The Wabash Center Journal on Teaching publishes short (500 word) reviews of books and resources about teaching and learning.
Book Review Editor
Mary T. Stimming, PhD
Latest Book Reviews
Date Reviewed: April 15, 2020
Graduate theological education is experiencing a variety of upheavals, including learning how to navigate the digital technologies transforming the teaching-learning process. Navigating these changes necessitates that graduate theological schools and seminaries adopt the mindset of an educational technology company.
Editors Sampson, Ifenthaler, Spector, and Isaías have assembled a collection of international research articles in Digital Technologies: Sustainable Innovations for Improving Teaching and Learning. The articles are organized around four themes: “Transforming the Learning Environment,” “Enriching Student Learning Experiences,” “Measuring and Assessing Teaching and Learning with Educational Data Analysis,” and "Cultivating Student Competencies or the Digital Smart Society.” The rich data found in each of the articles will assist institutions in asking good questions as they seek to discern the instructional tools they will employ to enhance learning.
The essays address the use of digital technologies principally in either a K-12 environment or college-level STEM programs. Despite their focus on different educational contexts, the essays are helpful in explaining the role digital technologies are playing in the educational environment and challenging one to think imaginatively about the implications for graduate theological education.
Wrestling with the articles was enjoyable but imagining how they apply to theological education was enlightening and frustrating at the same time. The articles lack a shared definition of “learning,” this combined with the ends/outcomes of education being implied made assessing the educational value for theological education difficult. In the end, imagining the implications of these articles for theological education was more like making conjectures or discussion starters rather than the bases for working hypotheses.
Digital Technologies will serve as a helpful resource when evaluating digital technologies for inclusion in an institution’s educational strategy. The international character and depth of the articles help one ask good educational questions when evaluating digital learning tools. Asking good technological questions consistent with one’s theological heritage is consistent with being an educational technology company, especially as theological institutions seek to be more nimble in identifying, assessing, evaluating, and implementing sustainable digital technology to enhance learning.
Date Reviewed: April 15, 2020
Innovations in Open and Flexible Education is a timely collection of research which examines various aspects of open and flexible education in the global community’s changing landscape of teaching and learning. The book is written for professors, academics, researchers, students, educational practitioners, and administrators to learn the latest empirical research in regard to open and flexible education. The book is organized thematically with a focus on four major themes: open/flexible curriculum and pedagogy, mobile and ubiquitous learning, digitized media and open educational resources, and tracking and analysis of student learning. The book includes qualitative and quantitative research studies, empirical and case studies, statistical analyses, descriptive surveys, and interviews.
Part I flows seamlessly as the contributing authors discuss historical perspectives, student perspectives, budget planning, needs assessment, models of the flipped classroom, cross-country analysis, and massive online open courses. Part II focuses on the use of mobile devices, specifically in vocational education and training, preferences and readiness for usage, the use and design of specific apps for learning, and learning management systems. Part III of the book examines digitalized media and open educational resources including game-based learning, flipped massive online open courses, open educational resources, videos in blended learning, and media literacy. The final section of the book, Part IV, analyzes student learning including the use of big data in teaching and learning, instant messaging, application programming interfaces to track learning, reinforcement learning, and the design of data-logging devices.
The findings of this book are exciting. According to Lee, the purpose of flexible learning is to “achieve equity, efficiency, and effectiveness” (31) in education. As the editors note in the introduction to the book, there is a global trend of knowledge becoming more publicly accessible and less reserved for the privileged. As education is becoming more open and consequently more flexible, education at large is more available to all people. This book highlights the latest research on this topic, which may lead to educational stakeholders creating more open and flexible landscapes in their educational communities. As Christian scholars, this must be one of our aims—to make education more inclusive and flexible to welcome and benefit all learners.
The organization and structure of the book is not only informative but is enjoyable to read. The editors selected topics that are connected but remain distinctly different, which creates an interesting and diverse reading experience. Furthermore, the content in this book leads to much introspection on the part of the reader; the reader is challenged to consider what open and flexible pedagogies they have adopted in order to benefit all students. The research provides a fertile ground for discussions of education theory, pedagogy, and praxis. The book is comprised of twenty-three chapters that are written with experiences and perspectives from Asian countries (including Australia) and is a part of a research book series titled Education Innovation. For further work on this topic, it would be valuable for the editors to develop a book series that focuses on research from different continents on open and flexible education. The contents of this book demonstrate the diversity and richness of this topic, so perhaps this text could be expanded into a series.
Date Reviewed: April 15, 2020
Adult learners are different than younger learners. These groups do, however, share some interests and learning similarities; for instance, both are motivated to use technology in learning. Yet adult learners often have additional challenges using technology because of their late involvement with the digital world. Older adult learners’ participation in online learning and continuing education pose institutional, situational, and dispositional challenges.
Online learning provides particular possibilities for adult learners, thereby allowing them to cope with specific adult learning demands. It helps adult students to maintain some sustainability while navigating new technological terrains. Adult learners may have particular learning issues and challenges arise from time to time.
The Handbook of Research on Student-Centered Strategies in Online Adult Learning Environments was developed for educators who work with adult learners in online programs. It is a book primarily focused on helping teachers by offering specific ideas for working with students in online environments and serving as a guide for structuring learning experiences for people at different stages of development.
The book comprises 22 chapters organized in four sections. Section 1, “Integrating Educational Practices into Online Learning,” provides insights into how educators can link natural learning tendencies in teaching to students’ learning. Furthermore, it highlights competency-based education and the position of student-centered online learning. Section 2, “Adult Learners and Learning,” discusses andragogy in relation to the transitions in knowledge acquisition, focusing on concepts of digital natives and digital immigrants. Discourse on preparing the efficient teacher in the age of information and communication technology is foregrounded in Section 3, “Professional Learning.” For instance, Chapter 14, “A Guide to Professional Learning for Secondary Mathematics Teachers,” explores the impact of a professional learning program on mathematics teachers’ self-efficacy. Section 4, “Student-Centeredness and Collaboration,” provides an overview of collaborative learning as well as student-centered online learning.
This handbook also provides arguments on converting theoretical frameworks into practical work in an online classroom or any other digital context. The chapters are organized subsequently in a rational order, yet the reader can start with any chapter of potential interest. However, the discourse on neoliberalism, along with austerity, and their impact—on online education generally, and online adult education particularly—is absent. Furthermore, the counter-argument which debates that online learning should be accepted with much caution receives only 15 pages. Moreover, while Dan Patroc argues that insufficient non-verbal communication is a major drawback in online learning, non-verbal communication receives only one paragraph. Overall, the editors and authors provide a remarkable contribution to the literature on online adult education. Handbook of Research on Student-Centered Strategies in Online Adult Learning Environments is highly recommended for adult educators, online trainers, researchers, and policymakers.
Date Reviewed: April 15, 2020
The editors of this volume address a gap in scholarship by bringing Problem-based Learning (PBL) into fruitful dialogue with the separately developed Threshold Concepts Framework (TCF). The goal of the volume is to show how TCF enhances the understanding and practice of PBL. None of the authors addresses the teaching of theology or religion; nonetheless, each chapter offers some insight that could readily lend itself to a better understanding of the process of learning in the theology or religious studies classroom. The collection begins with four strong introductory chapters addressing the basics of these two pedagogical approaches and their relationship to each other. The next three chapters lay out how these theories can be found across such different disciplines as engineering education, chemical engineering design, and professional development for university teachers. The final three chapters report on research projects that point out new TCs in additional disciplines.
PBL is an educational practice that presents students with real world problems that are not neatly defined and do not have an obvious solution. Students work in groups to decide what further knowledge they need, how to obtain it, and how to represent it. The TCF works with the points at which students cross in a significant way from familiar ways of framing knowledge to a point of disorientation and then to incorporating new knowledge. Savin-Baden and Tombs describe TCs and PBL as independently developed pedagogies but natural partners nonetheless. This is true in two ways. PBL has long described itself as deliberately constructing a path for students toward and through “troublesome” knowledge. Suitable problems for PBL are those that lead students to a point of being stymied in their existing level of knowledge as they address wicked problems that are not easily classified and solved. Often the PBL method is itself troublesome to students as they wrestle with an educational process that shifts responsibility from teacher to student and from individual to group.
Operating separately, TCs identify and work with concepts either particular to a discipline or more generally, that require a student to leave the space of prior knowledge and self-understanding and enter into a liminal state in which prior knowledge is no longer viable but new concepts or self-understandings are not yet grasped or stabilized. TCs give attention to the type and amount of scaffolding that is necessary to prepare students and help to direct them through these impasses. Although the TCF was originally developed through consideration of threshold concepts in particular disciplines, the editors go beyond those boundaries to consider transdisciplinary concepts including critical thinking.
Even though the chapters devoted to particular disciplines are not all obviously applicable to teaching theology and religion, their authors succeed in making the target ideas more understandable. The chapter most valuable for teachers of theology and religion is the contribution of Jayne Lewis, “Empathy and Problem-based Learning.”
