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The Big Picture

Public Scholarship

One way to begin to encourage the acceptance of efforts to involve scientists in K-12 science education is to modify the rhetoric, perhaps by adopting the term “public scholarship,” as framed by Colbeck and Wharton-Michael (2006). Public scholarship is not community outreach that faculty undertake as supplemental to their primary research or teaching responsibilities, and it’s not achieved by adding community service and reflection components to the courses they teach (Bringle and Hatcher, 1995; Driscoll and Lynton, 1997). Public scholarship reframes academic work as an inseparable whole in which the teaching, research, and service components are teased apart only to see how each informs and enriches the others, and faculty members use the integrated whole of their work to address societal needs (Kellogg Commission, 2000).

It’s certainly possible to introduce the flexibility in faculty workloads necessary to accomplish this vision of public scholarship. At Boise State University, however, faculty are expected to perform 30 units in teaching, scholarship (or creative activities), and service annually (June 2008). Unlike most universities where percent effort in each category is fixed, only ten of the units are specified -- six in teaching, two in scholarship, and two in service. The remaining 20 can be completed in one or more of the three categories as long as departmental needs are met. This policy doesn’t force false distinctions between scholarship, teaching, and service. Further, all types of academic contributions are valued equally, which is significant because outreach activities are often considered “service,” and service is typically undervalued.

Closing Thoughts

As you begin to work with your institution and colleagues to build a K-12 educator-scientist partnership, be sure to remind them regularly of the current state of science education in the United States. Reiterate the profound impact their efforts and their support of yours can have on improving it. Also, don’t forget to review the importance of science education in creating citizens who can compete for high-quality jobs in a global economy and in developing the next generation of innovators who will keep our economy strong.

Finally, go boldly. Now is the time. Increasingly, business, government, and educators are coming to recognize the critical need for better K-12 science education in this country and the role that colleges and universities can play in improving it. Encourage your institution and colleagues to become leaders in the movement.

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