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: 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.
Date Reviewed: July 3, 2018
In many traditional classrooms, the teacher uses lectures to transmit course content to students. A “flipped” classroom is one in which a teacher presents lectures and delivers other course content outside of class (for example, via video- or audio-recorded and written instruction) and prioritizes activities, discussion, and higher-level analytical thinking during class time. Flipped Instruction: Breakthroughs in Resource and Practice offers readers the latest theories, strategies, and pedagogies on flipping classrooms. Bringing together thirty-seven contributors from seven countries, thirty-two colleges and universities, four high schools, and one institute, it presents “a comprehensive collection of research on the latest findings” on flipped teaching and learning in order to provide “researchers, practitioners, and all audiences with a complete understanding of the development of applications and concepts surrounding these critical issues.” (ix)
Each contributor operates under the assumption that flipping a classroom in a professional and pedagogically informed manner begets educational gains that far exceed the costs of time investment, technological learning curves, and pedagogical challenges. In chapter 4, David Starr-Glass makes a memorable statement about the benefits by explaining that a flipped classroom “changes a teacher-centered process to a student-centered one. The ‘sage on the stage’ becomes the ‘guide on the side,’ with a shift from transmission to learners to a flow among and between learners.” (51, emphasis in original).
This book addresses nearly every domain where flipped teaching has made significant inroads: K-12 education, higher education, online, ESL, and foreign language education. Its twenty-four chapters are organized into four main sections. Section 1 (Chapters 1-6) addresses course design methodology and how the latest pedagogies impact flipped classrooms. Section 2 (Chapters 7-12) discusses the unique challenges and opportunities of flipping ESL and foreign language learning classrooms. Section 3 (Chapters 13-20) considers flipped instruction in higher education. Section 4 (Chapters 21-24) offers the latest curriculum developments in K-12 education.
Flipped Instruction accomplishes its goal of providing educators with a comprehensive resource on the latest research in theory and practice. It also strikes a nice balance between being academically-oriented and practitioner-oriented. Academics will enjoy the book’s emphasis on new theories, pedagogies, and educational innovations, and practitioners will appreciate the takeaways from educational experiments, the rich repository of resources, and the activities to try in the classroom. That stated, the book would serve its readers better if it were more learner-friendly, an ironic weakness since it was written by expert teachers who value learner-centered education. Perhaps under the watchful eye of a single editor, it would exhibit stronger collaboration between authors, be better organized, and would avoid needless repetition (for example, an unusually high number of authors reviewed the history of flipped classrooms).
Teachers of theology and religion who appreciate flipped instruction or who practice it as a pedagogical strategy will appreciate the many resources that Flipped Instruction provides in course design, Internet and computer software ideas, and learning activities. However, the book is not a primer for the uninitiated in flipped teaching and learning. A different book would be a better introduction to the subject.
Date Reviewed: May 17, 2018
Upon reading the varied chapters that constitute Digital Story Telling: Form and Content, I could not help but be reminded of Salman Rushdie’s comments on the power of story.
Those who do not have the power over the story that dominates their lives, the power to retell it, rethink it, deconstruct it, joke about it, and change it as times change, truly are powerless, because they cannot think new thoughts. (1991, Dec. 12, New York Times)
Rushdie’s words illustrate the demands the postmodern world places on all individuals. It is a world replete with a multiplicity of stories in a myriad of forms… stories of domination and liberation, state narratives and personal accounts, corporate media renderings, and cellphone videos. In this world, the personal and political are not easily divorced. It is a world eager for new mediums which can offer the individual tools for agency and a space in which to tell, retell, rethink, deconstruct, joke about, and change their story. Digital Storytelling (DS) appears to be one such medium.
What is DS? This volume’s editors, Mark Dunford and Tricia Jenkins, describe it as “a simple, creative process whereby people with little or no experience of computers gain the skills needed to tell a personal story as a two minute video using predominately still images combined with recorded voice-over, and often including music and/or other sounds” (3). The end products are “self-representational stories which emerge from a collaborative workshop process using a ‘Story Circle,’ in which a range of writing stimuli and other activities are used to develop trust within the group and ‘find’ the story” (3). Much of this definition comes from a pioneer in the field of DS, Joe Lambert, whose Digital Storytelling workshops, terminology, and methods have shaped the DS movement.