People unfamiliar with these two areas will find enough guidance to read the discussion fruitfully; that being said, this collection is not an entry-level introduction but an opportunity for deeper development for those already familiar with one or both of these approaches. There are more proofreading issues in this book than one would expect. Skipped words and puzzling phrases slow readers down while they grapple with making sense of the text.
Date Reviewed: April 15, 2020
Based primarily on case studies, Identity and Internationalization in Catholic Universities brings readers a global perspective on the ways in which Catholic universities are grappling with questions of identity and internationalization. Although many books are limited to a single country or region, this edited collection includes contributions from Latin America, the United States, Asia-Pacific, and Europe. The result is an informed and global account of institutional and socio-political experiences that are shaping and being responded to by Catholic universities today.
This book would be helpful for several audiences. Most obviously, this book would benefit administrators in Catholic higher education who regularly face questions not only of identity and internationalization, but also questions of academic rigor, institutional relevance, and others that the various contributions explore in different ways; this book will put these administrators’ institutional commitments into conversation with other similar institutions. Also, because identity and internationalization are not unique to Catholicism, many universities of secular or other religious heritage would find these contributions insightful for their own institutional contexts. Additionally, Catholic centers that seek to advance issues related to multiculturalism, globalization, international collaboration, issues of common concern (such as climate change or peace studies), or Catholic identity would likewise benefit from learning the ways that these are being discussed among other Catholic institutions in a variety of cultural contexts. Finally, this book would help instructors of practical theology or religion and society courses to have a more global perspective on the ways identity and internationalization affect Catholic organizations. Equipped with this book, faculty could better explain the ways a shifting Catholic identity and a changing society affect Catholic schools, hospitals, nonprofits, and others.
Perhaps a more universal and unique contribution of this book is the frame that the introductory chapter provides for the forthcoming chapters. In walking readers though the impact of identity and internationalization within Catholic universities and providing insights for crafting a strategic plan to more intentionally address these, all of the above audiences are provided with practical ways to navigate the challenges they are facing. Likewise, the chapters that follow each illuminate the ways mission and vision are enabled or constrained by identity, internationalization, and the strategic plan of the university.
The editors could have expanded the reach of their book by providing more theory and analysis, the dearth of which is demonstrated in the lack of scholarly resources in many of the chapters. A more extensive theoretical base would have embedded the valuable empirical findings in a stronger theoretical frame, making the insights more portable to readers.
Still, my desire for a stronger theoretical underpinning to this collection does not take away from the fact that this book makes a valuable contribution to the conversations surrounding identity and internationalization in higher education. Identity and Internationalization in Catholic Universities is indispensable not only for those in leadership in Catholic higher education, but also for those leading Catholic schools, hospitals, nonprofits, networks, Bishops conferences, and other organizations that seek to make a distinctly Catholic impact in an increasingly global and pluralist world.
Date Reviewed: April 15, 2020
Demographic and societal shifts in religion—to say nothing of higher education challenges—gnaw at North American theological education. The turbulence around the religious and educational environment is constant, and the essays in this volume acknowledge these challenges while exploring methods to move forward. The essays were written by seminary presidents and university leaders of various traditions to honor Daniel Aleshire, longtime executive director of the Association of Theological Schools (ATS). The first four essays address the challenges faced by theological schools while the final two essays examine the rise of non-Christian traditions in North America. Outside of the six essays, a helpful introduction provides coherence to the book, while the honoree of the volume supplies an afterword.
The first two essays by David Tiede and Martha Horne soberly name the disruptions around theological education. Tiede raises four pressing challenges and how Lutherans (ELCA) are addressing them: the digitization and marketing of everything; the cost/debt spiral; the need for leadership change; and the focus on educational results. Horne provides a call for change through the story of Desmond Tutu’s awakening to how theology is shaped by different historical, sociological, and cultural contexts. This should drive an ability for Anglican comprehensiveness, anchored in communion, worship, and mission, that allows for theological inquiry and debate.
Donald Senior focuses on the type of Roman Catholic seminary candidate needed for the emerging needs of this world. Priestly formation from the work of Pope John Paul II roots this vision and is then joined with values from Pope Francis’s vision of the joy of the gospel, care for creation, and mercy. While other essays focus on curriculum or mission, Senior calls for a counter-cultural vision for theological education embodied through its people.
Evangelical pragmatism and its aversion to seminary training is the focus of Richard Mouw’s essay. Mouw encourages theological schools to listen to concerns and questions of those in ministry. Theological educators must make the case for theological education, but must do so with an empathetic spirit throughout the conversation.
The final two essays by Douglas McConnell and Judith Berling examine multifaith engagement and its implications for pedagogical concerns. McConnell grapples with how to engage a multifaith context from an evangelical framework. He calls for convicted civility rooted in hospitality and illustrates this through an institutional case study. Berling traces the history of multifaith theological education in mainline seminaries and explores ongoing opportunities and challenges. She raises the many ways that tradition can be both understood and shaped; this flexibility in tradition should aid in classroom pedagogy and interreligious learning.
The volume as a whole encourages faculty, administators, stakeholders, and institutions to discern their core identity and mission. This, in turn, should drive what doctrines/affirmations and practices of life are central to a school’s tradition. While not prescriptive in methodology, the essays provide a quick read for busy stakeholders that can foster reflective dialogue on mission, tradition, and vision.
Date Reviewed: April 15, 2020
As faculty seek more effective learning and teaching practices, several disciplines have taken a “turn to reflective pedagogy” in recent years. Learning from Each Other: Refining the Practice of Teaching in Higher Education makes a substantive contribution to pedagogical practice in the discipline of sociology; this book is the result of workshops sponsored by the international honor society for the discipline. Contributors reflect a wide range of institutional types, teaching contexts, and research areas.
Following a brief introduction by the editors, the book is divided neatly into four parts: curricular innovations, classroom techniques, out-of-class situations, and assessment. Each chapter treats theory and strategy; this combination assures that topics are discussed with sufficient depth and adequate breadth of coverage across the discipline. References are included at the end of each chapter and the book closes with a useful index. Four of the twenty-one chapters in this book will be given attention here.
“Courting Controversy and Allowing for Awkward: Strategies for Teaching Difficult Topics,” by Mari Plikuhn, offers sound guidance applicable to any number of classroom discussions and contexts. The chapter addresses controversial content as well as classroom space; it includes helpful strategies for class structure and management. In “Becoming a Culturally Inclusive Educator,” Dena R. Samuels provides a guided sequence of practical steps for faculty engagement in this “transformative process” (203). The reader is encouraged to consider carefully the question of preparedness before working through the eight steps in this process. “The Value of Games and Simulations in the Social Sciences,” by Amanda M. Rosen, assesses the use of this active-learning strategy in a clear way. Rosen weighs barriers and incentives before addressing best practices. Finally, “Putting the Student at the Center: Contemplative Practices as Classroom Pedagogy,” by Tracey Wenger Sadd, supplies a succinct discussion of goals, outcomes, practices, and assessment of contemplative pedagogy. The chapter concludes with considerations and questions for determining the application of this pedagogy.
Instructors in Religious Studies and Theology are fortunate that these disciplines are strong in SOTL (scholarship of teaching and learning). These disciplines have a robust infrastructure for engaging in workshops, colloquies, and grant work to strengthen critical reflection on pedagogy. It is telling that instructors in these disciplines continue to produce and contribute highly impactful work on pedagogical research and practice that informs the national discourse. For this reason, there is much to be gained from this book. Discrete chapters may arouse interest in current trends, common questions, and shared efforts. Furthermore, attention to alternative perspectives on recurrent challenges and concerns distinct to a discipline can raise awareness. Finally, the recognition that higher education is growing ever more interdisciplinary makes this an opportune time to reflect on learning and teaching as a collaborative enterprise.
Date Reviewed: April 15, 2020
As higher education continues to grapple with expanding online coursework in meaningful ways, faculty must confront a perennial question: how can online coursework mirror the rigor of in-person classes while preserving the flexibility that makes online learning attractive to students? In Extending the Principles of Flipped Learning to Achieve Measurable Results: Emerging Research and Opportunities, William Swart argues that flipped learning has the potential to balance these demands by winnowing the transactional distance, a barrier to student engagement, that is common in traditional coursework.
In traditional learning, a lecture typically occurs in class and homework extends beyond the classroom; conversely, flipped learning requires students to study course material at home, including recorded lectures, before engaging in collaborative, problem-solving activities in class. By flipping the traditional model of higher education, flipped learning allows students to invest more deeply in their coursework while simultaneously receiving feedback and peer support in class.
While flipped learning may be alluring, enacting such a dramatic reordering requires resources, knowledge, and tools that most faculty do not possess. Written in a straightforward, practical style, Swart’s text provides a viable throughway for faculty members hoping to enact a flipped classroom.
