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How to Document and Disseminate Unconventional Scholarship

Promotion, Tenure, and Evaluation

How to Document and Disseminate Unconventional Scholarship

Faculty scholarly engagement is necessary for accreditation, rank and tenure, and recognition of achievement. The importance and value of faculty scholarship are clear, yet defining what to accept and how to document it can be problematic. Most rank and tenure committees use the triad of teaching, research, and service to evaluate faculty scholarly engagement for promotion purposes. But in promotion decisions, publications often overshadow exemplary teaching, interdisciplinary creative activities, and public service. As Boyer wrote in Scholarship Reconsidered (1990), “According to the dominant view, to be a scholar is to be a researcher—and publication is the primary yardstick by which scholarly productivity is measured” (p. 2). Although Boyer was criticizing the standard publication yardstick for measuring faculty contribution, his statement is as relevant now as it was 30 years ago.

A central theme of Boyer’s book is the need for institutions to support a broader range of scholarly engagement for promotion purposes. Boyer’s model of scholarship expanded the triad of teaching, research, and service to four domains: discovery, application, integration, and teaching. The expanded model provides an opportunity to highlight and value what faculty actually do. Over the past 30 years, scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) has blossomed, and discovery scholarship continues to be synonymous with standard research—inquiry conducted to advance theory and obtain generalizable knowledge. Missing from accepted standards of scholarship in the scholarly literature is a focused, systematic approach for documenting (i.e., publishing or making public, peer reviewing, and making accessible for scholarly critique) application and integration scholarship that not only produces practical knowledge but also rigorously demonstrates scholarly engagement that most rank and tenure committees would consider equivalent to discovery and SoTL scholarship.

In application scholarship, faculty apply their disciplinary knowledge to investigate and provide solutions to practical community or societal problems. This type of scholarship aligns with traditional notions of public service unless the institution does not consider traditional conceptions of public service as scholarship (Greenberger & Mandernach, 2018). Further, when rank and tenure committees view professional engagement with the public as less important than research, faculty engaged in service work are at a disadvantage in promotion decisions. The concept of scholarship of application places applied scholarly engagement on the same level as standard research—as long as applied scholarship is rigorously documented for promotion decisions.

By contrast, in scholarship of integration, faculty connect ideas across disciplinary boundaries. Completing a literature review is one form of integration activity, but scholarship of integration entails more than just reviewing literature. It involves “placing the specialties in larger context, [or] illuminating data in a revealing way, often educating nonspecialists, too” (Boyer, 1990, p. 18). The traditional model of scholarship values interdisciplinary study but does not necessarily prize it as the most important form of scholarly engagement. The Boyer model of scholarship, however, values it as equal to discovery, application, and teaching scholarship. Even if the institution accepts the scholarship of application and integration as scholarship, the challenge for faculty and administrators is to determine how to document and disseminate these products of scholarship.

As Shulman (1998) stated, for scholars to consider a scholarly activity as scholarship it must exhibit certain characteristics, including being publicly disseminated, in a form amenable to review and critique, and accessible for use by members of the scholarly community. A peer-reviewed journal article fits these criteria. But in response to Boyer’s (1990) criticism of “research and publication” as the only basis for scholarship, Braxton, Luckey, and Helland (2002) added the orientation of professorial behaviors into one of three categories: scholarly activities, unpublished scholarly outcomes, and publications. Braxton et al. suggested that unpublished scholarly outcomes could be considered scholarship if they were publicly observable. “To be publicly observable, unpublished scholarly outcomes need to be in the form of a paper, a taped (audio or video) presentation, written report, or Web site” (Braxton et al., 2002, p. 141). As such, Braxton et al. provided a clear path for documenting unconventional scholarship. Yet, disseminating this type of scholarship has proven more challenging.

To provide a solution to documenting and disseminating unconventional scholarship, we created the Journal of Scholarly Engagement (JSE). The journal “has four primary goals: (a) promoting scholarship of application and integration; (b) fostering dialogue concerning faculty involvement in scholarly activities; (c) enhancing understanding of all of Boyer’s four domains: application, integration, discovery, and teaching; and (d) promoting practical knowledge” (Greenberger & Mandernach, 2018, p. 3). To accomplish these goals, we invite three manuscript types to capture unpublished scholarly outcomes: reflective practice manuscripts, professional profiles, and community engagement portfolios. Although these manuscript types are integral to JSE, they also provide tools for higher education administrators, rank and tenure committee members, and faculty leaders to acknowledge, document, and disseminate unconventional scholarship.

