August 1998 // Volume 36 // Number 4 // Ideas at Work // 4IAW1

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Defining Scholarship For County Extension Agents

With the privilege of academic rank, Oregon county Extension faculty have a responsibility to do scholarly work. In an effort to understand the meaning of scholarship as it relates to county Extension work, six agents met for a day to examine what scholarship meant to each of them. While scholarship has been traditionally defined as research, they explored how their primary job, teaching, could also be viewed as scholarship when it develops new methods or integrates new knowledge leading to new understanding. They recognized that Extension faculty's challenge is to demonstrate the value of these other forms of scholarship to more traditional, research-oriented faculty.

Ann Schauber
Internet address:

Susan Aldrich-Markham
Jeff Olsen
Gail Gredler
Pamela Olsen
Mike Reichenbach

Extension Agents, Yamhill County
Oregon State University Extension Service
McMinnville, Oregon

Oregon county Extension agents have professorial academic rank. While this gives certain privileges, it also requires scholarly work that is recognized in college departments. Each faculty member at Oregon State University (OSU) has a position description outlining assigned responsibilities and includes a percentage of time dedicated to scholarly achievement. Expectation for scholarship is 15-to-20% of a full-time assignment for county faculty.

This article shares one county faculty's process in defining what scholarship means to an Extension professional. The faculty wanted to avoid putting on-going work with Extension clientele on hold in order to meet the demands of the university for promotion and tenure. Each agent wanted a plan in which scholarship could emerge from on-going work.

How does the work of a county Extension agent include scholarship? More specifically, how does scholarly work vary across program areas? Many agriculture agents maintain research plots in growers' fields and report results as scholarly accomplishment, but is this the only thing they can do? What counts for scholarship for agents working with youth and families?

In an effort to answer these questions, the agents in Yamhill County spent a day together exploring the meaning of scholarship in their work. The staff consists of a family and community leadership agent, who also serves as staff chair and five other agents with responsibilities in field crops, orchards, community horticulture, forestry, and 4-H youth development.

Prior to the meeting, each read Ernest Boyer's book, Scholarship Reconsidered (1990). Also used was a discussion paper that was the result of a collaborative effort (informed by Boyer's book) at Oregon State University to redefine scholarship. This effort was led by Conrad J. Weiser, Dean Emeritus, College of Agricultural Sciences. Each agent prepared a presentation describing the focus of his or her work and area of expertise. The intent was to articulate work that is scholarly, so it could be built upon. Agents wanted to help each other with defining scholarship.

The county staff began this inquiry knowing that many in academia believe that scholarship equals research. Indeed, Boyer affirms that, "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. At the same time, evidence abounds that many professors feel ambivalent about their roles" (Boyer, 1990, p.2). Reading Scholarship Reconsidered, however, broadened their perspective. For Boyer, scholarship includes four categories:

  1. Discovery -- research
  2. Integration -- making connections across disciplines, placing the specialties in a larger context, or illuminating data in a revealing way
  3. Application -- applying knowledge to consequential problems
  4. Teaching -- learning continuously in order to understand one's field of knowledge and stimulating others to do the same, creating new teaching methodologies.

It was clear that, as county Extension agents, most scholarship involved the integration and application of knowledge.

OSU now defines scholarship as "creative intellectual works that is validated by peers and communicated." The definition includes the four forms of scholarship outlined in Weiser's discussion paper. They are:

  1. Discovery of new knowledge
  2. Development of new technologies, methods, materials, or uses
  3. Integration of knowledge leading to new understanding
  4. Artistry that creates new insights and interpretations.

Though there is a lot of overlap between Boyer's categories of scholarship and OSU's, they are not identical. The notable difference is that OSU's doesn't include "Teaching." For Extension agents, whose primary job is teaching, this seems at first to be a serious problem.

Through the discussion it was realized that within teaching there can be opportunities for scholarship of "Development" and "Integration." Even for Boyer, teaching of already well-known subject matter using traditional teaching methods, is not scholarship. However, new subject matter, a new approach to a problem, or a new method of teaching can be scholarship.

The historical mission of the Extension Service, extending the knowledge discovered at the university to the community, often requires integrating more than one discipline. It also requires a thorough understanding of problems in the community, a thorough understanding of what has been learned through research, and insight into unique ways this research might be applied to solving problems. When done well, this can be scholarship.

The field crops agent was interested in the idea that "service" was the original mission of the land grant university, and that this meant teaching others practical and useful information. Today, service has different meanings in the university. To some on-campus faculty, it means sitting on university committees. In their view, for off-campus Extension agents, it means sitting on community committees. The mission of Extension Service however, extending the knowledge discovered at the university to the community, is service, by the earlier definition.

This service often requires integrating more than one discipline. It also requires thorough understanding of a problem in order to teach Extension clientele what will be most useful to them for solving the problem. When done well, this can incorporate scholarship.

Following are two examples of programs carried out by agents in Yamhill County that, while not research, were still scholarship. The Family Community Leadership program has continued to grow over the past five years due to one agent's efforts. She created a new volunteer model to manage the growing demand. She collected program statistics and teaching evaluations. What she realized was missing was documentation of the difference the program made in the lives of the people involved.

As a result, she developed a survey to measure the impact of the program on the volunteers and collected data that provided strong evidence of impact in the community. She plans to share the program and its impacts with other faculty through conferences and peer-reviewed publications. In this way, her on- going work becomes a scholarly contribution.

The field crops agent started a pesticide sprayer tune-up program in which she and two other agents visited farms to help growers calibrate and check the operation of their sprayers. They were able to make improvements on 86% of the sprayers, thus saving growers' money from not wasting pesticide and from better pest control.

Using data they collected on the pesticides used and the number of acres each sprayer was used for, they documented the dollar impact of the program. They developed a slide show on the sprayer tune-up procedure and how to correct the problems commonly found on sprayers, which was presented to larger statewide audiences. While the methods of calibrating and improving the operation of pesticide sprayers weren't new, the teaching methods used to encourage a large number of growers to change their practices were new, involving the scholarship of Development. The program was then "communicated to peers and validated," when the agent gave presentations and posters at both state and national levels.

The staff chair/home economist was struck that, while conducting research is now considered to be the most important function of faculty at universities, research actually came later in history as one of the missions of the Land-Grant universities. Teaching was the first mission and service was the second. Boyer suggests that because evaluating research, by the publications produced, is so much easier than evaluating teaching, this gradually came to be the predominant method of evaluating faculty. Thus teaching and service performed by faculty gradually lost status.

The 4-H agent reminded of Boyer's idea that all have seasons in their academic lives. There are years that are extremely productive developing and teaching new ideas and there are years when the pace is slower. Successful scholars have fallow periods just as they have highly productive periods. This idea was reassuring.

After a day together, the staff had a more developed understanding of themselves as scholars and felt new enthusiasm for the "scholarly accomplishment" required in the position descriptions. The agents knew that some of what they already do in teaching clientele is scholarship of Development and Integration, but that more effort must be made to communicate successes to their peers and documenting the impacts of educational programs. The county staff realized that it is the Extension faculty's challenge to demonstrate the value of these forms of scholarship to the more traditional, research-oriented faculty. Most of all, the staff renewed the inspiration they gain from being part of a team of faculty who provides the best service possible to the people of their county.


Boyer, E. (1990), Scholarship reconsidered: Priorities of the professorate. Special Report. Princeton, NJ: The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

Weiser, C. J., The Value System of A University-Rethinking Scholarship

1997-98 Promotion and Tenure Guidelines, Oregon State University: