The Wabash Center Journal on Teaching publishes short (500 word) reviews of books and resources about teaching and learning.
Book Review Editor
Associate Director, Wabash Center
Latest Book Reviews
Multicultural Andragogy for Transformative Learning
Date Reviewed: April 18, 2019
In the Foreword and the Introduction of Multicultural Andragogy for Transformative Learning, the editors lay out the goals and the structure of this multi-author volume. But the reader will not get past the first paragraph of the Forward before encountering one of many punctuation errors that plague the volume. In addition to multiple punctuation errors, some chapters contain so many spelling and phrasing errors that the reader is distracted from engaging with the content. Further, the quality of the research, the quality of the writing, and the author’s ability to support his/her assertions varies widely from chapter to chapter. The result is a collection of chapters that are very loosely connected, with little consistency in how each author engages with the intersection of multiculturalism, andragogy, and transformative learning.
The volume is organized into three sections. The first provides the reader with the foundations for understanding the learning theories of andragogy and transformative learning and how both relate to culture. The second section examines andragogy and practice in a variety of cultural contexts. The final section describes “transformative multicultural andragogy” (xvii) in practice. While some chapters stand out as cogent and applicable, too many other chapters suffer from lack of editorial attention and guidance. The first section of the volume would most benefit from said guidance. Each chapter explains the theory of andragogy; many also describe transformative learning. Andragogy is also explained in detail in the Preface, making much (and in one case, most) of these initial chapters repetitive. Rather than re-explaining these theories, these chapters would be better spent connecting adult learning in various contexts to multiculturalism.
Some of the chapters in sections two and three are valuable as stand-alone articles on their stated topics, but as a whole the chapters do not work together to enlighten the reader about multicultural andragogy as it relates to transformative learning. To be fair, the editors state that they “have set a broad scope for the theme” of exploring the intersection of culture, andragogy, and transformative learning (xx). However, only a few of the authors explore all three of these concepts. When a chapter in a volume is notable for addressing the stated topic of the volume, the scope of the volume is perhaps too broad.
In the Preface and Conclusion, the authors state that “the primary focus of this text has been to elicit the connection between cultural perspectives and adult learning” (xxiv, 270), and in the Conclusion, they propose a new learning model representing the relationship between andragogy, transformation learning, and multiculturalism. What one would hope to learn from this volume is how they interact, not just that they do, so that the model can be tested and reproduced in an adult learning environment. The editors are correct that the relationships between these concepts should be explored and described, and that adult education would benefit from such work. However, Multicultural Andragogy for Transformative Learning lacks the focus and editorial oversight to accomplish that goal.
Qualitative Research in Theological Education: Pedagogy in Practice
Date Reviewed: April 16, 2019
If you are looking for a current collection of essays about the state of qualitative research in theological education, then this volume edited by Moschella and Willhauck will be extraordinarily useful. The contributors offer a broad-based, international approach to their topic, complete with case studies and a select bibliography. Together, they argue that qualitative research is essential to the formation of ministers and theological scholars.
Moschella’s introduction provides a concise overview of how this collaborative project began, key themes in the field of ethnographic studies, and how each of the essays addresses these issues. There is real value here for the reader who is just plunging into the study of qualitative research and needs an overview of how the discipline is developing.
This is a handbook in four parts, with fifteen chapters. As such, it is designed for both reading and reference. In addition to the introduction, most readers will benefit from the first two entries that comprise
Part One, “Exemplary Research Essays.” Whitmore’s essay, “Theology as Playbook and Gamefilm: Explaining an Ethnographic Approach to Theology to a Sports-Centred Culture,” uses sports analogies to underscore the vital connection between theology and practice. This is one of several essays that emphasize the theological nature of ethnographic research. For theological educators, this is an important contention which broadens the discussion beyond contrasting qualitative versus quantitative methods and goals. Just how inclusive that discussion can become is indicated by Sorajjakool and Prachyapruit in “Qualitative Methodology and Pedagogy: A Study of the Lived Experiences of Thai Peasants within the Context of Western Development Ideology.”
Part Two, “Issues in Education and the Practice of Research,” includes ten chapters that emphasize the embodied and contextual nature of qualitative research. They are also a reminder that the interdisciplinary nature of this work is a necessary and fitting response to the complexity and messiness of real life. While there are several strong essays in this group, particular note should be taken of “Promoting the Good: Ethical and Methodological Considerations in Practical Theological Research” by Graham and Llewellyn, along with “Just Don’t Call It ‘Ethnography’: A Critical Ethnographic Pedagogy for Transformative Theological Education” by Wigg-Stevenson.
Part Three, “Integrating Qualitative Research into Theological Education”, includes Mellott’s “Qualitative Research in Theological Curricula” and Clarke’s “Wonder and the Diving Dance: The Lived Reality of Qualitative Research within a Master of Divinity Curriculum.” Both essays are valuable for theological educators and will repay rereading. The concluding section, Part Four, “Valediction,” is a single essay by Willhauck, “The Gift and Challenge of Qualitative Methods for Pastoral Formation.” Four major themes for teaching qualitative research are identified and briefly discussed including: contextualization, communication, reflection/reflexivity, and vocation (264). Willhauck’s elaboration on these themes makes a fitting conclusion to this extraordinarily rich and suggestive resource.
Race on Campus: Debunking Myths with Data
Date Reviewed: April 16, 2019
In this highly accessible book, Julie J. Park lays out current debates surrounding affirmative action regarding race on campus. The subtitle of the book, Debunking Myths with Data, conveys the direct approach Park takes: chapters focus on a particular topic associated with discussions about race on campus, such as “the problem of mismatch,” and makes the argument with data for why such language is problematic and inaccurate.
For instance, in the chapter on “The Problem with the ‘Problem of Mismatch’,” Park lays out current debate surrounding whether race-conscious campus admissions should end. She highlights the work of authors such as Richard Sander, who in his book Mismatch (Basic, 2012) suggests that race-based affirmative action leads to students going to schools where they are mismatched, and who would have benefited from going to other (and less prestigious) schools. Park draws on data to show how the information Sander presents only looks at a particular set of examples, and ignores the larger and more positive impact that race-based affirmative action has had for persons of color. Parks lifts up statistics that show underrepresented minorities doing better at some schools than others, arguing that rather than blaming the individual or group of students for their lack of academic success, entire institutions need to reevaluate their role in contributing to or preventing the success of their underrepresented minority students. Parks points to support systems in place at particular top-tier institutions that help students excel. Park also reveals data showing that Asian American and white students struggle similarly in college, and focusing too narrowly on underrepresented minority students like African American students ignores the fact that college can be challenging for all students, and yet no one is suggesting that white students go to a lower-tier school for reasons of mismatch.
Other myths Park debunks include the complaint that black students are self-segregating by sitting together in the cafeteria or in student organizations. Park points to the ongoing racial segregation of historically White Greek Life, the sororities and fraternities that remain highly segregated across college campuses, showing that these groups have deep historic roots in intentionally racist exclusionary policies.
Ultimately, Park makes several suggestions for how to think about race on campus. First, being race-conscious is still important, not only to support racial diversity on campus but also to support economic diversity. Park lifts up data that shows Asian American students benefited more from policies that looked at race and class, rather than just class alone. Park also advocates for supporting underrepresented minorities students in interracial contexts as well as promoting intra-racial organizations. Finally, while diversity and inclusion are both terms that hold value for the work that needs to be done, neither are states or destinations where institutions can say they have “arrived.” Park underscores the need to continually work towards these goals, particularly in light of the resurgence of alt-right white supremacists. Antiracism is the work we need to be doing, and diversity and inclusion efforts are part of that larger and ongoing struggle.
Reset the Heart - Unlearning Violence, Relearning Hope
Date Reviewed: April 16, 2019
Mai-Anh Le Tran, an associate professor of religious education and practical theology at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, tackles a profound question in her book Reset the Heart: Unlearning Violence, Relearning Hope when she asks, “what does it mean to educate for faith in a world marked by violence?” Tran, who is a past president of the Religious Education Association, is an ordained elder of the United Methodist Church.
This intriguing volume about the problem of faith in a violent world begins in August 2014 with the deaths of Eric Garner in New York City and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Situated within this violence and racism, Tran allows three questions to guide her search for meaning and answers: “What does it mean to educate for faith in a world marked by violence? How are Christian faith communities complicit in the teaching and learning of violence? What new (or renewed) practices of faith and educational leadership can help us unlearn violence and relearn hope?” (10). The search for these answers provides her agenda for “resetting the heart” (10).
Tran’s first two chapters struggle with her first question as she draws upon frameworks from social psychology, cultural studies, postcolonial theory, and racial formation theory. In Chapter Three, she examines the church’s complicity in the teaching and learning of violence. She offers a reframing of Charles Foster’s five major critiques of the church’s “catechetical culture” as a foundation of her answer. Finally, she attempts to answer her third question in Chapters Four, Five, and Six as she models relearning hope.
Throughout this volume, Tran explores a number of subjects that interrelate with her subject including race as political theology, racism as a form of violence, religious education malpractice, and the erasure of historical memory. Her model for relearning hope includes practicing communicability, redeemability, and educability. She reminds her readers again and again of the vital importance of religious education and the role of the religious educator in fostering transformation. As she writes in her conclusion, “Let the people of God say ‘Amen.’ And let Christian religious educators remind the people what ‘Amen’ means” (164).
Tran makes excellent use of a powerful theological writing technique rooted in what theologian Heather Walton describes as “performance autoethnography.” Her use of this technique makes the book’s content come alive in a faithful and academically solid narrative; Tran shows readers theology instead of just telling them. This is particularly true in her opening chapter as well as in Chapters Four, Five, and Six, when she integrates the support of 14 other theological voices that she engages as “theological reflectors.” This complex and stimulating writing does make the writing style in Chapters Two and Three, where Tran establishes her argument within the wider academic narrative, seem flat and uninspiring. Nevertheless, this is a very well-written narrative that is a pleasure to read.
