Media, Technology, and Education

Scholarship Reconsidered and Assessed: The Boyer Model

book covers

I’m serving as Chair of the Promotion, Tenure, and Evaluation Advisory Group. One of the tasks we have been charged with is to investigate best practices for promotion, tenure, and evaluation. We decided that we would read the Carnegie Foundation report called Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate that Ernest Boyer wrote in 1990. The PDF of the report is widely available because it was so influential in convincing faculty and higher education administrators to broaden their conception of scholarship so that it more accurately represents the work that faculty actually do.

The report starts with a history of higher education and our societal understanding of its mission. In the 1940s, Vannevar Bush of MIT and James Bryant Conant of Harvard volunteered universities to help with the war effort and the federal government responded with many research grants. After the war, Bush urged continued federal support for research. As a result, research in the form of discovery of new knowledge became a priority for institutions of all types, regardless of the actual daily work of the faculty at those institutions. The familiar paradigm of “publish or perish” became the norm.

Boyer and his colleagues at the Carnegie Foundation did extensive research about faculty work load and argue in this report that it is unrealistic (and actually unhelpful) for every institution to focus evaluation of faculty on this this narrow conception of scholarship. They point out that Caplow and McGee, in The Academic Marketplace, observed “that while young faculty were hired as teachers, they were evaluated primarily as researchers.” This situation must change, Boyer argues, if higher education was going to continue to be a meaningful contributor to society.

The main idea of the book is that institutions should encourage and value a wide range of scholarship. This wider range more accurately reflects the realities of faculty work across a variety of types of institutions. The four types of scholarship that Boyer suggests are: 1. discovery, 2. integration, 3. application, and 4. teaching.

The scholarship of discovery is the first and most familiar type of scholarship that Boyer suggests. This is what many people think of when they use the phrase “original research.” This type of scholarship is investigative, focused on the discovery of new knowledge. Despite the argument to broaden our conceptions of scholarship, Boyer says that the discovery of new knowledge is still absolutely critical in our “complicated, vulnerable world.” Those focused on the scholarship of discovery ask “What is to be known? What is to be found?”

The scholarship of integration focuses on giving meaning to knowledge, putting it in perspective, making connections between disciplines, and illuminating data in revealing ways, often educating non-specialists as well. This is serious, disciplined work that seeks to interpret, synthesize, and bring new insights to original research. Those engaged in this type of scholarship ask questions like “What do the findings mean? Is it possible to interpret what’s been discovered in ways that provide a larger, more comprehensive understanding?”

The scholarship of application is focused on asking questions like “How can knowledge be responsibly applied to consequential problems? Can social problems themselves define an agenda for scholarly investigation?” This scholarly work is in service to the needs of the larger world. To be considered scholarship, these service activities must be tied directly to the the faculty member’s special field of knowledge. Boyer says he doesn’t mean to imply that knowledge is first discovered and then applied.  “New intellectual understandings can arise out of the very act of application … . In activities such as these, theory and practice vitally interact, and one renews the other.”

The scholarship of teaching focuses on teaching that is more than just transmitting knowledge to students but transforming and extending it as well. Through scholarly teaching, students become active learners who are critical, creative thinkers who are capable of life-long learning. Through scholarly teaching, professors themselves are pushed in creative new directions of understanding.

Boyer argues that each institution of higher education must focus its energies on the type of scholarship that most closely matches its mission rather than unthinkingly require all faculty to engage in the scholarship of discovery. A university like Plymouth State should determine our priorities so that we capture the talents of our faculty and we distinguish ourselves from every other college and university. “Simply stated,” he writes, “what we have on many campuses today is a crisis of purpose. Far too many colleges and universities are being driven not by self-defined objectives but by the external imperatives of prestige. Even institutions that enroll primarily undergraduates–and have few if any resources for research–seek to imitate ranking research centers. In the process, their mission becomes blurred, standards of research are compromised, and the quality of teaching and learning is disturbingly diminished.” He quotes Lynton and Elman, writing in New Priorities for the University, “By believing themselves to be what they are not …, institutions fall short of what they could be.” This feels like particularly important advice in today’s higher education landscape.

After reading this report, I understood that Boyer was not saying that ALL teaching is scholarship or ALL service is scholarship. But this report does not clearly distinguish between teaching and the scholarship of teaching or service and the scholarship of application. So I decided to read the next report from the Carnegie Foundation, Scholarship Assessed: Evaluation of the Professoriate.

