Colby College adopted the teacher-scholar model for faculty more than 20 years ago following Boyer’s (1990) paradigm-changing report from the Carnegie Foundation. His vision expanded the concept of scholarship from the traditional view of primarily acquiring new knowledge and publication to include the scholarship of integration, application, and teaching. Boyer’s (1990) scholarly functions of discovery and integration parallel the long held traditions of academia. As an extension of these activities, his scholarship of application utilizes newly acquired (research generated) knowledge in the capacity for civic outreach and community service, whereas the scholarship of teaching involves the transfer of these efforts with others inside and outside of the academy. Various approaches to the teacher-scholar model have been undertaken by departments and individual faculty at Colby.
Boyer (1990) emphasized that the scholarship of integration should be focused on placing one’s research, or that of others, into larger intellectual patterns to answer broader questions relevant to society. All such efforts should be inquiry based (hypothesis testing in the Natural Sciences). These efforts should be melded with the scholarship of teaching that is centered on developing knowledge, skill, intellect, character, and the abilities of others. Such activities stimulate “active, not passive, learning and encourage students to be critical, creative thinkers, with the capacity to go on learning” (Boyer, 1990, p. 23). Colby’s President emeritus, Bill Cotter, emphasized Colby’s ability to develop the life-long learner through pedagogical approaches that, according to Boyer (1990), are well planned, continuously examined, and directly relate to the discipline under consideration.
By its very nature, Earth Science is a multi- and interdisciplinary field of study that requires familiarity with the chemical, physical, and biological sciences and the application of mathematics to solving problems over various scales of time and space. This aspect of a geoscientist’s education does not necessarily hold true for every line of inquiry in the other natural-science disciplines. Chemists, physicists, and biologists also problem solve but often neglect or have a poor understanding of the relationship that the planet has on their work. In many lines of inquiry in these disciplines, it is not imperative that they consider the contingencies imparted by Earth history, and few empirical principles in the geosciences are employed routinely in the way in which they approach their endeavors. Because Earth Science is an applied discipline, the pedagogical approaches taken in course work leading to independent study follow several guiding principles that are now recognized as consistent with modern educational practice.
The hallmark of scientific (or any) inquiry is critical and reflective engagement with subject material that promotes metacognitive development (learning about learning, thinking, reasoning, and problem solving; Angier, 2007). The preparation of multifaceted approaches to a given learning task, monitoring one’s own comprehension, and the subsequent evaluation of progress toward completing the learning task are all metacognitive in nature. Such approaches enhance student-learning outcomes and increase their ability to apply critical, reflective thinking to other subjects and problems (Schwartz et al., 2003). But, students cannot do this alone. The instructor’s function is to develop strategic problem-solving protocols to assist students in their learning (Cole, 1996; Daniels, 2004). Such strategies must be propagated by placing students in iterative learning cycles, within and between courses, that add content and complexity culminating in the student’s application of the acquired skills to an original endeavor. In this way, the development of a student’s confidence over their college career enhances their performance (Lovett, 2007) in later life; students become life-long learners.
I have adopted the philosophy that science is not a body of facts, but a way of thinking (Angier, 2007). In too many instances, both within and outside the Liberal Arts, students are being told about science and asked to remember facts rather than learn how to think critically (Alberts, 2009). Although unpopular with many students because it requires their total immersion, scientific thinking can be cultivated by: (1) presenting them with the lines of reasoning; (2) creating conditions for reflective, critical engagement with the topic; and (3) encouraging their development of practices that incorporate the skillful examination of concepts across disciplines (Angier, 2007). All this takes considerable time and effort on both the part of the faculty member and student, but there are rewards. These include the individual’s development of problem-solving strategies based on their own model, as well as the recognition of a collective framework of how others have attacked and resolved the problem.
There may be more than one possible parsimonious answer to any line of geological inquiry, and it is often necessary to defend one’s approach and resolution to the problem at hand. Hence, this approach can be envisioned as emulating an apprenticeship with both the instructor and peer cohort serving as models. There will be concepts and skills that each learner can accomplish on his/her own, using the tools at hand and the expertise acquired to date. These are considered within the realm of the learnersʼactual developmental level. Then there are ideas, concepts, or applications that learners cannot achieve by themselves. These things are obtainable with strategic or guided assistance of others with a more expert understanding or skill set, or through the use of some virtual tool or environment that contains more expert knowledge or conveys how to acquire the requisite skills for successful achievement. By combining all of these approaches in and outside of the classroom experience, students can transfer their acquired abilities to new situations without the need for explicit prompting (Daniels, 2004).
- Alberts, B., 2009, Redefining science education: Science, v. 323, p. 437.
- Angier, N., 2007, The canon: a whirligig tour of the beautiful basics of science: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 304 p.
- Boyer, E., 1990, Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate: The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, New York, 147 p.
- Cole, M., 1996, Cultural Psychology: A once and future discipline: Belknap Press, Cambridge, MA, 416 p.
- Daniels, H., 2004, Cultural Historical Activity: Theory and Professional Learning. International Journal of Disability, Development and Education, v. 51, p. 185-200.
- Schwartz, D.L., Bransford, J.L., and Sears, D., 2005, Efficiency and innovation in transfer: In Transfer of Learning from a Modern Multidisciplinary Perspective, Information Age Publishing, Greenwich, CT., p. 1–51.