Tran provides readers with a valuable and insightful addition to the theological understanding of religious education. This volume should be added to all theological libraries and is a must read not only for academics who specialize in religious education but also for clergy and leaders in parish religious education.
Knowledge and Decolonial Politics: A Critical Reader
Date Reviewed: April 15, 2019
Decolonization as an epistemological framework remains a pressing topic. Decolonization challenges the insidious ways in which colonialist ideologies persist as neo-colonial manifestations in economic, political, military, judicial, educational, and spiritual spheres, among others.
The series of essays in Knowledge and Decolonial Politics address different challenges within the educational system in Canada. The goal of the book is to address “intellectual colonialism” by decentering Western hegemonic ontology, epistemology, rhetoric, and policies (4-6). As the introduction claims, the “book intends to expose and challenge Western knowledge systems, and dominant political systems, and their role in subjugating, marginalizing, and oppressing local and Indigenous knowledges” (4).
After the introduction, the remaining seven chapters each consider a separate issue in need of decolonization with regard to pedagogy: dismissiveness of indigeneity in the curriculum, the classroom, rhetoric of “development,” land ethics, spirituality, spirit-body unity, and indigenous languages. Each of the chapters addresses a topic that is essential to the experience in the classroom, and which requires critical reflection from both teachers and students. As an edited work, the interconnectedness of the chapters sets up a promising framework.
The authors point out major weaknesses in the Canadian educational system which fail to prepare teachers and students to engage anti-discriminatory and anti-racist discourses and pedagogies. Despite the legal advancements and robust rhetoric in official documents, much remains to be implemented inside the classroom. The essays call for integrating various ways of knowing that are attentive to non-western cultures in order to challenge meaningfully the Eurocentricity of the curriculum.
It would have been beneficial throughout the essays to include specific references to actual indigenous communities and values. Many of the indigenous values mentioned remained in the abstract. Interesting points of contact with African indigenous values were raised in a few of the essays, but were underdeveloped (chapters four, six and eight).
Wambui Karanja’s chapter on western-based international intellectual property laws is the strongest and most compelling. The essay challenges current legal frameworks applied to land protection or conservation. It delves deeply into existing international protections for different communities. Karanja explores new possibilities that center indigenous communities and value traditional non-western wisdoms in order to develop a decolonizing framework for collaboration on indigenous land rights issues and knowledge production.
Overall, the essays raise important questions for decolonizing the curriculum. The topic of student assessment could have complemented the overall mission of the authors. Nevertheless, the authors demonstrate a deep knowledge of the colonial mindset persisting in neocolonial rhetoric and practices within institutions that claim a liberal concern for marginalized communities and alternate modes of learning. Educational institutions and overseers continually return to practices that re-inscribe colonial settler values through curricular values, status quo teaching strategies, language exclusivity, and the spirit/body dichotomy. While the essays do not recommend many concrete decolonializing strategies, they provide initial reflections on critical topics by naming the colonial injustices embedded in current educational practices, which can stimulate readers to develop further crucial insights identified by the authors.
Toxic Ivory Towers: The Consequences of Work Stress on Underrepresented Minority Faculty
Date Reviewed: April 2, 2019
Ruth Enid Zambrana’s Toxic Ivory Towers presents readers with new research on the conditions and consequences of workplace stress among underrepresented minority (URM) faculty in higher education. It draws from the “largest web-based survey of URM faculty in the United States to date” (13) and focuses particular attention on the experiences of African American, Latinx, and American Indian early- to mid-career faculty at elite universities (12). The study examines “the associations between workplace stress, academic organizational factors, coping strategies, and physical and mental health among URM faculty” (10). Zambrana also brings more than thirty-five years of experience to the table as a URM teacher, researcher, and faculty member in order to demonstrate that “workplace stress on URM faculty colleagues is uniquely and adversely impacting their lives” (21).
In chapter one, Zambrana illustrates the gap between the stated commitments and actual commitments of universities to diversity initiatives in general and to URM faculty in particular. Then chapter two explores the complicated history behind recruiting URM faculty into the academy. Chapters three through five focus on the climates in which URM faculty experience high levels of stress: climates that are often structurally racist (chapter three), that use mentoring programs to mask deeper problems (chapter four), and that foster micro- and macro-aggressive discrimination (chapter five). Chapters six through eight deal with the impact of work stress on URM homes and families (chapter six), on advancement opportunities such as promotion or tenure (chapter seven), and on emotional and professional well-being (chapter eight). Chapter nine considers the complexities around gender dynamics. Chapter ten exhorts academic leaders to listen to and learn from URM faculty experiences in order to renew their practices.
On occasion, Toxic Ivory Towers plods along on account of too many first-hand verbatim reports. More selectivity in verbatims would help with flow. Also, it would be more beneficial to readers if Zambrana proposed a clearer roadmap for the future. Creative solutions are usually more complex than learning from past mistakes and correcting them. However, the many strengths of the book will lead many readers to overlook its weaknesses. Zambrana unmasks the misleading data that a lot of universities publish on the “success” of diversity initiatives; she offers constructive language for URM faculty to help name their experiences; and, her work provokes responses that challenge the status quo. Those who read this book may experience a diverse number of responses: some may be surprised by research findings, others unsettled by testimonies, others reassured they are not alone in their experiences, and still others an aggregate of reactions. Every academic leader (presidents, deans, department chairs, and so forth) who wants positive change in these areas will benefit from interacting with Zambrana’s research, and virtually every URM faculty member will benefit from her adeptness at naming the workplace stressors that they experience.
Teaching Readers in Post-Truth America
Date Reviewed: March 21, 2019
Many teachers have had cause in the last few years to ponder questions around teaching in a “post-truth” culture. How do reading, writing, and thinking change in a world in which groups cannot or will not agree on essential facts and rules of evidence? How can we teach meaningful reading in an overwhelmingly information-rich landscape? How can we heal the divisiveness that pervades so much of our culture, and how can we help students discern true from false? This book is written primarily for instructors in first-year college writing courses, but much of it will prove useful to frustrated teachers in any discipline. It does not give many specific recommendations for classroom strategies, but it does set out thoughtful ideas about how to think about teaching reading.
The book begins with a chapter on “theoretical first principles.” Chapter 2 considers the ways in which standardized tests (and teachers in turn) encourage an unthinking reverence for text by dismissing the role of the reader. Carillo provides convincing evidence of negative outcomes from this approach. These two chapters set the stage for an argument in Chapter 3 about reading and writing as embodied, affective acts, as this writer is firmly against the devaluing of emotion and engagement so common in a world that prizes objectivity. In Chapter 4, Carillo argues that modeling and imitation have been given short shrift in reading instruction. She gives several useful tips for developing imitative exercises that help students see good reading and writing practices, and she especially trumpets the power of annotation, illustrated with a case study from her own teaching. The problems highlighted in Chapter 5, specifically targeting writing and composition instruction, are common to other fields as well: focus on reason over emotion; focus on traditional essay forms; and lack of focus on psychological studies that can enhance both teaching and learning.
This book’s title promises more than it delivers, although it delivers a lot. Carillo’s insistence on redirecting students away from claims and argumentation and “toward stylistic elements that contribute to a text’s meaning” (41) will strike many teachers trained in other modes as difficult to attain. “Reading for argument” is, for Carillo, a problem: students only read for a relatively simplistic argument and miss so much that could make them stronger readers, such as inquiring about the how and why, not just the what. Yet many teachers find that students can’t even read for argument, a fact this book glosses over.
That said, a call to encouraging more affective and empathetic reading is timely and needed. The use of Peter Elbow’s doubting and believing game (47-50) will be familiar to many in religious studies, as will the call to look outside one’s own discipline for expertise. This book helps teachers think about ways to mitigate aspects of culture that revere text and steer students “away from the language of negotiation and compromise” (114).
Creating Engaging Discussions: Strategies for "Avoiding Crickets" in Any Size Classroom and Online
Date Reviewed: March 19, 2019
In the preface to their book, Herman and Nilson note that there are not many book-length treatments of discussion as a teaching method; the relative few that exist focus on student participation and are primarily oriented toward small face-to-face classrooms. Other books feature discussion as one tool among many in the teacher’s toolbox, and again focus on getting students to talk. But, as Herman and Nilson write, “Talk alone is cheap” (xxiv). The fact that students are participating in a discussion does not necessarily mean that they are actually learning. In addition to questions of participation, treatments of discussion as a way of learning also need to take into account the variety of classrooms in which students are learning: large and small, face-to-face, online, and blended. This is what Herman and Nilson set out to do.
Chapter one lays out three common challenges of discussion in both online and face-to-face classrooms: inconsistent or uneven student engagement, lack of adequate connection between course goals and discussion content or process, and lack of assessment. Chapters two and three focus on student behavior, chapter four suggests a variety of strategies for ensuring that discussions advance learning, and chapter five details ways to assess discussion both for skillful student engagement and for clear connection to course content. Chapters six through thirteen are case studies, written by a variety of practitioners and addressing a variety of discussion delivery systems (face-to-face, online, and blended) and levels (undergraduate, graduate, and professional). The final chapter, written by Herman and Nilson, provides writing prompts, discussion questions, and workshop ideas that both teachers themselves, and those charged with the professional development of teachers, could use to engage with the book’s contents.
Like many of Nilson’s previous books, this one is packed with information. As a practitioner, it is tempting to grab one or more of the discussion activities referenced in the quick guide at the front of the book and then return the book to the shelf. Doing so is a mistake precisely because of one of the ideas this book successfully advances: the need to align discussion content and process with course learning goals. This emphasis on alignment is one of my main learnings from the book, and one I will need to keep pondering and experimenting with. Each teacher must consider her course content, delivery system, institutional objectives and constraints, and student population in wisely selecting and applying discussion tactics to her particular circumstances. If I have one suggestion for the authors of this book, it might be to put the quick reference at the end to underline this point.
I will confess that when I picked up the book, I was dubious about the value of the case study chapters for my work as a theological educator. What is the relevance of collaborative autoethnography to a class on Christian worship, or of course-based scientific research to a class on Christian formation? As I continued reading, however, the case studies underlined two of Herman and Nilson’s theses: the need for and value of learning from others, even when their circumstances are different than ours, and the benefits of a deep dive into a tactic rather than a quick ransack of possible takeaways. So having finished reading the book, I plan to read it again – this time with colleagues, and over time.
Interactive Lecturing: A Handbook for College Faculty
Date Reviewed: March 8, 2019
Barkley and Major have compiled an invaluable compendium of information about improving on traditional class lectures by including interactive elements. Like McKeachie’s Teaching Tips or Davis’ Tools for Teaching, this book can be read cover to cover or approached as a resource to consult when needed, as just about every page includes some practical suggestions for improving teaching and student engagement. The book opens with a two-chapter consideration of what the authors call a “Conceptual Framework for Interactive Learning.” These chapters examine the benefits and drawbacks of lectures and active learning strategies as well as the wide variety of each, arguing ultimately for an integrative model that takes advantage of the best of both approaches. The suggestions in these chapters and throughout the book are based on recent research rather than recourse to traditional arguments about the superiority of one modality over another. The ultimate strengths of this book, beyond the sheer volume of useful information, are its thoughtful mix of approaches and avoidance of a one-size-fits-all approach, all presented in concrete, actionable terms.
This handbook is divided into three parts: the conceptual opening, twelve chapters on Engaging Presentation Tips, and eight chapters on Active Learning Techniques. The second two parts include 53 tips for creating engaging presentations and 32 suggestions for active learning techniques, most illustrated through specific examples. These are previewed at the beginning of each relevant chapter in a simple chart that directs reader attention to what each tip aims to improve and directions for implementing changes. Although it is impossible to itemize those tips here, it is indicative of the scope of the handbook’s broad coverage that the index includes subjects as diverse as voice modulation, metacognitive reflection, “dead wood words,” and background color of slides. Overall, Barkley and Major suggest many simple changes to the typical lecture that can result in more student engagement, such as how to devise a “power close” to any lecture; how to structure and practice presentations with, for instance, a “weatherperson” approach; and how to guide students in taking “sketch notes” during lectures. From “Guess and Confirm” to “Translate That!” to sticky note diagrams, these authors provide a wealth of possibilities to teachers and their students for making lectures interactive and engaging.
The approaches in this book are meant to work across disciplines and teaching platforms, including online and hybrid modalities. It is not geared to beginning or veteran teachers but rather to any teacher who wants to improve the classroom experience for students and for themselves. The advice here is rich, practical, and based on research, experience, and common sense. This book seems ideal for individual use but also for any departmental faculty resource collection.
Islamic Schooling in the West: Pathways to Renewal
Date Reviewed: March 6, 2019
East and West have long struggled to coexist without detriment to cultural and religious beliefs. With growing globalization and immigration the issue of tolerance and acceptance of different viewpoints is of urgent importance and value. Books on this highly challenging and relevant issue attract the attention of a wide audience. Islamic Schooling in the West is clearly such a book. The authors of the book live and work in Australia. Specifically, Mohamad Abdalla founded three Islamic studies centers at Australian universities, Dylan Chown is a well-known researcher of Islamic pedagogy in the Australian educational environment, and Muhammad Abdullah has 25 years of teaching experience in Australian state schools. This does not mean the book is designed specifically for the Australian community; the book’s ideas and suggestions can be applied to Islamic schools in the West, provided the schools are open to renewal and improvement.
Islamic Schooling in the West is a collection of work by contemporary educators and scholars who wish to both keep Islamic schools consistent with traditional Islamic philosophy and make them relevant and highly sought after. The desire to preserve traditional knowledge (2) within the Islamic paradigm and the need to be welcomed and accepted in Western society resulted in this practical manual on how to use modern teaching practice for the benefit of Islamic schools in the West. While some of the book’s chapters focus on specific educational experiences in Australia (for example, “Muslim Schools in Australia: Development and Transition” by Jan A. Ali and “The Importance of Islamic Studies from an Islamic Worldview in Australia” by Ibrahima Diallo), the majority of chapters can be applied to any Islamic school in a Western community. For example, the chapter “Islamic Pedagogy: Potential and Perspective” by Nadeem A. Memon and Mariam Alhashmi aims to challenge a common stereotype that Islamic education is about teaching religion only (169). Thus this book can be used in any Islamic school in the West – not just in Australia.
In general, Islamic Schooling in the West is a book designed to promote the renewal of Islamic education in the Western community. In the twenty-first century, it is necessary to not only keep the traditions and pass down centuries-old knowledge but also to take advantage of updated educational practice and use contemporary teaching and learning techniques to overcome the difficulties Islamic schools face in the West. This book will be interesting for both scholars and teachers.
The Embodied Playbook: Writing Practices of Student-Athletes
Date Reviewed: February 11, 2019
Michael Rifenburg begins and ends his book with the melancholy story of a student who didn’t make it. A freshman at Auburn University, “Trey” was a star on the football field, but a dud in his classes. Rifenburg – then a master’s student working as a tutor for athletes – tries to help him, but it doesn’t work. When the Auburn football team wins a national championship a few years later, Trey has already dropped out and disappeared.
Rifenburg’s book helps us understand what went wrong with Trey’s education. His ultimate argument – that writing teachers can better support student-athletes by understanding the embodied knowledge they bring from the playing field to the writing classroom – asks teachers to see the hidden talents in even those students labeled remedial. Rifenburg pushes past both the “dumb jock” stereotype and the tension that exists between academics and athletics in many colleges. He breaks down these misconceptions and boundaries to explain student-athletes as possessors of “a prior knowledge honed through bodily engagement with text and through writing practices that privilege the body as a central mode of meaning making” – a knowledge that has long gone unrecognized and untapped in the writing classroom, where the abstract practice of writing can seem disconnected from physical experience (5).
As a graduate of Division I sports powerhouses like Auburn and the University of Oklahoma – where he worked in a writing center dedicated to serving student-athletes – Rifenburg is well-poised to make this argument. He was embedded for a season with the University of North Georgia’s men’s basketball team, where he attended practices and interviewed players and coaches about how they make meaning on the field. He performs detailed readings of baffling football plays from Auburn’s thick playbooks. His conclusion is that student-athletes learn complex theoretical plays through physical engagement, with the implication that this kind of learning is multi-modal, exacting, and collaborative – and potentially transferable to the traditional writing classroom. He concludes that student-athletes learn their sport through three “cognitive processes”: spatial orientation (or understanding their bodies in relationship to other bodies on the field), haptic communication (or physical touch, as when a coach re-positions a player’s hips), and scaffolded situations (or the step-by-step process through which players build up to learning a complex play). For Rifenburg, these skills are not that different from what writers do: position their ideas in relationship to other peoples’ (or spatial orientation), understand writing as a communal activity that takes place within and between groups of people (or haptic communication), and build upon many early drafts to create longer, complex texts (or scaffolded situations). He ends by prompting the reader to ask how these cross-currents between writing and playing can be leveraged to support student-athlete writers in the classroom.
In the end, Rifenburg raises more questions than he answers. His description of the analogy between writing and playing sports is original and clear-sighted, but it remains only an analogy, as he stops short of offering strategies for putting this insight into action – an odd lacuna for a book that places so much emphasis on concrete, embodied experience. Indeed, I often found myself mindful of what is left out of Rifenburg’s book. While he displays deep familiarity with the field of writing studies, he does not acknowledge gender studies or disability studies, fields that are historically groundbreaking in exploring embodied meaning. Similarly, Rifenburg’s focus is exclusively on men playing high-profile, competitive, aggressive sports; do other types of athletes experience bodily knowledge differently? What of swimmers, runners, or dancers? Women athletes? Do student-athletes at small liberal arts colleges or community colleges – where athletics are not as prominent – experience a different kind of relationship between sports and academics? Rifenburg’s study opens the door for many important inquiries to follow. Ultimately, he provides a model for thinking about matter, mind, and underexplored student expertise.
Fundamentalists U: Keeping the Faith in American Higher Education
Date Reviewed: February 6, 2019
The aim of Fundamentalist U is to “offer a more complete history of fundamentalist and conservative evangelical higher education” including the daily functioning of evangelicalism. The schools studied include Wheaton University, Gordon College, Biola University, Moody Bible Institute, Bob Jones University, and Liberty University.
The task at all these schools is to balance academic legitimacy while maintaining reputations for religious purity. Laats defines the (evolving) distinctives of Christian fundamentalism and evangelicalism; outlines what it has meant for these schools to be “real” colleges or universities; demonstrates how the schools function as centers for both evangelicalism and fundamentalism; and examines the methods, models, and tools they have used to teach new generations of students.
The distinctive realm of Christian fundamentalism includes an interdenominational religious network of K-12 schools, colleges, universities, and Bible institutes dedicated to the promulgation of orthodox Christianity and to “remaining true to the supernatural truths of real religion as revealed once and for all in the pages of an inerrant Bible” (5). It means maintaining a belligerent stance against modernism, high levels of authority vested in personalities and charismatic leaders, a defense of Whiteness, and rigid positions on race which are elevated into tests of loyalty.
The distinctives of Christian fundamentalism (for example, conservatism) include a policing of all sexual behavior including homosexuality (which is framed as the ultimate sexual sin); traditional cultural attitudes around gender, family structure, and sexuality; and a constant monitoring of faculty and students regarding orthodox belief and action, in order, in part, to maintain their donor base, please fundamentalist parents, and ensure a regular flow of new students.
Laats examines evangelicalism’s evolution into neo-evangelicalism, characterized by a willingness to critically examine beliefs, preparing students for missionary work, and the grafting of small government, free-market ideologies onto theology. Changing ideas about civil rights and racial equality forced schools to admit that racial segregation was an important part of evangelical character, that racial integration was “anti-Christian perversion” and that, in the 1970s, a fear of miscegenation and opposition to school desegregation orders fueled the formation of thousands of new K-12 Christian schools. Laats also outlines how the six schools studied became important intellectual centers for religious and political conservatism.
The first unfortunate aspect of the book is that moderate black, brown, and white believers who are part of the evangelical tableau are not characterized. Second, a short section on what racism, anti-blackness, and white supremacy meant and still mean for African Americans is a much needed addition. That is, an acknowledgment that the toxic mix of equating whiteness with true Americanism, unqualified support of war, and the easy inclusion of conservative political orthodoxy with theology would have provided some ballast that most students and teachers would find useful pedagogically. Still, this is an excellent introductory text on (white) Christian fundamentalism and evangelicalism. It is well-researched, well-written, and a pleasure to read.
God's Quad: Small Faith Communities on Campus and Beyond
Date Reviewed: February 6, 2019
This edited volume of fifteen chapters and six appendices provides a thought-provoking study of Roman Catholic small group ministries on college campuses and in parish settings. The authors represent a diverse sample of laity and clergy who are serving in a variety of settings in Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, and South America. The two editors, Ahern and Malano, share a background in the International Movement of Catholic Students (IMCS – Pax Romana). Ahern currently serves as an assistant professor of religious studies at Manhattan College, and Malano is the pastoral administrator of the Newman Center at the University of Hawai’i – Manoa. They believe that the answer to the question, “where is God on the quad?” is “in small faith groups and student communities” (xvii).
God’s Quad includes an Introduction, three sections, and appendices. In the Introduction, Ahern and Malano explain their three goals for this text. They write, “first, we want to draw more attention to the needs and realities of the ‘student church’…. the second aspect of this project is to highlight some of the ‘good news’ stories and best practices of small student groups… [and] the third and perhaps most important aspect… is to provide concrete and practical tools for student leaders and chaplains to build and strengthen small student communities” (xx, xxi, xxii).
Part I, Revitalizing the Student Church, offers two chapters that examine the potential of small group ministries in light of Pope Francis’s writings on renewal. Ahern explores four key foundations – empowering, ecclesial, encompassing, and engaging – that he argues are necessary for effective student organizing and evangelizing. Listening is another important concept. Healey argues, “be a listening church first and a teaching church second… what if we really listened to youth and young adults – their concerns, needs, doubts, questions, criticisms, burning issues, hopes and dreams?” (17).
The five chapters in Part II present global perspectives on Catholic student small group communities in Italy, Peru, India, Mali, and Eastern Africa. Part III complements Part II’s global views with North American perspectives from Boston College, Duke, the University of Hawai’i, Manhattan College, Purdue, as well as models of small group ministry at Catholic Relief Services and the Newman Catholic Center of Sacramento. These multiple case studies examine a variety of settings and models that illustrate the appeal and flexibility of these approaches.
In addition, Karoue and Manola’s epilogue compares and contrasts many of the concepts in the book and brings it to a very successful conclusion. The editors also include five appendices with resources for small student groups including models for theological reflection.
Ahern and Malano are to be commended for producing an engaging volume that is consistently of high quality across the various chapters, a rarity in edited volumes, as well as for providing geographical and background diversity. This is a well written, insightful volume that deserves to be included in theological libraries and in the collections of anyone who works in campus ministry, small group ministry, or who teaches these subjects.
Control is Not a Four-Letter Word!: Establishing Positive Classroom Behavior for the Year in the First Five Days
Date Reviewed: January 23, 2019
Control is Not a Four Letter Word provides an abundance of helpful information for everyone from the first-time teacher to the veteran teacher. After forty years of classroom experience, Sarah Clancy-Ballard bridges the gap between learning how to teach and establishing classroom authority. She believes a teacher sets the tone for the entire year in the first five days of a new school year (xii). The resonating theme of the text is that classroom control emerges from preparation and “the depth of commitment the teacher has to control the class” (xiii). The author examines the importance of first impressions, organizing and utilizing the written word, time management, and behavior management.
Clancy-Ballard’s classroom teaching experience leads her to believe the secret to classroom management is a teacher’s ability to control their classroom when students feel that the teacher cares for them on a personal level (6). The author notes facial expression and remembering student names are the most important things a teacher can to do to set the tone and communicate interest in students as individual people. She values relationship building both inside and outside of the classroom as a vital part of a teacher’s educational philosophy. Clancy-Ballard stresses that teachers need to form relationships with janitorial staff, fellow teachers, and administrative staff, and encourages new teachers to watch “veteran teachers: what works and does not, and how it changes with each principal” (33). She provides a detailed look at how to organize the classroom space, utilize textbooks, handouts, and instructional boards, and create a daily classroom routine. The book covers dozens of examples of routine-driven agendas, inspiring readers to “establish a routine for the beginning of class” (46).
Clancy-Ballard equips the reader with clear guidelines for implementing evaluation methods and time management within the classroom. She associates teacher time management and student assessment to classroom behavior management, pointing once again to the importance of preparation. The author emphasizes that “the student’s attitude about himself or herself and you is directly related to how he or she perceives they are doing in class,” thus connecting the teacher’s behavior to the student’s achievements (55). She encourages teachers to take inventory of their strengths and weaknesses, understanding how their “behavior in class will directly impact the behavior” of their students (66). Clancy-Ballard proposes a benevolent dictatorship approach in the classroom – treating students as intelligent individuals who have ownership of classroom management. By beginning the school year with clear expectations and explaining why the guidelines are instrumental to the class’s success, the teacher can establish control through preparation characterized by benevolent dictatorship (71).
Control is Not a Four Letter Word is primarily written for first-time elementary school teachers; however, it can be a useful reference guide for teachers from elementary through high school. This book is a useful asset for school principals to utilize with teachers for discussion about the numerous reflection questions. This could help ensure appropriate application rises from knowledge.
Professors at the undergraduate level, will find Control is Not a Four Letter Word a helpful tool to assist senior-level students as they leave the classroom and begin student teaching. During the first half of the school year, student teachers would benefit by using the text’s key concepts to observe and evaluate the lead teacher and their level of classroom control. By the second half of the year, student teachers would be well versed in the key concepts, and thus prepared to apply Sarah Clancy-Ballard’s methods in the classroom.
Hitting Pause: 65 Lecture Breaks to Refresh and Reinforce Learning
Date Reviewed: January 23, 2019
Timing is everything. It’s true for comedians and, according to Gail Taylor Rice, also for professors. Great comedians can hold an audience’s attention for over an hour because the attack-and-retreat nature of human attention. They know about volume control; high volume must be properly balanced with lower volume. Fast tempos must be tempered with slower tempos.
In the book Hitting Pause, Rice makes a compelling argument in favor of recognizing and designing classes in light of the rhythms of learning. Professors often suffer from the cognitive bias of "the curse of knowledge." This malady makes it nearly impossible for experts to put themselves in the shoes of someone who is learning things for the first time. A result of this curse is that it’s nearly impossible to appreciate how much time is needed for comprehending material.
Rice suggests that learners "might wish that there was a pause button connected to their college professors" (4). The pause button is a great metaphor. I think this idea could also be expanded as a highlighter pen for the lecturer. The professor needs to frequently slow down and make sure that students understand the importance of certain ideas.
The book rightly challenges the status quo of today’s university classroom as a place where professors read PowerPoint slides in darkened rooms while the gravitational pull of more interesting things like Instagram claim the student’s valuable and limited attention. Rice suggests that well-timed pausing can introduce the right kind of novelty and reflection to pull students out of their penchant for succumbing to time-wasting distractions.
Many educators believe the lecture is dead, and good professors will not use them. Lectures, however, aren’t necessarily bad; only bad lectures are bad. Rice offers solid research to give professors tested strategies for designing effective lectures that are punctuated with well-timed opportunities for reflection and emphasis.
According to Rice, starting a class with a pause invites students to become emotionally invested in learning. Again, we are so busy planning what we will teach that we forget to see things from a student’s perspective. An intentional pause forces us to think of starting a class like a pilot preparing for take-off. A good pilot will dutifully attend to a check-list to make sure that the plane is in good condition; teachers also need to consciously attend to their students’ current ability to learn.
The first half of Hitting Pause provides solid research about the pedagogical advantages of pausing. The second half contains numerous examples of starting pauses, mid-pauses, and closing pauses. Each example is categorized by appropriate setting and characteristics for use. The settings for use are divided into small classroom lecture, clinical or laboratory presentation, one-on-one session, conference presentations/in-service education, keynote/large-group presentation, course/unit, and online learning module. The characteristics include: affirming/positive, physical/movement, activates prior knowledge/experience, focuses/refocuses, creates community, generates curiosity, metacognitive, reviews, celebrates, commits to action, and provides a bookend. There are a great variety of examples which can be adapted to work in different settings.
Overall, this is a valuable book for teachers who are hoping to be more learning-centered.
Emerging Trends in Cyber Ethics and Education
Date Reviewed: January 18, 2019
This edited volume is built around the belief that educators can no longer ignore issues of cyberethics in either the content they teach or the tools they use to teach it. Over the past few decades the internet, in its various manifestations, has integrated itself seamlessly into our lives to the point that questions about the responsible use of digital tools are unavoidable. Furthermore, most students are now “digital natives,” born into the digital age with no memory of life before the internet. This reality makes it all the more critical to teach cybercitizenship and responsible internet use in the classroom.
Emerging Trends in Cyberethics and Education covers an impressively diverse range of topics and contexts in the course of eleven essays. It treats both K-12 and university-level educational contexts and considers classes that take place strictly online as well as those that meet face to face. The essays fall into three broad categories based on how they approach questions of cyberethics in education. First, there are essays that examine the ethical implications of using educational technology in the classroom, including questions of inclusivity and equal access, the quality of education made possible by digital tools and online environments, plagiarism and intellectual property rights, and discerning the accuracy of information available on the web. Second, there are essays that assess the role of educators in responding to challenges students face in online environments outside the classroom, cyberbullying being the most salient example. Finally, there are essays that consider how educators can teach students to be ethical users of the internet, social media, and other digital tools. Nevertheless, it is consistently clear throughout the book that these are not separate questions; the overarching concern among the authors is the cultivation of “cybercitizens” who can better navigate the complex promises and challenges of life in the digital age. The way teachers model responsibility and thoughtfulness in their use of digital tools, the steps they take in responding to violations of their students’ safety and privacy outside the classroom, and their efforts to explicitly teach cyberethics all play a role in this cultivation.
Educators in all contexts and subject matter can make use of this volume and the challenging questions it raises; the theology and religious studies classroom is no exception. Religion classes are particularly well situated to cultivate students as citizens because the subject challenges students to critically reflect on their own beliefs and to understand those with very different ways of thinking and acting in the world. Teachers in these subjects must now consider how, in an era in which knowledge and human interaction is increasingly mediated through digital platforms, one can integrate questions about cyberethics and digital citizenship into course design. As the editors of this volume assert, “these discussions should no longer be optional” (xv).
Interreligious/Interfaith Studies: Defining a New Field
Date Reviewed: January 18, 2019
During a job interview over a decade ago for a position in Christian theology, I mentioned how I incorporate non-Christian texts when teaching Christology (the study of Christ). One member on the committee was nonplussed, demanding an explanation. A rare occurrence then, it would be quite shocking now, as the emerging field of interreligious (or interfaith) studies is becoming more common. What exactly, though, are its methods, aims, definition, scope, areas of expertise, value, strengths, and limitations? Judged by the slash in this book’s title, much still needs to be formulated. This collection of eighteen essays (and an introduction by the editors) provides a solid foundation for furthering such attempts. The book is the fruit of a 2016 conference at California Lutheran University. Part One maps the field, and here the diversity of US colleges and universities augment the breadth and flexibility of definitions provided. Most contributors to this book prefer the term “interreligious” over “interfaith” (I prefer the latter, but much depends on how you define faith and religious).
A strong current in the essays is pragmatic: seeing the benefits an interfaith pedagogy can bring to a range of disciplines in the humanities – raising the profile of religious studies, and religious literacy, more generally. Some contributors in Part One, however, seem constricted by the academy’s theology / religious studies debate and argue about where interfaith / interreligious studies best belong, an argument that requires one to believe in the rigidity of such departmental boundaries in the first place.
Part Two examines interfaith pedagogical philosophies and specific curricula. Professors and future educators (at all levels) will benefit from how the contributors employ specific texts, classroom activities, and assignments. I am already thinking of how I can use some of these ideas in my World Religions module; for example, adding a more expansive sensorial list of preparatory questions for students before they visit religious sites and places of significance.
Part Three focuses on the challenges and benefits this field provides for students and educators; for example, how studying anti-racist approaches or ecological issues through an interfaith lens develops a more expansive, nuanced picture, while also encouraging deeper interfaith participation and engagement. Finally, Part Four (my favorite section overall) presents the value of interfaith studies beyond the classroom, with essays on its positive impact for religious leaders, for those in prisons, for those seeking to enhance secular careers (because of their multifaith literacy) – and civically in promoting a truly interfaith and pluralist society. On this last note, Dublin (my adopted hometown as a New Yorker) was the first major city to publish an interfaith charter. This book, however, is US-focussed (or limited, depending on one’s view): it could seem to the uninitiated that the field is primarily of relevance to the United States. Hopefully a second volume is planned to expand the focus beyond the confines of the fifty states, and not just to Europe, but globally.
By the way, in 2019 (and beyond), if anyone is asked how to teach Christology (or a similar topic), I suggest you bring in as many faith-positions as possible – that is where the fields of theology and religious studies are heading.
A Leader's Guide to Competency-Based Education: From Inception to Implementation
Date Reviewed: January 18, 2019
Recognizing the growing interest in competency-based education (CBE) in U.S. higher education, but also the lack of shared standards or practices around it, three experts produced this guide for other educators who are contemplating a move to (or revision of) this type of instructional program. The authors help those who are enthusiastic about CBE avoid pitfalls by offering practical guidance. They strike a cautionary tone throughout, beginning their Introduction with the sobering reality that “there are relatively few schools that have been able to move from interest to implementation” (1).
One of the reasons for caution may be that even a definition of CBE is hard to come by. The authors joke that “if you were to ask ten people to define CBE, you would likely hear ten different answers” (2). Instead they offer five “hallmarks” of CBE: (1) “time is variable, and learning is fixed”; (2) there is “required demonstration of mastery or proficiency” which is (3) “determined by rigorous assessments”; CBE is (4) “focused on the student learning journey” and is (5) “offered in a flexible, self-paced approach” (3-4). Many educational programs would claim one or more of these hallmarks, but taken together, they represent a distinct departure from traditional education. CBE’s most famous feature may be the way it changes the relationship between learning and time by replacing the credit hour with continuous direct assessment. As the authors demonstrate, however, this change complicates everything from the transcript to faculty workload to accreditation. CBE’s intense focus on individualized student learning paths and assessment (“assessment on steroids,” as I once heard) is also significant because it changes what learners actually do to learn and what teachers do to teach. Traditional faculty roles are likely to be unbundled, “reassembled” (89), and redefined – or replaced – by roles like coach, tutor, and psychometrician.
Given the challenge of defining CBE and the guide’s relative brevity, it would benefit from some case studies, at least for readers who are still trying to gain a clear picture of what a CBE program looks like and why an institution might adopt one in the first place. Cases would presumably also help CBE adopters appreciate why other institutions made the choices they did. The book reads instead like an insider’s guide.
The book’s best feature, accordingly, is its soup-to-nuts review of issues that educators must consider when designing competency-based education. Chapters address institutional culture, program design, assessment strategies, staffing and business models, and approval seeking. Readers come away fully aware that CBE is not just a different teaching approach but a potentially radical disruption to education delivery.
What is College Reading?
Date Reviewed: January 18, 2019
Co-published by CSU Open Press
What is college reading? As college teachers we may assume that it is a process of comprehension, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. But, as this edited volume overwhelmingly demonstrates, that is often not what it is for college students. How then can college teachers help students practice advanced reading skills? The problem is compounded by the fact that even college teachers who actively want to encourage students to read may unwittingly discourage advanced reading skills by, for example, giving reading quizzes in class (as discussed by Mary Lou Odom in this volume). This edited volume is a great resource for anyone wishing to engage questions about how to improve college reading.
Some chapters provide useful practical suggestions. For example, Chris Anson shows how to formulate reading log prompts that require students to engage with the underlying ideas in the reading. Other chapters describe exercises such as in-class annotations (Davies) and says-does columns (Huffman). The volume also contains several insightful discussions of other factors influencing college reading that are more difficult to address, but no less important. For example, some of the authors observe that reading, which we may think of as an individual activity, is a “complex sociolinguistic task” (Hollander et al., 59), and “a collective and holistic enterprise” (Maloy et al., 71). Brian Gogan provides a thoughtful reflection on reading in relation to “threshold concepts” (concepts that students need to grasp in order to move forward in a given disciplinary context). College teachers may use these insights to make reading part of building an intellectual community in the class.
The chapter by Young and Potter discusses how students are taught to read in K-12, where students are commonly given a decontextualized passage and then tested on their ability to understand inferences at the level of sentences or paragraphs. These students also commonly learn that for each question asked about the text, there is one correct answer in a multiple-choice format. They receive comparably little training in the advanced reading skills required for college, such as learning how to place a particular text into a connected web of texts that make up an ongoing disciplinary conversation, or asking their own higher-order questions and working with others’ questions that do not have a single “correct” answer. When students start college, therefore, they will commonly think of reading as looking for answers in a decontextualized excerpt; they are not accustomed to looking instead for interesting, productive problems in a web of texts (as also discussed in the afterword by Sullivan and Tinberg).
Other authors discuss the importance of instructors connecting reading with writing, drawing on both the writing-to-read and reading-to-write conversations (Anson; Freedman). Some chapters refer to the by now widely known finding that the majority of students do not do what their instructors think they do when completing a research paper assignment, and how to address the implications of this for formulating new types of writing assignments (Horning; Young and Potter). Related to this, Laura Davies points out in her chapter that students who write poorly are usually referred to the university’s writing center, rather than asked about their reading skills, which underlie their writing. Several chapters also touch on how reading might be given a stronger institutional footing through, for example, being explicitly incorporated into writing-across-the-curriculum initiatives (Odom), linking courses (Sturtz et al.), or providing a reading-across-the-curriculum community on campus (Hollander et al.).
In sum, as Leonora Freedman observes in her chapter, stronger responses to the problem of how to teach college reading skills can lead to increased student engagement as well as increased faculty morale. This edited volume is a very good place to start. It deserves a wide readership among college faculty and administrators, and this goal will no doubt be made easier by the fact that the publishers have made it free to download at wac.colostate.edu.
Optimizing Open and Distance Learning in Higher Education Institutions
Date Reviewed: January 18, 2019
What impact does education have upon a nation’s economy? Can education be used as a global instrument to overcome obstacles and foster change? These are just a few of the pivotal questions discussed throughout this resource that targets researchers and educators alike by introducing them to new theories and research concepts. This resource’s scholarly references and figures provide a broad perspective on trends and standards in higher education. The collection examines developing areas across the globe, the impact of initiatives on nations’ standings, and the connection between knowledge, economy, and technological capabilities in society. More importantly, this publication provides solutions for optimizing open and distance learning in higher education. It explores various developing nation’s policies regarding distance and open learning programs, obstacles and opportunities in higher education, as well as technological sustainability.
Optimizing Open and Distance Learning in Higher Education Institutions discusses how the “United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) creates policies for leadership skills, partnerships, and sustainable development” in developing areas (UNESCO, 2015). The research recognizes education as a global tool for tackling challenges and achieving change based on policies. It describes how development policies encourage higher education institutions to uniquely customize open and distance learning to suit individual growth needs and explains how customization then allows flexibility that combats cultural and socio-economic barriers. In developing nations, where continual changes in education and training rely upon such adaptability in education, open and distance learning can help to stabilize the economy and create a solid infrastructure.
Global cooperation creates a new dimension of challenges and opportunities in higher education. Learners are exposed to new techniques to improve skills and gain knowledge through open and distance learning by shifting toward learner-centered education and self-directed learning. Various contributors from around the globe form a fluid collection of writing grounded in research specific to open learning, distance learning, and e-learning.
This reference is highly recommended for researchers, educators, and students who seek to advance technology and education globally. This work explores gaps in theory and practice and offers recommendations for improvement. The different chapters analyze: e-learning, open and distance learning and education, higher education, quality assurance, trends, sustainability, and integration. Subtopics identify the services provided, access to education, management and capacity, technology equality, knowledge-based development, and sustainable growth in education. Further themes stress limitations, acquisition of “on the job” training components needed for employment, skills and technical proficiencies, and policy and research for technology integration. The collection not only details open and distance learning in higher education institutions in developing nations and efforts to overcome certain restrictions, but also creates polices for an educational path forward to reach goals of equality and sustainability.
Supporting Multiculturalism in Open and Distance Learning Spaces
Date Reviewed: January 18, 2019
Globalization directly affects all spheres of human activity. Higher education is no exception. Teachers are encouraged to engage emerging technologies and devices in the practice of their teaching with the hope of advancing student learning. The popularity of distance learning is one example of globalization’s reach. Anyone with an Internet connection can pursue higher education. Boundaries and barriers to education are easily crossed through Internet technology. Cooperation across international higher educational boundaries fosters new cooperation among faculty and raises questions about what connotes learning in diverse cultural contexts. Supporting Multiculturalism in Open and Distance Learning Spaces by Elif Toprak and Evrim Genc Kumtepe provides a detailed overview of contemporary cultural issues and complexities in distance education. The book helps teachers, researchers, scholars, and policymakers approach global education from a variety of cultural perspectives.
The book is divided into three sections. Section 1, “Cultural Issues in Management and Global Distance Education,” describes the practical experience the authors gained when working in open or distance education environments. For example, this section covers such topics as the influence of gender on educational policies, the role of quality assurance, and the relationship between cultural perspectives and efficient distance learning. Section 2, “Cultural Issues in Theory and Technology,” looks at close cooperation between education, culture, and technology, starting from the rise of the modern digital era to contemporary contexts. It emphasizes how important it is for the educators to “effectively internalize the premodern, modern, and postmodern eras” (1) or risk either losing a necessary contact with their students or misjudging their conduct and aspirations. The important role of virtual culture and culturally-sensitive instructional design principles is foregrounded in Section 3, “Cultural Issues in Instructional Design and Communication.” For example, “Culturally Sensitive Instructional Design Principles for Online Learning Environments,” explores different components of culture in the learning space, analyzes Hofstede’s Theory of Cultural Dimensions, and evaluates other cultural frameworks and their application in distance learning.
Supporting Multiculturalism in Open and Distance Learning Spaces is organized to share experiences and find efficient ways to nurture multiculturalism in learning environments. The book will interest both practitioners and scholars as it contains useful information on theoretical approaches to open and distance learning spaces, analysis of relevant studies, and practical advice on how to utilize various aspects of global education. The three sections with their specific foci enable readers to quickly surf the book without having to read every chapter. Each section contains a detailed reference list of literature, which is also an essential benefit of the book.
Designing a Motivational Syllabus: Creating a Learning Path for Student Engagement
Date Reviewed: January 18, 2019
This book helps teachers think through the many functions and possibilities of the course syllabus, particularly as seen through the eyes of students. The authors advise thinking of the syllabus as a motivational tool rather than a punishing list of policies or a repository for contractual language; moreover, they suggest embedding more visual tools and images as well as more explicit rationales for assignments, even down to the individual class level. All of what they propose seems simple and reasonable, even for busy faculty. The authors clearly aim to help faculty see the excitement of creating “a course design tool that maps out the learning path for students” (19), and their suggestions will prove most useful to those beginning teaching who want to break out of the graduate school reading list mode and to those further on in careers, particularly those who might have changed (or want to change) their teaching strategies.
Harrington and Thomas write in an accessible and encouraging style throughout. After a brief consideration of the history and purpose of the syllabus in Chapter 1, they address the following issues in turn: applying course design principles with an emphasis on backward design; key components of any syllabus; policies and other boilerplate; issues of design; techniques for getting feedback and evaluating the syllabus; and ways of using the syllabus beyond its traditional roles. They helpfully include a sample syllabus as well as a syllabus checklist and sample grading rubrics. They lay out the main types of syllabi (coverage-based and activity-based) and argue for the superiority of a backward design that works from goals for students rather than from content or activities. They also champion Fink’s taxonomy of significant learning over Bloom’s, a distinction without a difference to readers who steer clear of learning taxonomies.
Many of the suggestions here seem more suited to a quick tutorial than a full-length book, particularly for seasoned faculty. But the biggest surprise is that this book scarcely addresses online learning management systems, an essential part of many courses that has, in some cases, completely replaced the single-document syllabus. Omitting this technology leaves a huge gap. This book would be greatly improved with a consideration of how the purpose and form of the syllabus has changed with the rise of learning management systems and how the principles described here apply to syllabus design in that context.
Harrington and Thomas rightly see the syllabus as a document that communicates expectations while explaining why the work of the course matters. Much of their focus is on tone and balance: even subtle changes in language and a careful curation of policies, such as those related to student behavior in class, can pay dividends in making students feel more positive and motivated to take on the work of the course. Although this book is not specific in any way to religious studies or theology, any teacher can benefit from a reminder of ways to improve this most standard of course materials.
How Humans Learn: The Science and Stories behind Effective College Teaching
Date Reviewed: January 18, 2019
How Humans Learn argues that our natural systems for learning are connected to human evolution and psychological development, and a better understanding of the way humans learn can help determine what will and will not work in the classroom. Instead of presenting evidence of why a teaching or learning strategy works, Eyler identifies five patterns of learning drawn from psychology, evolutionary biology, and neuroscience to explain why students learn more when certain techniques are chosen over others: curiosity, sociality, emotion, authenticity, and failure. He draws on seminal works in the scholarship of teaching and learning such as that of Bain (What the Best College Teachers Do, 2004) and Fink (Creating Significant Learning Experiences, 2013), and his patterns overlap with principles of learning identified by other scholars (Ambrose et al., How Learning Works, 2010; Davis & Arend, Facilitating Seven Ways of Learning, 2013).
In each chapter Eyler offers examples of classroom practice from various disciplines in Western higher education and provides helpful “key takeaways” that summarize major points and highlight practical suggestions. For example, to stimulate curiosity we can incorporate inquiry, discussion-based pedagogies, and backward design that structures courses from the outset so that every element is tied to an essential question that our course helps students answer (Wiggins & McTighe, Understanding by Design, 2005). To promote sociality, we can use collaborative learning strategies, peer instruction, storytelling, and role-immersion games such as Reacting to the Past. To ensure that emotions guide thinking rather than undermine it, we can demonstrate the relevance of the material and embody “pedagogical caring” by giving frequent feedback, having high expectations for students, and coming to class prepared. To encourage an authentic learning experience, we can allow students to engage in applied problem solving, incorporate experiential and service learning, and bring our own research into the classroom. Finally, we can allow students opportunities to fail when the stakes are low, then give them support and guidance to understand from failure and cultivate growth mindsets, grit, agency, and other resiliency strategies.
Those fascinated by evolutionary developmental biology will likely enjoy the entire book, while others may gravitate towards particular chapters that address topics of interest. Eyler mentions religion only once in the book, during discussion of the “emotional trauma” that can result when students alter knowledge structures or “mental models” tied to their personal beliefs and deeply held convictions (192), but his discussion of “cognitive realism” – when the brain registers a situation as being realistic – also poses interesting challenges for instructors of religion (154). Theological education affords various types of immersive experiences for students, but what sorts of “authentic activities” and “immersions” might instructors of religious studies offer students, especially those who teach in public colleges and universities? Although there are clearly opportunities to apply tools and methodologies from the study of religion to conduct field research or wrestle with problems of the world (155), what characteristics would make other assignments or activities “compellingly” real (157) without being religious?
