Book Reviews in Reflective Teaching
The Wabash Center’s Online Publication Reflective Teaching publishes short (500 word) reviews of books and resources about teaching and learning.
Editor, Reflective Teaching
Latest Book Reviews
Date Reviewed: February 11, 2019
Michael Rifenburg begins and ends his book with the melancholy story of a student who didn’t make it. A freshman at Auburn University, “Trey” was a star on the football field, but a dud in his classes. Rifenburg – then a master’s student working as a tutor for athletes – tries to help him, but it doesn’t work. When the Auburn football team wins a national championship a few years later, Trey has already dropped out and disappeared.
Rifenburg’s book helps us understand what went wrong with Trey’s education. His ultimate argument – that writing teachers can better support student-athletes by understanding the embodied knowledge they bring from the playing field to the writing classroom – asks teachers to see the hidden talents in even those students labeled remedial. Rifenburg pushes past both the “dumb jock” stereotype and the tension that exists between academics and athletics in many colleges. He breaks down these misconceptions and boundaries to explain student-athletes as possessors of “a prior knowledge honed through bodily engagement with text and through writing practices that privilege the body as a central mode of meaning making” – a knowledge that has long gone unrecognized and untapped in the writing classroom, where the abstract practice of writing can seem disconnected from physical experience (5).
As a graduate of Division I sports powerhouses like Auburn and the University of Oklahoma – where he worked in a writing center dedicated to serving student-athletes – Rifenburg is well-poised to make this argument. He was embedded for a season with the University of North Georgia’s men’s basketball team, where he attended practices and interviewed players and coaches about how they make meaning on the field. He performs detailed readings of baffling football plays from Auburn’s thick playbooks. His conclusion is that student-athletes learn complex theoretical plays through physical engagement, with the implication that this kind of learning is multi-modal, exacting, and collaborative – and potentially transferable to the traditional writing classroom. He concludes that student-athletes learn their sport through three “cognitive processes”: spatial orientation (or understanding their bodies in relationship to other bodies on the field), haptic communication (or physical touch, as when a coach re-positions a player’s hips), and scaffolded situations (or the step-by-step process through which players build up to learning a complex play). For Rifenburg, these skills are not that different from what writers do: position their ideas in relationship to other peoples’ (or spatial orientation), understand writing as a communal activity that takes place within and between groups of people (or haptic communication), and build upon many early drafts to create longer, complex texts (or scaffolded situations). He ends by prompting the reader to ask how these cross-currents between writing and playing can be leveraged to support student-athlete writers in the classroom.
In the end, Rifenburg raises more questions than he answers. His description of the analogy between writing and playing sports is original and clear-sighted, but it remains only an analogy, as he stops short of offering strategies for putting this insight into action – an odd lacuna for a book that places so much emphasis on concrete, embodied experience. Indeed, I often found myself mindful of what is left out of Rifenburg’s book. While he displays deep familiarity with the field of writing studies, he does not acknowledge gender studies or disability studies, fields that are historically groundbreaking in exploring embodied meaning. Similarly, Rifenburg’s focus is exclusively on men playing high-profile, competitive, aggressive sports; do other types of athletes experience bodily knowledge differently? What of swimmers, runners, or dancers? Women athletes? Do student-athletes at small liberal arts colleges or community colleges – where athletics are not as prominent – experience a different kind of relationship between sports and academics? Rifenburg’s study opens the door for many important inquiries to follow. Ultimately, he provides a model for thinking about matter, mind, and underexplored student expertise.
Date Reviewed: February 6, 2019
The aim of Fundamentalist U is to “offer a more complete history of fundamentalist and conservative evangelical higher education” including the daily functioning of evangelicalism. The schools studied include Wheaton University, Gordon College, Biola University, Moody Bible Institute, Bob Jones University, and Liberty University.
The task at all these schools is to balance academic legitimacy while maintaining reputations for religious purity. Laats defines the (evolving) distinctives of Christian fundamentalism and evangelicalism; outlines what it has meant for these schools to be “real” colleges or universities; demonstrates how the schools function as centers for both evangelicalism and fundamentalism; and examines the methods, models, and tools they have used to teach new generations of students.
The distinctive realm of Christian fundamentalism includes an interdenominational religious network of K-12 schools, colleges, universities, and Bible institutes dedicated to the promulgation of orthodox Christianity and to “remaining true to the supernatural truths of real religion as revealed once and for all in the pages of an inerrant Bible” (5). It means maintaining a belligerent stance against modernism, high levels of authority vested in personalities and charismatic leaders, a defense of Whiteness, and rigid positions on race which are elevated into tests of loyalty.
The distinctives of Christian fundamentalism (for example, conservatism) include a policing of all sexual behavior including homosexuality (which is framed as the ultimate sexual sin); traditional cultural attitudes around gender, family structure, and sexuality; and a constant monitoring of faculty and students regarding orthodox belief and action, in order, in part, to maintain their donor base, please fundamentalist parents, and ensure a regular flow of new students.
Laats examines evangelicalism’s evolution into neo-evangelicalism, characterized by a willingness to critically examine beliefs, preparing students for missionary work, and the grafting of small government, free-market ideologies onto theology. Changing ideas about civil rights and racial equality forced schools to admit that racial segregation was an important part of evangelical character, that racial integration was “anti-Christian perversion” and that, in the 1970s, a fear of miscegenation and opposition to school desegregation orders fueled the formation of thousands of new K-12 Christian schools. Laats also outlines how the six schools studied became important intellectual centers for religious and political conservatism.
The first unfortunate aspect of the book is that moderate black, brown, and white believers who are part of the evangelical tableau are not characterized. Second, a short section on what racism, anti-blackness, and white supremacy meant and still mean for African Americans is a much needed addition. That is, an acknowledgment that the toxic mix of equating whiteness with true Americanism, unqualified support of war, and the easy inclusion of conservative political orthodoxy with theology would have provided some ballast that most students and teachers would find useful pedagogically. Still, this is an excellent introductory text on (white) Christian fundamentalism and evangelicalism. It is well-researched, well-written, and a pleasure to read.
Date Reviewed: February 6, 2019
This edited volume of fifteen chapters and six appendices provides a thought-provoking study of Roman Catholic small group ministries on college campuses and in parish settings. The authors represent a diverse sample of laity and clergy who are serving in a variety of settings in Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, and South America. The two editors, Ahern and Malano, share a background in the International Movement of Catholic Students (IMCS – Pax Romana). Ahern currently serves as an assistant professor of religious studies at Manhattan College, and Malano is the pastoral administrator of the Newman Center at the University of Hawai’i – Manoa. They believe that the answer to the question, “where is God on the quad?” is “in small faith groups and student communities” (xvii).
God’s Quad includes an Introduction, three sections, and appendices. In the Introduction, Ahern and Malano explain their three goals for this text. They write, “first, we want to draw more attention to the needs and realities of the ‘student church’…. the second aspect of this project is to highlight some of the ‘good news’ stories and best practices of small student groups… [and] the third and perhaps most important aspect… is to provide concrete and practical tools for student leaders and chaplains to build and strengthen small student communities” (xx, xxi, xxii).
Part I, Revitalizing the Student Church, offers two chapters that examine the potential of small group ministries in light of Pope Francis’s writings on renewal. Ahern explores four key foundations – empowering, ecclesial, encompassing, and engaging – that he argues are necessary for effective student organizing and evangelizing. Listening is another important concept. Healey argues, “be a listening church first and a teaching church second… what if we really listened to youth and young adults – their concerns, needs, doubts, questions, criticisms, burning issues, hopes and dreams?” (17).
The five chapters in Part II present global perspectives on Catholic student small group communities in Italy, Peru, India, Mali, and Eastern Africa. Part III complements Part II’s global views with North American perspectives from Boston College, Duke, the University of Hawai’i, Manhattan College, Purdue, as well as models of small group ministry at Catholic Relief Services and the Newman Catholic Center of Sacramento. These multiple case studies examine a variety of settings and models that illustrate the appeal and flexibility of these approaches.
In addition, Karoue and Manola’s epilogue compares and contrasts many of the concepts in the book and brings it to a very successful conclusion. The editors also include five appendices with resources for small student groups including models for theological reflection.
Ahern and Malano are to be commended for producing an engaging volume that is consistently of high quality across the various chapters, a rarity in edited volumes, as well as for providing geographical and background diversity. This is a well written, insightful volume that deserves to be included in theological libraries and in the collections of anyone who works in campus ministry, small group ministry, or who teaches these subjects.
Date Reviewed: January 23, 2019
Control is Not a Four Letter Word provides an abundance of helpful information for everyone from the first-time teacher to the veteran teacher. After forty years of classroom experience, Sarah Clancy-Ballard bridges the gap between learning how to teach and establishing classroom authority. She believes a teacher sets the tone for the entire year in the first five days of a new school year (xii). The resonating theme of the text is that classroom control emerges from preparation and “the depth of commitment the teacher has to control the class” (xiii). The author examines the importance of first impressions, organizing and utilizing the written word, time management, and behavior management.
Clancy-Ballard’s classroom teaching experience leads her to believe the secret to classroom management is a teacher’s ability to control their classroom when students feel that the teacher cares for them on a personal level (6). The author notes facial expression and remembering student names are the most important things a teacher can to do to set the tone and communicate interest in students as individual people. She values relationship building both inside and outside of the classroom as a vital part of a teacher’s educational philosophy. Clancy-Ballard stresses that teachers need to form relationships with janitorial staff, fellow teachers, and administrative staff, and encourages new teachers to watch “veteran teachers: what works and does not, and how it changes with each principal” (33). She provides a detailed look at how to organize the classroom space, utilize textbooks, handouts, and instructional boards, and create a daily classroom routine. The book covers dozens of examples of routine-driven agendas, inspiring readers to “establish a routine for the beginning of class” (46).
Clancy-Ballard equips the reader with clear guidelines for implementing evaluation methods and time management within the classroom. She associates teacher time management and student assessment to classroom behavior management, pointing once again to the importance of preparation. The author emphasizes that “the student’s attitude about himself or herself and you is directly related to how he or she perceives they are doing in class,” thus connecting the teacher’s behavior to the student’s achievements (55). She encourages teachers to take inventory of their strengths and weaknesses, understanding how their “behavior in class will directly impact the behavior” of their students (66). Clancy-Ballard proposes a benevolent dictatorship approach in the classroom – treating students as intelligent individuals who have ownership of classroom management. By beginning the school year with clear expectations and explaining why the guidelines are instrumental to the class’s success, the teacher can establish control through preparation characterized by benevolent dictatorship (71).
Control is Not a Four Letter Word is primarily written for first-time elementary school teachers; however, it can be a useful reference guide for teachers from elementary through high school. This book is a useful asset for school principals to utilize with teachers for discussion about the numerous reflection questions. This could help ensure appropriate application rises from knowledge.
Professors at the undergraduate level, will find Control is Not a Four Letter Word a helpful tool to assist senior-level students as they leave the classroom and begin student teaching. During the first half of the school year, student teachers would benefit by using the text’s key concepts to observe and evaluate the lead teacher and their level of classroom control. By the second half of the year, student teachers would be well versed in the key concepts, and thus prepared to apply Sarah Clancy-Ballard’s methods in the classroom.
Date Reviewed: January 23, 2019
Timing is everything. It’s true for comedians and, according to Gail Taylor Rice, also for professors. Great comedians can hold an audience’s attention for over an hour because the attack-and-retreat nature of human attention. They know about volume control; high volume must be properly balanced with lower volume. Fast tempos must be tempered with slower tempos.
In the book Hitting Pause, Rice makes a compelling argument in favor of recognizing and designing classes in light of the rhythms of learning. Professors often suffer from the cognitive bias of "the curse of knowledge." This malady makes it nearly impossible for experts to put themselves in the shoes of someone who is learning things for the first time. A result of this curse is that it’s nearly impossible to appreciate how much time is needed for comprehending material.
Rice suggests that learners "might wish that there was a pause button connected to their college professors" (4). The pause button is a great metaphor. I think this idea could also be expanded as a highlighter pen for the lecturer. The professor needs to frequently slow down and make sure that students understand the importance of certain ideas.
The book rightly challenges the status quo of today’s university classroom as a place where professors read PowerPoint slides in darkened rooms while the gravitational pull of more interesting things like Instagram claim the student’s valuable and limited attention. Rice suggests that well-timed pausing can introduce the right kind of novelty and reflection to pull students out of their penchant for succumbing to time-wasting distractions.
Many educators believe the lecture is dead, and good professors will not use them. Lectures, however, aren’t necessarily bad; only bad lectures are bad. Rice offers solid research to give professors tested strategies for designing effective lectures that are punctuated with well-timed opportunities for reflection and emphasis.
According to Rice, starting a class with a pause invites students to become emotionally invested in learning. Again, we are so busy planning what we will teach that we forget to see things from a student’s perspective. An intentional pause forces us to think of starting a class like a pilot preparing for take-off. A good pilot will dutifully attend to a check-list to make sure that the plane is in good condition; teachers also need to consciously attend to their students’ current ability to learn.
The first half of Hitting Pause provides solid research about the pedagogical advantages of pausing. The second half contains numerous examples of starting pauses, mid-pauses, and closing pauses. Each example is categorized by appropriate setting and characteristics for use. The settings for use are divided into small classroom lecture, clinical or laboratory presentation, one-on-one session, conference presentations/in-service education, keynote/large-group presentation, course/unit, and online learning module. The characteristics include: affirming/positive, physical/movement, activates prior knowledge/experience, focuses/refocuses, creates community, generates curiosity, metacognitive, reviews, celebrates, commits to action, and provides a bookend. There are a great variety of examples which can be adapted to work in different settings.
Overall, this is a valuable book for teachers who are hoping to be more learning-centered.
Date Reviewed: January 18, 2019
This edited volume is built around the belief that educators can no longer ignore issues of cyberethics in either the content they teach or the tools they use to teach it. Over the past few decades the internet, in its various manifestations, has integrated itself seamlessly into our lives to the point that questions about the responsible use of digital tools are unavoidable. Furthermore, most students are now “digital natives,” born into the digital age with no memory of life before the internet. This reality makes it all the more critical to teach cybercitizenship and responsible internet use in the classroom.
Emerging Trends in Cyberethics and Education covers an impressively diverse range of topics and contexts in the course of eleven essays. It treats both K-12 and university-level educational contexts and considers classes that take place strictly online as well as those that meet face to face. The essays fall into three broad categories based on how they approach questions of cyberethics in education. First, there are essays that examine the ethical implications of using educational technology in the classroom, including questions of inclusivity and equal access, the quality of education made possible by digital tools and online environments, plagiarism and intellectual property rights, and discerning the accuracy of information available on the web. Second, there are essays that assess the role of educators in responding to challenges students face in online environments outside the classroom, cyberbullying being the most salient example. Finally, there are essays that consider how educators can teach students to be ethical users of the internet, social media, and other digital tools. Nevertheless, it is consistently clear throughout the book that these are not separate questions; the overarching concern among the authors is the cultivation of “cybercitizens” who can better navigate the complex promises and challenges of life in the digital age. The way teachers model responsibility and thoughtfulness in their use of digital tools, the steps they take in responding to violations of their students’ safety and privacy outside the classroom, and their efforts to explicitly teach cyberethics all play a role in this cultivation.
Educators in all contexts and subject matter can make use of this volume and the challenging questions it raises; the theology and religious studies classroom is no exception. Religion classes are particularly well situated to cultivate students as citizens because the subject challenges students to critically reflect on their own beliefs and to understand those with very different ways of thinking and acting in the world. Teachers in these subjects must now consider how, in an era in which knowledge and human interaction is increasingly mediated through digital platforms, one can integrate questions about cyberethics and digital citizenship into course design. As the editors of this volume assert, “these discussions should no longer be optional” (xv).
Date Reviewed: January 18, 2019
During a job interview over a decade ago for a position in Christian theology, I mentioned how I incorporate non-Christian texts when teaching Christology (the study of Christ). One member on the committee was nonplussed, demanding an explanation. A rare occurrence then, it would be quite shocking now, as the emerging field of interreligious (or interfaith) studies is becoming more common. What exactly, though, are its methods, aims, definition, scope, areas of expertise, value, strengths, and limitations? Judged by the slash in this book’s title, much still needs to be formulated. This collection of eighteen essays (and an introduction by the editors) provides a solid foundation for furthering such attempts. The book is the fruit of a 2016 conference at California Lutheran University. Part One maps the field, and here the diversity of US colleges and universities augment the breadth and flexibility of definitions provided. Most contributors to this book prefer the term “interreligious” over “interfaith” (I prefer the latter, but much depends on how you define faith and religious).
A strong current in the essays is pragmatic: seeing the benefits an interfaith pedagogy can bring to a range of disciplines in the humanities – raising the profile of religious studies, and religious literacy, more generally. Some contributors in Part One, however, seem constricted by the academy’s theology / religious studies debate and argue about where interfaith / interreligious studies best belong, an argument that requires one to believe in the rigidity of such departmental boundaries in the first place.
Part Two examines interfaith pedagogical philosophies and specific curricula. Professors and future educators (at all levels) will benefit from how the contributors employ specific texts, classroom activities, and assignments. I am already thinking of how I can use some of these ideas in my World Religions module; for example, adding a more expansive sensorial list of preparatory questions for students before they visit religious sites and places of significance.
Part Three focuses on the challenges and benefits this field provides for students and educators; for example, how studying anti-racist approaches or ecological issues through an interfaith lens develops a more expansive, nuanced picture, while also encouraging deeper interfaith participation and engagement. Finally, Part Four (my favorite section overall) presents the value of interfaith studies beyond the classroom, with essays on its positive impact for religious leaders, for those in prisons, for those seeking to enhance secular careers (because of their multifaith literacy) – and civically in promoting a truly interfaith and pluralist society. On this last note, Dublin (my adopted hometown as a New Yorker) was the first major city to publish an interfaith charter. This book, however, is US-focussed (or limited, depending on one’s view): it could seem to the uninitiated that the field is primarily of relevance to the United States. Hopefully a second volume is planned to expand the focus beyond the confines of the fifty states, and not just to Europe, but globally.
By the way, in 2019 (and beyond), if anyone is asked how to teach Christology (or a similar topic), I suggest you bring in as many faith-positions as possible – that is where the fields of theology and religious studies are heading.
Date Reviewed: January 18, 2019
Recognizing the growing interest in competency-based education (CBE) in U.S. higher education, but also the lack of shared standards or practices around it, three experts produced this guide for other educators who are contemplating a move to (or revision of) this type of instructional program. The authors help those who are enthusiastic about CBE avoid pitfalls by offering practical guidance. They strike a cautionary tone throughout, beginning their Introduction with the sobering reality that “there are relatively few schools that have been able to move from interest to implementation” (1).
One of the reasons for caution may be that even a definition of CBE is hard to come by. The authors joke that “if you were to ask ten people to define CBE, you would likely hear ten different answers” (2). Instead they offer five “hallmarks” of CBE: (1) “time is variable, and learning is fixed”; (2) there is “required demonstration of mastery or proficiency” which is (3) “determined by rigorous assessments”; CBE is (4) “focused on the student learning journey” and is (5) “offered in a flexible, self-paced approach” (3-4). Many educational programs would claim one or more of these hallmarks, but taken together, they represent a distinct departure from traditional education. CBE’s most famous feature may be the way it changes the relationship between learning and time by replacing the credit hour with continuous direct assessment. As the authors demonstrate, however, this change complicates everything from the transcript to faculty workload to accreditation. CBE’s intense focus on individualized student learning paths and assessment (“assessment on steroids,” as I once heard) is also significant because it changes what learners actually do to learn and what teachers do to teach. Traditional faculty roles are likely to be unbundled, “reassembled” (89), and redefined – or replaced – by roles like coach, tutor, and psychometrician.
Given the challenge of defining CBE and the guide’s relative brevity, it would benefit from some case studies, at least for readers who are still trying to gain a clear picture of what a CBE program looks like and why an institution might adopt one in the first place. Cases would presumably also help CBE adopters appreciate why other institutions made the choices they did. The book reads instead like an insider’s guide.
The book’s best feature, accordingly, is its soup-to-nuts review of issues that educators must consider when designing competency-based education. Chapters address institutional culture, program design, assessment strategies, staffing and business models, and approval seeking. Readers come away fully aware that CBE is not just a different teaching approach but a potentially radical disruption to education delivery.
