What do conference receptions and scholarly writing have in common?

By:  Kristin Janke, PhD and Kyle Wilby, BSP, ACPR, PharmD, PhD

This post is part of our Educational Scholarship “Quick Start” series.  In this series, the editorial boards of Currents in Pharmacy Teaching and Learning and Innovations in Pharmacy are joining together to provide advice that helps authors avoid common problems in education-related inquiry.  A “Quick Start” is not only about being efficient – it’s about enhancing the impact and effectiveness of our scholarly contributions.  This post launches the series.


Imagine entering a reception and spotting a group of colleagues.  They’re in an animated discussion, clearly engaged.  You walk up.  Do you jump in and start talking?  No, you listen for a while. You want to know not only the topic, but also the ground they have covered and the points being made.  Once you sense the scope of the conversation, you add a comment.  During your turn, you make sure you’re extending the dialogue, bringing in something new.

Scholarly writing is similar.  By publishing, you’re joining a conversation.  The conversation may have been going on for months or years. During that time there have been conversational turns, and you’re jumping into that existing dialogue and debate with your writing.  To effectively join, you need to be knowledgeable about the questions being asked, the arguments being made and the opportunities to extend the conversation.  If you’re ill-prepared, others may listen impatiently and ultimately dismiss your contribution.  But if you know the history of the deliberations and have carefully identified an important addition, eyes will turn to you. 

Joining a scholarly conversation can be difficult.  Instead, authors may try to position their work as “new” – the first study with this student year, or using this technique to teach topic X.  These arguments often fail to substantively acknowledge prior inquiry.  As a result, the authors may be criticized for a limited knowledge of the field, violating one of Glassick’s standards for educational scholarship – adequate preparation.1 Authors should do their due diligence (i.e. tip their hat) to those before them and carefully specify their work’s position relative to previous inquiry. For example, a “first in this setting” argument could be re-framed by re-positioning the work to support, refute, or expand on existing knowledge claims, regardless of where the study happened. Failure to do this may hurt the authors’ credibility with editors, reviewers, and their readership. Reviewers will ask themselves: “Does this author show an understanding of the scholarly work already conducted within the field?”  You want to convince them that you do!

Lingard has explained that positioning our work involves identifying a problem being discussed and establishing a gap in current knowledge or thinking.2  The literature’s gap may be a knowledge deficit, a shortcoming in the existing scholarship, a controversy or a pervasive and/or unproven assumption.3  Articulating the gap requires not only knowing the literature, but placing each paper in relation to others based on its contribution.  This process requires shifting from summarizing the literature to “mapping that gap.”  Lingard describes writing the literature review and citation as “how we artfully tell the story of what the field knows, how it came to that knowledge, and where we stand in relation to it.”4

Now, imagine jumping into that reception conversation with your study’s description. However, there’s little enthusiasm for the variables you’ve altered in your evaluation of the teaching technique (e.g. use in an elective vs required course).  Conversation quickly turns to other more persistent or troublesome variables (e.g. the amount of needed repetition, creating learning efficiency, conserving teaching resources). Suddenly your work isn’t as impactful as you initially thought.  

The gap isn’t simply a small hole that you’re plugging – a place where work hasn’t occurred.  Lingard argues that a compelling addition requires that the author convince the reader the gap matters – that it’s important.2  Compelling gaps involve focusing on issues that matter in making educational design decisions.  In our example above, notice how the conversation turned to other educational issues.  In the case of a publication, less compelling work might result in a reviewer or editor saying “this doesn’t have enough impact to be published.”

Undoubtedly, we can all learn to frame and position our work more effectively.  Below are questions to help authors prepare for their “conversational turn.”  In addition, writing scholar Helen Sword advocates for writing with others.5 We may learn about mapping the gap, citation and developing the literature review by watching the ways others do it and by working to hone our abilities over time. 

Checking Readiness for Contributing to the Pharmacy Education Literature
What actions can I take to help me prepare to “join the conversation”?
What questions have been asked and answered already?
What claims have previous studies made based on their findings?
How does my work relate to existing inquiry?
Why is my work the next important step in this line of inquiry?
How compelling is my work? What is the utility and transferability of my work?

Conference receptions and scholarly writing both involve joining conversations.  By examining the work of the authors before us, mapping the gap and articulating the importance of our contribution, our conference conversations and scholarly writing will have more impact.  Which of the following references may help you prepare?

Disclosures

Kristin Janke is Executive Associate Editor for Currents in Pharmacy Teaching and Learning, an Editor and Peer Coach for CPTL Pulses, and an Editor for Innovations in Pharmacy where she is responsible for the education section.  Kyle Wilby is an Editorial Board Member at Currents in Pharmacy Teaching and Learning, Research in Social and Administrative Pharmacy, Exploratory Research in Clinical and Social Pharmacy, and an Associate Editor for Pharmacy Education.

References

  1. Glassick CE. Boyerʼs expanded definitions of scholarship, the standards for assessing scholarship, and the elusiveness of the scholarship of teaching. Acad Med. 2000;75(9):877-880.
  1. Lingard L. Joining a conversation: the problem/gap/hook heuristic. Perspect Med Educ. 2015;4(5):252-253.
  1. Lingard L. Writing an effective literature review. Part 1: Mapping the gap. Perspect Med Educ. 2018;7(1):47-49.
  1. Lingard L. Writing an effective literature review. Part II: Citation technique. Perspect Med Educ. 2018;7:133-135.
  1. Sword, H. Air & Light & Time & Space: How Successful Academic Write. Harvard University Press; 2017.

Kristin Janke is a Professor in the Department of Pharmaceutical Care & Health Systems and Director of the Wulling Center for Innovation & Scholarship in Pharmacy Education at the University of Minnesota College of Pharmacy. Her scholarly interests include: unique methods for student leadership development, enhancing assessment practices in colleges/schools of pharmacy, and broadening publication options for the scholarship of teaching and learning.

Kyle Wilby is an Associate Professor and Associate Dean (Undergraduate Programs) at the School of Pharmacy, University of Otago in New Zealand. In May 2021, he will be joining the College of Pharmacy at Dalhousie University in Canada. His scholarly interests include: assessor cognition in rater-based assessment, strategic planning and accreditation, minority stress theory and its application to LGBTAQI+ health. 


Pulses is a scholarly blog supported by Currents in Pharmacy Teaching and Learning

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