I believe in Scholarship. I also believe that Scholarship is one of the most widely misunderstood concepts among the body of Cooperative Extension practitioners in the field. To be completely honest, when I hear the word “Scholarship” or “Scholarly work,” I am immediately on-guard. Will this loaded term be shared in the broad way in which it was originally intended- to include components of Discovery, Integration, Application, and Teaching (Boyer, 1990), or will it be another narrow push to encourage more county agents to write more journal articles and present at more professional conferences?
Does a research article or presentation constitute Scholarship? Of course it does. Don’t get me wrong, I just submitted a Journal article last week. I too believe in research and sharing of findings, but I also believe that to take such an unforgivingly narrow view of the broad spectrum of Scholarship downplays our institutional strengths and has the potential to cripple our organization.
Culp (2006) defines Scholarship of Extension as being composed of six distinct yet overlapping facets:
- Exploration and Discovery (needs assessment, expansion and review, continuous literature review).
- Sharing Results and Findings (publications and presentations).
- Teaching and Learning (research based teaching methodologies and the evaluation of such).
- Application and Reflection (application of knowledge to solve problems, and reflection on how such can be used in other situations).
- Creative Artistry (creation of new strategies).
- Integration (collaboration and connections across disciplines).
Even though there have been a multitude of academic arguments put forth regarding this broad view of Scholarship, somehow it seems, organizationally speaking, we remain hyper-focused on the idea that we as Extension faculty must “publish or perish” akin to our on-campus colleagues. I believe this goes against all that is right about Extension.
Not everyone in our organization should, nor needs to, conduct formal research and submit findings to academic journals to be considered scholars. If you reflect back on Extension’s original intent, to take the research-based information from the University to the common man, you will appreciate the unique roles within Extension, specifically the differences between that of the Specialist versus the County Extension Agent, and why the differentiated roles exist. The same is true with Scholarship. The right form of Scholarship exists for the right position/individual/phase of career. Scholarship can also be seen along a continuum. While an early extension agent might focus on Exploration and Discovery, a more seasoned Extension professional should likely be stretching themselves toward perhaps Sharing Results and Findings.
Further, In the component of Sharing Results and Findings, while we may automatically think of sharing by way of an academic publication or presentation, it can also just as easily mean dissemination of scholarly work through the production of a website, newsletter, news articles, asynchronous web course, and the like. These are works commonly produced by the average county Extension professional, which are just as, if not more, valuable to the clientele we serve.
How does the average Extension professional build Scholarship into their day? Reflection. In the experiential learning model employed by 4-H, we view reflection as a critical component of the do-reflect-apply model. In a constructivist viewpoint, it is during that reflection period that we (or our clientele) are able to construct our own learning. I believe similarly, as Extension professionals we need to hone in on our ability to employ Scholarship of Application, as we try and experiment with new and innovative programs, organizational strategies, etc. and then reflect (more than just evaluate) on what we have gained as professionals through the process and how what we have learned can help others.
Finally, as scholars, it is necessary that we share new findings and growing knowledge with others in some way. Perhaps this is through a journal article, but just as frequently it may be by way of a mentor-mentee or other collegial relationships. There are many ways to contribute and grow the body of knowledge. The wisest among us will reflect to determine the most appropriate means of disseminating said information to reach the masses, thus having the largest impact.