Date Reviewed: January 18, 2019
Co-published by CSU Open Press
What is college reading? As college teachers we may assume that it is a process of comprehension, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. But, as this edited volume overwhelmingly demonstrates, that is often not what it is for college students. How then can college teachers help students practice advanced reading skills? The problem is compounded by the fact that even college teachers who actively want to encourage students to read may unwittingly discourage advanced reading skills by, for example, giving reading quizzes in class (as discussed by Mary Lou Odom in this volume). This edited volume is a great resource for anyone wishing to engage questions about how to improve college reading.
Some chapters provide useful practical suggestions. For example, Chris Anson shows how to formulate reading log prompts that require students to engage with the underlying ideas in the reading. Other chapters describe exercises such as in-class annotations (Davies) and says-does columns (Huffman). The volume also contains several insightful discussions of other factors influencing college reading that are more difficult to address, but no less important. For example, some of the authors observe that reading, which we may think of as an individual activity, is a “complex sociolinguistic task” (Hollander et al., 59), and “a collective and holistic enterprise” (Maloy et al., 71). Brian Gogan provides a thoughtful reflection on reading in relation to “threshold concepts” (concepts that students need to grasp in order to move forward in a given disciplinary context). College teachers may use these insights to make reading part of building an intellectual community in the class.
The chapter by Young and Potter discusses how students are taught to read in K-12, where students are commonly given a decontextualized passage and then tested on their ability to understand inferences at the level of sentences or paragraphs. These students also commonly learn that for each question asked about the text, there is one correct answer in a multiple-choice format. They receive comparably little training in the advanced reading skills required for college, such as learning how to place a particular text into a connected web of texts that make up an ongoing disciplinary conversation, or asking their own higher-order questions and working with others’ questions that do not have a single “correct” answer. When students start college, therefore, they will commonly think of reading as looking for answers in a decontextualized excerpt; they are not accustomed to looking instead for interesting, productive problems in a web of texts (as also discussed in the afterword by Sullivan and Tinberg).
Other authors discuss the importance of instructors connecting reading with writing, drawing on both the writing-to-read and reading-to-write conversations (Anson; Freedman). Some chapters refer to the by now widely known finding that the majority of students do not do what their instructors think they do when completing a research paper assignment, and how to address the implications of this for formulating new types of writing assignments (Horning; Young and Potter). Related to this, Laura Davies points out in her chapter that students who write poorly are usually referred to the university’s writing center, rather than asked about their reading skills, which underlie their writing. Several chapters also touch on how reading might be given a stronger institutional footing through, for example, being explicitly incorporated into writing-across-the-curriculum initiatives (Odom), linking courses (Sturtz et al.), or providing a reading-across-the-curriculum community on campus (Hollander et al.).
In sum, as Leonora Freedman observes in her chapter, stronger responses to the problem of how to teach college reading skills can lead to increased student engagement as well as increased faculty morale. This edited volume is a very good place to start. It deserves a wide readership among college faculty and administrators, and this goal will no doubt be made easier by the fact that the publishers have made it free to download at wac.colostate.edu.
Date Reviewed: January 18, 2019
What impact does education have upon a nation’s economy? Can education be used as a global instrument to overcome obstacles and foster change? These are just a few of the pivotal questions discussed throughout this resource that targets researchers and educators alike by introducing them to new theories and research concepts. This resource’s scholarly references and figures provide a broad perspective on trends and standards in higher education. The collection examines developing areas across the globe, the impact of initiatives on nations’ standings, and the connection between knowledge, economy, and technological capabilities in society. More importantly, this publication provides solutions for optimizing open and distance learning in higher education. It explores various developing nation’s policies regarding distance and open learning programs, obstacles and opportunities in higher education, as well as technological sustainability.
Optimizing Open and Distance Learning in Higher Education Institutions discusses how the “United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) creates policies for leadership skills, partnerships, and sustainable development” in developing areas (UNESCO, 2015). The research recognizes education as a global tool for tackling challenges and achieving change based on policies. It describes how development policies encourage higher education institutions to uniquely customize open and distance learning to suit individual growth needs and explains how customization then allows flexibility that combats cultural and socio-economic barriers. In developing nations, where continual changes in education and training rely upon such adaptability in education, open and distance learning can help to stabilize the economy and create a solid infrastructure.
Global cooperation creates a new dimension of challenges and opportunities in higher education. Learners are exposed to new techniques to improve skills and gain knowledge through open and distance learning by shifting toward learner-centered education and self-directed learning. Various contributors from around the globe form a fluid collection of writing grounded in research specific to open learning, distance learning, and e-learning.
This reference is highly recommended for researchers, educators, and students who seek to advance technology and education globally. This work explores gaps in theory and practice and offers recommendations for improvement. The different chapters analyze: e-learning, open and distance learning and education, higher education, quality assurance, trends, sustainability, and integration. Subtopics identify the services provided, access to education, management and capacity, technology equality, knowledge-based development, and sustainable growth in education. Further themes stress limitations, acquisition of “on the job” training components needed for employment, skills and technical proficiencies, and policy and research for technology integration. The collection not only details open and distance learning in higher education institutions in developing nations and efforts to overcome certain restrictions, but also creates polices for an educational path forward to reach goals of equality and sustainability.
Date Reviewed: January 18, 2019
Globalization directly affects all spheres of human activity. Higher education is no exception. Teachers are encouraged to engage emerging technologies and devices in the practice of their teaching with the hope of advancing student learning. The popularity of distance learning is one example of globalization’s reach. Anyone with an Internet connection can pursue higher education. Boundaries and barriers to education are easily crossed through Internet technology. Cooperation across international higher educational boundaries fosters new cooperation among faculty and raises questions about what connotes learning in diverse cultural contexts. Supporting Multiculturalism in Open and Distance Learning Spaces by Elif Toprak and Evrim Genc Kumtepe provides a detailed overview of contemporary cultural issues and complexities in distance education. The book helps teachers, researchers, scholars, and policymakers approach global education from a variety of cultural perspectives.
The book is divided into three sections. Section 1, “Cultural Issues in Management and Global Distance Education,” describes the practical experience the authors gained when working in open or distance education environments. For example, this section covers such topics as the influence of gender on educational policies, the role of quality assurance, and the relationship between cultural perspectives and efficient distance learning. Section 2, “Cultural Issues in Theory and Technology,” looks at close cooperation between education, culture, and technology, starting from the rise of the modern digital era to contemporary contexts. It emphasizes how important it is for the educators to “effectively internalize the premodern, modern, and postmodern eras” (1) or risk either losing a necessary contact with their students or misjudging their conduct and aspirations. The important role of virtual culture and culturally-sensitive instructional design principles is foregrounded in Section 3, “Cultural Issues in Instructional Design and Communication.” For example, “Culturally Sensitive Instructional Design Principles for Online Learning Environments,” explores different components of culture in the learning space, analyzes Hofstede’s Theory of Cultural Dimensions, and evaluates other cultural frameworks and their application in distance learning.
Supporting Multiculturalism in Open and Distance Learning Spaces is organized to share experiences and find efficient ways to nurture multiculturalism in learning environments. The book will interest both practitioners and scholars as it contains useful information on theoretical approaches to open and distance learning spaces, analysis of relevant studies, and practical advice on how to utilize various aspects of global education. The three sections with their specific foci enable readers to quickly surf the book without having to read every chapter. Each section contains a detailed reference list of literature, which is also an essential benefit of the book.
Date Reviewed: January 18, 2019
This book helps teachers think through the many functions and possibilities of the course syllabus, particularly as seen through the eyes of students. The authors advise thinking of the syllabus as a motivational tool rather than a punishing list of policies or a repository for contractual language; moreover, they suggest embedding more visual tools and images as well as more explicit rationales for assignments, even down to the individual class level. All of what they propose seems simple and reasonable, even for busy faculty. The authors clearly aim to help faculty see the excitement of creating “a course design tool that maps out the learning path for students” (19), and their suggestions will prove most useful to those beginning teaching who want to break out of the graduate school reading list mode and to those further on in careers, particularly those who might have changed (or want to change) their teaching strategies.
Harrington and Thomas write in an accessible and encouraging style throughout. After a brief consideration of the history and purpose of the syllabus in Chapter 1, they address the following issues in turn: applying course design principles with an emphasis on backward design; key components of any syllabus; policies and other boilerplate; issues of design; techniques for getting feedback and evaluating the syllabus; and ways of using the syllabus beyond its traditional roles. They helpfully include a sample syllabus as well as a syllabus checklist and sample grading rubrics. They lay out the main types of syllabi (coverage-based and activity-based) and argue for the superiority of a backward design that works from goals for students rather than from content or activities. They also champion Fink’s taxonomy of significant learning over Bloom’s, a distinction without a difference to readers who steer clear of learning taxonomies.
Many of the suggestions here seem more suited to a quick tutorial than a full-length book, particularly for seasoned faculty. But the biggest surprise is that this book scarcely addresses online learning management systems, an essential part of many courses that has, in some cases, completely replaced the single-document syllabus. Omitting this technology leaves a huge gap. This book would be greatly improved with a consideration of how the purpose and form of the syllabus has changed with the rise of learning management systems and how the principles described here apply to syllabus design in that context.
Harrington and Thomas rightly see the syllabus as a document that communicates expectations while explaining why the work of the course matters. Much of their focus is on tone and balance: even subtle changes in language and a careful curation of policies, such as those related to student behavior in class, can pay dividends in making students feel more positive and motivated to take on the work of the course. Although this book is not specific in any way to religious studies or theology, any teacher can benefit from a reminder of ways to improve this most standard of course materials.
Date Reviewed: January 18, 2019
How Humans Learn argues that our natural systems for learning are connected to human evolution and psychological development, and a better understanding of the way humans learn can help determine what will and will not work in the classroom. Instead of presenting evidence of why a teaching or learning strategy works, Eyler identifies five patterns of learning drawn from psychology, evolutionary biology, and neuroscience to explain why students learn more when certain techniques are chosen over others: curiosity, sociality, emotion, authenticity, and failure. He draws on seminal works in the scholarship of teaching and learning such as that of Bain (What the Best College Teachers Do, 2004) and Fink (Creating Significant Learning Experiences, 2013), and his patterns overlap with principles of learning identified by other scholars (Ambrose et al., How Learning Works, 2010; Davis & Arend, Facilitating Seven Ways of Learning, 2013).
In each chapter Eyler offers examples of classroom practice from various disciplines in Western higher education and provides helpful “key takeaways” that summarize major points and highlight practical suggestions. For example, to stimulate curiosity we can incorporate inquiry, discussion-based pedagogies, and backward design that structures courses from the outset so that every element is tied to an essential question that our course helps students answer (Wiggins & McTighe, Understanding by Design, 2005). To promote sociality, we can use collaborative learning strategies, peer instruction, storytelling, and role-immersion games such as Reacting to the Past. To ensure that emotions guide thinking rather than undermine it, we can demonstrate the relevance of the material and embody “pedagogical caring” by giving frequent feedback, having high expectations for students, and coming to class prepared. To encourage an authentic learning experience, we can allow students to engage in applied problem solving, incorporate experiential and service learning, and bring our own research into the classroom. Finally, we can allow students opportunities to fail when the stakes are low, then give them support and guidance to understand from failure and cultivate growth mindsets, grit, agency, and other resiliency strategies.
Those fascinated by evolutionary developmental biology will likely enjoy the entire book, while others may gravitate towards particular chapters that address topics of interest. Eyler mentions religion only once in the book, during discussion of the “emotional trauma” that can result when students alter knowledge structures or “mental models” tied to their personal beliefs and deeply held convictions (192), but his discussion of “cognitive realism” – when the brain registers a situation as being realistic – also poses interesting challenges for instructors of religion (154). Theological education affords various types of immersive experiences for students, but what sorts of “authentic activities” and “immersions” might instructors of religious studies offer students, especially those who teach in public colleges and universities? Although there are clearly opportunities to apply tools and methodologies from the study of religion to conduct field research or wrestle with problems of the world (155), what characteristics would make other assignments or activities “compellingly” real (157) without being religious?
Date Reviewed: January 17, 2019
In 2016, former students of Judith A. Berling, renowned for her interreligious pedagogy, held a symposium in honour of her retirement from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California. This collection of essays is the result. Readers looking for an introduction to Berling’s pedagogy are advised to consult Berling’s seminal work, Understanding Other Religious Worlds: A Guide to Interreligious Education (Orbis, 2004) – affectionately referred to by her students as the “Purple Book.” In this volume, readers will find a wide-ranging set of contexts within which Berling’s students have creatively applied and extended Berling’s method, especially her five “threads” of theological learning.
The seven essays are introduced by the editors and bookended by a preface and concluding reflections by Berling. In her reflections, Berling discusses the essays in an order that may be a more productive way of reading them: chapters 5 and 2 (issues in teaching today’s undergraduates); 7 and 4 (extending her pedagogy beyond the religion or theology classroom); 6 and 3 (attending to the social process of ‘othering’); and 8 (a meta-reflection on conceptual frames and assumptions). Preceding each essay, oddly for a book, is an abstract and list of key words. A remnant of the editing process seems to appear in the last paragraph on page 73.
While very diverse, the essays all attend to the importance of negotiating differences and crossing boundaries. Examples from the specific pedagogical experiences of the writers abound; while most deal with theology and religion, particularly within an Asian context and usually from a Christian setting, some essays boldly address the non-religious and secular, or areas outside the discipline of religious studies such as health sciences. The writers also demonstrate Berling’s emphasis on student-centred and collaborative learning, and the importance of the teacher “getting out of the way” (see Berling’s influential essay by the same title in Teaching Theology and Religion 1.1  31-35).
A number of essays stand out. Emily Wu (chapter 4) shows that gathering oral histories can paradoxically silence voices, and advocates a stance of “cultural humility” rather than aspiring to “cultural competence.” Elizabeth Gordon (chapter 7) suggests “spirituality” and “wisdom sharing,” instead of “religion” and “interreligious dialog,” as mediating language to include the secular in articulating traditions of human flourishing. Joanne Doi (chapter 6) creatively demonstrates the pedagogical value of pilgrimage (in this case to the second World War site of a Japanese concentration camp in the United States).
Berling underlines the urgency of the pedagogical task outlined in this book: “Understanding and negotiating difference, creating conversations and relationships across boundaries of difference, is one of the most important challenges in our diverse world” (130). Her students have bountifully indicated how they have each manifested this urgent task in their varied careers due to Berling’s profound influence. “Berling’s vocation, teaching, and scholarship have had a ripple effect in widening circles, indeed building the foundations of cross-cultural and intercultural understanding” (87).
Date Reviewed: January 17, 2019
Protocols in the Classroom is a helpful introductory handbook on “ways to structure a discussion so that it supports the learning of all participants” (2). It considers tools that foster students’ critical thinking, evaluative and discussion skills, and offers examples of each. Admittedly, ten of the eleven examples given are set in primary and secondary education. Even so, each chapter outlines the implementation of protocol pedagogy in different contexts, including higher education.
The first section provides an overview for choosing “the right protocol for your goals and the needs of your students” (6). These first three chapters do not directly address the utilization of protocols to enhance classroom instruction: rather, they convey the benefits and pitfalls of employing these tools. Consequently, this section is invaluable for those new to protocol pedagogy. For others, it simply provides a refresher course. In both cases, the table on pages sixteen, seventeen, and eighteen is worth perusing. The table offers a snapshot of every protocol in section two. The contributors must have placed the table after the first chapter to encourage readers to better understand protocol theory, but because the figure is the quickest way to choose a protocol, its placement is not always convenient.
The second section devotes a chapter to each of the eleven protocols. Every chapter follows the same format: “an introduction, a detailed set of steps, and tips for using the protocol with students” (7). These succinct descriptions of the protocols are suitable for quick reference and class preparation – the longest chapter is only four pages. However, their brevity results in a lack of critique of these tools. For example, the evaluative portion of the Microlab protocol only highlights the “positive reflections on the experience” (54) and does not address where the protocol could be improved. Such omissions are a missed opportunity to help educators better understand the challenges of implementing protocols in their own instruction.
The third section “provides resources for deepening and expanding your work” after “you have gained a reasonable comfort level… using protocols” (8). This implies that these chapters should be avoided until readers are at ease using protocols in everyday classroom discussion. Yet, the troubleshooting chapter offers strategies for addressing “the common challenges… students experience as they develop facility with protocols” (114). While not tailored to each specific protocol, this chapter offers suggestions for adapting them to the needs of students. In this sense, these concluding chapters address many of the complications of using protocols.
Protocols in the Classroom effectively describes the preparation and implementation of eleven different protocols in classroom instruction. As a handbook, it succeeds in quickly conveying the important steps in employing different protocols. However, for educators well-versed in the use of these tools, the brevity of each chapter does not offer space for the evaluation or improvement of protocols. This makes Protocols in the Classroom a helpful introductory text, but not an advanced handbook on the efficacy of protocol pedagogy.
Date Reviewed: December 14, 2018
This edited volume – the first of its kind – is incredibly valuable for teachers interested in integrating particular technologies into their classrooms. Among the hundreds of scholarly articles and dozens of books about how to incorporate technology into teaching and learning, such as Michelle Miller’s Minds Online (2016, Harvard University Press) and José Antonio Bowen’s Teaching Naked (2012, Jossey-Bass), some articles have focused specifically on the teaching and learning of religion. For example, recent scholarship has shown how 360-degree cameras and virtual reality headsets allow students to become visually immersed in distant religious environments, facilitating an empathetic understanding and ethnographic analysis of religious place, ritual, and behavior (Johnson, “Using virtual reality,” Teaching Theology and Religion 21: 228-241). Another article looks at how social media technologies might increase student engagement and active learning, for example, when students tweet about experiences of martyrdom from the perspective of the martyr, the crowd, and the persecutors, and compare types of media used to communicate from a position of power and political or social vulnerability (Warren, “Teaching with Technology,” Teaching Theology and Religion 19 : 309-319).
However, this is the first edited volume on the topic that explicitly addresses those who teach religion in higher education, and as someone who studies digital technologies and uses them for various pedagogical purposes, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I appreciated the diversity of technologies discussed, and the candor with which scholars acknowledged that not all technologies enhance or improve student learning. Richard Newton discusses strategies for using mobile devices as learning tools, such as providing backchannels (otherwise known as “live-tweeting”) for students to discuss and address questions while watching in-class films. David Kniep has students create podcasts interviewing religious practitioners, describing how the course challenged or deepened their prior understanding, and connecting scriptural texts to their contemporary world. Renate Hood argues that student response systems can increase student motivation, enhance classroom interaction, and lower students’ apprehension about engaging with religious, ethical, and personal topics. Kristy Slominski shows how clickers can encourage students to take stances on complex religious issues and acknowledge the range of perspectives within the classroom. Kyle Oliver discusses a variety of new media tools to help students visualize sacred sites, including virtual reality technologies such as Google Expeditions, Sites in 3D, and Google Earth, and online videos and picture repositories such as Sacred Destinations and Folkways.
Scholars also address how to leverage social media practices in and out of the classroom. Rob O’Lynn emphasizes the relational quality of social media. Brooke Lester identifies both positive and negative outcomes of social media use: while it can help students form connections and communities, it limits anonymity and sometimes subjects users to online abuse. Anthony Sweat shows how blended learning can help students achieve lower-order outcomes outside of class so that they can focus on higher-order outcomes of analyzing, evaluating, and creating in the classroom. Christopher Heard and Steven Rouse demonstrate that integrating interactive fiction stories did not increase motivation among students, suggesting that not all technology adaptation will improve learning outcomes. Finally, contributors explore ways that technology can expand the classroom, for example, through virtual guest lectures with experts in the field or through massive online open seminars.
Date Reviewed: December 13, 2018
In Mentoring: Biblical, Theological, and Practical Perspectives, Thompson and Murchison provide a thoughtful collection of essays on Christian mentorship. As a whole, this collection contributes to the growing body of scholarly work on mentoring by offering “windows on mentoring that are biblically grounded, theologically informed, communally diverse, and generationally attentive” (3). The book is divided into four parts, with each of the fourteen chapters highlighting the twenty-one contributors’ unique analyses and insights on mentoring and being mentored.
Part 1 surveys biblical perspectives on mentoring. As such, it begins with Brueggemann’s consideration of mentoring practices present throughout the Old Testament and concludes with a posthumous essay by Bartlett on those passages in the New Testament that help to shed light on contemporary understandings of the term “mentor.”
Part 2 examines the nature and task of mentoring from a variety of theological perspectives and methods. Drawing on the fields of pastoral ministry (Currie), homiletics (Long), ethics (Miles), and feminism (Rigby), the authors provide a range of mentoring models and resources that underscore the importance of positive mentoring relationships and practices in the formation of strong Christian leaders. On this Rebekah Miles writes, “Christian mentoring should include discussion of the ways that our professional goals contribute to the larger goals of Christian life” (83).
Part 3, “Diverse National and International Communities of Mentoring,” explores Christian mentoring practices as shaped by particular contexts, including race, gender, and ethnicity. Those who wish to think critically about dominant systems of oppression, such as racism, xenophobia, and sexism, and to foster concrete practices for inclusive mentoring within biblical-theological frameworks will find a wealth of resources in the essays by Pollard, Cannon, De La Rosa, and Kwok. Of particular note is Canon’s proposal that womanist mentoring is a vocational call, “to do the work your soul must have” (123). This section also includes an historical essay by Johnson on mentoring in the Roman Catholic tradition.
Finally, Part 4 contains three coauthored chapters that discuss mentoring as a mutually supportive practice that occurs across generations. Ottati and Hinson-Hasty’s essay, “Mentoring toward a Humane Disposition, Attitude, and Imagination,” describes mentoring relationships between the teachers and student, while Nishioka and Lowry and Wardlaw and Murray’s essays consider youth and cross-generational mentoring, respectively
The book closes with an afterword by Marty that skillfully and poetically weaves together the insights and value of this collection of essays. He writes, “It is impossible to speak properly about mentoring in entirely impersonal and theoretical terms. Mentoring is and is about a profound personal dimension of scholarly and pastoral work” (223).
Those working in theological schools or departments and in Christian ministry will find this collection of essays to be a valuable resource on the virtue and art of mentoring. The strength of this volume lies not only in its biblical and theological reflections on mentoring, but also in the range of everyday lived experiences and perspectives from which the authors write.
Date Reviewed: December 13, 2018
The growth of online education prompts a need for qualitative research about student learning outcomes and teaching methodologies. It also requires the production of specific educational material that is consonant with this educational medium. In addition, practical advice for online educational methods is warranted. This book is a collection of articles that address a range of concerns within online education. The authors do a good job in the critical assessment of the current possibilities that online education provides. It also invites readers to engage in complex discussions about online education in the future.
Creativity and Critique in Online Learning is divided into two parts. The first part is concerned with teaching practices. In particular, it examines available online teaching instruments and places online education in a broader context. This section of the book contributes a detailed analysis of online forums, discusses ways to make online teams work effectively, and explores how popular social networks, such as Facebook, contribute to informal learning. It also discusses what role multisensory learning has in online space, how to use all the senses in online education, as well as how to nurture creativity and critical assessment. This section is of interest to teachers and students alike because it looks at practical aspects of online education and gives useful advice on how to use them productively.
The second part of the book focuses on particular online teaching challenges and how to effectively engage them. Online academic cheating, its growth, and various ways to fight this phenomenon are addressed. In addition, it provides help for how to build successful relationships, instill values, and cherish identity in the online teaching community. This section also takes a closer look at massive open online courses and their drawbacks, both explicit and implicit. One of the most interesting articles in this part is “The Move to Online Teaching: A Head of Department’s Perspective” by Diane Preston. This chapter invites readers to examine online education through the eyes of an experienced educator who is concerned about both the teaching process and institutional concerns.
Overall, Creativity and Critique in Online Learning is recommended for a broad audience of educators. It contains useful information for teachers who are currently involved in online teaching, scholars, and policymakers in online education, as well as teachers practicing a traditional form of education and looking for interesting and innovative ways to make their subjects more appealing to contemporary students. One of the main pros of this book is that it does not try to present online education as a modern teaching panacea or the only choice for education in the future. On the contrary, the book presents online teaching in an unbiased manner. While it certainly praises the advantages and possibilities online education has for all participants of the teaching process, it also reveals existing flaws and addresses specific dangers of online education.
Date Reviewed: December 13, 2018
In Free Speech on Campus, Sigal R. Ben-Porath outlines her focus at the outset: “I offer a framework for thinking about free speech controversies both inside and outside the classroom, shifting the focus away from disputes about legality and harm and toward the practical considerations linked to education and inclusion. I attempt to provide readers with strategies to de-escalate tensions and negotiate highly charged debates surrounding trigger warnings, safe spaces, and speech that verges on hate” (3).
In order to accomplish her task Ben-Porath uses the first four chapters of her book to describe the “current tools” used to protect free speech and the “common myths” that cloud leaders’ understanding of the problem (7-28). She offers a “framework for inclusive freedom” (29-46) and notes the ways in which that framework can be used to respond to “intellectual and dignitary harms. . . without suppressing speech” (47-84), and then she describes the ways in which the same approach can be deployed in the classroom (85-102). In the conclusion to her book she then shows how conflicts that she has cited elsewhere could have been resolved by relying on “inclusive freedom” (103-128). The concrete illustrations include the debate over Halloween costumes and safe spaces at Yale (13); racial equality in Missouri (13-14); trigger warnings in Chicago (14); and controversial speakers at Berkeley and Middlebury (15-17).
Ben-Porath depicts three tools that have been used by colleges and universities to respond to such conflicts: Some have appealed to the First Amendment and the freedom of speech; others have appealed to academic freedom; and still others have used “speech codes” to control dialogue on campus (18-20). These tools “pull in different directions” and Ben-Porath notes that there are subtleties on campus that often escape notice (21). Academic freedom, not freedom of speech, is the “core value” of America’s campuses – that commitment conditions the right to free speech, prohibiting things like plagiarism and the misrepresentation of the results of research, even if the First Amendment protects such conversation (20).
“Inclusive freedom” offers a different approach. It is based upon a commitment to two key principles: “First, a commitment to teaching and research can only be fulfilled in the context of an open-minded and intellectually honest environment” (74); and “Second, all members of the campus community must know that they are invited to participate in this pursuit” (74).
Readers of Ben-Porath’s work will have questions: (1) Is there a bright line between society’s concern with the freedom of speech and academic freedom on its campuses? If, as the author notes, university campuses are “both the mirror of American democracy and the window into its future” (8), can universities and society be so easily isolated? (2) Could issues of plagiarism and the misrepresentation of research results be ethical matters and, therefore, unrelated to the question of how freedom of speech and academic freedom differ and overlap? (3) More importantly, can Ben-Porath be so sure that the strife on America’s campuses can be avoided or defused? Those who perceive themselves as the architects of a new social order or who see societal battles as a zero-sum game will not be easily dissuaded. (4) Readers will also wonder if Ben-Porath undermines her project by presupposing that the categories of harm and violence are appropriately applied to academic discourse. As long as one assumes that language can be violent, then opening discourse to contributions from diverse perspectives will always be constricted by the possibility that one will be charged with acting immorally. (5) Finally, on a practical note, readers will find that the author’s method is not as clearly outlined as it should be in such a brief treatment of the subject.
Questions aside, those who teach in North America will recognize some of the debates that Ben-Porath describes. The conflict that abruptly ended the deanship of Professor Elaine Heath at Duke Divinity School illustrates how intractable and bitter debates can be about these issues. For those who teach on seminary campuses, there are added layers of complexity. To one degree or another, issues of Christian community, formation, and participation in the life of the church are concerns unique to theological education. In addition, notions of belonging and academic freedom are conditioned in seminaries by centuries of debate over what makes for sound theology and authentic Christian community. For that reason, in the world of theological education, a solution to the volatility of conversation in the classroom and among its faculty is an even more urgent priority.
Date Reviewed: November 29, 2018
What is expressly Christian about teaching in a Christian context? In this assessment of the state of Protestant Christian pedagogy and constructive vision for its improvement, Smith addresses a gap he perceives between the aspirations and actual practices of Christian teaching. Teaching in Christian contexts cannot be reduced to issues of content or philosophy; it requires intentionality of process. Smith’s laser focus on Christian pedagogy distinguishes his approach from other treatments of Christian teaching that emphasize the spirituality of the educator, such Parker Palmer’s work. On Christian Teaching resides within the practices stream of theological education, consistent with Smith’s other work including Teaching and Christian Practices, which he co-authored with James K. A. Smith.
After laying out an extensive argument for how the integration of faith and education must attend to pedagogy, Smith engages the What If Learning approach (http://www.whatiflearning.com/) developed in conjunction with the Kuyers Institute for Christian Teaching and Learning, which he directs at Calvin College. Here the reader is invited to envision possibilities for seeing anew through a shared imagination between teacher and students, enabling students to choose meaningful engagement, and reshaping practice through attention to space and time. Surprisingly, however, Smith does not engage the important work already published by scholars of color on some of the very topics of his chapters, such as Willie James Jennings’ The Christian Imagination or bell hooks’ Teaching series. The reader would do well to engage Smith’s book alongside such other resources on imagination and pedagogy.
Smith guides Christian educators in assessing the pedagogical home they create, an environment that forms students in particular practices and assumptions. He continually pushes readers to go beyond philosophy and content to wrestle with the implicit meanings their teaching practices may convey, privileging student perceptions of the classroom experience over the teacher’s intentions. From start to finish, Smith consistently grounds his book in the actual experiences of teaching. Examples from a wide variety of classroom settings abound: anecdotes relayed by his son at a Christian high school, Smith’s own experiences teaching language classes at the high school and university levels, and an array of stories received from colleagues and students. If Smith’s leadership of the Kuyers Institute is not enough to convince the reader to pay attention, the organic way he articulates his message amid such a diversity of classroom examples gives the reader a sense that Smith is indeed a master teacher, and that something significant can be learned from him.
The title of the book indicates two of its limitations: it expressly addresses Christian teachers and institutional settings, and is focused on the four-walled institutional classroom setting. A third limitation is its one-directional movement from theology to practice that carries a hint of applied theology, “that faith can inform pedagogy” (viii). The reader must therefore raise two important questions alongside this book: Is the traditional classroom the best setting in which to enact Christian teaching? And, in what ways might the pedagogy in which we were formed already have shaped our theology?
On Christian Teaching is written for educators across all disciplines who identify as Christian, especially those at Christian secondary and higher education institutions. It contains eleven manageable chapters of approximately fifteen pages in length, each with a journaling prompt and questions for reflection and discussion that facilitate reflection on one’s current practice of teaching and guide imagination for future practice. This structure makes the book ideal for reading among a group of educators who are ready to move beyond the questions of what and why they teach, to imagine the how of Christian teaching.
Date Reviewed: November 29, 2018
This book is a collection of lectures given by Maxine Greene over a period of twenty-five years. Greene, who passed away in 2014, was an outstanding example of the integration of scholarship and the arts, aesthetic education and social thought. As such, this book is for all those who are interested in education and who seek to make their classrooms energetic, immediate, and alive with imagination and critique (vii-viii). It is a book for any educator in any discipline who seeks to embody transformative classroom experiences for their students.
Variations on a Blue Guitar’s introduction and preliminary material familiarizes readers with Greene’s work and her role in the Lincoln Center Institute for the Arts in Education at Columbia University. The book is divided into five sections. The first introduces the reader to aesthetic education. Greene believes that aesthetic education creates different modalities of expression that result in new ways of doing education in the classroom. For Greene, engaging art in education elicits “fresh connections, unsuspected meanings, and. . . continuing discovery” (42).
The second section works through the experience of the imagination and its implications in the classroom. One of the goals of education using art is to suggest alternative realities for the material being discussed. Greene describes concrete, purposeful, and evocative experiences with art. However, she also gives concrete examples of how one can live these experiences in moments of awareness in the natural world (72). Furthermore, she uses examples from literature, visual art, and even the natural world of these moments of awareness where an awakening occurs and one has a new field of perception of reality.
The third section of the book moves from these experiences to the concrete classroom. Greene advocates for including art in active learning, critical questioning, narrative, meaning-making, authentic assessment, collaboration, and community (146). She champions the arts in a world that is increasingly technological and dependent on the internet and computers; some experiences can only be rendered through the arts (172). This emphasis on the arts does not ignore excellence and standards. In fact, art improves classroom standards that appeal to traditional banking models of education.
In the fourth section of this book, Greene describes how minorities are a rich source of creativity and thinking outside the box. Education should strive not to rule others and furthermore it should not classify minorities or put them in hierarchies to silence them (198). Greene’s endeavor to give dignity to often silenced voices is a strength of this book. She states, “[T]he cruelest thing we can do. . . is to categorize young people. . . whether we call it ‘Asian,’ ‘Hispanic,’ ‘African American’” (152).
Overall, this book is beneficial as Greene pushes the reader beyond conventional means of education. It is a helpful resource for teachers in all fields of the discipline as they discover new dimensions of themselves and their pedagogy.
Date Reviewed: November 29, 2018
With a laudable personal openness and deep dedication to both their field of sociology and the practice of teaching, editors Christopher R. Matthews, Ursula Edgington, and Alex Channon premise their volume Teaching with Sociological Imagination in Higher and Further Education on the idea that the skills of reflexivity and critical thinking are not only skills they stress in their courses to train and develop students, but also skills that can and should inform their own teaching practice. This reflective nature is the guiding purpose of their essay collection, and the contributors therein address that same principle from a variety of angles.
Such a reflexive approach, the editors write in their own section of the volume, “Introduction: Teaching in Turbulent Times,” is emphasized as “an exploration of the importance of teaching with sociological imagination, derived from a critical, reflexive engagement with our own situated practices, theorizations, and professional identities” (xvii). This openness regarding the positionality of the researcher and of the teacher is in large part what sets this volume apart. Briscoe (2005, Educational Studies 38, 23-41) noted that ideological positioning grants that while ideologies derive from one’s experiences and are influenced by one’s demographic positionality, the researcher (and in this case, the teacher) can have experiences that allow him or her to develop empathy with the other (33). The fact that Matthews, Edgington, and Channon foreground this idea sets the tone for the rest if the volume.
For instance, James Arkwright’s essay focuses on education equality as seen through the lens of inclusion and accessibility. The case studies Arkwright includes illustrate the issues and themes of students confronted with short- and long-term illnesses, as well as disabilities, and their experiences in institutions of higher or further education. These cases are built upon by his own story of being an educator who uses a wheelchair, through which he even more strongly makes his case for why the current state of inclusivity may seem positive, while the reality of those inclusive policies in practice could be improved to achieve a greater degree of equity.
Another demonstration of the efficacy of the volume’s premise is Pam Lowe’s entry on the role emotions may play in the learning experience. This topic is timely, as debates on trigger warnings and how or whether to address sensitive issues in class is ongoing. Lowe explores the complexity of educators’ attempts at balancing emotional and sensitive issues with academic objectivity.
Teaching with Sociological Imagination in Higher and Further Education is a valuable collection of topics from a variety of professional angles, all focused on how educators teach reflexivity and critical thinking, while practicing those same principles as educators. In doing so, Matthews, Edgington, and Channon have provided a strong and diverse contribution to the fields of sociology and education, as well as a demonstration of the value inherent in exploring, understanding, and practicing how these fields are interlinked.
Date Reviewed: November 29, 2018
Going Online presents a hopeful view of online teaching. A professor in the NYU Tanden School of Engineering, Ubell seems aware that this position will contradict many professors’ perceptions. “Sitting at desks or moving about, our bodies and minds inhabit the classroom, often with the same ease and familiarity we find at home,” he writes, adding “Most of us assume it’s the ideal learning environment” (33). Going Online makes a case for recognizing the limitations of the face-to-face classroom and reconsidering the pedagogical practices that become possible outside of that setting. The collection might not persuade administrators and faculty whose familiarity with online education has led them to resist its expansion. However, it offers a useful survey of previous research and confronts pervasive misconceptions. These two features make it a valuable resource for sustaining conversations in universities looking to develop online experiential learning.
In Chapter 1, “Dewey Goes Online,” Ubell writes, “Virtual education emerges as a workshop in which online students exercise functions essential for scholarship and professional life” (5). The professor’s role changes in an online setting because they “become facilitators, propelling students to engage in discourse through discussion and argument to generate and link ideas.” The move to an online format “often calls upon faculty to become far more engaged than in the classroom” (8). Going Online develops these two ideas – online courses facilitate active and experiential learning, and faculty become more dynamic and effective when teaching online – through theoretical discussion and practical applications.
Going Online makes a point to dispel myths and misconceptions about online courses. Far from alienating or isolating students, online discussions unfold over time and provide space for reflection and “room for analysis, critique, and problem-solving” (9). The collection convincingly shows that the quality of online education equals or surpasses that of face-to-face instruction, but Ubell does not address the legitimate fears that can be summarized in one professor’s observation: “Machines have historically been used to increase profits by cutting the labor force” (54). In fact, part of faculty resistance stems from the low status attached to online courses. In “Why Faculty Don’t Want to Teach Online,” Ubell acknowledges that teaching online represents a risk for many untenured faculty. Those who contemplate migrating their courses online must confront the potential suspicion of colleagues. Ubell explores possible concerns such as “Will she be devalued, suspect, even ridiculed?” “Will her career be threatened?” and “Will she be exposed to hostile reactions from her colleagues?” (50). Alternatively, “will she be seen by some as adventurous, a risk-taker, an early adapter, unafraid of challenges?” (51). Going Online does not reassure teachers facing these risks, but this section asks faculty and administrators to confront the ways that prejudice against online education disadvantages those who shoulder those courses out of necessity or curiosity. These questions name problems and assumptions that might otherwise remain submerged in many conversations about program design.
Ubell also acknowledges that the history of online education offers cautionary tales. “For years, for-profits dominated online industry” and greed turned many of those schools into “diploma mills” (55). Because of this history, many faculty at private and public universities fear that embracing online education means their institutions “will fall into the same contemptible void” (55). Ubell asks faculty to reframe this debate over online teaching: “the battle is not fought between brick-and-mortar and new digital space, but between old and new ways of teaching – between wise, old talking heads at the blackboard versus new approaches that encourage interaction among students and instructor” (55). However, learning to view the shift online in these terms is unlikely to satisfy the concerns of junior or contingent faculty worried about their status in the university; it will also do little to satisfy established faculty worried about how online programs will affect the status of their university. Ubell does not always take faculty objections to online teaching as seriously as I believe those objections merit, potentially limiting the reach and effectiveness of the collection.
The concrete advice in Going Online will be particularly useful for academic programs or departments that are only now beginning to offer online courses. Chapter 3, “Active Learning,” by John Vivolo, Director of Online and Virtual Learning at the Tanden School, outlines technologies that make possible engaged discussions and interactive lectures. Chapter 7, “Migrating Online,” written with Sloan Foundation and Online Learning Consortium advisor A. Frank Mayadas, outlines the stages of designing an online program and situating it with an existing university structure. The strongest passages of the collection are those that describe the texture of an online class and acknowledge the practical needs that online programs meet. Mayadas writes:
Schools that enter the online marketplace find that the largest fraction of students enrolling in their new online programs is drawn from nearby communities . . . Expect at first that most of your virtual student population will be regional – local students who are just as attracted to your programs as those who enroll on campus, but given various obstacles, are prevented from coming to campus. (70)
Online courses are certainly more accessible to many students, and Mayadas asks readers to consider whether they may be more equitable too. For example, “Are women – who now make up a far greater proportion of students online than men – more likely to participate actively than in conventional male-dominated classrooms? What about the effectiveness of online learning for black, Hispanic, and other underrepresented students”? (69). Going Online does not elaborate on this point or explore these questions. Future researchers may want to take up this “next – and far more difficult – phase of quantifying the value of online learning” (69).
As an early-career academic with experience designing and teaching online courses in rhetoric, composition, and literature, I recognized many of the advantages and pleasures that Ubell describes. In my experience, discussions that unfold online rather than in the classroom include more students and encourage careful thought rather than quick opinions. Often, online students who are geographically dispersed and working according to their own schedules are even more engaged than face-to-face students who display “eagerness, attention, and alertness” but “may just be performing according to conventional classroom rules” (48). Humanities teachers will likely bristle at some of Ubell’s descriptions of the face-to-face classroom, though. I share Ubell’s enthusiasm for online teaching and creative disruption, but I wondered if his dismissal of the conventional classroom as “artificial, often a space for listening, rarely open to practice and reflection,” reflects his experience in large lecture courses and the discipline of engineering (4-5). Many professors in the humanities build both online and face-to-face courses around critical reflection, active and peer-to-peer learning, and ethical argument. We would dispute the claim that “nothing has changed since Victorian times when classrooms and factories were built with pretty much the same purpose – for a docile workforce” (45). While this description runs counter to the experiences of many teachers, Ubell’s image of online courses will encourage readers who hope this growing form of education maintains the joy and rigor that propels our work.
Date Reviewed: November 29, 2018
Meaningful Grading: A Guide for Faculty in the Arts provides a framework for continual improvement and deliberate practice in the area of course design, assignment creation, and assessment. Although this book focuses on faculty in the arts, its wisdom is accessible to all faculty in higher education. The authors argue that “strong teaching requires careful planning, even though the time constraints of academe do not always allow for it” (2). Therefore this book is comprised of fifty tips that can stand alone and/or work together to provide a cohesive pedagogical framework. Meaningful Grading is divided into three parts: (1) course design and preparation, (2) during the semester, and (3) post semester.
The book begins by challenging the reader to examine their own beliefs and biases, know their educational context, and define what success will look like in their course (6-7). As I read this section, I was reminded that many faculty in higher education receive little to no training in pedagogy and course design. Haugnes, Holmgren, and Springborg argue that we must be intentional in our course design and that “grading, if it is to be meaningful to students, must be intentionally integrated into the whole course” (30). The authors focus heavily on ensuring that course goals, teaching and learning activities, and assessment (evidence of success) must work together to support student learning. The course design process is iterative and one will cycle through “all the legs of the tripod multiple times. . . until each is in alignment to help support deep learning” (33).
Part two presents a series of tips that operate as “grab and go ideas in the middle of the semester” (65). This section provides advice on how to clearly communicate the goals and expectations that were crafted in part one. It also focuses on how to teach discrete skills and content as well as how to emphasize process over perfection. The authors suggest that it is important to identify what success looks like at multiple distinct points in the process in order to provide students with more meaningful feedback along the way. In addition, it is through the intentional use of field specific language in all communication with students (syllabus, critiques, meaningful feedback, and comments) that students are exposed to and are able to absorb field specific language and concepts.
Finally, part three provides advice on how to engage in reflection on a completed semester in order to establish and improve meaningful grading practices. The first tip in this section encourages faculty to seek feedback from students and faculty colleagues during and after the semester in order to become a more effective grader. Although this feedback can include end-of-semester evaluations, the instructor is encouraged to seek additional and separate forms of feedback from students about fairness of grades, use of rubrics, and other course activities. The instructor is also encouraged to return to course goals and course activities to assess if goals were met and the process of grading was useful for both the instructor and the students.
As a faculty member who is not in the arts (design, architecture, fine and visual arts, media arts, literary arts, printmaking, performance arts, etc.) but utilizes various forms of art in my lectures, course activities, and graded assignments, I found this text to be very helpful in expanding my knowledge of how to better incorporate and assess the use of art in a learning context where students may not initially see or value the ways in which art speaks to the content at hand. It also provided me a strong foundation on how to better communicate to students the ways in which what they are learning to master is a form of artistry.
This book provides practical and accessible advice on how to design and execute a course in any discipline in higher education while simultaneously speaking to the unique nature of assessment in the arts. I believe it is an important read for all faculty regardless of discipline and experience level, and trust that it will help us more critically examine our pedagogical strategies and assessment methodologies.
Date Reviewed: November 2, 2018
This book examines the use of Hebrew as the primary means of instruction for second or additional language (L2) acquisition at an introductory level in academic contexts where English is the native language. The author, Yona Gilead, seeks to address the relative dearth of theorization on the dynamics of using Hebrew as the primary language for THAL (teaching Hebrew as an additional language) in order to begin to situate it within a larger framework of L2 teaching, learning, and research. Dynamics of Teaching and Learning Modern Hebrew as an Additional Language provides a presentation and analysis of the pedagogy promulgated by the Hebrew University’s Rothberg International School (RIS) adapted for use at an Australian university. In looking at the implementation of the RIS method outside of Israel the book focuses on the adaptability of the Hebrew-in-Hebrew approach for localized use.
In contradistinction to teaching Hebrew from a heritage language perspective, where grammar and literacy are emphasized and the ability to read and analyze culturally important texts such as the Bible, Mishnah, and Talmud are the primary goals of instruction, the RIS method that Gilead evaluates focuses on spoken, workaday Hebrew where the goals are comprehension of aurally received data and generation of intelligible responses. The latter approach, referred to in some broader L2 discussions as the Direct Method, dispenses with grammar altogether, prompting students to learn grammar inductively as a natural consequence of language acquisition. Gilead provides a brief historical background of the RIS method, situating it in its current context amid a larger L2 field, and discusses what is achievable using the RIS method at the introductory level outside of Israel. The major modification of this method for the Australian classroom is the teacher’s prerogative to break, fleetingly, from Hebrew in order to provide a concise grammatical explanation. Certainly Gilead’s analysis, which includes interviews with the participants (students and teacher, independently), shows that the students found that the addition of this allowance was a boon to their understanding; many of the students she interviewed comment that that it was essential to have these breaks for grammar.
Gilead is quite positive about the effectiveness of the technique but does not go into great detail to this end. There is definitely room for discussion, perhaps in a future publication, of how students perform in more advanced levels of instruction. Do students approach literacy while in formal classroom contexts? How does this method serve its students when they are no longer in a structured environment? Does the method prepare them to be life-long learners? Are students able to navigate resources that will allow them to continue learning, especially if they are not in an immersive environment once the class ends?
Overall, the book’s methodology, which includes dialogue, interview, and case study is clear and implemented well. This study raises important pedagogical issues for university Hebrew programs reassessing their curriculum goals and needs. Gilead makes a solid contribution in identifying and theorizing key aspects of THAL classroom dynamics.
Date Reviewed: October 29, 2018
This multidisciplinary compilation covers the vast and varied landscape of culturally-aware curriculum and global competence initiatives currently being implemented worldwide by institutions of higher education. With authors hailing from the US, Australia, Canada, Spain, Turkey, the Czech Republic, and the UK, this text is truly global. Despite the multitude of topics, populations, and programs, the universal theme running through each chapter is globalization. Whether the contributor’s focus is on the historical genealogy of a loaded term such as “culture” and the exploration of its uses and misuses, or a call for global competency for students being trained in construction, the combined goal of the text is to encourage those in higher education to push for a culturally-aware curriculum focused on equity and respect and to provide their students with the tools they need to thrive in a global marketplace. There is a myriad of ways to meet these goals; this text itself is a testament to the variety of methodologies and practices currently set up to meet said goals.
Changing racial demographics, especially in the US, are highlighted in multiple chapters as one of the many reasons American college students need cultural awareness and competency development programs. With Hispanics now constituting the largest minority population in American colleges at 17 percent , institutions of higher education are feeling the effects of changing populations (112). By 2060, “57 percent of the total population will be from minority groups” (238). More international students are studying in the US, many coming from countries where English is not the official language (“58 percent from China, India, South Korea, and Saudi Arabia”) (24). In the 2014/15 academic school year, “Chinese students made up more than 31 percent of all international students” (309). Not only do international students, as well as international teachers, face linguistic challenges but many come to the US with differing understandings regarding classroom etiquette and cultural norms. Hence, no matter if students are studying abroad, engaging with international students or teachers in their home country, or are themselves from minority groups, globalization affects higher education on many levels.
Global education is not limited to study abroad programs and studying abroad does not necessarily result in changed perspectives. As David Starr-Glass notes, one must keep in mind that “student mobility is only a structure” and that “what can lead to a change in student perception and sensitivity, lies not in the structural aspects per se, but in the teaching and learning content of these experiences” (311). According to the volume’s editors, global education leading to cultural competence is ongoing through “interactions with an international student body, study abroad experience, or with technology in which students from different cultures are afforded the opportunity to exchange ideas” (xxi). Chapters featured in this volume focus on particular programs, initiatives, and case studies regarding implementation (dual-language, study abroad, on-campus activities), specific student populations (international, STEM, future educators, and construction professionals), and significant related topics (White Privilege, social justice, civic responsibility).
Although global education might often be regarded as relating to external forces, many of the practices developed to increase students’ global competencies and cultural awareness start internally. As the authors of the chapter “Developing Social Justice and Inclusion Competencies” note, courses utilizing self-reflection, “require students to identify and make meaning of their multiple and intersecting social identities” (79). This self-reflective practice is also vital for professionals working in institutions of higher education. Global education demands not only openness to learn about and learn from others, it also requires, as many of these contributors illustrate, students, staff, and faculty to reflect on their own assumptions and experiences.
As an academic advisor for foreign language programs at the University of Georgia and a former instructor of religious studies, reflecting on this resource in all of its multidisciplinary and multicultural glory gives me confidence in the efforts being made to educate college students not just according to educational and professional standards but also with the intent to teach them cultural humility. Even critiques of the current models and ethos around global citizenship found in this volume exemplify the thoughtful consideration going into this research. This compendium is an excellent resource for anyone invested in higher education, especially those working to encourage global citizenship among college students.
Date Reviewed: October 8, 2018
Kathleen Gabriel’s Creating the Path to Success in the Classroom is a clear, engaging, and practical book that will be of use to anyone teaching in a university or community-college classroom.
In his forward to the book, Stephen Caroll praises Gabriel’s “deep integration of theory and practice” (xiii). This integration is one of the book’s major strengths. Gabriel introduces the reader to scholarship on barriers to student learning, student mindsets, and effective pedagogy. Extensively referenced and cited, Gabriel’s book is thus a primer on classic and more recent scholarship of teaching and learning. After describing this scholarship, Gabriel then offers practical suggestions of classroom strategies designed to engage students effectively given the data. These range from one-time strategies – reading a particular article on growth mindsets as a class, doing an active-learning activity – to strategies that unfold over the course of an entire semester. Gabriel offers concrete scripts for welcoming students and setting a classroom tone, giving student feedback that encourages persistence and growth, creating and shuffling small groups, and much more. Gabriel not only suggests what to do and why, but also encourages faculty to make those reasons explicit to students, making students intentional partners in their own learning.
Gabriel explores strategies for creating a positive classroom climate during the first days of class, engaging students during the first month of the semester, growth mindsets and mental toughness, creating interactive lectures, motivating students to read, think about, and discuss course readings, integrating critical thinking and writing into class activities and assignments, and developing student resilience and persistence. In four appendices, Gabriel offers even more practical suggestions. For example, in her chapter on classroom climate, Gabriel notes that “one way that professors can increase their own cultural competence is to read both nonfiction and fiction material that addresses multicultural issues” (20). Gabriel then directs the reader to Appendix A, a list of nonfiction and fiction readings by authors of color that helped her expand her own “cultural competence and awareness” (131).
Gabriel is gentle in encouraging faculty to teach minority, first-generation, and academically unprepared students more effectively, suggesting incremental steps that faculty can take as they become more comfortable with new pedagogical strategies. She insists throughout that inclusive pedagogy not come at the expense of a rigorous academic standards: “We can design our assignments in a way that holds students to high standards, but, at the same time, we can give all our students encouragement, support, and resources so that they have ample opportunity to achieve those standards” (111).
Creating the Path to Success in the Classroom will be helpful to teaching veterans and novices alike. In her opening chapter, Gabriel frames the book as designed to help faculty effectively teach and retain minority, first-generation, and academically unprepared students. As is the case with many implementations of universal design principles, however, these strategies ultimately improve student engagement and learning for all students.
Date Reviewed: October 4, 2018
Mary Ann Beavis and Hyeran Kim-Cragg, a biblical scholar and a practical theologian, respectively, address a number of topics that are engaged by people outside of the contours of usual religious contexts; those who tacitly or consciously engage with scriptural and religious themes. It is this audience that the authors seem in particular to target: the everyday person whose religious viewpoints are influenced by media and popular culture, without their realizing the underlying misconceptions borne of poor theologies, or uncritical appropriation of traditions with little or no basis either on sound doctrine or biblical knowledge. In juxtaposing biblical themes such as creation and apocalypse, sin and salvation, Moses and Jesus, Jews and Christians, God and Satan, Christ and Antichrist, gender and God, purity and sex, and suffering and sacrifice, in a creative dialogue with cinematic culture, the authors seek to dispel many of these aforementioned misconceptions.
Beavis and Kim-Cragg have succeeded in making scholarly information accessible, taking pains to define technical terms – whether Hebrew, Greek, or theological jargon – that would otherwise be foreign to nonexperts. They provide solid exegetical and theological analysis of the themes they have chosen. Readers and teachers will find the creative way in which they use movies from a wide array of genres to further their discussion helpful. “Before viewing” and “after viewing” questions allow one to link their cinematic selections with the theological theme under discussion. This is especially helpful since, for the most part, the authors did not choose religious movies; it is, after all, an engagement with popular culture, not religious media.
As a professor of constructive theology, I especially appreciate the discussion of salvation in chapter 2, subtly broadening its meaning by disconnecting it from the notion of sin and at least implicitly relating it to the Reign of God, and their discussion of eschatology in chapter 5, rightly linking it with relationship. Another discussion which I found to be of importance in this time of intolerance and rising tides of anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, and nativistic impulses, was their discussion on Jews and Christians (chapter 4). While their assertation that “Jesus was a Jew” might seem simplistic, I can attest to the fact that such a statement can be a surprise to some beginning seminary students. Beavis and Kim-Cragg honestly tackle texts in Second Testament that have been interpreted as “anti-Jewish” as well as the history of anti-Semitic interpretations in Christian theology. It is their conclusion that in spite of this persistent prejudice, we stand well to remember that “God blesses all” (62).
For teachers in the areas of practical theology, this book can be used in courses that integrate biblical studies with Christian education, theology, or preaching. The authors’ approach to theological themes can prove helpful to beginning seminary students who come with popular misconceptions, only to become disconcerted by learning in the classroom what they believe to be contradictions of faith. The book’s methodology of integrating theological content with media is insightful and consonant with the contemporary world in which our students live and practice ministry. It is particularly useful as teachers become aware of the various learning styles of students and expands their arsenal of creative pedagogical practices. I would hope that this book invites teachers to consider the use of movies, music, photography, and online content such as TED talks in their classroom. This book is a good companion to such sources as Timothy B. Cargal’s, Hearing a Film, Seeing a Sermon, although the latter tends to focus more on homiletical and liturgical integration.
I do have some questions. While I assume that the audience for this book is either a lay or church community, the authors themselves never clearly identify their audience: is this meant for a more evangelical or progressive church community, or was it directed primarily to an unchurched community? I would have found it helpful for the authors to have been more explicit about their audience. This leads to a second question: why their particular juxtaposition of selected themes? Was it influenced by context and audience? For example, why discuss God and gender, and not God and justice? Would the latter not have allowed the discussion to be broader than simply whether our God-talk is inclusive in terms of male or female images? At a time of imposition of heteronormativity, homophobia, and rising tide of violence against people of color, it could have led to larger questions about white privilege, and broader assumptions about gender could have been broached. Along those lines, could the discussion have been further enriched with the inclusion of more voices of color, both in the authors’ scholarly sources and in their movie choices? Could some of these very themes have been underscored with such movies as Hidden Stories, The Color Purple, Selma, Even the Rain, The Joy Luck Club, or others that showcase actors of color or LGBTQI persons?
These questions, of course, do not detract from the overall importance and value of the book. This book, with its solid theological and biblical analyses, is an important resource particularly for those of us who continuously encounter groups or individuals in our churches, classrooms, and communities that espouse uninformed biblical and theological beliefs influenced by popular culture.
Date Reviewed: October 1, 2018
Ariel Ennis, Assistant Director and Senior Multifaith Educator at the Of Many Institute for Multifaith Leadership in the Office of Global Spiritual Life at New York University, has authored an important contribution to a burgeoning literature on campus-based interfaith and interreligious outreach. Noting that diversity and inclusion initiatives on American campuses frequently address race, sexuality, and gender while ignoring religious identity, Ennis reports on efforts at NYU to create a center to support spiritual life. Special attention is given to the development of a “Faith Zone” curriculum that trains leaders for enhanced multifaith encounters.
Ennis analyzes a variety of extant approaches to cross-cultural religious and spiritual experiences, looking at intended outcomes of different programs. Focusing on the concept of “religious literacy,” he describes a framework for the NYU workshops on spiritual diversity that supports religious literacy initiatives. Included in the book is the Faith Zone curriculum and rubrics drawn from the AACU (Association of American Colleges and Universities) VALUE rubrics that are used for post-workshop outcomes assessment. He shares data from these assessments in order to demonstrate the impact on campus of the religious literacy curriculum. The book closes with the author’s reflections on how Faith Zone workshops could be offered on different types of campuses (public/private, religious/secular) and with his recommendations for successfully meeting challenges emerging from the workshops.
Campus religious literacy initiatives that Ennis advocates embrace the question: Can we teach people to have more productive conversations about religion and spirituality in diverse settings? Using the definition of religious literacy developed by Dianne Moore of the Religious Literacy Project at Harvard Divinity School, Ennis answers this question affirmatively, setting four outcomes for the interfaith curriculum. Workshops will (1) enhance participants’ knowledge of historic and contemporary interconnections of religion with cultural, political, and social life; (2) embrace an ecumenical orientation that offers participants firsthand experience in exploring religio-cultural boundaries; (3) promote self-awareness about the intersections of participants\' religio-spiritual identities with larger social forces; and (4) encourage participants\' commitment to apply their new found religious literacy through practical projects that bridge intercultural divides.
In contrast to Eboo Patel’s portrait of a fraught relationship between interfaith outreach and religious studies programs (https://www.wabashcenter.wabash.edu/scholarship/interfaith-leadership-a-primer/), Ennis’ book points to positive implications for partnerships on campus between religious studies programs and interfaith outreach. Similarities between Faith Zone outcomes and learning outcomes/assessment of the religion major on many campuses suggest productive cross-fertilization. Students could sustain the long-term impact of the workshop outcomes, adding depth and breadth, through coursework in religious studies grounded in similar learning outcomes. In complementary fashion, religious studies majors could apply learning in the major outside the classroom, enhancing their resumes, through interfaith internships: as graduates of Faith Zone training, they could lead workshops on religious literacy and develop and lead associated campus programming.
Date Reviewed: October 1, 2018
The word “magic” appears several times in this book for students on how to succeed in college and university courses. Co-authored by Saundra McGuire, director emerita of the nationally acclaimed Center for Academic Success at Louisiana State University, and her daughter Stephanie McGuire, the volume is laced with stories of seemingly “magical” immediate and dramatic improvement in student performance after the application of the learning strategies described here in ten short chapters.
The metacognitive learning strategies described draw on Bloom’s taxonomy and the neuroscience of learning, such as the work of Mark McDaniel (Make It Stick, 2014). They include strategies on reading textbooks, taking notes in class, reviewing, doing homework assignments, time management, and studying for and writing tests and exams. A handy little learning strategies inventory in Appendix C allows students to “predict” their grades based on the strategies they use.
More important than these specific learning strategies for this reviewer are the sections of the book devoted to fostering in students a growth mindset that challenges the deterministic view that intelligence is innate (“I’m just not good at math”), and encourages students instead to believe that they can succeed and motivates them emotionally to do the effective work necessary for success. Monitoring self-talk and attributing results to one’s actions rather than external factors are powerful mental tools for improvement.
In order to succeed, however, students need more than just a belief that they can do it and a set of effective strategies; they also need to know as specifically as possible what is expected of them. This is where this book addresses not just students but also instructors. Instructors put obstacles in the way of student success by not clearly articulating their expectations (and by creating unsupportive and discouraging classroom experiences and course structures). The book includes a very helpful section in chapter seven on how students should read a course syllabus. Notably, if a syllabus does not seem to clearly lay out expectations, students are encouraged to meet with the instructor for clarification. In fact, one of the strategies is to make regular use of instructor office hours.
The book promises that if students use these strategies they can “ace” any course. Will students be disappointed? While the results may be magical, the method is not – hard work using effective strategies is required. Even reading the book may be a stretch for some students, although it is short and largely written in a very accessible style. It will also likely profit students in sciences and technology, where memorization is important, more than those in the humanities, such as religion and theology majors. The book does very little to address strategies for successful research and writing of papers, for instance, and the anecdotes of student success are drawn overwhelmingly from the sciences.
However, much can be gained from this book by both students and instructors in all fields. My biggest take-away is the author’s insistence, “Now hear this: All students are capable of excelling” (65). This book shows how.