In our most recent issue of To Improve the Academy, we published an essay by Randall Bass (Vice Provost for Education at Georgetown University) titled “What’s the Problem Now?” This essay came at the invitation of the editors who invited Bass to revisit his 1999 essay, “The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning: What’s the Problem?” for our journal and its audience in light of his well-received keynote at the POD Conference in 2017. In light of the national racial unrest following the police killing of George Floyd and COVID-19 that have gripped us all in 2020, a 20-year perspective on these issues bookended by these two articles raises new and compelling questions, for which we seek reflective responses from the broader community of educational developers and scholars of teaching and learning. This special issue will be published in fall/winter 2021.

We offer the following themes and guiding questions as generated by Bass and explored in his essay.

  • By calling the piece, “What’s the Problem Now?” Bass wants to call attention to the force of “now” in the sense that Martin Luther King, Jr. invoked it in his famous phrase, “the fierce urgency of now.”
    • What are the qualities of the “now” that make taking teaching and learning seriously an urgent, if not moral, imperative that can foster a more equitable future?
    • What does it mean to take teaching and learning seriously in this moment, in the current ecosystem of higher education?
  • If the move twenty years ago, for the scholarship of teaching and learning, was a shift from “problem” as a failure to “problem” to be investigated, is there a similar for higher education in its current state of questioning and crisis?
    • What does it mean to turn the current crises and challenges of higher education into a set of “problems” to be investigated? Who gets to–or should–decide what counts as a problem, and how do they define the problem(s)?
    • How might we understand the evolving role of centers for teaching and learning, and educational development more broadly, in institutional transformation and the expansion of higher education to meet the needs of society, equity, and the future?
  • Over the last twenty years, advances in the learning sciences, applied learning research, pedagogical theory, understanding of barriers to equity, and theories of organizational change have both expanded and deepened the knowledge base that informs educational development and its larger role in institutional change.
    • What are the new conditions (contexts, theories, tools, interdisciplinary constructs) that inform the “problems” that we should take up “now”?
    • What emergent tools and strategies do educational developers have at their disposal now that help reshape their role in the changing higher education ecosystem?

Guidelines and other information

  • If you would like to bounce an idea off the editors, please contact Lindsay Bernhagen at
  • Essays should be no more than 7,000 words
  • Submissions are due January 31, 2021
  • Please use APA 7th
  • Submit here (where you will also find more detailed information regarding TIA style). When you get to the third page where you enter your title and abstract, please select “What’s the Problem Now” Special Issue from the dropdown so that your manuscript is given the appropriate consideration. NB: If you have submitted to TIA recently, you may notice that this is a different submission system than what we were using over the last year or so. Our publisher, Michigan Publishing Services, recently made a switch to this new platform that will better serve journals like ours.