It is a desirable function for university system administration in that it helps fulfill the university’s mission to conduct research and often times attracts funds by way of additional research grants.
With a growing emphasis on scholarship, research in the community college now is being seen in a new light (Isaacson, 2000). Colleges across the US, including KCC, are examining ways to integrate research concepts into college mission statements (Vaughan, 1991). By doing so, research may become a more explicit function of college faculty. However, this change in attitudes towards research is fraught with conflict, such as conflict between faculty and college administration over increased workload and support, and conflict between college and university system administration over institutional missions and roles.
To analyze the issue of scholarly research in the community college context, I have elected to use Easton’s systems analysis framework (Wirt & Kirst, 2001). I believe that this framework is appropriate because it allows for a very broad scope of analysis for this focused yet complex issue, incorporating the political system as the central unit of analysis, the external pressures that affect the system as inputs, the results of the political activity as outputs, and the process by which the outputs are fed back into the system again as inputs.
Following Easton’s model, the key players in the political system of KCC include the college administration, the college faculty, and the university system administration (specifically, the University of Hawai‘i president, the dean of community colleges, and the Board of Regents), which acts to oversee the functioning of the entire college. The interactions of these groups with one another represent the core political activity of this system.
Major environmental factors that affect the topic of scholarly research within this political system include accreditation and the concept of “the scholarship of teaching and learning.” These factors place the demands of improved instruction and improved student outcomes on the system in the form of inputs. When the key players at KCC have come into conflict over these inputs, the players have generated internal pressures, such as struggles over student and faculty assessment guidelines and support for faculty research, that have interacted with the inputs, which eventually have lead to outputs, such as goal statements, institutional guidelines, and increased institutional support for scholarly research.
To complete this model, some of the outputs previously mentioned are in the implementation phase of the political system framework. For example, the University of Hawai‘i Kapi‘olani Community College Strategic Plan 2003-2010 (http://www.kcc.hawaii.edu/~strategic/) explicitly contains a commitment to supporting faculty research. It is expected that the implementation of these outputs will lead to institutional outcomes, such as increased faculty research and additional support for conducting faculty research, which will in turn affect the inputs of the political system, thus completing the cycle. Figure 1 shows a modified version of Easton’s framework based on the previously discussed factors of KCC’s political system.
Historically, the role of scholarly research in the two-year college was seen as an unnecessary function for individual faculty members, with their energies best directed towards the primary tasks of teaching or training their students (Monroe, 1972; Cohen & Brawer, 2003). Most research activities, excluding institutional research (see for example Carter, 1986), were left to four-year colleges or specialized research institutes. In fact, Monroe (1971, p. 246) declared that “[t]he community college faculty is usually not interested in research” and suggested that the community college institution in general had a great deal of animosity towards research-oriented professors who were more interested in their own academic pursuits rather than teaching common students. These sentiments sum up the attitudes towards research that had developed within community college culture throughout most of the twentieth century.
However, a profound shift occurred across the domain of two-year colleges with the publication of George Vaughan’s (1988) seminal article ”Scholarship in Community Colleges: The Path to Respect”, in which he called on community college educators to re-examine their views of research and scholarship. Afterwards, Vaughan (1991) and Palmer (1991) articulated a view of research and scholarship “that goes beyond original research without diminishing the rigor of the work involved or relieving the scholar of his or her responsibility to remain accountable to the results” (Palmer, 1991, p. 69). Activities suggested as scholarly under this view of research include editorials, curriculum development, instructional materials, technical innovations, classroom-based or “action” research, and art exhibits. A major requirement of this extended definition of research is that the work must still be made public and offered for peer criticism.
This modern view of research and scholarship in teaching was further modified by scholars such as Patricia Cross (1998) who argued that more emphasis should be placed on student learning. She suggested that research into the pedagogic application of research was necessary. Her call was echoed by additional scholars who recognized that the activities of teaching and learning are inseparable. As a result, the concept of “the scholarship of teaching and learning” (SoTL) was born (Herteis, 2002). To facilitate investigation into this newly defined area of research, educational scholars soon found classroom action research (CAR) as useful methodology because of its focus on examining classroom teaching practices with the goal of improving student learning (Mettetal, 2001).
In order to help promote SoTL among higher-education faculty, education departments of several institutions around the world have sponsored online forums to publish research and to disseminate information. For example, Indiana University South Bend publishes The Journal of Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, the University of Saskatchewan publishes Teaching and Learning Bridges Journal, and the University of Western Australia produces the “Issues in Teaching and Learning” newsletter. In addition, several authors have proposed institutional models for supporting community college faculty in their pursuits of teaching and learning scholarship, with focuses on professional development and student outcomes (Gibson-Harman, Rodriguez, & Grant Haworth, 2002; Miller, Rodrigo, Pantoja, & Roen, 2004).
As a result of this increased emphasis on research, community colleges have responded by altering their missions and strategic plans to accommodate SoTL. At KCC, a comparison of its Strategic Plans developed in 1997 and 2002 reveals this change. In the Kapi‘olani Community College Strategic Plan 1997-2007 (Strategic Planning Council, 1997), there was no mention whatsoever of research – faculty, institutional or otherwise. However, the University of Hawai'i Kapi'olani Community College Strategic Plan 2003-2010 (http://www.kcc.hawaii.edu/~strategic/) contains an entire goal devoted to this issue:
Goal 5 To Invest in People: Professionals in a Learning Organization
Objective 1 Redefine faculty roles and rewards to promote the scholarship of teaching
Objective 2 Redefine staff roles and rewards to a promote careers of professional development
Associated action strategies are also included to help achieve the objectives and goal.
