Book Reviews in Reflective Teaching
The Wabash Center’s Online Publication Reflective Teaching publishes short (500 word) reviews of books and resources about teaching and learning.
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Date Reviewed: December 13, 2018
In Mentoring: Biblical, Theological, and Practical Perspectives, Thompson and Murchison provide a thoughtful collection of essays on Christian mentorship. As a whole, this collection contributes to the growing body of scholarly work on mentoring by offering “windows on mentoring that are biblically grounded, theologically informed, communally diverse, and generationally attentive” (3). The book is divided into four parts, with each of the fourteen chapters highlighting the twenty-one contributors’ unique analyses and insights on mentoring and being mentored.
Part 1 surveys biblical perspectives on mentoring. As such, it begins with Brueggemann’s consideration of mentoring practices present throughout the Old Testament and concludes with a posthumous essay by Bartlett on those passages in the New Testament that help to shed light on contemporary understandings of the term “mentor.”
Part 2 examines the nature and task of mentoring from a variety of theological perspectives and methods. Drawing on the fields of pastoral ministry (Currie), homiletics (Long), ethics (Miles), and feminism (Rigby), the authors provide a range of mentoring models and resources that underscore the importance of positive mentoring relationships and practices in the formation of strong Christian leaders. On this Rebekah Miles writes, “Christian mentoring should include discussion of the ways that our professional goals contribute to the larger goals of Christian life” (83).
Part 3, “Diverse National and International Communities of Mentoring,” explores Christian mentoring practices as shaped by particular contexts, including race, gender, and ethnicity. Those who wish to think critically about dominant systems of oppression, such as racism, xenophobia, and sexism, and to foster concrete practices for inclusive mentoring within biblical-theological frameworks will find a wealth of resources in the essays by Pollard, Cannon, De La Rosa, and Kwok. Of particular note is Canon’s proposal that womanist mentoring is a vocational call, “to do the work your soul must have” (123). This section also includes an historical essay by Johnson on mentoring in the Roman Catholic tradition.
Finally, Part 4 contains three coauthored chapters that discuss mentoring as a mutually supportive practice that occurs across generations. Ottati and Hinson-Hasty’s essay, “Mentoring toward a Humane Disposition, Attitude, and Imagination,” describes mentoring relationships between the teachers and student, while Nishioka and Lowry and Wardlaw and Murray’s essays consider youth and cross-generational mentoring, respectively
The book closes with an afterword by Marty that skillfully and poetically weaves together the insights and value of this collection of essays. He writes, “It is impossible to speak properly about mentoring in entirely impersonal and theoretical terms. Mentoring is and is about a profound personal dimension of scholarly and pastoral work” (223).
Those working in theological schools or departments and in Christian ministry will find this collection of essays to be a valuable resource on the virtue and art of mentoring. The strength of this volume lies not only in its biblical and theological reflections on mentoring, but also in the range of everyday lived experiences and perspectives from which the authors write.
Date Reviewed: December 13, 2018
The growth of online education prompts a need for qualitative research about student learning outcomes and teaching methodologies. It also requires the production of specific educational material that is consonant with this educational medium. In addition, practical advice for online educational methods is warranted. This book is a collection of articles that address a range of concerns within online education. The authors do a good job in the critical assessment of the current possibilities that online education provides. It also invites readers to engage in complex discussions about online education in the future.
Creativity and Critique in Online Learning is divided into two parts. The first part is concerned with teaching practices. In particular, it examines available online teaching instruments and places online education in a broader context. This section of the book contributes a detailed analysis of online forums, discusses ways to make online teams work effectively, and explores how popular social networks, such as Facebook, contribute to informal learning. It also discusses what role multisensory learning has in online space, how to use all the senses in online education, as well as how to nurture creativity and critical assessment. This section is of interest to teachers and students alike because it looks at practical aspects of online education and gives useful advice on how to use them productively.
The second part of the book focuses on particular online teaching challenges and how to effectively engage them. Online academic cheating, its growth, and various ways to fight this phenomenon are addressed. In addition, it provides help for how to build successful relationships, instill values, and cherish identity in the online teaching community. This section also takes a closer look at massive open online courses and their drawbacks, both explicit and implicit. One of the most interesting articles in this part is “The Move to Online Teaching: A Head of Department’s Perspective” by Diane Preston. This chapter invites readers to examine online education through the eyes of an experienced educator who is concerned about both the teaching process and institutional concerns.
Overall, Creativity and Critique in Online Learning is recommended for a broad audience of educators. It contains useful information for teachers who are currently involved in online teaching, scholars, and policymakers in online education, as well as teachers practicing a traditional form of education and looking for interesting and innovative ways to make their subjects more appealing to contemporary students. One of the main pros of this book is that it does not try to present online education as a modern teaching panacea or the only choice for education in the future. On the contrary, the book presents online teaching in an unbiased manner. While it certainly praises the advantages and possibilities online education has for all participants of the teaching process, it also reveals existing flaws and addresses specific dangers of online education.
Date Reviewed: December 13, 2018
In Free Speech on Campus, Sigal R. Ben-Porath outlines her focus at the outset: “I offer a framework for thinking about free speech controversies both inside and outside the classroom, shifting the focus away from disputes about legality and harm and toward the practical considerations linked to education and inclusion. I attempt to provide readers with strategies to de-escalate tensions and negotiate highly charged debates surrounding trigger warnings, safe spaces, and speech that verges on hate” (3).
In order to accomplish her task Ben-Porath uses the first four chapters of her book to describe the “current tools” used to protect free speech and the “common myths” that cloud leaders’ understanding of the problem (7-28). She offers a “framework for inclusive freedom” (29-46) and notes the ways in which that framework can be used to respond to “intellectual and dignitary harms. . . without suppressing speech” (47-84), and then she describes the ways in which the same approach can be deployed in the classroom (85-102). In the conclusion to her book she then shows how conflicts that she has cited elsewhere could have been resolved by relying on “inclusive freedom” (103-128). The concrete illustrations include the debate over Halloween costumes and safe spaces at Yale (13); racial equality in Missouri (13-14); trigger warnings in Chicago (14); and controversial speakers at Berkeley and Middlebury (15-17).
Ben-Porath depicts three tools that have been used by colleges and universities to respond to such conflicts: Some have appealed to the First Amendment and the freedom of speech; others have appealed to academic freedom; and still others have used “speech codes” to control dialogue on campus (18-20). These tools “pull in different directions” and Ben-Porath notes that there are subtleties on campus that often escape notice (21). Academic freedom, not freedom of speech, is the “core value” of America’s campuses – that commitment conditions the right to free speech, prohibiting things like plagiarism and the misrepresentation of the results of research, even if the First Amendment protects such conversation (20).
“Inclusive freedom” offers a different approach. It is based upon a commitment to two key principles: “First, a commitment to teaching and research can only be fulfilled in the context of an open-minded and intellectually honest environment” (74); and “Second, all members of the campus community must know that they are invited to participate in this pursuit” (74).
Readers of Ben-Porath’s work will have questions: (1) Is there a bright line between society’s concern with the freedom of speech and academic freedom on its campuses? If, as the author notes, university campuses are “both the mirror of American democracy and the window into its future” (8), can universities and society be so easily isolated? (2) Could issues of plagiarism and the misrepresentation of research results be ethical matters and, therefore, unrelated to the question of how freedom of speech and academic freedom differ and overlap? (3) More importantly, can Ben-Porath be so sure that the strife on America’s campuses can be avoided or defused? Those who perceive themselves as the architects of a new social order or who see societal battles as a zero-sum game will not be easily dissuaded. (4) Readers will also wonder if Ben-Porath undermines her project by presupposing that the categories of harm and violence are appropriately applied to academic discourse. As long as one assumes that language can be violent, then opening discourse to contributions from diverse perspectives will always be constricted by the possibility that one will be charged with acting immorally. (5) Finally, on a practical note, readers will find that the author’s method is not as clearly outlined as it should be in such a brief treatment of the subject.
Questions aside, those who teach in North America will recognize some of the debates that Ben-Porath describes. The conflict that abruptly ended the deanship of Professor Elaine Heath at Duke Divinity School illustrates how intractable and bitter debates can be about these issues. For those who teach on seminary campuses, there are added layers of complexity. To one degree or another, issues of Christian community, formation, and participation in the life of the church are concerns unique to theological education. In addition, notions of belonging and academic freedom are conditioned in seminaries by centuries of debate over what makes for sound theology and authentic Christian community. For that reason, in the world of theological education, a solution to the volatility of conversation in the classroom and among its faculty is an even more urgent priority.
Date Reviewed: November 29, 2018
What is expressly Christian about teaching in a Christian context? In this assessment of the state of Protestant Christian pedagogy and constructive vision for its improvement, Smith addresses a gap he perceives between the aspirations and actual practices of Christian teaching. Teaching in Christian contexts cannot be reduced to issues of content or philosophy; it requires intentionality of process. Smith’s laser focus on Christian pedagogy distinguishes his approach from other treatments of Christian teaching that emphasize the spirituality of the educator, such Parker Palmer’s work. On Christian Teaching resides within the practices stream of theological education, consistent with Smith’s other work including Teaching and Christian Practices, which he co-authored with James K. A. Smith.
After laying out an extensive argument for how the integration of faith and education must attend to pedagogy, Smith engages the What If Learning approach (http://www.whatiflearning.com/) developed in conjunction with the Kuyers Institute for Christian Teaching and Learning, which he directs at Calvin College. Here the reader is invited to envision possibilities for seeing anew through a shared imagination between teacher and students, enabling students to choose meaningful engagement, and reshaping practice through attention to space and time. Surprisingly, however, Smith does not engage the important work already published by scholars of color on some of the very topics of his chapters, such as Willie James Jennings’ The Christian Imagination or bell hooks’ Teaching series. The reader would do well to engage Smith’s book alongside such other resources on imagination and pedagogy.
Smith guides Christian educators in assessing the pedagogical home they create, an environment that forms students in particular practices and assumptions. He continually pushes readers to go beyond philosophy and content to wrestle with the implicit meanings their teaching practices may convey, privileging student perceptions of the classroom experience over the teacher’s intentions. From start to finish, Smith consistently grounds his book in the actual experiences of teaching. Examples from a wide variety of classroom settings abound: anecdotes relayed by his son at a Christian high school, Smith’s own experiences teaching language classes at the high school and university levels, and an array of stories received from colleagues and students. If Smith’s leadership of the Kuyers Institute is not enough to convince the reader to pay attention, the organic way he articulates his message amid such a diversity of classroom examples gives the reader a sense that Smith is indeed a master teacher, and that something significant can be learned from him.
The title of the book indicates two of its limitations: it expressly addresses Christian teachers and institutional settings, and is focused on the four-walled institutional classroom setting. A third limitation is its one-directional movement from theology to practice that carries a hint of applied theology, “that faith can inform pedagogy” (viii). The reader must therefore raise two important questions alongside this book: Is the traditional classroom the best setting in which to enact Christian teaching? And, in what ways might the pedagogy in which we were formed already have shaped our theology?