Swart begins his exploration of the concept by reviewing the proliferation of online coursework and noting the near-universal agreement among university faculty regarding the disparity of quality in online learning versus face-to-face learning. As an antidote to this pattern, Swart touts the considerable benefits that flipped learning affords students, instructors, and college administrators. Following this introductory material, the text grounds the Plan-Do-Study-Act (P-D-S-A) cycle as the primary vehicle for introducing, executing, and maintaining a flipped classroom. This cycle, originating from business and management, ensures that meaningful learning occurs throughout a new intervention, rather than relying solely on outcome data to judge the effectiveness of an intervention.
The heart of the text unpacks each step of the PDSA cycle and its use in a flipped classroom, offering practical advice and data to support those wishing to use the flipped model. This occurs through direct discussion of the model and an embedded case study that illustrates core concepts. Before closing with an exploration of possible future research, Swart also includes candid discussion of the challenges—both anticipated and unanticipated—that flipped learning often produces. As Swart notes, while there is positive evidence regarding student preferences, achievement, and satisfaction concerning flipped learning, there is a paucity of research documenting its role in promoting other desirable values in students.
This text adds to a growing body of research explicating the promise of flipped learning within K-12 and higher education. Particularly for faculty members in theological education or religious studies in a liberal arts setting, this text provides short-term and lasting benefits. Swart’s thorough unpacking of flipped learning delivers a robust catalog of research-based, practical advice for enacting this model. Perhaps most valuable for these faculty is the opportunity for students to engage with weighty ideas in a collaborative manner after having initial, independent preparation.
Date Reviewed: April 15, 2020
Emerging Self-Directed Learning Strategies in the Digital Age (2018) edited by Frank Giuseffi is one of the volumes among the Advances in Educational Technologies and Instructional Design Book Series. In the preface, Giuseffi acknowledges that self-directed learning (SDL) is not a new concept. Yet, twenty-first century technology continues to transform the platforms of SDL. His desire is to highlight the importance of self-directed learning in today’s teaching-learning environment. With each chapter written by a different scholar (or group of scholars), the reader is exposed to a number of strategies useful among multiple teaching-learning platforms to foster self-directed learning with the desired outcome of promoting student success and greater teacher–student engagement.
The text is organized into eight chapters, with each chapter addressing a specific SDL platform or process. Included among the topics: online learning, an android-based mobile application for students to monitor their performance via grade point average, Massive Open Online Courses and their applicability to technical and vocational education and training in developing countries, non-mandatory employee training, the necessity of self-motivation among doctoral students to complete their dissertation (built upon Malcolm Knowles’s andragogical assumptions), cultural influences on self-directed language learning, the relationship between metacognition and knowledge transfer along with critical thinking and SDL, and teachers’ use of digitally based SDL strategies to employ essential questions to nurture the students’ critical thinking skills. While the editor’s goal may have been to provide a wide range of scenarios for the engagement of self-directed learning, chapter 4, addressing employee training and the organization’s responsibility for offering the training, seemed out of place. Job training is not germane to the discussion of SDL in the academic setting or specific teaching-learning platform or process.
All eight chapters in the text are well researched, referencing pertinent studies and pedagogical principles. Two of the chapters share specific research conducted on the phenomenon addressed. Chapter 5 (“The Intersection of Andragogy and Dissertation Writing”) outlines the mixed methods study conducted by a doctoral student exploring the dissertation completion process. Dissertation chairs and doctoral students in the dissertation-writing phase will find this chapter insightful. Chapter 8 (“Transformational Shifts of Pedagogy Through Professional Development, Essential Questions, and Self-Directed Learning”) describes a year-long case study of professional development among teachers and their use of digital technology in designing essential questions targeting critical thinking among students. Though the emphasis of the research was on the subjects of math and reading, the reader will gain information on how to use questions to help develop critical thinking skills among students.
The layout of the book lends itself to use as a reference guide. Each chapter begins with an abstract succinctly stating the purpose of the chapter and relevance to SDL. The chapters end with a concluding paragraph reiterating the thesis and main tenets shared. Finally, you will find a list of pertinent references for further study. Our goal as educators is to help our students become self-directed learners. This text will broaden your understanding of how to use today’s technology to help in this quest.
Date Reviewed: April 15, 2020
Building the Field of Higher Education Engagement: Foundational Ideas and Future Directions presents twelve landmark articles from 1996-2012 that contributed significantly to the emergence of the field of engagement. Along with the articles, the book presents updated commentaries and responses by the original authors or noted scholars to the questions they proposed. The format of this publication is thoughtful as each chapter presents conversation-provoking questions about engagement across academic disciplines. In addition, Chapter 13 is a prospective look into the future. Nine authors provide their insights to what engagement may look like in the next two decades.
This book is valuable to those in the specific field of religious education as it strives to rethink the work of the academy. Lorilee Sandmann states that colleges and universities remain one of the greatest hopes for intellectual and civic progress because they search for answers in light of pressing problems (xiii). Furthermore, higher education in its highest ideals is committed to the scholarship of engagement. She defines engaged scholarship as a mutual relationship between academia and the community that leaves a positive legacy for all partners (xiv, 196). These concepts challenge established notions about higher education.
First, this book examines the most foundational values of education. Engagement should be built from these values and not the expectation to do research and achieve tenure. As a result this creates ripples in the culture and expectations of the academy so that a new or revised model for higher education may emerge.
Second, this book challenges the way educators see themselves and how they are to engage the community. The community has come to view them as ivory tower elites. Conversely, this volume challenges institutions and educators to participate in outreach to the community at large. The text provides several interdisciplinary examples of outreach. It is important because it generates conversations about the role of faculty and their role in outreach. This is a valuable contribution as the book also gives suggestions on how engagement and outreach can be measured so as to be included in the tenure process.
Another valuable idea is the notion that knowledge is now non-linear. It was expected that the academy would study, research, and provide solutions for the world. The consequence is that the academy does not answer the questions the community is asking. In a non-linear world, the community has knowledge. The academy must necessarily be more engaged in the world that surrounds it. Through interdisciplinary dialogue, the text provides valuable insight into these conversations.
For theological educators this is an important book because it provides language to understand the complex relationships between the community and the academy; as well as that between faculty and administration. It causes the reader to reimagine the requirements of tenure and the meaning of higher education in a fast-changing cultural milieu. This book conceptualizes the changes in the work of the academy so that one is better prepared to engage an institution’s culture and values so that it may be more true to education’s highest ideals and values.
Date Reviewed: April 15, 2020
Contemplative pedagogy has become quite popular over the past decade (Jacoby, 2019). This book builds on previous contemplative pedagogical scholarship (Barbezat and Bush, Contemplative Practices in Higher Education, Jossey-Bass, 2014; Simmer-Brown & Grace, Meditation and the Classroom, SUNY Press, 2011), especially a prior volume by the same editors—Contemplative Learning and Inquiry across Disciplines (Gunnlaugson et al., 2014). This book focuses on second-person perspectives or intersubjectivity, which the editors note can be represented spatially as between people, rather than subjectively inside or objectively outside them. It seeks to redress the tendency in contemplative studies to focus on first-person, personal experiences or third-person, objective study and observation of individuals engaged in contemplation.
The Intersubjective Turn would interest contemplative studies scholars as well as instructors with a previous background in contemplative pedagogy. Those unfamiliar with contemplative approaches to higher education would benefit from first consulting the work of Barbezat and Bush (Contemplative Practices in Higher Education, Jossey-Bass, 2014) or the previous volume (Gunnlaugson et al., Contemplative Learning and Inquiry across Disciplines, 2014), especially Arthur Zajonc’s overview of contemplative pedagogy in higher education and Harold Roth’s proposed pedagogy for contemplative studies. Although instructors who teach in public universities and colleges may find it challenging to adapt some of the contemplative approaches to their institutional context, those at private institutions and seminaries may encounter less difficulty in applying the contemplative pedagogies discussed.
Each article emphasizes the value of incorporating intersubjectivity into one’s contemplative pedagogy and focuses on particular classroom activities that promote such intersubjectivity. Mirabai Bush discusses her “Just Like Me” exercise developed for Google’s Search Inside Yourself program, where participants first engage in self-compassion and then become aware of what they share with others, and her “Mindful Emailing” activity where participants write a response to an email, but before sending it, lean back, take three deep breaths, re-read their response and imagine how it might be received by the other person. David Lee Keiser describes a pedagogical practice that addresses students’ discomfort at being stared at: a “stage exercise” where students mindfully walk to the front of the auditorium, pause and take a breath, make eye contact at least once with everyone in the room, then mindfully walk off stage, taking another breath and then returning to their seat.
Lyn Hartley advocates deep dialogue in which students explore uncertainties and questions that no one has answers to, which allows for transformative learning. Judith Simmer-Brown draws on Gregory Kramer’s method of “insight dialogue” to have students sit in dyads, reflecting on challenging aspects of their spiritual or personal journeys as they speak for three minutes and then return to silence and deep listening.