DS is a form of participatory media in which political activism is embedded in its very practice. Lambert describes how in the 1990s he and those he was working with “thought of the Internet, new low-cost digital media production tools, and the distribution opportunities of the web as major advances that could promote global democracy and liberation” (22). The advent of the Internet for such a medium is tantamount to the proliferation of the printing press in sixteenth-century Europe. One need only look to social media platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram to see how the Internet and low-cost media production tools have changed what we watch and how we watch it. DS is a precursor to this platform proliferation and the motivations driving it as a process appear to have been less fiscally motivated. One of the paramount intentions of DS is to provide the voiceless the means to be heard. Of course, DS workshops have facilitators and funders, both of which, intentionally or not, are intimately involved in the creation and dissemination of these personal stories.
The volume is segmented into four elements or parts: Practice (five case studies from Kenya to the UK of DS in action); Content (pieces addressing the role content, especially content of a political [Simsek] or socially provocative [Kuga Thas] nature, plays in how that content is created, collected, received, parsed, and disseminated [Lewis and Matthews] and licensed [Spurgeon]); Form (insights garnered from when the cultural specificity of the DS model requires modification such as in Japan, Romania, and Ireland); and Understanding (three essays honing in on the limits and potential of DS as a political and personal force in the world).
The volume culminates with Nancy Thumim’s chapter “Therapy, Democracy, and the Creative Practice of Digital Storytelling” in which she reflects on the unifying themes of the book (DS as democratizing work, DS as therapy, DS as meaning-making, reflection, presentation, and representation) as well as the logistical and ethical challenges DS faces (issues of ownership in regard to co-created media, the afterlife of created materials, restructuring workshops to accommodate participants of disparate backgrounds and differing needs). DS, in its varied iterations, straddles the personal and public and opens up a space for creativity among communities created by the DS workshops and those affected by their material output (artifacts).
Perhaps the most compelling aspects of this volume are the stories (as found in Rainbird, Henry, Hardy and Sumner, Lewis and Matthews, Ogawa and Tsuchiya, Alexandra, and Brushwood Rose) of those persons challenged with mediating and assisting others (often those whose voices go unheard) through the process of narrating their own stories. As an academic advisor, the power of storytelling for self-actualization is readily apparent to me. Like the DS workshop facilitators in this book, academic advisors are involved in a co-creative narrative process. Advisors help students reflect on their goals and values and provide them with tools and mechanisms for authoring their own academic life story. The examples of DS workshop facilitators agonizing over how active to be in the creation of these personal stories should resonate with any reader who works in a co-creative capacity (advisors, administrators, teachers, parents, therapists, and so forth). The stories presented in each of these chapters are rather remarkable and, indeed, powerful. Anyone interested in modern media, narrative, social activism, communication studies, film, as well as those versed in DS scholarship, will find this a compelling read.
Date Reviewed: April 17, 2018
Teaching the World is a welcome volume on online theological education that seeks to ground educational practice with a theological foundation. The work is a critically needed guide that directs leaders and administers in developing online education programs. Readers will find practical insight on program development on three levels: framework, faculty, and classroom.
An introductory chapter entitled, “Past Patterns and Present Challenges in Online Theological Education,” describes the delivery of theological education from the early days of correspondence in the eighteenth century to the current practice of providing multimedia curricula fully online. After advocating the legitimacy of online theological education, the authors maintain that educational institutions have often not built their online programs on theological foundations. Instead, they have unwittingly overlooked this step in their rush to launch programs for primarily pragmatic reasons – increased enrollment and profitability.
The balance of the book is divided into three sections. Section I, “Better Foundations for Online Learning,” examines the role of the Pauline Epistles in theological education, ministry preparation, and spiritual formation from a distance. The authors argue that Paul\'s Epistolary practice provides biblical support for theological education from a distance and an example of how to deliver it. Subsequent pages integrate “social presence theory” with Paul\'s epistolary practice, resulting in a conceptual framework for online program development.
