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Educational Scholarship: How Do We Define and Acknowledge It?

Deborah Simpson, PhD
M. Brownell Anderson, MEd
January 31, 2006

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For decades, the academic medicine community rarely used the terms, "education, teaching, scholarship, and academic promotion" in combination. Teaching was expected as part of academic citizenship, a necessary but insufficient element for academic promotion. In 1990, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching published Ernest Boyer's "Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate." Boyer challenged the prevailing notion that "everyone teaches," by providing the historical roots for teaching as one of four forms of scholarship. Since its publication, Boyer's work has spurred "reconsideration" of the educators' roles, expectations, and criteria associated with their recognition and academic promotion.

Members of the AAMC's Group on Educational Affairs (GEA) have been exploring and advancing the construct of teaching as scholarship over the past 12 years. Critical questions guiding GEA's work include:

  • What are the criteria for educational scholarship?
  • What are the core elements of educational scholarship?
  • How do educators document their work for recognition and academic promotion?
  • What are the necessary resources and infrastructure required to support educators as scholars?

In February 2006, the GEA hosted a consensus conference seeking three outcomes:

  1. To re-confirm previously defined educator activity categories and further define their contents;
  2. To describe the appropriate forms of evidence and presentations for each category; and
  3. To identify areas of ambiguity associated with educators' academic advancement in need of further discussion and investigation.

A brief summary of the conference findings, abstracted from the complete conference summary report and published findings, are presented here to stimulate continued discussion of this critical topic.

To reconfirm and further define educator activity contents

What are the criteria for educational scholarship?

These five educator activity categories emerged from the literature as common formats in presenting educational contributions for academic promotion. They define the contents suitable for inclusion in academic promotion documents.

  1. Teaching: Any activity that fosters learning, including direct teaching and the creation of associated instructional materials.
  2. Learner Assessment: All activities associated with measuring learners' knowledge, skills, and attitudes related to one or more of the following activities; development, implementation, analysis, or synthesis and presentation.
  3. Curriculum Development: A longitudinal set that is more than one teaching session or presentation of designed educational activities that includes evaluation, which may occur at any training level.
  4. Mentoring and Advising: Mentoring: a sustained, committed relationship from which both parties obtain reciprocal benefits. Advising: a more limited relationship than mentoring that usually occurs over a limited period, with the advisor serving as a guide.
  5. Educational Leadership and Administration: Achieving results through others, transforming organizations through the vigorous pursuit of excellence with their work's value demonstrated through ongoing evaluation, dissemination of results, and maximization of resources.


To describe the appropriate forms of evidence and presentations for each educator activity category

What are the core elements of educational scholarship? Two overriding principles for documenting educator's activities cross all five categories:

  1. Excellence: Evidence of education excellence must document both the quantity (how much, how often, with whom) and quality of educational activities.
  2. Engagement with the education community: Effective presentation demonstrates that the activity drew from and/or contributed to the education community and its body of knowledge

The Documentation Frame for Educators' Academic Advancement indicates that documentation of excellence should include both quantity and quality for each educator activity category even though the specific types and forms of evidence may vary. Documentation of engagement should include evidence of a scholarly approach and/or scholarship. In short, this model is known as "Q2Engage": Quality, Quantity, and Engagement with the educational community.

The breadth and scope of engagement with the educational community (e.g., local, regional, national, or international) related to activity categories may vary by personal preferences and skill sets, or faculty rank and institution. This engagement with the educational community may be documented by evidence of a scholarly approach (that the educators' work is informed by what is known in the field) and educational scholarship (how, over time, the educator contributes to the knowledge in the field).

How do educators document their work for recognition and academic promotion?

Educators seeking academic promotion may present evidence focused on a single category (e.g., teaching) or in multiple categories (e.g., curriculum, learner assessment, educational leadership and administration). All documentation must be effectively and concisely presented using common terminology and displayed in an easy-to-read format using tables, figures and/or graphs when possible. Outcomes 1 and 2 address how to document work using an Educator Portfolio.