Interreligious Pedagogy: Reflections and Applications in Honor of Judith A. Berling
Date Reviewed: January 17, 2019
In 2016, former students of Judith A. Berling, renowned for her interreligious pedagogy, held a symposium in honour of her retirement from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California. This collection of essays is the result. Readers looking for an introduction to Berling’s pedagogy are advised to consult Berling’s seminal work, Understanding Other Religious Worlds: A Guide to Interreligious Education (Orbis, 2004) – affectionately referred to by her students as the “Purple Book.” In this volume, readers will find a wide-ranging set of contexts within which Berling’s students have creatively applied and extended Berling’s method, especially her five “threads” of theological learning.
The seven essays are introduced by the editors and bookended by a preface and concluding reflections by Berling. In her reflections, Berling discusses the essays in an order that may be a more productive way of reading them: chapters 5 and 2 (issues in teaching today’s undergraduates); 7 and 4 (extending her pedagogy beyond the religion or theology classroom); 6 and 3 (attending to the social process of ‘othering’); and 8 (a meta-reflection on conceptual frames and assumptions). Preceding each essay, oddly for a book, is an abstract and list of key words. A remnant of the editing process seems to appear in the last paragraph on page 73.
While very diverse, the essays all attend to the importance of negotiating differences and crossing boundaries. Examples from the specific pedagogical experiences of the writers abound; while most deal with theology and religion, particularly within an Asian context and usually from a Christian setting, some essays boldly address the non-religious and secular, or areas outside the discipline of religious studies such as health sciences. The writers also demonstrate Berling’s emphasis on student-centred and collaborative learning, and the importance of the teacher “getting out of the way” (see Berling’s influential essay by the same title in Teaching Theology and Religion 1.1  31-35).
A number of essays stand out. Emily Wu (chapter 4) shows that gathering oral histories can paradoxically silence voices, and advocates a stance of “cultural humility” rather than aspiring to “cultural competence.” Elizabeth Gordon (chapter 7) suggests “spirituality” and “wisdom sharing,” instead of “religion” and “interreligious dialog,” as mediating language to include the secular in articulating traditions of human flourishing. Joanne Doi (chapter 6) creatively demonstrates the pedagogical value of pilgrimage (in this case to the second World War site of a Japanese concentration camp in the United States).
Berling underlines the urgency of the pedagogical task outlined in this book: “Understanding and negotiating difference, creating conversations and relationships across boundaries of difference, is one of the most important challenges in our diverse world” (130). Her students have bountifully indicated how they have each manifested this urgent task in their varied careers due to Berling’s profound influence. “Berling’s vocation, teaching, and scholarship have had a ripple effect in widening circles, indeed building the foundations of cross-cultural and intercultural understanding” (87).
Protocols in the Classroom: Tools to Help Students Read, Write, Think, and Collaborate
Date Reviewed: January 17, 2019
Protocols in the Classroom is a helpful introductory handbook on “ways to structure a discussion so that it supports the learning of all participants” (2). It considers tools that foster students’ critical thinking, evaluative and discussion skills, and offers examples of each. Admittedly, ten of the eleven examples given are set in primary and secondary education. Even so, each chapter outlines the implementation of protocol pedagogy in different contexts, including higher education.
The first section provides an overview for choosing “the right protocol for your goals and the needs of your students” (6). These first three chapters do not directly address the utilization of protocols to enhance classroom instruction: rather, they convey the benefits and pitfalls of employing these tools. Consequently, this section is invaluable for those new to protocol pedagogy. For others, it simply provides a refresher course. In both cases, the table on pages sixteen, seventeen, and eighteen is worth perusing. The table offers a snapshot of every protocol in section two. The contributors must have placed the table after the first chapter to encourage readers to better understand protocol theory, but because the figure is the quickest way to choose a protocol, its placement is not always convenient.
The second section devotes a chapter to each of the eleven protocols. Every chapter follows the same format: “an introduction, a detailed set of steps, and tips for using the protocol with students” (7). These succinct descriptions of the protocols are suitable for quick reference and class preparation – the longest chapter is only four pages. However, their brevity results in a lack of critique of these tools. For example, the evaluative portion of the Microlab protocol only highlights the “positive reflections on the experience” (54) and does not address where the protocol could be improved. Such omissions are a missed opportunity to help educators better understand the challenges of implementing protocols in their own instruction.
The third section “provides resources for deepening and expanding your work” after “you have gained a reasonable comfort level… using protocols” (8). This implies that these chapters should be avoided until readers are at ease using protocols in everyday classroom discussion. Yet, the troubleshooting chapter offers strategies for addressing “the common challenges… students experience as they develop facility with protocols” (114). While not tailored to each specific protocol, this chapter offers suggestions for adapting them to the needs of students. In this sense, these concluding chapters address many of the complications of using protocols.
Protocols in the Classroom effectively describes the preparation and implementation of eleven different protocols in classroom instruction. As a handbook, it succeeds in quickly conveying the important steps in employing different protocols. However, for educators well-versed in the use of these tools, the brevity of each chapter does not offer space for the evaluation or improvement of protocols. This makes Protocols in the Classroom a helpful introductory text, but not an advanced handbook on the efficacy of protocol pedagogy.
Teaching Religion Using Technology in Higher Education
Date Reviewed: December 14, 2018
This edited volume – the first of its kind – is incredibly valuable for teachers interested in integrating particular technologies into their classrooms. Among the hundreds of scholarly articles and dozens of books about how to incorporate technology into teaching and learning, such as Michelle Miller’s Minds Online (2016, Harvard University Press) and José Antonio Bowen’s Teaching Naked (2012, Jossey-Bass), some articles have focused specifically on the teaching and learning of religion. For example, recent scholarship has shown how 360-degree cameras and virtual reality headsets allow students to become visually immersed in distant religious environments, facilitating an empathetic understanding and ethnographic analysis of religious place, ritual, and behavior (Johnson, “Using virtual reality,” Teaching Theology and Religion 21: 228-241). Another article looks at how social media technologies might increase student engagement and active learning, for example, when students tweet about experiences of martyrdom from the perspective of the martyr, the crowd, and the persecutors, and compare types of media used to communicate from a position of power and political or social vulnerability (Warren, “Teaching with Technology,” Teaching Theology and Religion 19 : 309-319).
However, this is the first edited volume on the topic that explicitly addresses those who teach religion in higher education, and as someone who studies digital technologies and uses them for various pedagogical purposes, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I appreciated the diversity of technologies discussed, and the candor with which scholars acknowledged that not all technologies enhance or improve student learning. Richard Newton discusses strategies for using mobile devices as learning tools, such as providing backchannels (otherwise known as “live-tweeting”) for students to discuss and address questions while watching in-class films. David Kniep has students create podcasts interviewing religious practitioners, describing how the course challenged or deepened their prior understanding, and connecting scriptural texts to their contemporary world. Renate Hood argues that student response systems can increase student motivation, enhance classroom interaction, and lower students’ apprehension about engaging with religious, ethical, and personal topics. Kristy Slominski shows how clickers can encourage students to take stances on complex religious issues and acknowledge the range of perspectives within the classroom. Kyle Oliver discusses a variety of new media tools to help students visualize sacred sites, including virtual reality technologies such as Google Expeditions, Sites in 3D, and Google Earth, and online videos and picture repositories such as Sacred Destinations and Folkways.
Scholars also address how to leverage social media practices in and out of the classroom. Rob O’Lynn emphasizes the relational quality of social media. Brooke Lester identifies both positive and negative outcomes of social media use: while it can help students form connections and communities, it limits anonymity and sometimes subjects users to online abuse. Anthony Sweat shows how blended learning can help students achieve lower-order outcomes outside of class so that they can focus on higher-order outcomes of analyzing, evaluating, and creating in the classroom. Christopher Heard and Steven Rouse demonstrate that integrating interactive fiction stories did not increase motivation among students, suggesting that not all technology adaptation will improve learning outcomes. Finally, contributors explore ways that technology can expand the classroom, for example, through virtual guest lectures with experts in the field or through massive online open seminars.
Mentoring: Biblical, Theological, and Practical Perspectives
Date Reviewed: December 13, 2018
In Mentoring: Biblical, Theological, and Practical Perspectives, Thompson and Murchison provide a thoughtful collection of essays on Christian mentorship. As a whole, this collection contributes to the growing body of scholarly work on mentoring by offering “windows on mentoring that are biblically grounded, theologically informed, communally diverse, and generationally attentive” (3). The book is divided into four parts, with each of the fourteen chapters highlighting the twenty-one contributors’ unique analyses and insights on mentoring and being mentored.
Part 1 surveys biblical perspectives on mentoring. As such, it begins with Brueggemann’s consideration of mentoring practices present throughout the Old Testament and concludes with a posthumous essay by Bartlett on passages in the New Testament that help to shed light on contemporary understandings of the term “mentor.”
Part 2 examines the nature and task of mentoring from a variety of theological perspectives and methods. Drawing on the fields of pastoral ministry (Currie), homiletics (Long), ethics (Miles), and feminism (Rigby), the authors provide a range of mentoring models and resources that underscore the importance of positive mentoring relationships and practices in the formation of strong Christian leaders. On this Rebekah Miles writes, “Christian mentoring should include discussion of the ways that our professional goals contribute to the larger goals of Christian life” (83).
Part 3, “Diverse National and International Communities of Mentoring,” explores Christian mentoring practices as shaped by particular contexts, including race, gender, and ethnicity. Those who wish to think critically about dominant systems of oppression, such as racism, xenophobia, and sexism, and to foster concrete practices for inclusive mentoring within biblical-theological frameworks will find a wealth of resources in the essays by Pollard, Cannon, De La Rosa, and Kwok. Of particular note is Canon’s proposal that womanist mentoring is a vocational call, “to do the work your soul must have” (123). This section also includes an historical essay by Johnson on mentoring in the Roman Catholic tradition.