David Forbes uses mindfulness as a way for students to reflect on unexamined assumptions and conditioned patterns of thought in order to move towards a postconventional, self-authorized consciousness that tolerates ambiguity and agile thinking. Joanne Gozawa emphasizes the value of students not only doing contemplative practices, but “not doing” them by listening to silence and embodying a posture of receptivity. Other chapters discuss theological and theoretical reasons for engaging in intersubjective contemplative practices, advocating contemplative inquiry as a means of promoting empathetic connection.
Date Reviewed: April 15, 2020
Can we escape political injustice when we learn a language? Most people would say that language and justice issues are separate, but according to this book’s authors, Joan Clifford and Deborah Reisinger, learning another language cannot be completed by simply gaining a linguistic skill in a classroom. They reason that language learners cannot overlook the diverse cultural and social factors of those who live in their own language community. Therefore, the book introduces the importance of local community-based learning for second-language learners (CBLL, as the authors abbreviate) to build a better educational framework.
Specifically, Clifford and Reisinger, US-based language professors, pay attention to the unique experiences of second-language student learners with relation to their local communities in America. As described in Chapter Four, speaking the dominant language in a society gives one access to the society’s dominant culture. For example, in the United States, English holds such a power. The problem is that “not all ways of speaking English are created equal in certain social spaces” (101). On the surface, second-language English speakers seem unimpeded in their access to America’s educational and health services, but actually their different accents and cultures are often undervalued “in the school system which prizes and reproduces dominant (white, English-speaking) culture” (101). That is, for second-language learners, where their living language communities are located, economically, socially, and politically, matters when they try to access America’s dominant cultural group.
Although Clifford and Reisinger focus on the American learning situation and social injustice issues, their audience is not limited to American educators. Rather, by providing a better local community-based learning model, the authors hope that students will critically reflect and challenge problems which are imbued in their social structures. Regarding this, the book is not only useful for learning foreign language but also for other areas such as the missionary context where theological subjects are taught in English or in other languages.
Further, within this emphasis on local communities as a learning partner, for both students and teachers, learning another language allows students to encounter something more than language. That is, it can be a place for the students to experience a “dissonance” between their previous beliefs about their own community’s problems, and those that appear through CBLL conversation. For the teachers as well, this conversation offers a chance to reconsider their cultural privilege and power, and how this might affect their students who come from diverse communities.
Finally, the book means to create “brave spaces” for “genuine dialogue” between learners, educators, and communities by coping with their conflicts or tensions to deeply understand and challenge social injustice issues (140). To do this, the book structures each chapter with reflections for instructors and activities for students to provide a practical framework of CBLL. This book would be valuable for both educators and their students who are considering their communities as important learning partners with relation to their own ecclesial, social, and cultural context.
Date Reviewed: April 15, 2020
What are the potential benefits of high-impact practices (HIPs) for online education? That is the key question addressed in this well-researched collection of essays. Whether the reader is new to innovative theory and techniques in online education or an experienced distance educator, they will find a valuable resource here. Each contributor provides a helpful short list of key takeaways and a solid bibliography at the end of their chapter. The introduction and conclusion by the editors, Linder and Hayes, set the framework for the discussion and aptly describe possible future directions for teaching online, blended, or face-to-face courses.
High-Impact Practices in Online Education reads like a dynamic conversation on research with practical recommendations for how to strengthen a variety of teaching contexts. Each topic selected for inclusion covers a specific high-impact educational practice. That list was largely identified in 2008 by George D. Kuh as ten critical components of undergraduate education. First-year seminars, learning communities (LCs), writing-intensive courses, and internships were among those featured components. These practices are still considered high-impact, but newer practices, such as ePortfolios, have been added in subsequent years. All have become part of developing educational strategies to impact student retention and graduation rates.
So, where will readers find what they most need in this collection? For some, a particular topic will draw their attention. My suggestion is to resist that impulse. Try, instead, reading the introduction and conclusion before sampling individual chapters. Understanding the context for the conversation about HIPs matters. The research and literature in this emerging field has been somewhat scattered, but a representative sample is nicely gathered and incorporated into this single volume.
There are no chapters specifically on theological education or religious studies. That said, there is much of worth to educators in those disciplines. For example, June Griffin’s “Writing-Intensive Classes” or Pamela D. Pike’s “Internships” speak directly to theological and religious educators. The same can be said about Stefanie Buck’s “High Impact Practices and Library and Information Resources.” No doubt other readers will discover other favorites as well. Remember that any one of these chapters could make a dramatic difference in most teaching and student learning.
Is there one overarching idea offered as a takeaway? Yes, and it is that best practice principles are, in the end, more important than modalities. That is a valuable point to have in mind as exciting new technologies continue to emerge.
Date Reviewed: April 15, 2020
This book is a collection of fourteen essays representing presentations made at the 2016 Georgetown University Round Table (GURT) conference, sponsored by the Georgetown University Department of Linguistics and the Assessment and Evaluation Language Resource Center (AELRC). These essays showcase a diverse set of ap-proaches to treating assessment and evaluation as “tools of educational transformation” for foreign-language learning (vii). They focus on primary, secondary, and undergraduate-level foreign language instruction, with none concentrating specifically on graduate-level theological education or religious studies. Nonetheless, the volume offers some novel proposals for structuring language courses that may benefit biblical or modern language sequences offered in theological schools and religious studies pro-grams. The book is organized into three sections, each representing emerging research and praxis on transformative foreign language assessment and evaluation for e-learning platforms, language course instruction, program development, and ESL student placement.
Part one—Connecting Assessment, Learners, and Learning—surveys theories and practical implementations of assessment and evaluation for enhancing language learning, particularly from the perspective of student and teacher self-assessment processes. In five essays, this section establishes self-assessment as a continual process and offers practical steps for integrating self-assessment in foreign language acquisition.
Part two—Innovating, Framing, and Exploring Assessment in Language Education—covers topics such as the formative use of task-based assessment “in primary schools, the implementation of technology-mediated speaking performance assessment, and validation of educational placement decisions for immigrant learners” (ix). Some of the proposals may provide seminaries and graduate-level liberal arts programs fresh avenues for (1) going about its sequence of biblical language instruction or (2) resourcing multilingual students navigating North American theological and religious education.
Part three—Validity Evaluation—includes five essays that address processes for assessment validation, such as corroborating the outcomes of university entrance exams or language placement exams with student achievement and retention. These essays provide suggestions for the evaluation of overall language programs implemented by institutions. As a whole, it may supply new considerations about evaluating outcomes of language instruction for theological ESL programs.
The perspectives offered in this volume present innovative research on foreign language learning from outside the academic contexts of theological education and religious studies. As a result, they reflect fresh theoretical and practical considerations that may not have, as of yet, permeated conventional resources and “common knowledge” about assessment and evaluation in theological education. While it may prove to be a beneficial read, those primarily located in theological education and religious studies who grapple with issues of language instruction—especially biblical language instruction or the implementation of theological ESL programs—may still find this a challenging read. While the scholarship is relevant at times, its application is left to the reader from theological education and religious studies to make. Despite this potential difficulty, the volume represents the kinds of knowledge and resources available to theological education and religious studies from other educational stages and learning environments that may be further along in considerations about institutional learning processes, e-learning pedagogy, foreign language classroom instruction, and support of multilingual, international students.
Date Reviewed: April 15, 2020
Academics trained in different fields are sometimes at a loss of how to conduct research in the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL). Does SoTL have its particular methodologies different from those of other fields? Who are the audiences of SoTL and how can one join the conversation? Is there a quick guide, which introduces the diverse approaches with illustrations? Can we learn from the experts, who can provide advice and point out the pitfalls? This book is helpful for beginners to think more clearly of the scope and research in SoTL, and it also provides insights for seasoned scholars who want to learn from others in diverse disciplines.
The book is divided into three parts. Part 1 focuses on the foundations of SoTL, including discussion of the origins of SoTL projects, ways of identifying research issues, the relationship between educational research and SoTL, and the alignment of research methods with purpose. In Part 2 contributors offer examples of specific research methods with examples. These methods include questionnaires, classroom observation, conducting interviews, close reading of student artifacts, and the use of think-aloud protocols developed by cognitive psychologists. Part 3 focuses on making impact and touches on writing and reading SoTL and participating in SoTL conferences.
In putting the book together, editor Nancy L. Chick does not want to introduce SoTL in the abstract, but wishes to illumine critical moments in practice through vignettes and examples. Each chapter is like listening to a colleague reflecting on a particular issue in SoTL, drawing concrete examples from classroom practice and research. In the chapter on using questionnaire, for example, the author does not provide a step-by-step guide to creating a questionnaire. Rather, the author shows how he reflects on the big-picture conceptual issue questions related to SoTL when designing the questionnaire. Each chapter includes a helpful reference pointing to further readings.
The discussion throughout the book is engaging and shows the authors’ commitment to teaching and to SoTL. It motivates us to become better teachers through engagement with the literature in SoTL. It is encouraging for those of us not trained in social-scientific methods to see that classroom observation and closing reading of student artifacts can also produce SoTL. The chapter on classroom observation explains the process of involving other colleagues to observe teaching in action. The chapter on close reading explains the difference between closing reading for SoTL and grading assignments.
While the examples given are helpful, the book would be more useful if it attended to the challenges of doing SoTL research in diverse classrooms, taking into consideration race, gender, sexuality, class, and culture. It would be more up-to-date if it included discussion in SoTL on teaching generation Z students and non-traditional students, and teaching online and hybrid courses, as they are becoming more common in higher education.
Date Reviewed: December 10, 2019
As our students encounter work in what is more and more a gig economy, the authors of this book have been thinking about the implications of such employment for those entering the workforce and also for those who wish to pursue creative endeavors either as full-time or part-time work. The authors focus on creativity as a locus for student and worker resilience and adaptation to changes in global economics.
The first several chapters outline various theories of creativity. It is particularly useful that the authors elaborate on many varied theories of creativity within different academic disciplines and contexts. Chapter 1 includes thinking about creativity within a global context, and how different social, cultural, and political situations affect the development of ideas of what constitutes creativity, who is creative, and how they come to be creative. The authors consider the nature of creative development within both collectivist and individualist views of society. They also consider several religious contexts for the development of creativity, including thinking about humans as divine conduits, both as described in sacred texts (such as the story of Moses) and as the Muses working through artists.
One strength of the early chapters is seeing the deep theory of creativity in a number of fields. In chapters 3 and 4, the authors turn not just to describing theories, but to challenging them, saying that some might misidentify creativity. The authors probe the sociology and social systems that allow certain types of creativity to become dominant in various societies, and which types of creativity are recognized by their societies. The confluence approaches and systems model, which comprise the central chapters of the book, looks at a number of ways in which creativity can fit or allow a person to thrive within a system. The authors highlight various features such as intrinsic motivation, domain relevant skills (such as knowledge of field and necessary technical skills), and creativity relevant skills. An overwhelming strength of this book is how the reader can look through the authors’ lenses of multiple disciplines and access their background research, ideas, and the main voices in their fields for others to know, which helps readers understand how these ideas apply in various contexts.
In chapters 5 and 6, the authors turn from a descriptive project to a constructive one, considering how systems approaches can provide guidance for thinking about effective ways to develop creativity in higher education that will provide students and workers with the necessary tools to adapt to new work situations as our economies evolve. The authors then tease out implications and impacts of such a model and its adaptability to other contexts. All these confluence systems are deeply interactive, and recognize the context in which the person has lived and operates. It is here that the book best provides help to scholars and practitioners in theological and religious studies. While the book is written within the context of media studies, it is clear in the second half of the book where these systems approaches could apply to someone who wishes to either research or serve a religious community, and the authors have begun that work of thinking how this model can work in other contexts. In its last chapters, the book provides multiple ideas about how one’s context can positively shape the ability to develop and foster community.
Date Reviewed: December 10, 2019
Issues in Applying SLA Theories (hereafter Issues) comprises volume seven in the series, Critical New Literacies: The Praxis of English Language Teaching and Learning (PELT).
What is meant by reflective teaching? In their article on writing, Zeraatpishe and Azarnoosh offer the following definition: “Reflection is regarded as a process through which teachers observe their beliefs and practices, assess, restructure their teaching and learning so that they can better situate themselves as agents of change in the immediate contexts of teaching” (165). Effective teaching, in contrast, involves conscious monitoring of student needs and progress, followed by corresponding adjustments in one’s instruction.
Issues is a collection of fourteen essays by a global array of authors. Most hold doctoral degrees, with teaching experience ranging from assistant professors to emeritus professors. Several serve as editors of major publications in the field of Second Language Acquisition.
Part One concentrates on six theories that have influenced language learning pedagogy. Part Two addresses eight skills necessary for learning a language.
Theories explored in Part One include behaviorism, cognitive approaches, constructivism, connectionism, interactionism, and critical theories. Behaviorism’s attention to stimulus and response led to the emphasis on language drills found in the Audio-Lingual Method. Cognitive approaches bring together rationalist and empiricist viewpoints, valuing both Chomsky’s innate Universal Grammar and also the importance of learning through experimentation. Constructivism in language learning involves forming increasingly more complex categories of information by analyzing similar elements, whether individually (cognitive constructivism) or in community (social constructivism). Connectionism draws from the design of digital computers to consider how parallel distributed processing (or artificial neural networks) serve the task of pattern recognition. Interactionism holds that language learners benefit from conversational communication, which involves input, negotiation of meaning, noticing, and second language output. Critical Second Language teaching would value “a listening phase on the part of the course designer or teacher, and… finding out about the learners’ real lives and needs” (70), then creatively adjusting the course correspondingly.
The remaining eight chapters turn from theory to praxis, exploring what it means to teach particular skills in a reflective and effective manner: pronunciation, grammatical competence, vocabulary, idioms, speaking, writing, listening, and reading. For example, instructors are encouraged to journal after class sessions to become attentive to trends in student performance of pronunciation. Grammatical competence can be enhanced by immersive use of illustrated fiction readings, with discussion and open-ended composition assignments. Vocabulary learning will be more effective as students are encouraged to master roughly 2000 words, whether isolated lexemes, word families, or phrasal vocabulary, so that they may produce them in speech and in writing. Idioms will be learned more effectively through a pragmatic approach that is attentive to context and the speaker’s aims. Speaking will improve as instructors facilitate conversation that is incremental and attentive to stages of students’ proficiency. Writing instruction can be segmented into eight discreet stages. And listening comprehension improves as students appreciate and attend to specific processes at work during periods of concentrated listening. Reading fluency, defined as the ability to read “effortlessly and confidently at a level of understanding and a rate appropriate for the purpose or task and the material” (Day, 203), requires automatic recognition of words which results from students having read large quantities of easy and interesting material.
Instructors of English as a Foreign Language comprise the principal audience for Issues. Those who, like the reviewer, teach a classical language will benefit primarily from R. R. Day’s insights concerning literacy (199–208), and also from Nurmukhamedov and Plonsky’s essay on vocabulary (115–26).
Date Reviewed: December 10, 2019
There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says "Morning, boys. How\'s the water?" And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes "What the hell is water?” David Foster Wallace, This Is Water
Upon reading this volume, I was repeatedly reminded of the late David Foster Wallace’s speech, “This is Water” (Little, Brown, and Co., 2009). Foster’s commencement speech hones in on some underlying themes of life many of those in higher education hope to instill in our students. Most importantly, I think, is the lesson that the most powerful influences on us are often those in which we are continually swimming but which we often cannot see. We must learn the practice of “seeing” the water we swim in. The practice is imperfect, messy, and will not make you particularly fun at parties, but it is vital for any transformative learning to occur. We can do this in a myriad of ways, such as those laid out in this volume, by practicing reflexivity.
What is reflexivity? The editors, influenced by Foucault’s concepts of discourse, knowledge, and power, define reflexivity as “encompassing a critical assessment of the significance of environment, power, and context as well as subjectivity in the delineation and construction of knowledge” (1). Reflexivity implies “a responsibility to critically examine our world, and how we position ourselves, and are positioned in that world” (1). Reflexivity is not narcissistic navel-gazing; it involves an intimate interrogation and critical examination of the personal, political, and professional. It is a practice. Contributor David McCormack describes reflexivity as the “practitioner’s attempt to turn their awareness to whatever is happening at any given moment at a personal, interpersonal, organizational, and societal perspective and to use that to illuminate the interpersonal dimension in their work” (122). The self is not freestanding – it always has a context.
Why is reflexivity critical to education? Education must be reflexive in order to avoid being merely indoctrination. Education can make space for reflexivity, can give educators and students an opportunity to analyze not just “what works” but also to interrogate for whom does it work and to what end. Learners need spaces to confront dominant narratives and cultures, and educational spaces can provide just that.
Contributors to this volume are primarily affiliated with the Department of Adult and Community Education at Maynooth University in Ireland. Each was invited to “challenge traditional thinking in education” (10). The chapters of this volume exemplify a myriad of ways reflexivity can be practiced in educational spaces. Despite this variety, each of these contributions emphasize the critical imaginative element among practitioners, a willingness to see things as possibly otherwise. Whether the reflexive practice happens within discursive analysis, writing, theater-making, transformative learning, systems theory, defining citizenship, facilitative work, or narrative inquiry, it requires imaginative capacity and a willingness of the practitioner to critically examine the very bedrock of their experience and the systematic assumptions underlying their everyday reality.
This book would be especially helpful for educators and administrators hoping to equip their students with theoretical tools and practical exercises aimed at “bringing to light dynamics of power which privilege conformity” and “revealing the normally occluded dynamics of dominant discourse”(6). It is also a resource for those who see themselves occupying hybrid spaces: those who acknowledge a multiplicity of knowledges and competing and intersecting realities and experiences, who interrogate and trespass boundaries, and, overall, who strive to “see” the water in which they swim.
Date Reviewed: December 10, 2019
Social media and the daily news both mark the continued normalization of violence. Given that one of the chief aims of liberal education is toward personal development and the attainment of civic responsibilities, the normalization of violence is a central issue with which twenty-first-century educators must grapple. To this end, Pedagogies for Building Cultures of Peace is a useful resource both for centralizing current research on structural and cultural violence and the concomitant dehumanization of the “other” (Chapters 1-4). Further, the book details the many benefits of engaging youth in structured critical dialogue about their experience and internalization of violence in many forms and leverages this dialogic strategy for the transformational aim of building peace and destabilization of structural violence (Chapters 5-9).
This book is a theoretical treatment of a specific dialogic experience examining the normalization of violence. It is evident that the experience was significant for the participants, and the detailed reporting of the participant dialogue helps make clear some ways in which structures of violence are normalized for these youth. However, as with qualitative research – the difficulty lies in transferability, specifically in the question of how generalizable the experience of these ten youth is for a broader audience. In part, this challenge could have been alleviated with a more detailed description of both the methods used in the dialogic process itself and by providing more information about the participants themselves. That difficulty aside, the central argument – that safe, collaborative, and critical dialogue functions as a viable pedagogical strategy for building real peace – is compelling, even if the author does not provide practical details for creating this type of dialogue or these types of spaces (a brief outline of the dialogic structure utilized does appear in Table 10.3).
Readers of The Wabash Center Journal on Teaching will find the final two chapters the most beneficial. These summarize the dialogue and extract pedagogical implications, which are supported by research in experiential learning, social constructivism, relational epistemology, and power analysis. Taken together, these chapters provide a robust theory that must inform teaching aimed towards peace. As Abidi observes, “education that neglects to challenge normalizations of violence, and the relations that maintain violence as an accepted norm in society, further reinforces unquestioned ideologies of the dehumanized other” (113). It is, therefore, no longer an option to say nothing about the normalization of violence in the classroom – rather collaborative critical conversation must be employed towards the end of peace.
Date Reviewed: December 10, 2019
As a Roman trained missiologist who teaches intercultural pedagogy and ministry, as someone who grew up on the US-Mexican border and who has worked in religious formation since the age of twelve, I was drawn to this book’s title and cover design, a world map on a chalk board. I am blessed with a large number of international graduate students, most of whom will be returning to their home countries or will be called to work internationally. The book’s title seemed a tall order – but it did not in the least disappoint.
Penned by a seasoned missiologist and professor who knows how to draw educationally from his extensive international travel and work abroad, the work is exceptionally readable, one which strives to integrate course content, or knowledge of the biblical tradition, with contemporary human experience, or alternatively phrased, an appreciation for an ongoing dialogue between a course being content-centered and student-centered. Plueddemann does this especially by engaging Edward Hall’s highly effective categories of “high and low context” styles of communication, together with Geert and Gert Jan Hofstede’s development of power distance. Filled with examples and anecdotes, not only from his own teaching but also from other practitioners appropriately placed at the end of every chapter, he makes a strong case for paying attention to biblical pedagogy, one which is profoundly experiential and cognizant of diverse contexts. His sources are carefully selected so as not to overwhelm the reader with jargon and very applicable to those wishing to respectfully do global Christian mission in a way in which Bible and culture inform each other, especially in contexts which are much more communal than our U.S. contexts. His brief inclusion of key learning theorists such as Piaget, Lewis, Dewey, MacDonald, and Freire show their continued relevance, and provide a necessary bibliography for further study.
It is not often that we find good pedagogical material specifically aimed at teaching theology or religion, so this little gem is a welcome one, a work carefully tailored to shifting contexts, learning styles, and contemporary media globalization. Much to my amazement, Plueddemann’s tools can be applied to a variety of educational tasks such as teaching language, preaching, summer camp work, Sunday school, mentoring and coaching, and even parenting. His appreciation of the teaching potential of novels and other forms of art provides ways in which teachers unfamiliar with local contexts can begin to enter these learners’ worlds. Teaching across Cultures’ ecumenical sensibilities, similarly, such as the inclusion of the work of Thomas H. Groome, well-known in Catholic educational circles, makes it a useful text beyond the Protestant world.
Will I assign this text? Definitely! My own use of some of the biblical and anthropological tools he cites will be enhanced by his examples of how they can be applied to educational and pastoral settings, not only to those which demand intercultural sensitivity, but even to those which we think we already understand.
Date Reviewed: December 10, 2019
Online learning has come a long way in twenty years. Although distance education has been around in one form or another for a really long time, online education had fairly humble beginnings in California in the late 1990s. As noted in the foreword of Creativity and Critique in Online Learning, “At the end of the 1990s the internet was seen as an interesting application, but not necessarily relevant to all subjects or modes of teaching” (vii). The initial benefit of distance and online education was that it would connect learners together in a networked classroom that spanned further than four cinderblock walls. What initially started as a distance enterprise, where students would log in to a remote learning server and be funneled into a class with potentially dozens to hundreds of other faceless paying customers (and may or may not have received an actual education), the Learning Management System (LMS) has evolved into a “commonplace and essential piece of technology infrastructure in almost every university” (viii). Yet creativity does not come without critique, as is often the case when boundaries are stretched and broken. This volume provides a summary of the creative side of online learning as well as a critique of the overall process, at least within the purview of Open University’s experience as a leader in online learning, answering significant challenges and squashing anecdotal myths throughout.
The editors and contributors, all of whom are either faculty at Open University or products of one of Open University’s online programs, seek to rewrite the narrative regarding online education. Rather than asking “Can online study really replicate the challenges and occasional joy of learning in a face to face environment?” (2), these contributors shift the focus to answering questions such as “How can [online learning] help teach the ‘hard to reach’ and how can it provide learning for those who have failed in (or rejected) learning in a face to face context?” (2). Putting aside such arguments as online education being more cost-effective in a bloated yet dwindling brick-and-mortar learning environment and what tools and techniques work the best in an online context, the contributors pull directly from their experience and ground their findings in action research that seeks to add a cogent and coherent voice to the ever-widening field of online learning studies. Creativity and Critique in Online Learning presents real-world problems with and in online learning with real-world solutions from real-world practitioners, some of which worked and some which did not. Of particular note in this volume are the chapters on developing effective forums (chapter 3), engaging students in informal learning communities (chapter 5), addressing concerns with academic dishonesty (chapter 7), and developing appropriate yet effective teacher-learner relationships (chapter 11).
Overall, I found this volume helpful. As the director of a completely online graduate program in biblical studies and Christian leadership, I recognize the growing challenge of developing online learning experiences that are academically rigorous while also developing spaces for relational connection and personal growth. I was afraid this book would be another “do it our way” argument. However, the essays are more akin to the casual conversations we catch over coffee at a professional conference than the peer-reviewed “expert” keynote that we actually paid to hear.
Date Reviewed: December 10, 2019
At a recent workshop on “Diversity, Civility, and the Liberal Arts,” I found myself in the company of faculty and staff teams from small colleges and universities around the United States who find themselves, like Leonie Rowan, “motivated by a desire to create university contexts in which diverse learners feel themselves to be included, valued, and safe” (1). This desire names the telos, or end, towards which critical, liberative pedagogy aims – freedom. Unlike the Aristotlean defense of the liberal arts as education suitable for free persons (read: male, property-owning citizens), Rowan’s notion of freedom extends to all learners, especially those whose participation in higher education has been constrained by the unjust dynamics of the sociohistorical contexts in which they happen to be born. Rowan argues that education can be transformational when the decision-making processes in higher education – from curriculum and syllabus design to admissions policies and the student support portfolio – begin with the question: “For whose freedom – in whose interests – do we, now, labor?” (4). It is an important question that suggests that not all student-centric approaches lead to models of student-as-customer and higher education as a private good.
For readers who have followed debates about diversity and inclusion in higher education since at least the 1990s, the terrain Rowan is covering and the companions along the way will likely be familiar – notably, the relationship centered, liberative philosophies of Paulo Freire, bell hooks, and Parker Palmer. Like many social currents today, it is difficult to avoid a sense of déjà vu when reading about education and “its fundamentally constructed and negotiated nature” (16) and the need for academics to embrace “the idea that language is a site of struggle” (18). The key move Rowan makes is the attempt to get underneath these now familiar discursive moves in order to understand “what it actually, really, feels like to study within a university classroom” (15). In so doing, she sides with social justice theorists like Nancy Fraser whose notion of participative parity juxtaposes classical questions of social justice as distributive justice with questions related to recognition and representation: “do people have the opportunity to participate in an environment on an equal footing” (14)?
The middle chapters demonstrate how pedagogical decisions that flow from notions like participative parity have the potential to transform student engagement. Empirical evidence for this potential is drawn largely from Rowan’s own classroom experience educating future teachers from diverse backgrounds in an Australian university. The data sets consist of student course and instructor evaluations as well as brief “doorstop” interviews with students, most of which confirm what she highlights in the scholarly literature about student engagement and diverse learners. These chapters would, in the end, make much better stand-alone scholarship of teaching and learning articles, offering insights from her own successes and failures to create the type of classroom space she desires. In a telling example of the challenges of actualizing this type of space from chapter four – for me, the strongest section of the book – Rowan describes what she refers to as “one of the most appalling lessons I have ever taught” (115). She acknowledges that in her attempt to empower diverse learners with a lens for critically interpreting past discrimination against First Nations people, she inadvertently opened the door to “inappropriate and offensive language.” The effect was immediate: the goal of a charged but hospitable environment (one of Palmer’s educational paradoxes) devolved into something “destructive and frightening.” Despite her extensive background and skills as a facilitator of difficult dialogues, she acknowledges that this episode created fissures in the class that could not be overcome – indeed, “several of the participants never returned to the class again” (115).
What is most striking about this example in the context of her overall argument is the short shrift she gives it. Offered under the heading “A Summary and a Pause,” she relates this anecdote in the space of a page or two, as a kind of aside. Yet, for me, this anecdote is at the heart of her project, illustrative of the pitfalls of liberative pedagogies that fail to adequately acknowledge the priority of her other pedagogical concern: relationships. She concludes the anecdote with an apology to all the students involved, and in this gesture – as well as the telling of the anecdote itself – Rowan reveals herself to be the kind of caring, reflective, intentional pedagogue needed to hold educational paradoxes in creative tension and to resist conflating “giving students an opportunity to have their individual voices” and “anything goes” (116). Yet, the reader is left wondering what she would do differently next time? The evidence she has gathered from years of student evaluations and the practical wisdom she has accumulated teaching these topics semester after semester surely has something important to say about how this might be handled, whether in forms of restorative practice for that particular class or decisions she made the next time to create a more “sufficiently hospitable” (116) environment before introducing similar content. Given her primary data sets for the rest of her argument, it may also have been instructive to hear how students processed that experience in their evaluations.
This particular example points to a challenge that has become more acute in recent years as attempts to create participative parity in college classrooms and curriculum have sparked various forms of resistance by those who perceive this type of parity as a threat. While Rowan acknowledges this challenge, the lack of engagement with recent scholarship on concepts like white fragility risks limiting the liberative early insights of luminaries like hooks, Freire, and Palmer. Emerging research on best practices for engaging straight white males as social justice allies on college campuses reveals something about the educational paradox faculty face when introducing issues of social justice in their classrooms – environments that help some diverse learners feel valued and safe may have the opposite effect on other diverse learners (e.g., Vianden 2018). Rowan alludes to this paradox when she coins the term “furiety,” which she refers to as an approach that recognizes, on the one hand, multiple dimensions of diversity including individual differences within traditional categories (e.g., race) and, on the other hand, “a commitment to intellectually charged activities approached through pedagogical variety” (87). Furiety opens a way into a deeper analysis of the example above. More importantly, for those of us who struggle daily to live into the question “For whose freedom – in whose interests – do we, now, labor,” Rowan’s further development of the term may encourage us to respond with greater integrity: “All of my students.”
Date Reviewed: December 10, 2019
Gallagher and Maguire wrote The Religious Studies Skills Book for undergraduate students taking religious studies courses. Recipients of the American Academy of Religion’s Award for Excellence in Teaching and longtime Wabash Center affiliates, Maguire and Gallagher draw on the breadth of their experiences as scholar-teachers to craft an accessible book that covers the basics – and more.
They dispel myths, like the assumption that teaching about religions in public universities is unconstitutional, and they clarify common confusion, including the distinction between studying theology and religious studies. They also offer insights into what makes the study of religion so compelling and worthwhile:
Students of religion are in a field unlike any other. The field has interdisciplinary breadth and global and historical depth that can’t be found elsewhere on campus. Many students come to the academic study of religion expecting personal spiritual development. Although that might be an accidental outcome of exposure to ideas in any course, teachers tend to be strongly interested in developing students’ skills and knowledge, goals achieved in part by reading, observation, and discussion that brackets personal judgement and biases . . . If a single introductory course in religious studies teaches nothing else, it will at least show you that there are many other ways to understand the world. (69-70)
I quote this passage at length because it exemplifies one of the two most important features of this book: the authors write to and for students. They do this from the first to the last page. I never felt like they overlooked the student to speak to a colleague. Midway through, I flipped back to the title page and wrote, “How many of us write for this audience? They’re taking students seriously!” It’s refreshing, and it is one aspect of the book that would make me want to assign it.
The book’s other great strength is how the authors model what they expect students to learn. Most chapters include explicit examples. The chapter on comparison offers lengthy examinations of how comparison works using excerpts from sacred texts (Matthew and Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures) and scholarly ones (definitions of religion). In some places, the authors anticipate students’ observations, and in others, they expand their scope. For example, they note fairly obvious similarities between the gospel and Science and Health, and then they expand the comparison through a series of questions about authorial intent. In addition to the explicit examples, Gallagher and Maguire build an argument through the arrangement of the book’s chapters and draw on evidence from scholarship on teaching and learning. The companion website provides more general information and additional exercises, too.
My main concern is how the book can reach its intended audience. Ideally, students in introductory courses would read and absorb the Skills Book. Realistically, the motivated majors in a third-year seminar will be carrying copies with dog-eared pages, and, years from now, graduate students learning how to teach will be lucky to find a copy with some dedicated major’s marginalia.
Date Reviewed: December 10, 2019
Out in the Center: Public Controversies and Private Struggles provides a fresh perspective on the inter- and intra-personal dynamics of writing center work. Building upon Greenfield’s and Rowan’s Writing Centers and the New Racism: A Call for Sustainable Dialogue and Change (2011), Condon’s I Hope I Join the Band: Narrative, Affiliation, and Antiracist Rhetoric (2012), and Denny’s own Facing the Center: Toward an Identity Politics of One-to-One Mentoring (2010), this edited collection presents the personal narratives of underrepresented voices in writing centers and invites critical conversation about the complexities of identity negotiation among tutors, writers, and administrators.
While some writing centers claim to be neutral spaces where writing is engaged apart from the culture that produced it, this collection acknowledges the ways in which writing and collaborations around writing are always already both personal and political – shaped by a confluence of internal and external factors. Writers, tutors, and administrators bring their selves to the work, thereby making public their past, present, and emerging identities, which are inextricable from the social, political, economic, and cultural dynamics of the communities in which centers reside.
The collection is organized into six parts – race, multilingualism, gender and sexuality, religion, class, and (dis)ability – some with more narratives than others. This imbalance likely speaks to the variety of submissions and also signals the need for even more narratives from underrepresented and marginalized perspectives. Additionally, while each part is purposefully arranged, the editors recognize that identities are intersecting and note in the review following each section that identity categorizations are fluid.
Part I narrativizes the interplay between the reading or erasure of black female and male bodies in one-to-one consultations and the writing classroom and how those occurrences interconnect with public discourse on issues like black natural hair, Black Lives Matter, and black masculinity. Part II explores the benefits and complexities of multilingualism in the center and ways that tutors can leverage linguistic dexterity. Part III focuses on the role of gender and sexuality in the identity formation of writing center administrators and tutors. Part IV takes up religion, an identity-marker that is sometimes unseen, and asks how inviting disclosure of religious identities might challenge hegemonic norms. Part V considers how class converges with other identities in writing centers, inviting interrogation of economic standing and belonging. Part VI explores how learning differences can shape writing practices and influence pedagogical approaches to tutoring.
The collection concludes with a final chapter and afterword that encourage readers to recognize the pedagogical and epistemic value of these lived stories in their own contexts and for future research. Engaging meaningfully and critically with these stories and the intricacies of intersecting identities that they underscore enriches our ability to create more inclusive practices in hiring, training, and tutoring – a worthy charge and a fitting ending for this valuable work.
Date Reviewed: December 10, 2019
Armed with strong backgrounds in institutional research and effective educational leadership, Phillips and Horowitz provide educators with an excellent resource for improving academic success with proven data use strategies and practices for community colleges. A central, uniting focus of the book is the need for information to be contextual, “useful, useable, and actionable” (9), and the need to enlist the widest number of stakeholders within its ecosystem. Administrators, researchers, faculty, and staff are encouraged to be co-partners in cultivating academic excellence.
Rather than placing data at the center, the authors advocate for a model that places “the use of data” at the center. The book is divided into three sections: (1) “A New Model for Data Use,” (2) “Putting the Model to Work,” and (3) “Case Studies of Data Driven Reform.”