On Christian Teaching is written for educators across all disciplines who identify as Christian, especially those at Christian secondary and higher education institutions. It contains eleven manageable chapters of approximately fifteen pages in length, each with a journaling prompt and questions for reflection and discussion that facilitate reflection on one’s current practice of teaching and guide imagination for future practice. This structure makes the book ideal for reading among a group of educators who are ready to move beyond the questions of what and why they teach, to imagine the how of Christian teaching.
Date Reviewed: November 29, 2018
This book is a collection of lectures given by Maxine Greene over a period of twenty-five years. Greene, who passed away in 2014, was an outstanding example of the integration of scholarship and the arts, aesthetic education and social thought. As such, this book is for all those who are interested in education and who seek to make their classrooms energetic, immediate, and alive with imagination and critique (vii-viii). It is a book for any educator in any discipline who seeks to embody transformative classroom experiences for their students.
Variations on a Blue Guitar’s introduction and preliminary material familiarizes readers with Greene’s work and her role in the Lincoln Center Institute for the Arts in Education at Columbia University. The book is divided into five sections. The first introduces the reader to aesthetic education. Greene believes that aesthetic education creates different modalities of expression that result in new ways of doing education in the classroom. For Greene, engaging art in education elicits “fresh connections, unsuspected meanings, and. . . continuing discovery” (42).
The second section works through the experience of the imagination and its implications in the classroom. One of the goals of education using art is to suggest alternative realities for the material being discussed. Greene describes concrete, purposeful, and evocative experiences with art. However, she also gives concrete examples of how one can live these experiences in moments of awareness in the natural world (72). Furthermore, she uses examples from literature, visual art, and even the natural world of these moments of awareness where an awakening occurs and one has a new field of perception of reality.
The third section of the book moves from these experiences to the concrete classroom. Greene advocates for including art in active learning, critical questioning, narrative, meaning-making, authentic assessment, collaboration, and community (146). She champions the arts in a world that is increasingly technological and dependent on the internet and computers; some experiences can only be rendered through the arts (172). This emphasis on the arts does not ignore excellence and standards. In fact, art improves classroom standards that appeal to traditional banking models of education.
In the fourth section of this book, Greene describes how minorities are a rich source of creativity and thinking outside the box. Education should strive not to rule others and furthermore it should not classify minorities or put them in hierarchies to silence them (198). Greene’s endeavor to give dignity to often silenced voices is a strength of this book. She states, “[T]he cruelest thing we can do. . . is to categorize young people. . . whether we call it ‘Asian,’ ‘Hispanic,’ ‘African American’” (152).
Overall, this book is beneficial as Greene pushes the reader beyond conventional means of education. It is a helpful resource for teachers in all fields of the discipline as they discover new dimensions of themselves and their pedagogy.
Date Reviewed: November 29, 2018
With a laudable personal openness and deep dedication to both their field of sociology and the practice of teaching, editors Christopher R. Matthews, Ursula Edgington, and Alex Channon premise their volume Teaching with Sociological Imagination in Higher and Further Education on the idea that the skills of reflexivity and critical thinking are not only skills they stress in their courses to train and develop students, but also skills that can and should inform their own teaching practice. This reflective nature is the guiding purpose of their essay collection, and the contributors therein address that same principle from a variety of angles.
Such a reflexive approach, the editors write in their own section of the volume, “Introduction: Teaching in Turbulent Times,” is emphasized as “an exploration of the importance of teaching with sociological imagination, derived from a critical, reflexive engagement with our own situated practices, theorizations, and professional identities” (xvii). This openness regarding the positionality of the researcher and of the teacher is in large part what sets this volume apart. Briscoe (2005, Educational Studies 38, 23-41) noted that ideological positioning grants that while ideologies derive from one’s experiences and are influenced by one’s demographic positionality, the researcher (and in this case, the teacher) can have experiences that allow him or her to develop empathy with the other (33). The fact that Matthews, Edgington, and Channon foreground this idea sets the tone for the rest if the volume.
For instance, James Arkwright’s essay focuses on education equality as seen through the lens of inclusion and accessibility. The case studies Arkwright includes illustrate the issues and themes of students confronted with short- and long-term illnesses, as well as disabilities, and their experiences in institutions of higher or further education. These cases are built upon by his own story of being an educator who uses a wheelchair, through which he even more strongly makes his case for why the current state of inclusivity may seem positive, while the reality of those inclusive policies in practice could be improved to achieve a greater degree of equity.
Another demonstration of the efficacy of the volume’s premise is Pam Lowe’s entry on the role emotions may play in the learning experience. This topic is timely, as debates on trigger warnings and how or whether to address sensitive issues in class is ongoing. Lowe explores the complexity of educators’ attempts at balancing emotional and sensitive issues with academic objectivity.
Teaching with Sociological Imagination in Higher and Further Education is a valuable collection of topics from a variety of professional angles, all focused on how educators teach reflexivity and critical thinking, while practicing those same principles as educators. In doing so, Matthews, Edgington, and Channon have provided a strong and diverse contribution to the fields of sociology and education, as well as a demonstration of the value inherent in exploring, understanding, and practicing how these fields are interlinked.
Date Reviewed: November 29, 2018
Going Online presents a hopeful view of online teaching. A professor in the NYU Tanden School of Engineering, Ubell seems aware that this position will contradict many professors’ perceptions. “Sitting at desks or moving about, our bodies and minds inhabit the classroom, often with the same ease and familiarity we find at home,” he writes, adding “Most of us assume it’s the ideal learning environment” (33). Going Online makes a case for recognizing the limitations of the face-to-face classroom and reconsidering the pedagogical practices that become possible outside of that setting. The collection might not persuade administrators and faculty whose familiarity with online education has led them to resist its expansion. However, it offers a useful survey of previous research and confronts pervasive misconceptions. These two features make it a valuable resource for sustaining conversations in universities looking to develop online experiential learning.
In Chapter 1, “Dewey Goes Online,” Ubell writes, “Virtual education emerges as a workshop in which online students exercise functions essential for scholarship and professional life” (5). The professor’s role changes in an online setting because they “become facilitators, propelling students to engage in discourse through discussion and argument to generate and link ideas.” The move to an online format “often calls upon faculty to become far more engaged than in the classroom” (8). Going Online develops these two ideas – online courses facilitate active and experiential learning, and faculty become more dynamic and effective when teaching online – through theoretical discussion and practical applications.
Going Online makes a point to dispel myths and misconceptions about online courses. Far from alienating or isolating students, online discussions unfold over time and provide space for reflection and “room for analysis, critique, and problem-solving” (9). The collection convincingly shows that the quality of online education equals or surpasses that of face-to-face instruction, but Ubell does not address the legitimate fears that can be summarized in one professor’s observation: “Machines have historically been used to increase profits by cutting the labor force” (54). In fact, part of faculty resistance stems from the low status attached to online courses. In “Why Faculty Don’t Want to Teach Online,” Ubell acknowledges that teaching online represents a risk for many untenured faculty. Those who contemplate migrating their courses online must confront the potential suspicion of colleagues. Ubell explores possible concerns such as “Will she be devalued, suspect, even ridiculed?” “Will her career be threatened?” and “Will she be exposed to hostile reactions from her colleagues?” (50). Alternatively, “will she be seen by some as adventurous, a risk-taker, an early adapter, unafraid of challenges?” (51). Going Online does not reassure teachers facing these risks, but this section asks faculty and administrators to confront the ways that prejudice against online education disadvantages those who shoulder those courses out of necessity or curiosity. These questions name problems and assumptions that might otherwise remain submerged in many conversations about program design.
Ubell also acknowledges that the history of online education offers cautionary tales. “For years, for-profits dominated online industry” and greed turned many of those schools into “diploma mills” (55). Because of this history, many faculty at private and public universities fear that embracing online education means their institutions “will fall into the same contemptible void” (55). Ubell asks faculty to reframe this debate over online teaching: “the battle is not fought between brick-and-mortar and new digital space, but between old and new ways of teaching – between wise, old talking heads at the blackboard versus new approaches that encourage interaction among students and instructor” (55). However, learning to view the shift online in these terms is unlikely to satisfy the concerns of junior or contingent faculty worried about their status in the university; it will also do little to satisfy established faculty worried about how online programs will affect the status of their university. Ubell does not always take faculty objections to online teaching as seriously as I believe those objections merit, potentially limiting the reach and effectiveness of the collection.
The concrete advice in Going Online will be particularly useful for academic programs or departments that are only now beginning to offer online courses. Chapter 3, “Active Learning,” by John Vivolo, Director of Online and Virtual Learning at the Tanden School, outlines technologies that make possible engaged discussions and interactive lectures. Chapter 7, “Migrating Online,” written with Sloan Foundation and Online Learning Consortium advisor A. Frank Mayadas, outlines the stages of designing an online program and situating it with an existing university structure. The strongest passages of the collection are those that describe the texture of an online class and acknowledge the practical needs that online programs meet. Mayadas writes:
Schools that enter the online marketplace find that the largest fraction of students enrolling in their new online programs is drawn from nearby communities . . . Expect at first that most of your virtual student population will be regional – local students who are just as attracted to your programs as those who enroll on campus, but given various obstacles, are prevented from coming to campus. (70)
Online courses are certainly more accessible to many students, and Mayadas asks readers to consider whether they may be more equitable too. For example, “Are women – who now make up a far greater proportion of students online than men – more likely to participate actively than in conventional male-dominated classrooms? What about the effectiveness of online learning for black, Hispanic, and other underrepresented students”? (69). Going Online does not elaborate on this point or explore these questions. Future researchers may want to take up this “next – and far more difficult – phase of quantifying the value of online learning” (69).
As an early-career academic with experience designing and teaching online courses in rhetoric, composition, and literature, I recognized many of the advantages and pleasures that Ubell describes. In my experience, discussions that unfold online rather than in the classroom include more students and encourage careful thought rather than quick opinions. Often, online students who are geographically dispersed and working according to their own schedules are even more engaged than face-to-face students who display “eagerness, attention, and alertness” but “may just be performing according to conventional classroom rules” (48). Humanities teachers will likely bristle at some of Ubell’s descriptions of the face-to-face classroom, though. I share Ubell’s enthusiasm for online teaching and creative disruption, but I wondered if his dismissal of the conventional classroom as “artificial, often a space for listening, rarely open to practice and reflection,” reflects his experience in large lecture courses and the discipline of engineering (4-5). Many professors in the humanities build both online and face-to-face courses around critical reflection, active and peer-to-peer learning, and ethical argument. We would dispute the claim that “nothing has changed since Victorian times when classrooms and factories were built with pretty much the same purpose – for a docile workforce” (45). While this description runs counter to the experiences of many teachers, Ubell’s image of online courses will encourage readers who hope this growing form of education maintains the joy and rigor that propels our work.
Date Reviewed: November 29, 2018
Meaningful Grading: A Guide for Faculty in the Arts provides a framework for continual improvement and deliberate practice in the area of course design, assignment creation, and assessment. Although this book focuses on faculty in the arts, its wisdom is accessible to all faculty in higher education. The authors argue that “strong teaching requires careful planning, even though the time constraints of academe do not always allow for it” (2). Therefore this book is comprised of fifty tips that can stand alone and/or work together to provide a cohesive pedagogical framework. Meaningful Grading is divided into three parts: (1) course design and preparation, (2) during the semester, and (3) post semester.
The book begins by challenging the reader to examine their own beliefs and biases, know their educational context, and define what success will look like in their course (6-7). As I read this section, I was reminded that many faculty in higher education receive little to no training in pedagogy and course design. Haugnes, Holmgren, and Springborg argue that we must be intentional in our course design and that “grading, if it is to be meaningful to students, must be intentionally integrated into the whole course” (30). The authors focus heavily on ensuring that course goals, teaching and learning activities, and assessment (evidence of success) must work together to support student learning. The course design process is iterative and one will cycle through “all the legs of the tripod multiple times. . . until each is in alignment to help support deep learning” (33).
Part two presents a series of tips that operate as “grab and go ideas in the middle of the semester” (65). This section provides advice on how to clearly communicate the goals and expectations that were crafted in part one. It also focuses on how to teach discrete skills and content as well as how to emphasize process over perfection. The authors suggest that it is important to identify what success looks like at multiple distinct points in the process in order to provide students with more meaningful feedback along the way. In addition, it is through the intentional use of field specific language in all communication with students (syllabus, critiques, meaningful feedback, and comments) that students are exposed to and are able to absorb field specific language and concepts.
Finally, part three provides advice on how to engage in reflection on a completed semester in order to establish and improve meaningful grading practices. The first tip in this section encourages faculty to seek feedback from students and faculty colleagues during and after the semester in order to become a more effective grader. Although this feedback can include end-of-semester evaluations, the instructor is encouraged to seek additional and separate forms of feedback from students about fairness of grades, use of rubrics, and other course activities. The instructor is also encouraged to return to course goals and course activities to assess if goals were met and the process of grading was useful for both the instructor and the students.
As a faculty member who is not in the arts (design, architecture, fine and visual arts, media arts, literary arts, printmaking, performance arts, etc.) but utilizes various forms of art in my lectures, course activities, and graded assignments, I found this text to be very helpful in expanding my knowledge of how to better incorporate and assess the use of art in a learning context where students may not initially see or value the ways in which art speaks to the content at hand. It also provided me a strong foundation on how to better communicate to students the ways in which what they are learning to master is a form of artistry.
This book provides practical and accessible advice on how to design and execute a course in any discipline in higher education while simultaneously speaking to the unique nature of assessment in the arts. I believe it is an important read for all faculty regardless of discipline and experience level, and trust that it will help us more critically examine our pedagogical strategies and assessment methodologies.
Date Reviewed: November 2, 2018
This book examines the use of Hebrew as the primary means of instruction for second or additional language (L2) acquisition at an introductory level in academic contexts where English is the native language. The author, Yona Gilead, seeks to address the relative dearth of theorization on the dynamics of using Hebrew as the primary language for THAL (teaching Hebrew as an additional language) in order to begin to situate it within a larger framework of L2 teaching, learning, and research. Dynamics of Teaching and Learning Modern Hebrew as an Additional Language provides a presentation and analysis of the pedagogy promulgated by the Hebrew University’s Rothberg International School (RIS) adapted for use at an Australian university. In looking at the implementation of the RIS method outside of Israel the book focuses on the adaptability of the Hebrew-in-Hebrew approach for localized use.
In contradistinction to teaching Hebrew from a heritage language perspective, where grammar and literacy are emphasized and the ability to read and analyze culturally important texts such as the Bible, Mishnah, and Talmud are the primary goals of instruction, the RIS method that Gilead evaluates focuses on spoken, workaday Hebrew where the goals are comprehension of aurally received data and generation of intelligible responses. The latter approach, referred to in some broader L2 discussions as the Direct Method, dispenses with grammar altogether, prompting students to learn grammar inductively as a natural consequence of language acquisition. Gilead provides a brief historical background of the RIS method, situating it in its current context amid a larger L2 field, and discusses what is achievable using the RIS method at the introductory level outside of Israel. The major modification of this method for the Australian classroom is the teacher’s prerogative to break, fleetingly, from Hebrew in order to provide a concise grammatical explanation. Certainly Gilead’s analysis, which includes interviews with the participants (students and teacher, independently), shows that the students found that the addition of this allowance was a boon to their understanding; many of the students she interviewed comment that that it was essential to have these breaks for grammar.
Gilead is quite positive about the effectiveness of the technique but does not go into great detail to this end. There is definitely room for discussion, perhaps in a future publication, of how students perform in more advanced levels of instruction. Do students approach literacy while in formal classroom contexts? How does this method serve its students when they are no longer in a structured environment? Does the method prepare them to be life-long learners? Are students able to navigate resources that will allow them to continue learning, especially if they are not in an immersive environment once the class ends?
Overall, the book’s methodology, which includes dialogue, interview, and case study is clear and implemented well. This study raises important pedagogical issues for university Hebrew programs reassessing their curriculum goals and needs. Gilead makes a solid contribution in identifying and theorizing key aspects of THAL classroom dynamics.
Date Reviewed: October 29, 2018
This multidisciplinary compilation covers the vast and varied landscape of culturally-aware curriculum and global competence initiatives currently being implemented worldwide by institutions of higher education. With authors hailing from the US, Australia, Canada, Spain, Turkey, the Czech Republic, and the UK, this text is truly global. Despite the multitude of topics, populations, and programs, the universal theme running through each chapter is globalization. Whether the contributor’s focus is on the historical genealogy of a loaded term such as “culture” and the exploration of its uses and misuses, or a call for global competency for students being trained in construction, the combined goal of the text is to encourage those in higher education to push for a culturally-aware curriculum focused on equity and respect and to provide their students with the tools they need to thrive in a global marketplace. There is a myriad of ways to meet these goals; this text itself is a testament to the variety of methodologies and practices currently set up to meet said goals.
Changing racial demographics, especially in the US, are highlighted in multiple chapters as one of the many reasons American college students need cultural awareness and competency development programs. With Hispanics now constituting the largest minority population in American colleges at 17 percent , institutions of higher education are feeling the effects of changing populations (112). By 2060, “57 percent of the total population will be from minority groups” (238). More international students are studying in the US, many coming from countries where English is not the official language (“58 percent from China, India, South Korea, and Saudi Arabia”) (24). In the 2014/15 academic school year, “Chinese students made up more than 31 percent of all international students” (309). Not only do international students, as well as international teachers, face linguistic challenges but many come to the US with differing understandings regarding classroom etiquette and cultural norms. Hence, no matter if students are studying abroad, engaging with international students or teachers in their home country, or are themselves from minority groups, globalization affects higher education on many levels.
Global education is not limited to study abroad programs and studying abroad does not necessarily result in changed perspectives. As David Starr-Glass notes, one must keep in mind that “student mobility is only a structure” and that “what can lead to a change in student perception and sensitivity, lies not in the structural aspects per se, but in the teaching and learning content of these experiences” (311). According to the volume’s editors, global education leading to cultural competence is ongoing through “interactions with an international student body, study abroad experience, or with technology in which students from different cultures are afforded the opportunity to exchange ideas” (xxi). Chapters featured in this volume focus on particular programs, initiatives, and case studies regarding implementation (dual-language, study abroad, on-campus activities), specific student populations (international, STEM, future educators, and construction professionals), and significant related topics (White Privilege, social justice, civic responsibility).
Although global education might often be regarded as relating to external forces, many of the practices developed to increase students’ global competencies and cultural awareness start internally. As the authors of the chapter “Developing Social Justice and Inclusion Competencies” note, courses utilizing self-reflection, “require students to identify and make meaning of their multiple and intersecting social identities” (79). This self-reflective practice is also vital for professionals working in institutions of higher education. Global education demands not only openness to learn about and learn from others, it also requires, as many of these contributors illustrate, students, staff, and faculty to reflect on their own assumptions and experiences.
As an academic advisor for foreign language programs at the University of Georgia and a former instructor of religious studies, reflecting on this resource in all of its multidisciplinary and multicultural glory gives me confidence in the efforts being made to educate college students not just according to educational and professional standards but also with the intent to teach them cultural humility. Even critiques of the current models and ethos around global citizenship found in this volume exemplify the thoughtful consideration going into this research. This compendium is an excellent resource for anyone invested in higher education, especially those working to encourage global citizenship among college students.
Date Reviewed: October 8, 2018
Kathleen Gabriel’s Creating the Path to Success in the Classroom is a clear, engaging, and practical book that will be of use to anyone teaching in a university or community-college classroom.
In his forward to the book, Stephen Caroll praises Gabriel’s “deep integration of theory and practice” (xiii). This integration is one of the book’s major strengths. Gabriel introduces the reader to scholarship on barriers to student learning, student mindsets, and effective pedagogy. Extensively referenced and cited, Gabriel’s book is thus a primer on classic and more recent scholarship of teaching and learning. After describing this scholarship, Gabriel then offers practical suggestions of classroom strategies designed to engage students effectively given the data. These range from one-time strategies – reading a particular article on growth mindsets as a class, doing an active-learning activity – to strategies that unfold over the course of an entire semester. Gabriel offers concrete scripts for welcoming students and setting a classroom tone, giving student feedback that encourages persistence and growth, creating and shuffling small groups, and much more. Gabriel not only suggests what to do and why, but also encourages faculty to make those reasons explicit to students, making students intentional partners in their own learning.
Gabriel explores strategies for creating a positive classroom climate during the first days of class, engaging students during the first month of the semester, growth mindsets and mental toughness, creating interactive lectures, motivating students to read, think about, and discuss course readings, integrating critical thinking and writing into class activities and assignments, and developing student resilience and persistence. In four appendices, Gabriel offers even more practical suggestions. For example, in her chapter on classroom climate, Gabriel notes that “one way that professors can increase their own cultural competence is to read both nonfiction and fiction material that addresses multicultural issues” (20). Gabriel then directs the reader to Appendix A, a list of nonfiction and fiction readings by authors of color that helped her expand her own “cultural competence and awareness” (131).
Gabriel is gentle in encouraging faculty to teach minority, first-generation, and academically unprepared students more effectively, suggesting incremental steps that faculty can take as they become more comfortable with new pedagogical strategies. She insists throughout that inclusive pedagogy not come at the expense of a rigorous academic standards: “We can design our assignments in a way that holds students to high standards, but, at the same time, we can give all our students encouragement, support, and resources so that they have ample opportunity to achieve those standards” (111).
Creating the Path to Success in the Classroom will be helpful to teaching veterans and novices alike. In her opening chapter, Gabriel frames the book as designed to help faculty effectively teach and retain minority, first-generation, and academically unprepared students. As is the case with many implementations of universal design principles, however, these strategies ultimately improve student engagement and learning for all students.
Date Reviewed: October 4, 2018
Mary Ann Beavis and Hyeran Kim-Cragg, a biblical scholar and a practical theologian, respectively, address a number of topics that are engaged by people outside of the contours of usual religious contexts; those who tacitly or consciously engage with scriptural and religious themes. It is this audience that the authors seem in particular to target: the everyday person whose religious viewpoints are influenced by media and popular culture, without their realizing the underlying misconceptions borne of poor theologies, or uncritical appropriation of traditions with little or no basis either on sound doctrine or biblical knowledge. In juxtaposing biblical themes such as creation and apocalypse, sin and salvation, Moses and Jesus, Jews and Christians, God and Satan, Christ and Antichrist, gender and God, purity and sex, and suffering and sacrifice, in a creative dialogue with cinematic culture, the authors seek to dispel many of these aforementioned misconceptions.
Beavis and Kim-Cragg have succeeded in making scholarly information accessible, taking pains to define technical terms – whether Hebrew, Greek, or theological jargon – that would otherwise be foreign to nonexperts. They provide solid exegetical and theological analysis of the themes they have chosen. Readers and teachers will find the creative way in which they use movies from a wide array of genres to further their discussion helpful. “Before viewing” and “after viewing” questions allow one to link their cinematic selections with the theological theme under discussion. This is especially helpful since, for the most part, the authors did not choose religious movies; it is, after all, an engagement with popular culture, not religious media.
As a professor of constructive theology, I especially appreciate the discussion of salvation in chapter 2, subtly broadening its meaning by disconnecting it from the notion of sin and at least implicitly relating it to the Reign of God, and their discussion of eschatology in chapter 5, rightly linking it with relationship. Another discussion which I found to be of importance in this time of intolerance and rising tides of anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, and nativistic impulses, was their discussion on Jews and Christians (chapter 4). While their assertation that “Jesus was a Jew” might seem simplistic, I can attest to the fact that such a statement can be a surprise to some beginning seminary students. Beavis and Kim-Cragg honestly tackle texts in Second Testament that have been interpreted as “anti-Jewish” as well as the history of anti-Semitic interpretations in Christian theology. It is their conclusion that in spite of this persistent prejudice, we stand well to remember that “God blesses all” (62).
For teachers in the areas of practical theology, this book can be used in courses that integrate biblical studies with Christian education, theology, or preaching. The authors’ approach to theological themes can prove helpful to beginning seminary students who come with popular misconceptions, only to become disconcerted by learning in the classroom what they believe to be contradictions of faith. The book’s methodology of integrating theological content with media is insightful and consonant with the contemporary world in which our students live and practice ministry. It is particularly useful as teachers become aware of the various learning styles of students and expands their arsenal of creative pedagogical practices. I would hope that this book invites teachers to consider the use of movies, music, photography, and online content such as TED talks in their classroom. This book is a good companion to such sources as Timothy B. Cargal’s, Hearing a Film, Seeing a Sermon, although the latter tends to focus more on homiletical and liturgical integration.
I do have some questions. While I assume that the audience for this book is either a lay or church community, the authors themselves never clearly identify their audience: is this meant for a more evangelical or progressive church community, or was it directed primarily to an unchurched community? I would have found it helpful for the authors to have been more explicit about their audience. This leads to a second question: why their particular juxtaposition of selected themes? Was it influenced by context and audience? For example, why discuss God and gender, and not God and justice? Would the latter not have allowed the discussion to be broader than simply whether our God-talk is inclusive in terms of male or female images? At a time of imposition of heteronormativity, homophobia, and rising tide of violence against people of color, it could have led to larger questions about white privilege, and broader assumptions about gender could have been broached. Along those lines, could the discussion have been further enriched with the inclusion of more voices of color, both in the authors’ scholarly sources and in their movie choices? Could some of these very themes have been underscored with such movies as Hidden Stories, The Color Purple, Selma, Even the Rain, The Joy Luck Club, or others that showcase actors of color or LGBTQI persons?
These questions, of course, do not detract from the overall importance and value of the book. This book, with its solid theological and biblical analyses, is an important resource particularly for those of us who continuously encounter groups or individuals in our churches, classrooms, and communities that espouse uninformed biblical and theological beliefs influenced by popular culture.
Date Reviewed: October 1, 2018
Ariel Ennis, Assistant Director and Senior Multifaith Educator at the Of Many Institute for Multifaith Leadership in the Office of Global Spiritual Life at New York University, has authored an important contribution to a burgeoning literature on campus-based interfaith and interreligious outreach. Noting that diversity and inclusion initiatives on American campuses frequently address race, sexuality, and gender while ignoring religious identity, Ennis reports on efforts at NYU to create a center to support spiritual life. Special attention is given to the development of a “Faith Zone” curriculum that trains leaders for enhanced multifaith encounters.
Ennis analyzes a variety of extant approaches to cross-cultural religious and spiritual experiences, looking at intended outcomes of different programs. Focusing on the concept of “religious literacy,” he describes a framework for the NYU workshops on spiritual diversity that supports religious literacy initiatives. Included in the book is the Faith Zone curriculum and rubrics drawn from the AACU (Association of American Colleges and Universities) VALUE rubrics that are used for post-workshop outcomes assessment. He shares data from these assessments in order to demonstrate the impact on campus of the religious literacy curriculum. The book closes with the author’s reflections on how Faith Zone workshops could be offered on different types of campuses (public/private, religious/secular) and with his recommendations for successfully meeting challenges emerging from the workshops.
Campus religious literacy initiatives that Ennis advocates embrace the question: Can we teach people to have more productive conversations about religion and spirituality in diverse settings? Using the definition of religious literacy developed by Dianne Moore of the Religious Literacy Project at Harvard Divinity School, Ennis answers this question affirmatively, setting four outcomes for the interfaith curriculum. Workshops will (1) enhance participants’ knowledge of historic and contemporary interconnections of religion with cultural, political, and social life; (2) embrace an ecumenical orientation that offers participants firsthand experience in exploring religio-cultural boundaries; (3) promote self-awareness about the intersections of participants\' religio-spiritual identities with larger social forces; and (4) encourage participants\' commitment to apply their new found religious literacy through practical projects that bridge intercultural divides.
In contrast to Eboo Patel’s portrait of a fraught relationship between interfaith outreach and religious studies programs (https://www.wabashcenter.wabash.edu/scholarship/interfaith-leadership-a-primer/), Ennis’ book points to positive implications for partnerships on campus between religious studies programs and interfaith outreach. Similarities between Faith Zone outcomes and learning outcomes/assessment of the religion major on many campuses suggest productive cross-fertilization. Students could sustain the long-term impact of the workshop outcomes, adding depth and breadth, through coursework in religious studies grounded in similar learning outcomes. In complementary fashion, religious studies majors could apply learning in the major outside the classroom, enhancing their resumes, through interfaith internships: as graduates of Faith Zone training, they could lead workshops on religious literacy and develop and lead associated campus programming.
Date Reviewed: October 1, 2018
The word “magic” appears several times in this book for students on how to succeed in college and university courses. Co-authored by Saundra McGuire, director emerita of the nationally acclaimed Center for Academic Success at Louisiana State University, and her daughter Stephanie McGuire, the volume is laced with stories of seemingly “magical” immediate and dramatic improvement in student performance after the application of the learning strategies described here in ten short chapters.
The metacognitive learning strategies described draw on Bloom’s taxonomy and the neuroscience of learning, such as the work of Mark McDaniel (Make It Stick, 2014). They include strategies on reading textbooks, taking notes in class, reviewing, doing homework assignments, time management, and studying for and writing tests and exams. A handy little learning strategies inventory in Appendix C allows students to “predict” their grades based on the strategies they use.
More important than these specific learning strategies for this reviewer are the sections of the book devoted to fostering in students a growth mindset that challenges the deterministic view that intelligence is innate (“I’m just not good at math”), and encourages students instead to believe that they can succeed and motivates them emotionally to do the effective work necessary for success. Monitoring self-talk and attributing results to one’s actions rather than external factors are powerful mental tools for improvement.
In order to succeed, however, students need more than just a belief that they can do it and a set of effective strategies; they also need to know as specifically as possible what is expected of them. This is where this book addresses not just students but also instructors. Instructors put obstacles in the way of student success by not clearly articulating their expectations (and by creating unsupportive and discouraging classroom experiences and course structures). The book includes a very helpful section in chapter seven on how students should read a course syllabus. Notably, if a syllabus does not seem to clearly lay out expectations, students are encouraged to meet with the instructor for clarification. In fact, one of the strategies is to make regular use of instructor office hours.
The book promises that if students use these strategies they can “ace” any course. Will students be disappointed? While the results may be magical, the method is not – hard work using effective strategies is required. Even reading the book may be a stretch for some students, although it is short and largely written in a very accessible style. It will also likely profit students in sciences and technology, where memorization is important, more than those in the humanities, such as religion and theology majors. The book does very little to address strategies for successful research and writing of papers, for instance, and the anecdotes of student success are drawn overwhelmingly from the sciences.
However, much can be gained from this book by both students and instructors in all fields. My biggest take-away is the author’s insistence, “Now hear this: All students are capable of excelling” (65). This book shows how.
Date Reviewed: October 1, 2018
Actions of Their Own to Learn: Studies in Knowing, Acting, and Being is an edited volume of fourteen essays which explore the question of what it means to take actions of one’s own to learn. Taking action to learn happens within both formal and informal settings; it also happens during the process of building new knowledge as learners pose questions about the world and design new ways to collect and analyze information to answer those questions (4).The researchers argue that “a conception of what it means to learn must be framed as part of a larger process of building understanding that involves more than the mind” (4). In this constructivist worldview, learning “is a process in which learners are actively involved in the mental construction of ideas using prior knowledge and experiences as a foundation” (6). Building understanding (can) include participants working simultaneously as researchers, teachers, and learners (5).
The book is divided into three sections: (1) the power and agency of the learner, (2) active learning with others to build knowledge and community, and (3) the environments that support active learning.
In section one, through the use of a mutual learning process, researchers themselves take action to learn and understand the emerging values of the communities they study. For example, White uses autoethnography (and a carbon footprint calculator) to document changes needed to reduce her carbon footprint. She then uses her learning to design a curriculum to help her students take action to reduce their own carbon footprints. As a Provincial Parks educator, Den Hoed challenged “top-down, political, disciplined” educational processes by using Mezirow’s basic theory of transformative learning to “teach for change.” In so doing, he helps his students transform sets of fixed assumptions and expectations to be more “inclusive, discriminating, open, reflective, and emotionally able to change” (63, quoting Cranton [Understanding and Promoting Transformative Learning, 2006]).
In section two, scholars who construct knowledge-building communities among disparate groups of learners (grade-school children, physics teachers, math students) have discovered that improvisational co-action, in which ideas “become taken up, built upon, developed, reworked, and elaborated upon by others,” enables shared understandings and learnings that are collectively determined: the class as a whole becomes “the body that learns” (138-140). Towers and Martin discover that improvisational learning, listening authentically to children’s ideas, and building trust helps both teachers and students evolve to see themselves as collaborators rather than competitors (12-13).
Finally, section three describes environments that support active learning, including classrooms where students are in control of decisions about how scientific inquiries will proceed, and another, where people come together and create film and photographs (photovoice) to educate, build awareness, and encourage political action. These processes help students develop a deeper connection with course content (208).
This book presents a variety of qualitative approaches (narrative, interviews, autoethnography, case study) to activist learning in multiple and variegated learning environments. The scholarship affirms teaching that is firmly student-centered, where teacherly authority is decentered, and power between students and teacher is shared throughout the life of the learning cycle.
Date Reviewed: October 1, 2018
This edited volume of 21 articles explores the biblical and theological perspectives, historical foundations, current practices, and future directions of theological education in Australia and was published as part of the Australian College of Theology Monograph Series. The authors represent a wide array of theological disciplines including church history, Old Testament, New Testament, pastoral studies, Christian education, evangelism, spirituality, and theology. In addition to their academic disciplines, the authors come from a variety of backgrounds including adjunct faculty, faculty, administrators from academic intuitions and from the Australian and New Zealand Association of Theological Schools, as well as pastors mainly from evangelical perspectives.
Building upon the concept that the church follows where theological education leads, the editors of this volume, Bain and Hussey, argue in their introduction that “theological education is too important a task to be done without careful and ongoing thought. The imperative to be reflective about how we go about our task as theological educator is amplified dramatically by the changing world in which we live” (xix). This volume attempts to survey this current reflection on theological education in the Australian context.
The first section of this volume, Biblical and Theological Perspectives, offers three chapters that explore how the ontological view of the centers of theological education impact their praxis. These three chapters represent one of the most insightful parts of this book as the three authors all successfully explore how theological assumptions and perspectives shape how theological education has and is happening in Australia. Barker explains “I offer my reflections on how an evangelical understanding of what we are teaching should shape how we teach it” (4). Many of these same concepts emerge in Starling’s article, “The Scribe, the Steward, and the Inhabiting Word,” where Starling asks how these three metaphors “inform the way in which we seek to shape the curriculum for theological education in our own time and the institutions within which we teach it?” (25).
In the second section, Historical Perspectives, six articles explore the historical foundations of theological education in Australia. These chapters examine a variety of themes including theological education in early Christianity, models of western theological education, the impact of American theological education (especially the recently closed Andover Theological seminary), as well as Australian specific chapters with histories of the Australian College of Theology and Sydney Missionary and Bible College.
The third and largest section of this book, Current Practices, provides nine articles that examine a variety of current perspectives and groups within Australian theological education including: women, the Chinese immigrants, missional approaches, spiritual formation, attrition, cross-culture ministry, and an empirical exploration of who is currently engaged in theological education.
The final section, Future Directions, offers three articles that explore future directions of theological education in the Australian context. Although these three authors provide solid chapters on telecommuting staff and challenges for theological education, this is the weakest section of this volume. After providing a broad foundation with historical perspective and current practices, the future directions lack the visionary perspectives of the rest of the book. It would have been wonderful if this section could have been expanded to examine many of the challenges identified in the Current Practices section.
This title provides a valuable piece to the puzzle of theological education around the globe. Theological education is a complex endeavor and through the contextualization of various methods and historical models to it, the challenge of theological education can be addressed with wit and wisdom. This is an important volume and should be added to the collection of major theological libraries and institutions that explore the history of religion and/or approaches to theological education.
Date Reviewed: September 28, 2018
Medhi Khosrow-Pour, editor; four associate editors; and over forty authors contributed to the volume Social Media in Education: Breakthroughs in Research and Practice. The authors teach and research in various contexts around the globe and as such the book provides insight into a multiplicity of learning contexts. Although much of the book reflects K-12 learning environments, there are several chapters specifically focused on the use of social media in higher education. Despite not focusing on higher education, many chapters have applicability for teaching with and through social media in higher educational contexts. The book is rooted in extensive research and organized into five sections: Curriculum Development and Instructional Design; Higher Education; K-12 Education; Language Education; and Reading, Writing, and Speech. Each section covers topics relevant to teaching and social media in a range of classrooms, online teaching and learning, and specific student learning issues related to the use of social media.
Faculty teaching in theological school and university contexts will find sections one and two to be the most helpful (Curriculum Development and Instructional Design; Higher Education). The use of social media in everyday life is ubiquitous and this is underscored throughout this volume. The authors of Chapter 1, “Examining the Benefits of Integrating Social Media into the Classroom,” cite a helpful definition for social media by Bryer and Zabattaro as, “technologies that facilitate social interaction, make possible collaboration, and enable deliberation across stakeholders. The technologies include blogs, wikis, media (audio, photo, video, text), sharing tools, networking platforms (including Facebook), and virtual worlds” (2). The authors of the first chapter examine various pedagogical theories in relation to social media in the classroom and conclude that connectivism theory is perhaps the most helpful. Their outline of principles of connectivism indicates that learning and knowledge rest on a diversity of opinions; learning is a process connected to varieties of information sources; learning may reside in non-human appliances; capacities to learn is more critical that what is known; continual learning is necessary; the capacity to make connections between fields, ideas, and concepts is a core skill; up-to date knowledge is vital; and decision making itself is regarded as a learning process (3). None of these conclusions are new. However, the focus on student continual learning and knowledge development through social media constitutes a new direction for thinking about what connotes knowledge, the acquisition of knowledge, and how teachers might foster student learning.
One claim that this book asserts often is that social media facilitates active learning and collaborative learning. Resource and information sharing become a democratized project rather than being dependent on the authority of the teacher. In addition, the learning process can be more personalized and active. Co-created learning environments provide degrees of student buy-in that may have been somewhat absent prior to the introduction of social media in contemporary classrooms. The authors contend that creating communities of learners around shared interests fosters continuous learning and the potential for more positive learning environments overall. The authors of Chapter 2 also critique the current gaps in the literature around social media as an instructional tool. They claim there is a lack of information about how social media is utilized in classrooms, a lack of comparative research studies about best practices to develop and design social media strategies for classroom applications, and an overall need for alignment between social media use and assessment practices in classroom teaching (27). Yet, despite gaps in the research they claim, “by facilitating active learning, promoting affective learning outcomes, inspiring creativity and innovation, supporting team-based work, and creating a community of learners [sic], social media enhances [sic] students’ learning” (28).
Chapter 3, “Utilizing Social Media to Engage Students in Online Learning: Building Relationships Outside of the Learning Management System” offers a foundational understanding of the history and role of social networking in student learning and provides specific insights about the benefits of social media use and instructor’s roles in relation to it. In addition, the chapter provides a couple of case studies for further reflection about the benefits and challenges associated with the use of social media in teaching. Areas of concern include: access to social media; privacy; time commitment for students and teachers; distraction and lack of focus; and integrity of the materials/content. The question of reliability or integrity of content and its quality requires teachers to help students gain capacities to differentiate content so as to discern what is reliable versus what is not.
Social Media in Education also attends to the topic of social media and multi-literacy. It is concerned with understanding the varieties of learning domains that make up student’s learning matrices. The semiotic codes that make up multi-literacies are considered as variant domains of knowledge acquisition and construction. The book’s authors are aware of the multiple identities with which contemporary students navigate social media environments. Adapting and creating social media tools to meet student learning needs is also addressed. TeacherTube is one such example; developed to mirror YouTube and yet focusing exclusively on educational uses for classroom learning. It also indicates the learning level for which the videos might be applicable (K-12 or college). As the authors of Chapter 6, “Incorporating Students’ Digital Identities in Analog Spaces,” contend, “The advent of social media ushered in a time where multi-literacy became increasingly important, as social futures might ultimately be defined by one’s (in)ability to exist in both digital and analog worlds simultaneously” (98).
As with any multi-authored volume on a given topic, there are many overlaps between the various chapters that can be repetitive. That said, the book provides a wealth of information about social media in relation to student learning and teaching practice in K-12 and higher educational contexts. One insight that surfaces throughout concerns how teacher intentionality about the use of social media for advancing student learning in any instructional context has a direct correlation with positive student learning outcomes. Aymerich-Franch and Fedele in Chapter 8, “Students’ Privacy Concerns on the Use of Social Media in Higher Education,” affirm that “undergraduate students generally accept the use of social media in the classroom but only when their use is justified and not linked to compulsory activities… students tend to use social networks to organize classroom work among themselves… Students are reluctant to use this social network [Facebook] for activities that involve interaction with faculty or to carry out subject activities organized by faculty” (142). Hence, there is a need for teachers to carefully select and navigate social media spaces in order to both recognize student’s private social media spaces as carrying certain learning capacities that may be outside of the teacher’s domain and to create social media spaces for specific learning activities that may be either teacher or student generated. One way by which teachers may discern what is appropriate for the use of social media in their classroom involves a brief questionnaire that interrogates their own use of social media in the classroom and that of the student’s experience with social media in the classroom (164). This can help teachers discern student familiarity with various types of social media in their own learning experience and aid teachers in discerning what might best meet student learning needs for their desired student learning outcomes.
Perhaps one of the greatest strengths of this edited volume are the lists of references at the conclusion of each chapter. They constitute a gold mine for further research into the topics addressed and can widen and deepen one’s understanding of the use of social media in contemporary teaching practices for advancing student learning. Professors of religion and theology will not find any articles directly related to their respective fields of study. However, the book does provide a wealth of ideas that could be modified for teaching in theological schools and higher educational contexts. For example, issues related to the use of iPhoneography could have resonance with questions about hermeneutics and perception in general. In addition, the cost of this volume may encourage faculty to ask their libraries to purchase the book instead of adding it to their personal collection.
Date Reviewed: September 18, 2018
College students were far more uniform in age, race, and socio-economic background a few decades ago than they are now, yet colleges and universities have often failed to design programs of study that work for these students. Leading Academic Change outlines the steps to take toward change on behalf of the new majority students, the non-white, low-income, working, second language, or adult learners who often find themselves in very unfamiliar territory in college classrooms. These “first generation exclamation point” students (xiv) most often encounter ineffective and even counterproductive general education and distribution sequences, and many are transfer students from community colleges, whose curricula are at odds with those at 4-year institutions. This book proposes workable solutions to multiple missed connections.
This book is less for classroom teachers than for administrators interested in meaningful structural change. Maimon relies primarily on data from years of innovation in Writing Across the Curriculum programs as well as on her own considerable administrative experiences. The central case study is Governors State University, which has successfully implemented high impact practices and a more integrated, student-centered curriculum with low administrative bloat. Drawing on the work of Judy B. Rosener, Maimon draws a clear distinction between traditional “transactional” leaders and “transformative” leaders (5). Transformative leadership brings everyone to the table and works collaboratively to achieve shared goals. Maimon aims at collaborative transformation with student success at the core.
Maimon provides many concrete, multi-faceted suggestions here. In brief, the institutional transformations she supports rely on a close interaction of students and faculty, who are in this venture together. She insists on several key components to transforming institutions: a commitment to keeping funding closer to students than to administrative offices; close cooperation between student affairs personnel and classroom faculty; a willingness to take advantage of high tech while maintaining “high touch” with students; an ability to see students as people in development, who need feedback through assessing for strength, not deficit; and a willingness to allow students’ lives to enter the classroom and to inform – rather than be at odds with – the curriculum.
Despite its emphasis on institutional change, this book does get down to the classroom level in several ways, particularly in emphasizing the importance of respecting students for who they are and what they know. That respect and recognition of prior knowledge can help teachers and academic leaders to scaffold a curriculum of knowledge and skills that makes sense for all concerned. Maimon also calls teachers to humility rather than judgment. She decries the endemic “Maimon Hierarchical Fallacy” which holds that some teachers in some disciplines are “smarter” than others based on how abstract their work appears to be or the level of the students they teach (57). This damages students as well as teachers and can starve introductory courses and students of the best teachers. This book is, above all, a call to give all students our very best, both in our classrooms and at our institutions. It is also a well-timed reminder that change is inevitable and that equity can be a means to achieving educational quality.
Date Reviewed: September 14, 2018
This edited volume (its authors primarily situated in England) offers a resource for those in higher education who face a rapidly changing educational landscape often marked by “increased marketization and bureaucracy” (ix). In looking at the peculiar distinctions of university pedagogy, this resource reconsiders the traditional academic tripartite roles of researcher, teacher, and administrator in light of growing challenges facing post-secondary educators today and especially in theological education and religious studies. These challenges include the increasing separation of these three academic roles from one another, the redefining of excellent teaching mostly in terms of assessment and evaluation, and finally, the reduction of teaching to a simple series of techniques and best practices.
Pedagogical Peculiarities resists these trends through “deliberative dialogues” (xi) that reflectively peer into a wide swath of disciplines, university roles, and issues. In the first chapter, Stephen D. Brookfield raises two different kinds of peculiarities in university teaching. First, by teaching, educators simultaneously offer seemingly factual and neutral content amidst complex, and at times, competing internal opinions that stem from the multilayered structures of teaching. Thus, teaching is not so clean a process and is far more multifaceted than the passing on of content alone. A second peculiarity, “the contextuality of practice,” involves teaching plans that despite being mostly crafted in an educator’s solitude and internal space, experience a metamorphosis when they externally reach a student. Grand plans are adjusted and the deft teacher is left to alter plans “on the fly” (2). In the concluding chapter, “Building an Agenda for Academic Development on the Peculiarity of University Teaching,” Paul Ashwin reflects upon tensions that exist when thinking about university academic development. These tensions are between: (1) teaching as an individual and as a collective activity, (2) the local and the global in teaching, (3) complexity and simplification, (4) the practical and theoretical, (5) ideas of what it means to be an academic, (6) excellence and enhancement, and (7) the radical potential of university teaching and the tendency for conformity in university teaching (115-22). The opening and concluding chapters bookend three sections subdivided into three pedagogical identities: (1) Identity as it relates to teaching (chapters two and three); (2) Identity as it relates to the discipline (chapters four and five); and (3) Identity as it relates to the institution (chapters six and seven). The middle chapters probe Ashwin’s seven tensions through a variety of disciplines with hope of a better understanding of pedagogy and teaching.
The book’s methodology, which includes dialogue, interview, case study, illustrations, and narrative, is a welcomed variation from resources written in prose. The cultural differences between a U.S.-based reviewer and a primarily U.K.-based text were apparent, but were easily clarified. Overall, this text raises important pedagogical issues for university deans, chairs, and academic development administrators. It also spurs conversations for current or aspiring academics who are rethinking their identity as teacher-scholars amidst shifting needs in higher education.
Date Reviewed: September 6, 2018
Brian D. Schultz New York, NY: Teachers College Press, 2017 (xiv + 128 pages, ISBN 9780807758311, $29.95) Teaching in the Cracks by Brian D. Schultz, a professor of education at Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago, explores ways to make current K-12 classrooms more student-empowering, justice-oriented, and action-based. It is not that already available curricula are not student-empowering, have no concern for justice, or ...
Teaching in the Cracks: Openings and Opportunities for Student-Centered, Action-Focused Curriculum
Brian D. Schultz
New York, NY: Teachers College Press, 2017 (xiv + 128 pages, ISBN 9780807758311, $29.95)
Teaching in the Cracks by Brian D. Schultz, a professor of education at Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago, explores ways to make current K-12 classrooms more student-empowering, justice-oriented, and action-based. It is not that already available curricula are not student-empowering, have no concern for justice, or seldom inspire creative student actions; What most concerns the author are school systems that dictate almost everything that students experience, think, and do. In such a system, says Schultz, learning is largely top-down, authoritarian, controlled by agendas that perpetuate the status quo, and “bombarded by standards, assessments, [and] evaluations” (86). Shultz’s critiques and enthusiasm focus on reforming this “troubling” system and more specifically on transforming current everyday curricula in classrooms (86). His proposal, however, stays at the level of reforming or transforming, rather than completely negating or overhauling our current educational practices. That is why he calls his suggestive methodology and transformative tactics “teaching in the cracks.” He encourages educators to find creative loopholes in the present system where they can make education more democratic, collaborative, and thus bottom-up.
Schultz acknowledges that his proposal sounds great on paper but is hard to implement in the classroom, and so throughout he offers numerous practical examples of proposed curricula and how they are working around the nation. Examples vary, covering everything from a single classroom, the entire school’s curriculum, forming close partnerships with surrounding communities, and specific topics, to teacher preparation (all covered in chapters two to six). Together they make this book an invaluable reference for field educators. In particular, chapter six, “Becoming the Teacher I Want to Be: Finding Support to Teach in the Cracks,” and chapter seven: “Turning the Corner: Techniques, Resources, and Tools for Taking-Action,” should be helpful for those who would like to implement the proposed learner-centered class education in a seemingly impotent school context. In chapter six, Schultz gives two fine examples of veteran teachers who introduced several effective strategies that are applicable to other contexts as well. To be sure, contexts differ. Yet, as long as a similar school structure is involved (for example, executive administrators, a sizable student body and its own governing entity, supportive community groups, and an aspiring teacher), these strategies would be beneficial anywhere. Websites introduced in chapter seven are extremely useful resources too.
This book is not per se a theoretical book on student-centered, action-focused curriculum. Rather, it is full of vivid examples of actual current practices. Some readers may find this book insufficiently radical to make a dramatic change in the existing school system, but that is not the author’s purpose. Its particular strength lies in its unabashed focus on the classroom itself. The author believes that the real change can and must happen in each individual classroom where the teacher and students meet for daily education, before any large-scale systematic change is possible. In this respect, this book provides a small, yet reliable, hope for most field educators who, like me, aspire to create a more learner-led class environment.
Date Reviewed: September 6, 2018
Amy Lee, Robert Poch, Mary Katherine O\'Brien, and Catherine Solheim
Sterling, VA: Stylus, 2017 (x + 137 pages, ISBN 978-1620363799, $27.50) This book is “for intercultural pedagogy” and the authors are clear about their goal: “to foster a deeper knowledge and skill base of pedagogical theory/practice and, in doing so, seek to advance a critical intercultural pedagogy that is ...
Teaching Interculturally: A Framework for Integrating Disciplinary Knowledge and Intercultural Development
Amy Lee, Robert Poch, Mary Katherine O\'Brien, and Catherine Solheim
Sterling, VA: Stylus, 2017 (x + 137 pages, ISBN 978-1620363799, $27.50)
This book is “for intercultural pedagogy” and the authors are clear about their goal: “to foster a deeper knowledge and skill base of pedagogical theory/practice and, in doing so, seek to advance a critical intercultural pedagogy that is capable of supporting a profound shift in daily practice” (3). In arguing the need for this work, they critique universities for undervaluing teaching and failing to engage doctoral candidates in programmatic teacher preparation (8). The authors provide this sobering take: “Centers for ‘teaching and learning’ have closed, merged, gone ‘online,’ and become centers for ‘educational innovation,’ a discursive marker of the emphasis being on research and not on the people or process of teaching and learning” (18). This is a bold claim to leave hanging. Less controversial is their assertion that “you are teaching in and experiencing intercultural classrooms regardless of whether you want to, whether you are aware of it, and whether you think it is your responsibility or relevant to your discipline” (15). Readers will be hard pressed to leave this book with any doubt concerning the importance and relevance of intercultural pedagogy.
The authors strike an admirable and concise balance between theory and practice. They aim to “disrupt” current teaching norms with a “commitment to make intentional, informed decisions that enable our courses to engage and support diversity and inclusion” (15). In their second chapter, they emphasize three values toward this end: (1) the pursuit of equity and inclusion in classrooms, (2) pedagogical humility while recognizing the developmental nature of expertise, and (3) the importance of reflection and revision. These values are modeled through the rest of the book.
In chapter 3 authors Robert (Bob) Poch and Catherine Solheim share critical self-reflections on how their cultural identities, academic formation, and scholarship shapes their teaching. In chapters 4 and 5, Catherine and Bob provide case studies with specific examples of how thinking interculturally has changed their teaching practice. Helpful descriptions of actual classroom discussions and examples of modified learning goals, assessments, student work, and student feedback appear in abundance. Bob shows how his explanation-heavy PowerPoint slides of 2011 transition to primary source quotes, open-ended questions, and historical images by 2015. His transformed teaching “facilitated much more intercultural interaction” and “developed the capacity for each student to be an interpretive historian” (59). Catherine shows how the hard work of reflecting on the goals and outcomes for her “Global and Diverse Families” course prompted students to engage more deeply with cultures other than their own. The risks and benefits of her shift from a final exam to a synthesis-based summative assessment drawing on an ethno-narrative interview assignment are described with careful attention to detail and deep reflection.
Carrying the theme of disruption forward, this book does not shy away from challenges and pitfalls. The final chapter discusses “productive discomfort” by providing tips for facilitating difficult classroom conversations along with real-life examples. The memorable case of a teacher bringing a heated online exchange between students back to a place of respect and collegiality is examined with characteristic humility.
With numerous case studies and bracketed “Invitations for Reflection,” this slim volume practices a pedagogy of its own and is well-suited for individuals and groups seeking opportunities for practical and meaningful reflection on intercultural pedagogy.
Date Reviewed: September 6, 2018
Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing, 2018 (x + 180 pages, ISBN 978-1-62036-697-4, $24.95) One might assume that a text called Creating Wicked Students would discuss types of “wicked” problems – complex social-environmental issues that cannot be solved with existing modes of inquiry and decision-making – that instructors might address through a problem-based learning approach. However, this work actually is an introduction ...
Creating Wicked Students: Designing Courses for a Complex World
Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing, 2018 (x + 180 pages, ISBN 978-1-62036-697-4, $24.95)
One might assume that a text called Creating Wicked Students would discuss types of “wicked” problems – complex social-environmental issues that cannot be solved with existing modes of inquiry and decision-making – that instructors might address through a problem-based learning approach. However, this work actually is an introduction to course design most useful for beginning instructors or those redesigning their courses according to sound pedagogical principles. Situating himself against those who view higher education as solely preparing students for the workforce or transmitting content, Hanstedt emphasizes the importance of instilling a sense of authority in our students by helping them develop skills and attitudes that will empower them to make meaningful change in the world.
Hanstedt’s holistic vision of education includes attitudes and dispositions alongside skills and content mastery, and will likely resonate with instructors in religious studies and theology. Although he does not explicitly refer to our disciplines, he does offer examples, anecdotes, and insights from colleagues in a variety of fields and institutions, which is a strength of the book. He references seminal work in the scholarship of teaching and learning – including that of: George Kuh (2008, High-Impact Educational Practices, AACU); James Zull (2002, The Art of Changing the Brain, Stylus); and David Krathwohl (2002, “A revision of Bloom’s taxonomy,” Theory into Practice 41) – but does not engage with previous scholarship on wicked problems. Readers interested in learning more about pedagogical approaches to wicked problems could consult the work of the work of: Brown et al. (2010, Tackling Wicked Problems, Routledge); Carcasson (2017, “Deliberative Pedagogy as Critical Connective” in Deliberative Pedagogy, Michigan State University); or Lee (2016, “Systems Thinking,” in Resilience by Design, Springer).