Section II, “Better Faculty for Online Learning,” provides theological guidance for faculty roles in online programs. Here the authors argue for faculty who: (1) emphasize the spiritual formation of students over the mere transfer of knowledge, (2) demonstrate the ability to leverage the medium of online education to accomplish the desired outcomes for students, and (3) model the theological and professional standards for ministry. In such an environment, online faculty members embody the values of the institution and effectively facilitate the desired outcomes of programs.
Section III, “Better Practices in the Classroom,” maintains that the students’ ministry contexts make effective online learning possible. Students in online programs are typically older and engaged in some form of ministry. Consequently, online programs should incorporate adult learning theory and facilitate learning in the student’s ministry context – the local church serving as an active partner in ministry preparation.
A concluding chapter, “To Teach, to Delight, and to Persuade,” argues that online programs are not a replacement for residential programs, but are a means for developing stronger partnerships for ministerial preparation. This book’s emphasis on using theology as a conceptual framework for online theological education is its conspicuous strength.
Teaching the World: Foundations for Online Theological Education presents a grand vision for online theological education that is particularly valuable for leaders of theological schools who seek to develop online programs that are effective in fulfilling the educational outcomes of their institutions.
Date Reviewed: April 16, 2018
This brief handbook and reference work was designed for college and university students interested in doing research. Charity Hudley, Dickter, and Franz present scholarly research as an exciting way for undergraduates to make the transition from students who learn to scholars who join an ongoing conversation as “masters of knowledge and challengers of the status quo” (5). The authors purposely construct the guide to serve not only as a resource but also as a model of a research-based approach to scholarly writing; they frequently comment on their own working methods and the research process that went into the composition of this text. The resulting book effectively demystifies the world of academia and the work of scholars, making research approachable and appealing.
Throughout the guide, the authors encourage students to pursue their academic and personal interests by becoming researchers, and they provide an impressively comprehensive roadmap for the research process. The book takes a special interest in guiding first-generation college students and students from historically underrepresented populations. The tone is collegial, and the text abounds with concrete advice about navigating the concomitants of scholarly research, from how to email a potential research mentor (80) to how to identify and access campus resources that can assist with time and energy management (49). Chapter 2, devoted to getting started, describes what research looks like across several academic disciplines and details ways different schools support and reward undergraduate research. Personal accounts from student scholars provide additional relatable voices and create the sense of a broad academic community into which readers are invited. The authors also emphasize the importance of sharing research results with a variety of audiences; Chapter 5, “Writing and Presenting Research” (91-116), describes different venues for written and oral communication that increase the impact of a student’s project, including conferences, articles, books, and social media.
A particularly valuable contribution of this book is its focus on empowering students from underrepresented populations. In addition to devoting a chapter to describing challenges that students from minority populations face and some tools for overcoming those challenges (“Underrepresented Scholars in the Academy: Making a Way,” [117-142]), the authors consistently highlight the value of diverse voices and backgrounds, and especially of the new questions such diverse viewpoints can generate. They frame the importance of greater academic inclusiveness and equity in a larger conversation about the powerful impacts researchers can have on their communities, emphasizing the value of interdisciplinary scholarship and community-based research.
Although the book is addressed directly to an audience of undergraduates who are or who seek to become researchers, the authors also model numerous ways to offer such students practical support. Therefore the text may also serve as a valuable resource for teachers, mentors, and advisors who assist student researchers and ensure their success.
Date Reviewed: April 6, 2018
Talbert uses his initial chapter, “What Is Flipped Learning, and Why Use It,” to work through definitions and misunderstandings of flipped learning. While flipped learning is commonly believed to consist of assigning videos of lectures for students to watch before class time, Talbert explains that flipped learning is a methodology rather than a specific technique. Flipped learning, he asserts, aims to ensure that students first encounter the new material on their own, outside of class, and then work to nuance their understanding and build skills around that material in the classroom. In this way, students develop the ability to access new material independently and then do the more challenging work of integrating and developing that information in the classroom with assistance from both classmates and the professor, or “expert.” The second chapter, “The History and Theory of Flipped Learning,” traces the method’s history to establish that it is neither new nor a fly by night fad, but rather a sensible pedagogical strategy built on a solid base.