Finally, Part 4 contains three coauthored chapters that discuss mentoring as a mutually supportive practice that occurs across generations. Ottati and Hinson-Hasty’s essay, “Mentoring toward a Humane Disposition, Attitude, and Imagination,” describes mentoring relationships between the teachers and student, while Nishioka and Lowry and Wardlaw and Murray’s essays consider youth and cross-generational mentoring, respectively
The book closes with an afterword by Marty that skillfully and poetically weaves together the insights and value of this collection of essays. He writes, “It is impossible to speak properly about mentoring in entirely impersonal and theoretical terms. Mentoring is and is about a profound personal dimension of scholarly and pastoral work” (223).
Those working in theological schools or departments and in Christian ministry will find this collection of essays to be a valuable resource on the virtue and art of mentoring. The strength of this volume lies not only in its biblical and theological reflections on mentoring, but also in the range of everyday lived experiences and perspectives from which the authors write.
Creativity & Critique in Online Learning: Exploring and Examining Innovations in Online Pedagogy
Date Reviewed: December 13, 2018
The growth of online education prompts a need for qualitative research about student learning outcomes and teaching methodologies. It also requires the production of specific educational material that is consonant with this educational medium. In addition, practical advice for online educational methods is warranted. This book is a collection of articles that address a range of concerns within online education. The authors do a good job in the critical assessment of the current possibilities that online education provides. It also invites readers to engage in complex discussions about online education in the future.
Creativity and Critique in Online Learning is divided into two parts. The first part is concerned with teaching practices. In particular, it examines available online teaching instruments and places online education in a broader context. This section of the book contributes a detailed analysis of online forums, discusses ways to make online teams work effectively, and explores how popular social networks, such as Facebook, contribute to informal learning. It also discusses what role multisensory learning has in online space, how to use all the senses in online education, as well as how to nurture creativity and critical assessment. This section is of interest to teachers and students alike because it looks at practical aspects of online education and gives useful advice on how to use them productively.
The second part of the book focuses on particular online teaching challenges and how to effectively engage them. Online academic cheating, its growth, and various ways to fight this phenomenon are addressed. In addition, it provides help for how to build successful relationships, instill values, and cherish identity in the online teaching community. This section also takes a closer look at massive open online courses and their drawbacks, both explicit and implicit. One of the most interesting articles in this part is “The Move to Online Teaching: A Head of Department’s Perspective” by Diane Preston. This chapter invites readers to examine online education through the eyes of an experienced educator who is concerned about both the teaching process and institutional concerns.
Overall, Creativity and Critique in Online Learning is recommended for a broad audience of educators. It contains useful information for teachers who are currently involved in online teaching, scholars, and policymakers in online education, as well as teachers practicing a traditional form of education and looking for interesting and innovative ways to make their subjects more appealing to contemporary students. One of the main pros of this book is that it does not try to present online education as a modern teaching panacea or the only choice for education in the future. On the contrary, the book presents online teaching in an unbiased manner. While it certainly praises the advantages and possibilities online education has for all participants of the teaching process, it also reveals existing flaws and addresses specific dangers of online education.
Free Speech on Campus
Date Reviewed: December 13, 2018
In Free Speech on Campus, Sigal R. Ben-Porath outlines her focus at the outset: “I offer a framework for thinking about free speech controversies both inside and outside the classroom, shifting the focus away from disputes about legality and harm and toward the practical considerations linked to education and inclusion. I attempt to provide readers with strategies to de-escalate tensions and negotiate highly charged debates surrounding trigger warnings, safe spaces, and speech that verges on hate” (3).
In order to accomplish her task Ben-Porath uses the first four chapters of her book to describe the “current tools” used to protect free speech and the “common myths” that cloud leaders’ understanding of the problem (7-28). She offers a “framework for inclusive freedom” (29-46) and notes the ways in which that framework can be used to respond to “intellectual and dignitary harms. . . without suppressing speech” (47-84), and then she describes the ways in which the same approach can be deployed in the classroom (85-102). In the conclusion to her book she then shows how conflicts that she has cited elsewhere could have been resolved by relying on “inclusive freedom” (103-128). The concrete illustrations include the debate over Halloween costumes and safe spaces at Yale (13); racial equality in Missouri (13-14); trigger warnings in Chicago (14); and controversial speakers at Berkeley and Middlebury (15-17).
Ben-Porath depicts three tools that have been used by colleges and universities to respond to such conflicts: Some have appealed to the First Amendment and the freedom of speech; others have appealed to academic freedom; and still others have used “speech codes” to control dialogue on campus (18-20). These tools “pull in different directions” and Ben-Porath notes that there are subtleties on campus that often escape notice (21). Academic freedom, not freedom of speech, is the “core value” of America’s campuses – that commitment conditions the right to free speech, prohibiting things like plagiarism and the misrepresentation of the results of research, even if the First Amendment protects such conversation (20).
“Inclusive freedom” offers a different approach. It is based upon a commitment to two key principles: “First, a commitment to teaching and research can only be fulfilled in the context of an open-minded and intellectually honest environment” (74); and “Second, all members of the campus community must know that they are invited to participate in this pursuit” (74).
Readers of Ben-Porath’s work will have questions: (1) Is there a bright line between society’s concern with the freedom of speech and academic freedom on its campuses? If, as the author notes, university campuses are “both the mirror of American democracy and the window into its future” (8), can universities and society be so easily isolated? (2) Could issues of plagiarism and the misrepresentation of research results be ethical matters and, therefore, unrelated to the question of how freedom of speech and academic freedom differ and overlap? (3) More importantly, can Ben-Porath be so sure that the strife on America’s campuses can be avoided or defused? Those who perceive themselves as the architects of a new social order or who see societal battles as a zero-sum game will not be easily dissuaded. (4) Readers will also wonder if Ben-Porath undermines her project by presupposing that the categories of harm and violence are appropriately applied to academic discourse. As long as one assumes that language can be violent, then opening discourse to contributions from diverse perspectives will always be constricted by the possibility that one will be charged with acting immorally. (5) Finally, on a practical note, readers will find that the author’s method is not as clearly outlined as it should be in such a brief treatment of the subject.
Questions aside, those who teach in North America will recognize some of the debates that Ben-Porath describes. The conflict that abruptly ended the deanship of Professor Elaine Heath at Duke Divinity School illustrates how intractable and bitter debates can be about these issues. For those who teach on seminary campuses, there are added layers of complexity. To one degree or another, issues of Christian community, formation, and participation in the life of the church are concerns unique to theological education. In addition, notions of belonging and academic freedom are conditioned in seminaries by centuries of debate over what makes for sound theology and authentic Christian community. For that reason, in the world of theological education, a solution to the volatility of conversation in the classroom and among its faculty is an even more urgent priority.
On Christian Teaching: Practicing Faith in the Classroom
Date Reviewed: November 29, 2018
What is expressly Christian about teaching in a Christian context? In this assessment of the state of Protestant Christian pedagogy and constructive vision for its improvement, Smith addresses a gap he perceives between the aspirations and actual practices of Christian teaching. Teaching in Christian contexts cannot be reduced to issues of content or philosophy; it requires intentionality of process. Smith’s laser focus on Christian pedagogy distinguishes his approach from other treatments of Christian teaching that emphasize the spirituality of the educator, such Parker Palmer’s work. On Christian Teaching resides within the practices stream of theological education, consistent with Smith’s other work including Teaching and Christian Practices, which he co-authored with James K. A. Smith.
After laying out an extensive argument for how the integration of faith and education must attend to pedagogy, Smith engages the What If Learning approach (http://www.whatiflearning.com/) developed in conjunction with the Kuyers Institute for Christian Teaching and Learning, which he directs at Calvin College. Here the reader is invited to envision possibilities for seeing anew through a shared imagination between teacher and students, enabling students to choose meaningful engagement, and reshaping practice through attention to space and time. Surprisingly, however, Smith does not engage the important work already published by scholars of color on some of the very topics of his chapters, such as Willie James Jennings’ The Christian Imagination or bell hooks’ Teaching series. The reader would do well to engage Smith’s book alongside such other resources on imagination and pedagogy.
Smith guides Christian educators in assessing the pedagogical home they create, an environment that forms students in particular practices and assumptions. He continually pushes readers to go beyond philosophy and content to wrestle with the implicit meanings their teaching practices may convey, privileging student perceptions of the classroom experience over the teacher’s intentions. From start to finish, Smith consistently grounds his book in the actual experiences of teaching. Examples from a wide variety of classroom settings abound: anecdotes relayed by his son at a Christian high school, Smith’s own experiences teaching language classes at the high school and university levels, and an array of stories received from colleagues and students. If Smith’s leadership of the Kuyers Institute is not enough to convince the reader to pay attention, the organic way he articulates his message amid such a diversity of classroom examples gives the reader a sense that Smith is indeed a master teacher, and that something significant can be learned from him.
The title of the book indicates two of its limitations: it expressly addresses Christian teachers and institutional settings, and is focused on the four-walled institutional classroom setting. A third limitation is its one-directional movement from theology to practice that carries a hint of applied theology, “that faith can inform pedagogy” (viii). The reader must therefore raise two important questions alongside this book: Is the traditional classroom the best setting in which to enact Christian teaching? And, in what ways might the pedagogy in which we were formed already have shaped our theology?
On Christian Teaching is written for educators across all disciplines who identify as Christian, especially those at Christian secondary and higher education institutions. It contains eleven manageable chapters of approximately fifteen pages in length, each with a journaling prompt and questions for reflection and discussion that facilitate reflection on one’s current practice of teaching and guide imagination for future practice. This structure makes the book ideal for reading among a group of educators who are ready to move beyond the questions of what and why they teach, to imagine the how of Christian teaching.