This book could be useful as an introduction to course design for someone less familiar with the fundamentals, such as how to develop measurable learning outcomes, align course goals with institutional goals, nest content within higher-order goals, engage students’ prior knowledge, or incorporate applied learning. The structure of the book allows for one to follow it step-by-step as a course design manual, and it also includes recursive “intermissions” to encourage reflection along the way. In addition, his discussion of how to prompt critical thinking through multiple-choice exams offers helpful strategies for encouraging students to explain their thinking on ambiguous questions with follow-up questions that explain or justify their choice (92-98).
Date Reviewed: September 6, 2018
Rosemary Luckin, editor
London, UK: UCL Institute of Education Press, 2018 (xxxv + 334 pages, ISBN 978-1-78277-226-2, $41.95) The overarching conclusion one might draw from this research-oriented review of current studies regarding education and technology is that we simply do not know enough about the effects of digital resources on teaching and learning. As the authors of this edited ...
Enhancing Learning and Teaching with Technology: What the Research Says
Rosemary Luckin, editor
London, UK: UCL Institute of Education Press, 2018 (xxxv + 334 pages, ISBN 978-1-78277-226-2, $41.95)
The overarching conclusion one might draw from this research-oriented review of current studies regarding education and technology is that we simply do not know enough about the effects of digital resources on teaching and learning. As the authors of this edited volume repeatedly point out, media reports about educational technology typically highlight negative findings and ignore positive associations. Technology champions and detractors rely primarily on face-value benefits or concerns in making their cases for or against educational use. Few studies have empirically considered the interplay among specific learning theories, educational contexts, embodied practices, and various technologies that might enhance learning. Without such research, we cannot draw defensible conclusions about the educational effectiveness of technology resources for formal and informal learning.
Organized in six parts – two that focus on learning factors and four related to educational challenges that might benefit from technological resourcing – the text is at times jargon heavy, particularly for readers unfamiliar with computer programming lingo or European educational policies and practices. A six-page glossary offsets some of this difficulty. Diagrams described as color-coded are printed in black and white, which complicates interpretation. Chapters are short (averaging seven or eight pages), so topics are covered succinctly with little detail to bolster analytic claims. Seven evidence-based learning principles are introduced (2-8) and referenced throughout the text, as are a list of nineteen learning approaches (see Table 2.1, 36). These frameworks serve to tie different case studies together. At the end of each section, the editor summarizes key findings in a bulleted list that can serve as a quick reference for readers.
The case studies provided focus primarily on school-age children and Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) subjects or language development, although some chapters address adult learners. Most helpful for Reflective Teaching readers would be the discussions of video production recommendations (chapter 2.4), location-triggered learning (chapter 2.5), gaming and unintentional learning (chapter 3.1), digital access and cheating (chapter 3.2), engaging learning environments (chapter 3.3), and the use of tablets and smartphones in education (chapter 4.2). For those interested in assessment and professional development issues, the last section of the text covers learning analytics and technology-enhanced coaching for teachers. Readers in institutions experimenting with Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) might find the presentation of MOOC development priorities (chapter 5.2) useful as a discussion resource in policy-making conversations.
On a more general education level, the short discussion of self-testing and the value of asking students to indicate how certain or uncertain they are about their answers as a strategy to encourage self-reflection on learning (chapter 1.2) may prompt educators to consider whether right answers are sufficient measures of deep knowledge acquisition. Institutional assessment plans often seek to ascertain how well students are integrating and transferring knowledge from one context to another, which depends on deeper forms of understanding. Using this chapter to spark departmental or faculty-wide conversation about what constitutes deep, transferable knowledge could inform assessment design work as well as individual course grading schemes.
Date Reviewed: August 7, 2018
Cathy N. Davidson’s The New Education: How to Revolutionize the University to Prepare Students for a World in Flux is an engaging, enlightening, and empowering call to action. Though its focus is on why and how to transform higher education to meet the needs of today’s students and society, it offers commentary on innovative and effective pedagogy that will be of special interest to Wabash Center readers.
If you only have time for a condensed version of Davidson’s recommendations for improving college teaching, read the “Ten Tips for Transforming Any Classroom for Active Student-Centered Learning” (263-67). Davidson lauds 10 techniques: Think-Pair-Share, Question Stacking, Everybody Raise Your Hand, Interview, Class Constitution, Collective Syllabus Design, Collaborative Note Taking, Collaborative Projects with Peer Assessment, Exit Tickets, and Public Contribution to Knowledge. In keeping with Davidson’s central thesis, these techniques serve to invigorate learning in college courses, but their ultimate value is that they best prepare students for life beyond the college gates.
Indeed, it is the demands of modern life that prompts Davidson to argue for radically revising the university. America’s system of higher education has reified, she argues, the vision of Charles Eliot, president of Harvard in the late 1800s. Eliot sought (most notably in his essay entitled “The New Education” from which Davidson takes her title) to transform America’s colleges from seminary systems to institutions designed “to train farmers and shopkeepers to be factory workers and office managers” (3). In pursuit of this goal, Eliot, and fellow educational reformers, established the university as we know it:
- majors, minors, divisions (humanities, social sciences, natural and biological sciences), credit hours, degree requirements, grades, the bell curve . . . class rankings, certification, general education, upper-division electives, . . . professionalization (credentials, accreditation), graduate schools . . . financial aid, college entrance exams . . . tenure . . . school rankings . . . (35-36)
and more. By 1925, Eliot’s vision (shaped by his study of German and French models) dominated the landscape of American higher education.
Not much has changed, Davidson laments. These features continue to define the college experience for most Americans. But now, they come with anemic “teaching to the test” at all levels of education, crushing student debt, and graduates narrowly trained for specialties that are fast disappearing in the technology-laden world in which we live.
Against the current state of affairs, Davidson argues for pedagogy and universities to center on students and aim at preparation for life, not just careers. Davidson documents how the shift from the Industrial Age to our current age (which she dates at 1993 with the dawn of the Internet) has yet to be taken seriously by academics. Doing so, she insists, demands radical rethinking of the college experience.
To illustrate the types of changes she advocates as proper responses to the technological age, Davidson points to community colleges and initiatives at universities. LaGuardia Community College in NYC, Arizona State University, and The Red House at Georgetown University receive the lion’s share of her attention. And for good reason. Education at these schools is being rethought and retooled to serve the student and his/her future needs. Actually, as Davidson notes, community colleges have been doing this all along. Founded to serve non-elite students, community colleges succeed by proceeding “from a pedagogy of acceptance. Any growth constitutes success. The student is at the center” (57).
Although active learning and student-centered pedagogy benefit students, it is not risk-free. Fear of “losing status” causes many professors and institutions to shy away from adopting the mindset and support systems community colleges embrace. To illustrate the risks, Davidson recounts the story of Alexander Coward, formerly of Berkeley . . . formerly because allegedly his student-centered pedagogy did not sit well with his colleagues (208-210).
In addition to the aforementioned “Ten Tips,” those primarily interested in pedagogical issues should read Chapter 3, “Against Technophobia,” and Chapter 4, “Against Technophilia.” Within these two chapters, Davidson offers many, many helpful hints for how to use technology imaginatively and effectively in the classroom.
Date Reviewed: July 20, 2018
Sabrina D. MisirHiralall uses Kuchipudi dance rather than Western-based pedagogical and philosophical methodology to educate non-Hindus about her religious tradition. In her text, Confronting Orientalism: A Self-Study of Educating Through Hindu Dance, MisirHiralall describes her journey from learning this style of dance as a young woman to engaging learners in experiencing and thus better understanding the Hindu tradition through an epistemological approach that uses dance as means of dispelling perspectives based on a colonialist point of view and its subsequent influence on modern pedagogy. Her main purpose in doing so is to confront orientalism and address two of the primary lenses through which non-Hindus view what is called Hinduism. The first of these lenses sees adherents such as herself as exotic. The second lens imposes a Western understanding of religion on what she describes as a way of life (174).
In an extensive introductory chapter, MisirHiralall describes personal experiences as a child, and later as a young woman, that led her to consider methodology drawn from traditional ways of learning that utilize dance, storytelling, and music, rather than from texts. Why she has selected dance as the primary means of educating becomes clear; Through dance, the stories that shape the religious life of Hindus come alive. Dance invites her as the educator to present an authentic approach that teaches and informs. Teaching through dance allows her to interact more with the learner in both preparing for and experiencing the dance.
In subsequent chapters, MisirHiralall examines how effective teaching through dance can be and where it may not meet her expectations in overcoming orientalism. In her chapter “The Gazes,” MisirHiralall identifies different kinds of gaze: Imperial, Western male, and sacred. While her main objective is to encourage the sacred gaze, she describes how she continues to be subject to and the subject of the Western male gaze that perpetuates the exotic lens. The concept of gaze can be a complicated and multifaceted one. What she describes about gazes could also be applied to teachers and professors who encounter gazes of interest or disinterest. Gazes from learners are not limited to those she described. Instructors are subject to many types of gazes and are seen through many lenses.
Because this is a self-study, MisirHiralall includes references from her journal and supports her stance on teaching space, gaze, and epistemology with extensive research. Her text invites educators to consider how extensively Western methodology permeates the educational system and what challenges should be faced in overcoming “the illusionary boundaries of the West and the East” (176). This work suggests a way forward by which educators could engage personal assumptions and pedagogical
Date Reviewed: July 20, 2018
Urban Preparation contributes to a needed body of research on race that investigates “mechanisms, systems, structures, and practices that have a real bearing on students’ opportunities to learn” (vii). Urban Preparation highlights the scholarship of leading researchers who address questions related to race, poverty, achievement gaps, and the academic performance of minority students. An underlying thesis of Urban Preparation is that students in general, and minority students in particular, succeed when appropriate measures are in place. This is a resource for scholars in a variety of disciplines, including but not limited to: education, law, sociology, psychology, health, political science, and social work.
The book begins with an overview of the Race and Education series at Harvard Education Press. The series editor, H. Richard Milner IV, lists several objectives that guide the series and he challenges those in power to work “for the good of humanity, to interrupt systems, policies, and practices that work only for some while others remain underserved” (ix). Reasons are given for focusing on the intersection of race and education and questions are asked related to poverty, transportation, housing, and employment, among others.
In the Introduction, Chezare Warren explains why he wrote Urban Preparation: “to subvert dominant narratives that insist on casting urban-dwelling young, black men and boys as ‘at-risk’ or ‘disadvantaged’” (1). He shares the stories of these young people as counter-stories that portray them as hyper-vulnerable. He is also convinced that social inequities and stories of failure must be examined alongside counter-stories of resilience, persistence, accomplishment, and triumph. The book highlights the stories of seventeen young black men who are members of the inaugural graduating class of Urban Prep Charter Academy for Young Men, referred to as “UP.” UP is a high school for boys in the Englewood neighborhood which has one of the lowest median household incomes among Chicago’s Southside neighborhoods. However, UP is widely recognized for 100 percent of its graduating class gaining admission to four-year colleges and universities.