Having provided the context for this study, I begin my analysis of the political role of research at KCC by looking at the environmental factors that affect the political system. The environmental factor that has the greatest impact on this system with regards to scholarly research seems to be that of accreditation. KCC receives its accreditation from the governing body ACCJC-WASC, the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges- Western Association of Schools and Colleges (http://www.accjc.org/). While accreditation status does not seem to be contingent explicitly on displaying activities associated with SoTL per se, evidence of such activities that show an institutional commitment to professional development and student outcomes contribute towards favorable accreditation status (ACCJC- WASC, 2002). Needless to say, KCC is highly motivated to maintain its accreditation status so that it can remain a recognized and accepted institution of higher learning.
This focus on teaching and learning as an aspect of accreditation places demands on the college to improve instruction and student outcomes. These demands serve as the primary inputs to the political system and directly affect the role of research at KCC.
Within the political system, the key players – the college administrators, the college faculty, and the university system administrators – have responded to these primary inputs in part through SoTL. KCC administrators are interesting in scholarly research because it has been shown to improve professionalism and collegiality (Palmer, 1991; Gibson-Harman, Rodriguez, & Grant Haworth, 2002), which in turn are expected to have positive effects on instruction and student outcomes. KCC faculty members are interested in SoTL because it is seen as a convenient and immediately relevant means of professional development (Mettetal, 2001). All faculty members, regardless of their status (i.e., full time/ part time, tenure/ non-tenure), must show evidence of professional development on their required performance reviews; CAR is one method to achieve this requirement. Furthermore, CAR is used by faculty to directly improve their instructional practices. In addition, faculty members recognize the fact that improvements in their instruction will lead to improvements in student learning. University of Hawai‘i system administrators are interested in SoTL primarily because of the institution’s commitment to research across the university system (President’s Advisory Council…, 2002). University administrators are also very interested in the possibility of the increased funding that could result from scholarly research at KCC.
While all of the key players in the political system seem to recognize the benefits that SoTL may bring, the adoption of scholarly research at KCC is not without controversy. First of all, both faculty and college administration recognize the need to provide adequate support for faculty to pursue research. Challenges in the area of support include funding and training for faculty to conduct research and present findings at appropriate conferences. Another controversy concerns release time. It is generally accepted that scholarly work adds to faculty workload, and without release time, research in the community college can be very difficult, if not impossible (Palmer, 1991). These issues of support and release time are so controversial because they are contingent on adequate budgets. Without funding, support and release time for research are not possible.
A further controversy is associated with student and faculty assessment. Although the key players recognize the need for these types of assessments, there is a great deal of resistance from KCC faculty to link faculty assessment in any way with either student assessment or scholarly research activities. Since student outcomes are not entirely dependent on instruction, faculty members argue that faculty assessments should not be based on student outcomes. However, a major assumption of SoTL is that teaching and learning are inextricably linked. This has led to a concern among faculty that they may be assessed unfairly. Furthermore, since research is not a professional requirement of community college faculty, faculty members argue that faculty assessments should in no way be dependent on research.
As the key players in this political system have interacted with one another over the issue of scholarly research, their agreements and concerns have led to a number of changes to the system in the forms of outputs. Most notably, political conflict regarding the concept of SoTL has led to a change in KCC’s strategic plan. The current plan includes an entire goal devoted to professional development, which includes an objective to support scholarly teaching (http://www.kcc.hawaii.edu/~strategic/). An additional change has been an increase in institutional support of scholarly activities at KCC. For example, as a result of an endowment from the Wo Family, KCC administration has developed the Wo Learning Champions, a program that supports professional development and scholarly activities of campus faculty members.
These outputs are currently in the implementation phase of the political system. It is still too early to tell whether or not the current Strategic Plan or institutional support mechanisms will yield positive outcomes for the system. However, the opinions of KCC faculty members seem to indicate an increasing interest in the idea of scholarly research.
In conclusion, I found Easton’s framework very useful for examining the political role that research plays at KCC because this framework provides for a wide scope of analysis of the political system. By using Easton’s framework, I gained insight into the factors that affect the pursuit of scholarly research in the community college and the results of the subsequent political activity as well as the core political system.
Findings of my analysis indicate that scholarly research is becoming a more desirable, and even an expected, function of community college faculty. Scholarly research promotes professional development of faculty and collegiality within the college system, and it attracts additional revenue in the form of grants for the entire institution. KCC has articulated its commitment to scholarly research in the form of goal statements in its current strategic plan. However, this institutional commitment to research requires adequate support in the forms of faculty commitment to conduct research and institutionalized mechanisms that assist faculty in their pursuits of research. With adequate support, SoTL may become a common, institutionalized function of faculty members at KCC, raising instructional assessments and student outcomes to higher levels.
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contents (c) 2004 Shawn Ford/ Webb-Ed Press