Engagement with the Educational Community through a Scholarly Approach or Educational Scholarship


Scholarly Approach

Educational Scholarship


Review and build on other educators' works in order to provide or sustain works/outcomes that are informed by what is known in the field Contribute new, peer-reviewed resources that advance a field

Activity Examples

Serve on a committee (e.g., curriculum, promotion and tenure, residency education)

Appraise abstracts for a conference

Function as an editor or a reviewer for a journal

Create a curriculum model

Present accepted abstract at a professional conference

Devise a learner assessment tool

Publish original works


Educational activity is:

Systematically designed



Redesigned or informed by the literature and best practices of the field

Product is:

Accessible to the education community

Presented in a form that others can build upon

Available to peers to review applying accepted criteria

To identify areas of ambiguity associated with educators' academic advancement in need of further discussion and investigation

What are the necessary resources and infrastructure required to support educators as scholars? Institutions reward what they value. As many of our institutions already recognize and support the infrastructure needs of basic science and clinical investigators through mentoring, funding, facilities and uninterrupted time to devote to scholarly activities, a parallel educational infrastructure should be framed.

This starts with the institution providing a clear, written statement of faculty educational contributions as core to its mission and goals. At the individual level, institutions need to align promotion expectations with the educational activities assigned to faculty members. At the organizational level, the standards for academic promotion must not exceed the available education support infrastructure within institutions and from regional, national, and international organizations associated with medical education. Support infrastructure for educational career development includes forums for educators to share their work and have it peer-reviewed, faculty development to enhance educators' expertise and learn about new advances in the field, access to educational journals and repositories of materials, and physical, virtual and technical resources. When these things happen, it illustrates an institutional commitment to career advancement through the scholarship of teaching. Further, it sets the stage for fair judgment about educational contributions during annual performance reviews/promotion and tenure decisions, especially when education portfolios based upon the "Q2Engage" model are used.

In order to move this work forward, it is essential that work continue with our institutional and organizational leaders to align academic advancement standards and infrastructure to support educational contributions. Local and national forums coupled with informal collegial discussions remain invaluable resources to further disseminate, build upon, and expand the dialogue about educational scholarship from the GEA Consensus Conference findings. In addition, seeking new venues for communication and support about these topics through dialoguing with faculty from our research, clinical and administrative medical communities serves to stimulate richer conversations. Answers to emerging questions such as how to document and reward multiple-authored educational materials, or jointly created educational activities are more likely to occur with this kind of inclusive approach and systematic inquiry.

In her presentation at the 2006 consensus conference, Pat Hutchings of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching spoke eloquently about establishing a learning community. Using these conference outcomes, faculty can work together, with their colleagues and their institutions, to develop robust communities of educators. The contributions of faculty to our unique mission—improving the health of the public through excellence in the education of physicians—find ongoing support through a strong educational infrastructure and are valued and recognized through fair and timely academic promotion processes. By promoting the ideas outlined in this article we can arrive at a time and place where good teaching is not only recognized but is sufficient and necessary for academic promotion.


  1. Bland CJ, Weber-Main, AM, Lund SM, Finstand DA. The Research Productive Department: Strategies from Departments That Excel. Anker Publishing Company, Inc. Boston, MA, 2005.
  2. Boyer EL. Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1990.
  3. Rice, RE. "Scholarship Reconsidered": History and Context. Chapter 1. In: O'Meara K, Rice RE. Faculty Priorities Reconsidered: Reward Multiple Forms of Scholarship. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2005, Pp. 17-31.
  4. Simpson, DE and Fincher, RM. Making the Case for the Teaching Scholar. Acad Med. 1999;74(12):1296-1299.
  5. Simpson D, Hafler J, Brown D, Wilkerson L. Documentation Systems for Educators Seeking Academic Promotion in US Medical Schools. Acad Med. 2004;79:783-790.
  6. Simpson D, Fincher RM, Hafler JP, Irby DM, Richards BF, Rosenfeld GC, Viggiano TR. Advancing Educators and Education: Defining the Components and Evidence of Educational Scholarship. Proceedings from the Association of American Medical Colleges Group on Educational Affairs Consensus Conference on Educational Scholarship, 9-10 February 2006, Charlotte, NC. Washington DC: AAMC 2007.
  7. Simpson D, Fincher RM, Hafler JP, Irby DM, Richards BF, Rosenfeld GC, Viggiano TR. Advancing Educators and Education: Defining the Components and Evidence of Educational Scholarship. Medical Education 2007:41(10): 1002-1009

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