Urban Preparation aims to: (1) describe the organizational design of UP; (2) examine the intersections of place and space to discern factors that motivate young black men to succeed against the odds; and (3) explore the factors that help narrow “opportunity gaps” for urban youth, and the implications of these factors (3). The book’s qualitative data consists of interviews, field notes, memos, and participants’ responses in order to construct a “coherent continuous narrative around dominant themes” that emerged from analyzing data (8). From the data, Warren chronicles the real-life experiences of the first graduating class by grouping the students into five composite characters with overlapping characteristics.
The title of the book is derived from the school’s name but the book tells the stories of the seventeen students and “the meaning associated with growing up in an urban environment” (18). More than anything else, the book gives a better understanding of the academic and cultural strengths of urban minority youth in secondary and postsecondary settings. Urban Preparation is fundamentally a counter story as well as a critical study that challenges educators and all those interested in improving the education outcomes of black men and boys to listen to them and to learn from them.
Date Reviewed: July 18, 2018
“The definition of slow looking is straightforward,” writes Shari Tishman, “It simply means taking the time to carefully observe more than meets the eye at first glance" (2). Imagine taking students to an art museum and focusing on just one painting. You would be taking the time to support your students in looking, really looking at art. Can they list everything they see in the painting? Could they identify twice as many items if you gave them more time still? Does the painting look different if they move closer or change their angle? Are there interesting juxtapositions of objects, shapes, or colors within the painting? These questions are natural to slow looking. It is a rewarding classroom practice and an indispensable aspect of method in theological and religious studies.
This book was written “with educators in mind” and it contains many practical ideas on how to use slow looking in the classroom. Examples range across disciplines: Virginia Woolf’s observations concerning “The Mark on the Wall,” zoological sketches of a caracal cat, and the mechanical intricacies of an old-fashioned office stapler, among others. Drawing on previous research, Tishman examines three dispositional tendencies involved in slow looking: ability, inclination, and sensitivity (145). Sensitivity is particularly critical; this is the capacity to employ slow looking in the appropriate context. As educators in the humanities seek to more clearly articulate the lasting benefits of our work, this careful examination of slow looking as an important lifelong skill is timely.
The beauty of this title is its ability to focus on the benefits of slow looking as educational practice in a deep way. Many excellent books on pedagogy adopt a wide scope. They pull their lens back and look at course planning or broad curricular systems. Slow Looking has much to offer courses and curriculum, but Tishman is adept at returning continually to the exercise of slow looking to reveal its complexity and practical efficacy from different vantage points. According to Tishman, slow looking is a “learned capacity” foundational to critical thinking (7). Foundational, yes, but it should not be thought of as synonymous with critical thinking or be conceptually absorbed by critical thinking. Slow looking is its own discrete process. Tishman explains, “Slow looking is not primarily judgment oriented, though its fruits certainly inform good judgments. Rather, slow looking emphasizes deferring judgment in favor of apprehending the complexity of how things are at the moment” (149). There are three types of complexity: complexity of parts and interactions (anatomy, for example), perspective (different physical or conceptual vantage points), and engagement (interplay between perceiver and perceived). Teachers will already see how parsing complexity in this way can lead to extended classroom reflection on a given subject of observation and the process of looking itself.
Slow Looking strikes the perfect balance between practicality and philosophical depth. Tishman writes fluidly and moves easily among descriptions of classroom technique, phenomenological analysis of observation, and the intellectual history of student-centered education. Slow Looking will be a continual source of inspiration in my own teaching and scholarship – it is highly recommended.
Date Reviewed: July 18, 2018
Against the prevailing tide in higher education, Christine Harrington and Todd Zakrajsek argue that lectures, when prepared well and incorporated appropriately, are one of the most effective ways to enhance learning. The first part of their book is focused on making this case and on delineating the different forms a lecture can take. The second part of the book focuses on ways to make lectures more effective for learners. That second part takes up the bulk of the book (7 of the 11 chapters). The third part provides tools and resources for preparing and evaluating lectures. These final two chapters give helpful rubrics, charts, and questionnaires that can easily be adapted for one’s own lectures or for evaluating others’ lectures. This book would be a useful addition to an individual professor’s library and, most especially, to a center for teaching and learning library.
Both authors of Dynamic Lecturing are trained in psychology and have experience in teaching and learning and faculty development centers, so the examples are often from social science or natural science classrooms. However, many of their suggestions could easily be adapted to theology and religious studies. Using research from the scholarship of teaching and learning, they argue that lectures are efficient and effective for novice learners but are less so for expert learners (by which they mean advanced undergraduates and graduate students). This book, therefore, would be most useful for faculty who frequently teach lower-division courses for undergraduates; it could still be quite useful for those wanting to make their lectures more effective, even if they work with other learner populations and use other kinds of teaching tools.
This distinction between novice and expert learners is significant in the context of theology and religious studies: in certain courses, students may enter the classroom assuming they are the experts (for example, if the course focuses on their own religious tradition, especially if the professor is not another “insider”). Harrington and Zakrajsek’s discussion of techniques like pre-testing may be a way to address this unique dynamic: if a student took a pre-test and found that they did not know as much as they thought they knew, they might find themselves more open to learning from a professor’s lecture.
As their title suggests, this is not a book about individual teaching choices, but rather is focused on research-based strategies: nearly every paragraph has multiple citations that refer the reader to studies done on teaching and learning. A bibliography accompanies each chapter, so references are easy to track down, if desired. The studies are often explained well, so the reader knows what the research suggests; there are times, however, when the conclusions seem overstated. For example, a study used to argue that lectures are more helpful than active learning sessions to novice learners is explained in a parenthetical note: 88% of students agreed or strongly agreed that a lecture helped them learn course content compared with 49% of students who agreed or strongly agreed that active learning sessions helped them learn course content (10). Self-reporting is not the same as demonstrating mastery of the content. In other places, the authors note that students are not always the best judges of their own learning (see, for example, studies on learners’ overconfidence ). The research cited throughout the book is not limited to self-reporting and includes very helpful data on what promotes student engagement and learning.
Date Reviewed: July 18, 2018
In the opening chapter of his edited volume The Pedagogy of Compassion at the Heart of Higher Education, Paul Gibbs succinctly locates this collection of essays and the topic itself within the current environment of higher education in a way that will be familiar to many: “Given that the consumer model seems to resonate with the context of the majority of higher education institutions, what place do the virtues of humanity and spirituality have in a product-driven consumer service business model of higher education?” (9). It’s a question often asked, and it is one this volume addresses from a wide variety of angles and perspectives. The answer, from adding the sum of the essays here, is that humanity, spirituality, and other qualities of compassion can be observed, practiced, and cultivated in most if not all places within higher education. The variety of topics and perspectives in this volume provide detailed descriptions, arguments, and inspiration for just how such a pedagogy has been prevalent in the history of higher education, and how it can be integrated more into higher education today.
Gibbs is mindful to be as expansive as possible in the perspectives he includes, and the book does include authors from the U.K., the U.S., Canada, Hong Kong, and Europe, with voices ranging from senior academics to students. This range demonstrates Gibbs’s point that the book “is neither overtly spiritual nor secular or agnostic” (11).
For instance, Richard White’s entry traces compassion through Western and Eastern philosophy, and in doing so provides practical ideas to create a compassionate classroom. Kathryn Waddington focuses on “self-compassion, which involves self-kindness, a sense of common humanity, and mindfulness” (66). Self-compassion, Waddington shows, can influence a change in behavior and understanding at individual, group, and organizational levels.
Gibbs is conscious of the structure and organization of this essay collection, and the essays flow well in conversation with each other. This element of the book makes for a very engaging read, and one that further encourages the links between multiple perspectives on compassion in higher education. Following the chapter on self-compassion, Irena Papadopoulos writes on intellectual compassion as a way of cultivating world citizenship, connecting the concepts of interconnectedness of social reality as stemming from twentieth-century philosophers Martin Buber and Emmanuel Levinas. From there, the discussion flows to the relation of compassion within the liberal arts, within Buddhism and Islam, and the transformative power of compassion within South Africa’s anti-apartheid movement. There is also a series of essays focusing on compassion in an institutional way.
In The Pedagogy of Compassion at the Heart of Higher Education, Gibbs collects diverse ideas about compassion in higher education. This volume can serve as a guide, for individuals and institutions alike, for an engaging historical and topical conversation on the wide-ranging ways to integrate ideas of spirituality and humanity into realms that have increasingly come to seem consumerist.
Date Reviewed: July 18, 2018
Arguably, due to suspicion, skepticism, and the entrenchment of classroom teaching practices, the most scrutinized, assessed, and evaluated pedagogy in theological schools in the last two decades has been online learning (“distance education”). Fortunately, the skepticism that fueled a demand for more rigorous evaluation of student learning in the online environment has yielded hard evidence that online learning is as effective, and sometimes more effective, than traditional classroom teaching.
The goal of this work by Catalano, an associate professor of teaching and learning at Hofstra University, is “to assist researchers of distance education, both novice and expert, in finding well-developed and value measures to suit their research questions” (2). The focus of the book is “on properly validated measures, thereby relieving the researcher from having to develop his or her own instrument” (2).
Catelano provides a concise guide to seventy selected assessment instruments (surveys, scales, and methods) that have been used to evaluate the effectiveness of online learning programs. The instruments can be applied to evaluate key metrics and pedagogical, as well as programmatic, elements such as: student engagement, student and faculty satisfaction, information retention, self-efficacy, student and teacher readiness, the online learning environment, cooperative learning, competencies for online learning, student attitudes, student retention and attrition, critical thinking, and achievement. Several instruments focus on specific pedagogical approaches such as constructivism and andragogy.
Five chapters provide nine categories of evaluations. Specifically, Chapter 1 provides eleven instruments on student engagement and satisfaction. Chapter 2 contains sixteen instruments on student readiness to learn and self-efficacy. Chapter 3 offers a selection of seventeen instruments focusing on the online teaching and learning environment. Chapter 4 provides twelve instruments on student learning behaviors. Chapter 5 contains five instruments to assess student achievement, retention, and attrition. Obviously, there are enough offerings in these chapters to meet just about any evaluation need an assessor may have. Each chapter includes a brief overview of each instrument covered. Each instrument entry includes a summary of the tool, a description of how the measure is used, and a description of its development and validity.
Some of the instruments described are complete tools (for example, a fully developed satisfaction questionnaire, a complete survey on student evaluation of online web-based instruction, and one on the online learning environment. Other instruments are described with information about their sources should an assessor wish to use them.
In the Introduction Catalano provides helpful background on the criteria for inclusion of the instruments selected for the compendium. The author describes the search process used in identifying the instruments, including applying the criteria of ensuring reliability and validity.
For those needing to continue to assess online learning through disciplined and rigorous evaluations, whether as part of formative curricular assessment or to satisfy accreditation requirements, Amy Catalano’s brief compendium of assessment instruments, scales, and approaches is a handy and accessible tool. Indeed, it should be on every evaluator’s desk.