In Scholarship Assessed, Glassick and his co-authors explain that faculty should still be evaluated using the three traditional areas: teaching, service, and scholarship. But we should allow for the four types of scholarship that Boyer defined. They acknowledge that there is significant overlap among the three traditional areas of evaluation. We can, however, determine whether a particular activity is teaching or the scholarship of teaching, for example.

All scholarship, Glassick, et al. explain, must have the same criteria. After examination of many documents containing criteria for faculty hiring, tenure, and promotion, teaching evaluations, journal and book submissions for publication, and grant applications for funding, they found a common pattern of criteria that is focused on the scholarly process. “If this process can be defined with some clarity, it will provide terms by which scholars can discuss almost any project without denying either its uniqueness or its connections to other projects, whatever the discipline or type of project.” When a particular project or activity is praised, it is because it has been guided by the following qualitative standards, each of which has a set of questions we can ask to determine the quality of the scholarship:

Clear goals: Does the scholar state the basic purpose of their work clearly? Does the scholar define objectives realistic and achievable? Does the scholar identify important questions in the field?

Adequate preparation: Does the scholar show an understanding of existing scholarship in the field? Does the scholar bring the necessary skills to their work? Does the scholar bring together the resources necessary to move the project forward?

Appropriate methods: Does the scholar use methods appropriate to the goals? Does the scholar apply effectively the methods selected? Does the scholar modify procedures in response to changing circumstances?

Significant results: Does the scholar achieve the goals? Does the scholar’s work add consequentially to the field? Does the scholar’s work open additional areas for further exploration?

Effective presentation: Does the scholar use a suitable style and effective organization to present their work? Does the scholar use appropriate forums for communicating work to the intended audiences?Does the scholar present their message with clarity and integrity?

Reflective critique: Does the scholar critically evaluate their own work? Does the scholar bring adequate depth of evidence to their critique? Does the scholar use evaluation to improve the quality of future work?

As I said above, all types of scholarship can be evaluated using these standards and sets of questions. Teaching, for example, only becomes scholarship when the teacher engages in a process that addresses each of the standards above. The teaching scholar must articulate clear objectives for their course, be sure their goals for the amount and content material they are “covering” is realistic and achievable, and be sure that the goals of the course are related to important questions in the field. The teaching scholar must be adequately prepared both in course subject matter and appropriate teaching skills and practices. The teaching scholar must think carefully about the appropriate methods to achieve the goals of their course, apply those methods effectively, and be willing and able to modify those methods if circumstances indicate that it is necessary. The teaching scholar must ask whether they met the goals they set out in teaching their course and must determine ways in which their teaching adds to the field and opens new areas for exploration. The teaching scholar must be sure their work leads to communication with colleagues as well as with students and must change their method of presentation depending on the current audience. The authors write, “The presentation of scholarship is a public act” and so clear communication is paramount. Finally, the teaching scholar must think about their work, seek the opinions of others, and learn from the process so that their teaching scholarship can be improved. Not all teaching meets these requirements and so not all teaching is scholarship. For service to be considered scholarship of application, a similar set of requirements applies.

The report also provides significant advice about documenting scholarship. Documentation should provide evidence that allows the scholar and their evaluators to apply the standards above to the scholarship. The authors recommend using a portfolio to provide this evidence.

We at Plymouth State University already use portfolios in our Promotion and Tenure processes and have embraced the Boyer model of scholarship. But I’m not sure we have always been clear about what makes a particular project or activity scholarship, especially scholarship of application and scholarship of teaching. So I think we will benefit from explicit conversations about what scholarship is, . The PT&E Advisory Group will be talking about how to facilitate those conversations.

Image Credit: My Books taken February 7, 2020 by me.

Article written by:

I am currently Professor of Digital Media at Plymouth State University in Plymouth, NH. I am also the current Coordinator of General Education at the University. I am interested in astrophotography, game studies, digital literacies, open pedagogies, and generally how technology impacts our culture.


  1. Suzanne Gaulocher

    It would be terrific to engage in broader campus wide dialogue on this topic. Thank you for this, it’s a great morning read. I’ll revisit it again as well!

  2. Cathie

    That’s our plan, Suzanne. The PT&E Advisory Group is planning a session through the CoLab for later this semester.

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