Chapter three, “Models of Flipped Learning,” offers a range of examples from math, business, and economics to demonstrate flipped learning approaches. In each example, Talbert draws from largely mathematics-based courses, suggesting that students read and watch videos about concepts before coming to class to work together on problem sets, the opposite of a traditional STEM course in which concepts are introduced in lecture and students then depart to work on problem sets on their own. (It is noteworthy that although Talbert argues in the earlier chapters that flipped learning is more than watching videos before class, this is, in fact, a primary method that he demonstrates.)
As a religious studies professor, it was hard to see how this method would change the basic format of my humanities classes, in which student read material ahead of time, usually guided by discussion questions, and then come to class for a brief lecture that fills in details and group conversations or a class discussion, informed by their reading. While I have no objection to a book providing instruction on pedagogy for the STEM/business classroom, Talbert’s apparent inability to acknowledge the different structure of the humanities is significant. In failing to recognize that his methods would not significantly change the traditional structure of humanities classes, he has failed to properly acknowledge his book’s disciplinary scope and to correctly identify the audience to whom it would be the most useful. In these fields, flipped learning makes a notable difference from traditional pedagogical methods in which students first encounter new concepts in class. In the humanities, however, students traditionally encounter new material through reading assignments before class. That material is then elaborated upon and explored in classroom lectures, discussions, small groups, and activities. It is difficult, even with one or two humanities-based examples, to see how Flipped Learning dramatically would change my humanities classroom.
Chapters four, five, and six address the nuts and bolts of how to flip a class. Here, Talbert offers both many more specific guidelines and, in a couple of instances, he draws examples from the humanities classroom. For instance, in chapter four, he suggests providing students with a list of reading questions that guide students toward increased complexity of thinking, gradually moving from reading comprehension and synthesis questions to conceptual and analytic questions. Chapter five offers insight into how to construct the activities. Throughout this chapter, Talbert offers cogent summaries of key theories on learning and course design, and while he rarely suggests a technique with which I am unfamiliar, his explanations of how and why they are effective are certainly likely to help me refine my technique.
Chapter seven provides adaptations to the flipped learning model, primarily for low technology educational environments. It also addresses a number of student objections to the flipped classroom, ranging from student complaints about having to teach themselves to gripes that flipped learning takes too much time outside of class. On a practical note, Talbert also addresses the risks of participating in a flipped-learning classroom while untenured or in a contingent position. In each of these situations, he offers concrete advice for mitigating the risk of pedagogical experimentation, particularly reactions from students who are adjusting to a new line of teaching. These chapters were, perhaps, the most useful, as they provided language for addressing student dissatisfaction with new methods and were, perhaps, the most applicable to non-mathematically oriented classrooms.
Throughout the book, I was struck by Talbert’s dry tone. Although I am accustomed to academic writing I found this to be a bit of a slog, which is a less than ideal model for a book dedicated to methods of teaching and learning. More importantly, while the author claims the book will be useful for all of the divisions of higher education, it is constrained by the author’s primary orientation and expertise, and most (though not all) of his examples are drawn from STEM, business, and mathematically oriented social sciences such as economics. Nonetheless, Talbert provides background research that will allow readers to refine and justify some of their existing techniques, helping them engage student learning both within the classroom and beyond it.
Date Reviewed: April 2, 2018
As a twenty-plus year veteran professor in a face-to-face classroom environment, I know to expect adjustments due to technological advances. These adjustments typically include learning to use new technologies and including them in your established and comfortable pedagogical practices. These adjustments are additions to your teaching norm. Now, with entire programs being converted to online interface, the norm shifts continually. With shifting norms in mind, I chose to review this book and actually apply its approach while converting one of my own classes to online delivery.
The brevity of Jump-Start Your Online Classroom should not be underestimated. Based on practical application of the content and concepts, its organization contains helpful hints on various aspects of successfully constructing a learner-centered, virtual classroom experience. The organization of the book is its greatest strength. Its five-day approach is based on five challenges: (1) Making the transition to online teaching, (2) Building online spaces for learning, (3) Preparing students for online learning, (4) Managing and facilitating the online classroom, and (5) Assessing learner outcomes.
One to three chapters are devoted to each of the five tasks and guide in confronting, conquering, and mastering each challenge. Embedded in the chapters are the almost clairvoyant voices of novice online instructors as well as online learners. Additionally, each chapter includes highlighted “Points to Remember” and ends with a section “For Reflection.” This reflection portion, if done in depth, makes the five-consecutive-day plan less realistic. The reflections may include assignments such as developing a communication or time management plan, an assessment of technology tools, or a careful consideration of your own teaching philosophy or pedagogical approach.
The fourth challenge, on classroom management, was especially helpful, as it contemplates interpersonal interaction and community building with people that may never meet. The section on teaching presence was especially helpful and thought-provoking. The authors use the analogy of the working parts of a car. For example, teaching presence is described as the “transmission component that allows us to set the pace, sequence, and activities that support and encourage students to work with materials and build their understanding of the content,” and also as the “timing belt that helps us manage learners, the dialogue, and the conditions for learning” (78). I understood those analogous functions even though I could not pick out either of those parts on an actual car! Challenge four also looks at dealing with group work and disgruntled students. The perspective of the novice online instructor underscored the importance of modeling the behavior that is required of the students.
Although this book is marketed toward the novice online instructor, its approach, organization, and content make it a foundational tool that could have long-term value in troubleshooting and future course design.
Date Reviewed: March 23, 2018
This book captures the frustration of many faculty who are witnessing the decline of faculty governance against the rise of administrative fiat, particularly in areas that impact pedagogical choice. In seven main chapters, the authors provide a detailed view of the systems and decisions that are so often thrust upon faculty. They do a superb job describing the landscape of MOOCs, FLOSS, and LMS in everyday language. They deal with a broad range of issues to show the ways in which faculty are being (sometimes willingly) deskilled through technology. These authors are not dismissive of technological innovation, but they are wary of some aspects of it. They are aware that this book will quickly become outdated but teachers will find that the evidence and core arguments presented here remain worthy of attention.
Education is Not an App is a manifesto of sorts, calling faculty to embrace their freedom to make pedagogical choices, a freedom that is often smothered by administrative decree. For instance, the authors argue, new learning management systems are often presented to faculty as across-the-board, time-saving solutions for all, not as the political flashpoints they should be. For these authors, educational technology tends to “seek constrained truth for the advantage of specific powers that be” (3), just as the simplest app constrains as it empowers.
Several key assumptions and at least one conclusion here might irk some readers. First is the assumption that face-to-face education is superior to online education, with very limited exceptions. The authors assert that the work that happens between people in classrooms produces more critical thinking, and therefore more meaningful learning than most experiences online. This reader agrees, but not all will. Another assumption is that faculty will have the ability (or the interest) to keep current with new technologies and will have institutional support in using the ones they choose, a lofty goal on both counts. Few faculty have the time to school themselves on emerging technologies, and pressures such as student evaluations reward conformity. These authors conclude, quite rightly, that faculty jobs are in danger because of the “the kind of university governance that makes this kind of [edtech] abuse possible” (37). This book highlights many issues that raise concern (not least, the rise of “instructional designers”), but we do not yet know that student learning suffers in this tech-heavy environment. The authors focus more on academic freedom and far less on student learning.
Poritz and Rees are correct that educational technology – with its unbundling and deskilling and administrative oversight – threatens academic freedom and the autonomy of thought we hope to teach our students. It invites monitoring and assessment that faculty should resist; at the very least, teachers should consider at length the costs of simplifying their teaching lives through technology. “At the risk of sounding alarmist” (74), faculty in all disciplines should read this book. Even those who resist as much as possible should be aware of the changing landscape. We gain and lose in the decisions that we make, but we stand to lose more from decisions made for us.
Date Reviewed: March 23, 2018
Essentials of Online Teaching: A Standards-Based Guide could contribute to lively and relevant discussions about the challenges and opportunities of online courses. The book is unique because it takes the reader on a journey from the preliminary design of a course through its development and final phase of instruction. A further distinctive feature of the book is that it includes source materials from hundreds of teachers who have extensive knowledge of and experience with teaching online courses. By collaborating with such a diverse group of educators, the authors provide an impressive set of approaches to guide teaching decisions, assessing students’ progress, and reflecting on factors that influence a successful, online teaching experience. The book is a wonderful and needed resource that offers helpful models and examples of courses that integrate a range of interactive methods for learning such as discussion forums, blogs, and chats.
The book begins with a general overview of online education and describes technologies for effective teaching as well as what a teacher should focus on before the semester begins. After offering suggestions on how to launch a successful online course, McCabe and Gonzáles-Flores examine how teachers monitor and support students’ learning once the course starts. In addition, they address ways to evaluate students during the middle weeks of a course and how to evaluate the effectiveness of the course design in case improvements are needed to enhance the teaching and learning process. Other important aspects of online teaching and learning are collaboration and assessment. The authors provide explanations and examples of how discussions and collaboration should work as well as how to evaluate standards of practice.
In the Introduction, McCabe and Gonzáles-Flores discuss the scope of foundational theorists in distance education as well as the current work of researchers in the field. The book is a useful resource for teachers who are “new to online teaching or those who want to improve their practice” (3). This book will also benefit educational and corporate trainers, academic administrators, department heads, decision-makers, entrepreneurs, teachers, and students who work with online course development and training. In fact, anyone interested in education can use Essentials of Online Teaching: A Standards-Based Guide to “understand the challenges online instructors and trainers face and design products to serve their needs” (4).
In an early chapter, the authors show how online education has evolved over the years and how various models can effectively work for teachers and students. Historically, online teaching as a “concept and term sprang onto the educational landscape in the late 1980s as computer conferencing software began to support interaction between teachers and students” (22). Eventually, those in education, including researchers, marketing professionals, and program developers started conversations that grew into new ways of instruction. In early conversations, these new ways used passive language that de-emphasized the personal dimension in teaching. According to the authors, passive language sends an incorrect message; namely, an implication that online courses are characterized, primarily, by automation rather than an active and interactive process of teaching and learning. Hence, this book describes an interactive process from beginning to end where students and teachers take advantage of asynchronous communication and do not allow remote access or intermittent exchange prevent engagement, reflection, or assessment. Recognizing the unique character of online courses, the authors encourage as much activity as possible by teachers helping students navigate the online environment through a variety of pedagogical and management strategies.
Date Reviewed: March 23, 2018
This book is one among fifty others within the Multicultural Education Series. According to the series editor James A. Banks, these books “[summarize and analyze] important research, theory, and practice related to the education of ethnic, racial, cultural, and linguistic groups in the United States and education of mainstream students about diversity” (xiii). Özelm Sensoy and Robin DiAngelo’s book focuses on social justice. For distinction from the commonplace notion of social justice, Sensoy and DiAngelo use the alternative term “critical social justice.” By critical social justice, they mean: (1) recognition of unequal social power relations at the individual and group levels in society; (2) understanding of one’s place within these relations of unequal power; (3) critical thinking on what knowledge is and how it is produced and acquired; and (4) action informed by the best understanding of what social justice is and sound methods for its realization in society (xxi). Sensoy and DiAngelo provide guidelines for teaching and learning social justice.
The book consists of twelve chapters. The chapters include: pictures; charts; figures; vocabulary lists; boxes for definitions of key terms and reminders of ideas and concepts if discussed in a previous chapter; questions for discussion; and instructions for learning activities. The authors intend for persons to read the chapters in their numerical order. The content of the book is cumulative, with each chapter building upon the one that precedes it.
There is an underlying logic in the linear progression of the chapters. Chapters 1 and 2 deal with instructional matters, providing students with guidelines for learning social justice course content (6-18), instructors with guidelines for grading student performance (19-21), and both with an overview of critical theory in social justice courses (25-27). Chapters 3 to 5 define the concepts and operations of culture, socialization, prejudice and discrimination, and oppression and domination (36-40, 51-57, 61-73). Chapters 6 to10 define ableism, sexism, racism, and classism and describe how they pervade social institutions (82-86, 104-115, 123-129, 142-144, 156-162, 177-182). Chapter 11 refutes 13 common statements that are used to discredit social justice education (186-197). Based on Sensoy and DiAngelo’s definition of critical social justice, Chapter 12 specifies four learning outcomes for social justice education and crafts possible scenarios for illustration of the kinds of actions for each outcome (200, 203-204, 207, 211).
Though written primarily for white readers, Sensoy and DiAngelo’s book merits consideration by all readers interested in social justice education in pluralistic society. The series editor notes that “most of the nation’s teachers are white, female, and monolingual” (xii). Using the terms “we” and “us” throughout the book, Sensoy and DiAngelo acknowledge their associations with this demographic group (120). Given the fact of intersectionality – that any one person has multiple associations – race or ethnicity cannot be a person’s only identification (138, 175). The complexity of human subjectivity warrants the concern of all persons with social justice in a world characterized by ever-increasing diversity.
Date Reviewed: March 22, 2018
Deconstructing Race is a book written by a teacher to other teachers. It combines empirical data with critical race theory and pedagogical research with three objectives: at the theoretical level, the book offers teachers an overview of applied critical race theory; at the pedagogical level, Mahiri offers a wide sample of ethnographic data (mostly interviews) and literary analysis (Chapter 2) that both inform and illustrate the theoretical framework; third, and perhaps most importantly, Deconstructing Race offers an alternative framework “beyond the Color-Bind.” Aptly drawing on Derrida’s work, Mahiri diagnoses that “rapidly changing micro-cultural identities and practices of individuals cannot be contained in the static racial categories assigned by white supremacy” (7). The author advances the notion of “micro-cultures” to account for the myriad ways in which subjects assume different cultural positions, practices, choices, and perspectives. The hyphen in the expression seeks to underline the experience of multicultural individuals who always live in-between.
The theoretical apparatus (Chapters 1, 2, 3, and 9) sandwiches a set of five chapters in which the author exemplifies the inadequacy of racial categories by presenting several interviews grouped according to the five official categories of race (briefly presented in chapter 3). The wealth of interviews and testimonies cannot be summarized here, but they all point to how institutionalized racial categorizations completely miss the mark as descriptors of identity. The ethnographical data amply demonstrates in turn that identitarian “boxes” cannot be decided in advance and theoretical notions need to be sharpened to reflect what Mahiri calls the phenomenon of hyperdiversity.
For educators in the fields of theology, religious studies, or multicultural ministry, the main appeal of this contribution may reside precisely in the richness of its ethnographical survey and, more specifically, in the testimonies of subjects classified within a certain race. Their experiences push racial categories to come undone in favor of other “ancestral, ethnic, and national origin identifications” (78). Furthermore, this new construction of identities, Mahiri explores, is performed through digital media where subjects negotiate real-world and virtual identities – subverting the former by performing new identifications in the latter. From this standpoint, Deconstructing Race offers a glimpse of what resistance looks like in the age of digital media.
Whereas the ethnographic account is definitely the book’s main strength, its theoretical framework calls for further elaboration. Mahiri takes a descriptive approach to ethnographic analysis with the subsequent advantage of presenting the experiences of the interviewed subjects in their rich complexity. However, self-descriptions are not sufficiently analyzed. For instance, to what extent is the emphatic insistence on the notion of “identity” (regardless of the axes that define it) not itself a philosophical project in need of deconstruction? How might a more robust analysis of contemporary capitalism – a concept mentioned a couple of times in passing but that names the cause, one might argue, of mass population movements that inform the identities presented – inform alternative racial imaginaries?