  • Reflective practice manuscripts. Reflective practice manuscripts synthesize seminal thinking on reflective practice (see Dewey, 1933/1989; Schön, 1983). In JSE, rigorous reflective practice involves identifying a problem (unexpected or unknown outcome) within the scope of a practical activity or project; exploring a deeper understanding of the context and participants in the activity or project; proposing reasons to explain the problem; evaluating the reasons with evidence (such as from models, theories, scholarly literature, and/or analyzed data); choosing the most plausible explanation of the problem based on practical experience and the evaluated evidence; and engaging in a reflective critique of the activity of reflection. There are two general audiences for reflective practice manuscripts: (a) other practitioners, who could benefit from learning about the tacit assumptions involved in practical decision-making within a given professional field, and (b) the broader scholarly community, which could benefit from the “exploratory” nature of such manuscripts as they could provide viable starting points for empirical research. For rank and tenure committees, especially at community colleges, four-year colleges, and non-research intensive universities, reflective practice manuscripts can be promoted to document scholarly engagement that augments practical insights with scholarly literature. For higher education administrators, reflective practice manuscripts can replace white papers as a way of documenting internal institutional activities and offering actionable solutions to pressing operational problems.
  • Professional profiles. Inspired by the suggestions of Glassick, Huber, and Maeroff (1997), professional profiles contextualize an individual’s scholarly engagement to provide a holistic understanding of a body of work. In JSE, a professional profile includes a statement of responsibilities, a biographical sketch, a sample scholarly activity or unpublished scholarly outcome, and a reflective critique. There are two general audiences for professional profiles: (a) other faculty, who could benefit from learning about how scholarly outcomes fit within a broader research agenda; and (b) the broader scholarly community, which could benefit from the public dissemination of the previously unpublished scholarly outcome. Examples of unpublished scholarly outcomes include “seminars conducted for laypersons on current disciplinary topics . . . development of a new process for dealing with a problem of practice . . . [and a] study conducted for a local organization” (Braxton et al., 2002, p. 142). For rank and tenure committees at both research intensive and non–research intensive higher education institutions, professional profiles can be promoted to organize and document sustained faculty scholarly engagement.
  • Community engagement portfolios. Aligned with Driscoll and Lynton’s (1999) professional service portfolio concept, the purpose of a community engagement portfolio is “to contextualize community engagement, organize community engagement according to a standard schema (i.e., purpose, process, and outcomes), and document community engagement in written form” (Greenberger & Mandernach, 2018, p. 3). In JSE, a professional profile includes a discussion of project purpose, an outline of the process taken in the community engagement, and presentation of project outcomes (Greenberger & McNaughton, 2019). In addition, authors should provide supporting evidence to document the outcomes. Examples of supporting evidence include diagrams or charts of collaboration, memos documenting process or communication, testimonials from community partners, and visual displays of project achievements (Driscoll & Lynton, 1999). There are two general audiences for community engagement portfolios: (a) community partners, who can benefit from learning about how such engagement produced solutions to problems of practice; and (b) the broader scholarly community, which could benefit from the public dissemination of practical knowledge gained from project outcomes as the basis for future research. For rank and tenure committees, especially at higher education institutions where applied research is prominent, community engagement portfolios can be promoted to organize and document off-campus service activities, such as those that involve applying disciplinary knowledge to address community problems. For higher education administrators interested in increased university engagement in the local community, community engagement portfolios can be used to document faculty involvement in community problem-solving.

Highlighting and valuing what faculty actually do comes at a cost. It requires academic leaders to take a wider view of scholarly engagement and to discover ways to assess and document such activities. The manuscript types I have discussed above offer innovative pathways to meet this challenge.


Boyer, E. L. (1990). Scholarship reconsidered: Priorities of the professoriate. Princeton, NJ: Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

Braxton, J. M., Luckey, W., & Helland, P. (2002). Institutionalizing a broader view of scholarship through Boyer’s four domains (ASHE-ERIC higher education report, vol. 29[2]). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Dewey, J. (1989). How we think. In J. A. Boydston (Ed.), The later works of John Dewey, 1825–1953, Volume 8: 1933, Essays and How we think, Revised edition. Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press.

Driscoll, A., & Lynton, E. A. (1999). Making outreach visible: A guide to documenting professional service and outreach. AAHE Forum on Faculty Roles and Rewards. Washington, DC: American Association for Higher Education.

Glassick, C. E., Huber, M. T., & Maeroff, G. I. (1997). Scholarship assessed: Evaluation of the professoriate. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Greenberger, S. W., & Mandernach, B. J. (2018). Documenting and disseminating unconventional scholarship. Journal of Scholarly Engagement, 1(1), 1–5.

Greenberger, S. W., & McNaughton, M. (2019). The community engagement portfolio: Documenting faculty community engagement. Journal of Scholarly Engagement, 2(1), 5–7.

Schön, D. A. (1983). The reflective practitioner: How professionals think in action. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Shulman, L. S. (1998). Course anatomy: The dissection and analysis of knowledge through teaching. In P. Hutchings (Ed.), The course portfolio: How faculty can examine their teaching to advance practice and improve student learning (pp. 5–12). Washington, DC: American Association of Higher Education.

Scott Greenberger, EdD, is the manager of research and assessment in the Center for Innovation in Research and Teaching (CIRT) at Grand Canyon University. He also serves as editor-in-chief of the Journal of Scholarly Engagement.


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