The first part outlines a new model for data use that is user-friendly, improves educational instruction, and maximizes student success, combined with intentional adaptation to those it serves. For example, “few educators want to [be] analysts; they want to be provided with useful information and assisted in applying it toward student success” (56). Attention is also given to analytics, behavioral economics, organizational theory and habits, and the role of emotion in decision making.
In the second section, Phillips and Horowitz reveal a data use model that is put to work removing obstacles to student success. Specific consideration is given to leading and lagging indicators and the employment of backward mapping that begins with the identification of lagging indicators or goals. Attention is then refocused on the leading indicators that influence them, and which a college has the ability to control and reshape in proactive ways. Lagging and leading indicators have the ability to switch places from time to time. Scrutiny is also given to disaggregation and how different demographic subpopulations can impact the design of programs, services, and policies. The authors make use of a four stage, continuous improvement approach for use of educational strategies that moves from assessment, to planning, to implementation, to monitoring, and back again to assessment (110). They believe that data should be processed in manageable bites and reflect an institution’s unique cultural context and problem areas (176).
When evaluating outcomes of particular programs or services, Phillips and Horowitz call for academic institutions to review all other policies and programs that may or may not have an impact, positively or negatively. When introducing data and discussing it educators need to make sure that the content is real, that they include moments of humor, that they engage with the data, and that it works towards a consensus in decision-making. Resistance is another key factor for community colleges to scrutinize. College staff often bring their “own history of belief and experiences to the process and accept only information that confirms those beliefs” (104). Helping people to move outside their comfort zones and embrace change can assist in creating a positive, data-informed culture.
The last section provides actionable approaches and case studies drawn from community colleges from differing socio-economic and ethnic settings that intentionally choose to embrace a data-informed culture and foster proactive uses of information for student success. A failing institution was among the colleges examined – it had been on the verge of being shut down by state authorities because of dissatisfaction with its academic quality and student success.
This book is more than a guide for interpreting data by academic researchers. It also provides a research-based, comprehensive, and practical approach for improving academic excellence in all areas, and amongst all segments of the college community. This book will help teachers of religion and theology to increase their classroom effectiveness – in lecturing and interacting with students.
Date Reviewed: December 10, 2019
Against the backdrop of growing debate over both the nature and value of higher education, David Cunningham and twelve scholars offer what they believe may serve as a “common purpose” – vocation. Along with the word, “calling,” vocation has theological roots, but Cunningham argues that a “more expansive” approach to the word “is attentive to questions of profession, work, and employment” and “encompasses a much broader range of concerns that will arise during a college student’s current and future life.” The writers of this volume do not believe that appealing to the concept of vocation will eliminate conflict swirling around competing visions of the academy, but they do believe that the concept appeals to both the roots of the modern university and the goals of faculty from across the academy (3).
With that goal in mind, Cunningham and his co-contributors divide their effort into four parts. Eschewing a disciplinary-centered approach to their work, they instead consider “four different pathways or approaches through which the disciplines can come into conversation with one another: first by emphasizing certain themes that are common to them all; second, by borrowing concepts from one discipline that can apply to many other disciplines; third, by focusing on the future lives of undergraduates…; and fourth, by considering some of the institution-wide obstacles that need to be addressed if the language of vocation and calling is to be perceived as relevant to all academic departments and programs” (14).
In a closing epilogue, Cunningham notes that the volume demonstrates that neither vocation nor calling exhaust the concerns that arise from their use in the academy. The words, “responsibility, character, virtue, mission, covenant, mapmaking, storytelling, performance, work, [and] leisure,” along with others, figure in the contributions to this volume (315). That should come as no surprise, he argues. From the very beginning, Cunningham commends a definition of vocation that is “capacious, dynamic, and elastic” (315, cf. 10ff.).
Accordingly, he argues that one should approach the issue of vocation prepared to use multiple vocabularies that reveal different, but interrelated discoveries. To have a vocation means that one is shaped by that calling (317ff.); that one is summoned “from without” (319f.); that one must decide what to do (320f.); that those who are called inevitably consider their link to the callings of others (321f.); and that they are compelled to think about the impact their vocations will have on the future (322ff.).
This is the second of three volumes in an ambitious and welcome effort to recapture the inspiration of vocation as a locus for higher education. The first, published in 2015 under the title, At This Time and in This Place, focused on pedagogy. The third, published in January of 2019 appeared under the title, Hearing Vocationally Differently, and expands on the vocabulary associated with vocation, relying on contributors from diverse religious traditions.
One may well wonder what the prospects will be for the project of this series. Embattled as the academy is – by forces both within and without – one would hope that scholars will find a common inspiration that will lend new energy and focus to their work. But even cursory attention to the debates roiling college and university campuses underlines the truth that “an optimist is someone who is not in possession of all the facts.” It is difficult to believe that disciplines that are struggling to define a shared vision of the work that they are doing could agree on a vision for the larger work to which the whole academy is devoted.
The task that the writers propose is made all the more difficult by the choice of “vocation” as the organizing principle around which they attempt to rally their readers. As Cunningham himself observes, the verb vocare is transitive (317). As such, it implies that one is not only called, but one is also called by someone or something. The absence of a shared understanding of who or what issues that call - if anyone or anything does – underlines how little shared vision may be in the offing for the modern academy.
For theological educators the answer to that question and others ought to be easier to achieve, but anyone who teaches in the modern divinity school knows better than that. As seminaries struggle to address declining enrollments, degree programs are crafted with an eye to the individual’s goals and the notion of vocation – and the spiritual formation that accompanies it – has slipped again to the margins of theological education. Where it still lingers, it is necessarily governed by private definitions. In the meantime, seminary faculties differ with one another as much or more on such questions as the faculties at any college or university.
The effort made by Cunningham and his co-contributors comes, then, as both question and indictment: What is it about the concept of vocation that leads even a small but brave cohort of scholars without shared confessional commitments to imagine that they can galvanize their work around the concept? The indictment is this: What are the factors that have relegated the question of vocation to the margins of the very institutions that gave birth to the vocabulary?
Date Reviewed: December 10, 2019
This edited volume profiles higher education communities of practice, with contributing authors reflecting on their experiences of dreaming, scheming, and implementing communities of practice (CoP) within a variety of higher education contexts. As an elementary teacher turned practical theologian, I am encouraged to see this attentiveness to social learning within higher education. The CoP concept has significant potential for critiquing, enhancing, and transforming teaching and learning practices within religious and theological educational contexts.
It is noteworthy that, despite the current climate in higher education being identified as chilly and non-supportive of collaborative activities (xii), the enthusiastic response to Jacquie McDonald’s call for papers exploring the use of CoP for learning and teaching in higher education resulted in two volumes. A more practical focus is evident within this second volume.
The Foreword, written by Etienne and Beverley Wenger-Trayner, provides a helpful overview of the history of the CoP concept. CoP theory is identified as having moved through three phases, from the community defining learning, to learning defining the community, to the consideration of a broader landscape of practice, acknowledging learning taking place at the boundaries between communities of practice as well as within them (viii). Theological educators will benefit from considering the relevance of each of these phases.
The volume is divided into four parts. Part I consists of case studies. Amongst these first seven chapters, the more generalizable are certainly relevant to teachers of religion and theology. These include the first chapter, with its focus on the use of CoP to support the capacity development of supervisors of HDR students, and the fourth chapter, with its focus on the practice of generous scholarship and collegiality through academic writing retreats. Here Sally Stewart Knowles advocates for attentiveness to the actual practices and processes that lead to publication. Noting the proven value of writing retreats, Knowles implies that the communities fostered by such retreats must move from fringe status to becoming an integral part of a research environment (78). The sixth chapter, with its focus on collaborative autoethnography and decoloniality, may also prove invaluable in terms of researcher preparation in various contexts.
Part II focuses on curriculum development. Here theological educators may particularly resonate with an emphasis on “transformational approaches to professional learning” (161) within chapter eight and the interdisciplinary focus on transformative education and sustainability within chapter thirteen.
Theological educators and students will benefit from considering the various student-focused CoP within Part III. Doctoral students may particularly engage with the development of informal organic networks outlined in chapter fourteen. Variations on the Equity Buddies concept outlined in chapter seventeen may be valuable for supporting first-year students within theological colleges.
Finally, the focus within Part IV on virtual CoP will be of relevance to those engaging students in quality learning experiences through online teaching, learning, and research. Themes that emerge through these chapters include the organic nature of communities and the fostering of a culture of collaboration.
Given that some contributors make extensive use of acronyms, readers unfamiliar with these acronyms may need to engage in the discipline of slow reading. While a final summary chapter reviewing and discussing key themes and findings that emerged throughout these papers would enrich this work, educators will nevertheless benefit from focusing on those chapters most relevant to their contexts. Overall, religious and theological education readers are likely to glean inspiration, ideas, and implementation strategies that contribute to learning with and from one another in today’s isolating yet interconnected world.
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.
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.