The Wabash Center Journal on Teaching publishes short (500 word) reviews of books and resources about teaching and learning.
Book Review Editor
Associate Director, Wabash Center
Latest Book Reviews
Date Reviewed: December 10, 2019
As our students encounter work in what is more and more a gig economy, the authors of this book have been thinking about the implications of such employment for those entering the workforce and also for those who wish to pursue creative endeavors either as full-time or part-time work. The authors focus on creativity as a locus for student and worker resilience and adaptation to changes in global economics.
The first several chapters outline various theories of creativity. It is particularly useful that the authors elaborate on many varied theories of creativity within different academic disciplines and contexts. Chapter 1 includes thinking about creativity within a global context, and how different social, cultural, and political situations affect the development of ideas of what constitutes creativity, who is creative, and how they come to be creative. The authors consider the nature of creative development within both collectivist and individualist views of society. They also consider several religious contexts for the development of creativity, including thinking about humans as divine conduits, both as described in sacred texts (such as the story of Moses) and as the Muses working through artists.
One strength of the early chapters is seeing the deep theory of creativity in a number of fields. In chapters 3 and 4, the authors turn not just to describing theories, but to challenging them, saying that some might misidentify creativity. The authors probe the sociology and social systems that allow certain types of creativity to become dominant in various societies, and which types of creativity are recognized by their societies. The confluence approaches and systems model, which comprise the central chapters of the book, looks at a number of ways in which creativity can fit or allow a person to thrive within a system. The authors highlight various features such as intrinsic motivation, domain relevant skills (such as knowledge of field and necessary technical skills), and creativity relevant skills. An overwhelming strength of this book is how the reader can look through the authors’ lenses of multiple disciplines and access their background research, ideas, and the main voices in their fields for others to know, which helps readers understand how these ideas apply in various contexts.
In chapters 5 and 6, the authors turn from a descriptive project to a constructive one, considering how systems approaches can provide guidance for thinking about effective ways to develop creativity in higher education that will provide students and workers with the necessary tools to adapt to new work situations as our economies evolve. The authors then tease out implications and impacts of such a model and its adaptability to other contexts. All these confluence systems are deeply interactive, and recognize the context in which the person has lived and operates. It is here that the book best provides help to scholars and practitioners in theological and religious studies. While the book is written within the context of media studies, it is clear in the second half of the book where these systems approaches could apply to someone who wishes to either research or serve a religious community, and the authors have begun that work of thinking how this model can work in other contexts. In its last chapters, the book provides multiple ideas about how one’s context can positively shape the ability to develop and foster community.
Date Reviewed: December 10, 2019
Issues in Applying SLA Theories (hereafter Issues) comprises volume seven in the series, Critical New Literacies: The Praxis of English Language Teaching and Learning (PELT).
What is meant by reflective teaching? In their article on writing, Zeraatpishe and Azarnoosh offer the following definition: “Reflection is regarded as a process through which teachers observe their beliefs and practices, assess, restructure their teaching and learning so that they can better situate themselves as agents of change in the immediate contexts of teaching” (165). Effective teaching, in contrast, involves conscious monitoring of student needs and progress, followed by corresponding adjustments in one’s instruction.
Issues is a collection of fourteen essays by a global array of authors. Most hold doctoral degrees, with teaching experience ranging from assistant professors to emeritus professors. Several serve as editors of major publications in the field of Second Language Acquisition.
Part One concentrates on six theories that have influenced language learning pedagogy. Part Two addresses eight skills necessary for learning a language.
Theories explored in Part One include behaviorism, cognitive approaches, constructivism, connectionism, interactionism, and critical theories. Behaviorism’s attention to stimulus and response led to the emphasis on language drills found in the Audio-Lingual Method. Cognitive approaches bring together rationalist and empiricist viewpoints, valuing both Chomsky’s innate Universal Grammar and also the importance of learning through experimentation. Constructivism in language learning involves forming increasingly more complex categories of information by analyzing similar elements, whether individually (cognitive constructivism) or in community (social constructivism). Connectionism draws from the design of digital computers to consider how parallel distributed processing (or artificial neural networks) serve the task of pattern recognition. Interactionism holds that language learners benefit from conversational communication, which involves input, negotiation of meaning, noticing, and second language output. Critical Second Language teaching would value “a listening phase on the part of the course designer or teacher, and… finding out about the learners’ real lives and needs” (70), then creatively adjusting the course correspondingly.
The remaining eight chapters turn from theory to praxis, exploring what it means to teach particular skills in a reflective and effective manner: pronunciation, grammatical competence, vocabulary, idioms, speaking, writing, listening, and reading. For example, instructors are encouraged to journal after class sessions to become attentive to trends in student performance of pronunciation. Grammatical competence can be enhanced by immersive use of illustrated fiction readings, with discussion and open-ended composition assignments. Vocabulary learning will be more effective as students are encouraged to master roughly 2000 words, whether isolated lexemes, word families, or phrasal vocabulary, so that they may produce them in speech and in writing. Idioms will be learned more effectively through a pragmatic approach that is attentive to context and the speaker’s aims. Speaking will improve as instructors facilitate conversation that is incremental and attentive to stages of students’ proficiency. Writing instruction can be segmented into eight discreet stages. And listening comprehension improves as students appreciate and attend to specific processes at work during periods of concentrated listening. Reading fluency, defined as the ability to read “effortlessly and confidently at a level of understanding and a rate appropriate for the purpose or task and the material” (Day, 203), requires automatic recognition of words which results from students having read large quantities of easy and interesting material.
Instructors of English as a Foreign Language comprise the principal audience for Issues. Those who, like the reviewer, teach a classical language will benefit primarily from R. R. Day’s insights concerning literacy (199–208), and also from Nurmukhamedov and Plonsky’s essay on vocabulary (115–26).
Date Reviewed: December 10, 2019
There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says "Morning, boys. How\'s the water?" And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes "What the hell is water?” David Foster Wallace, This Is Water
Upon reading this volume, I was repeatedly reminded of the late David Foster Wallace’s speech, “This is Water” (Little, Brown, and Co., 2009). Foster’s commencement speech hones in on some underlying themes of life many of those in higher education hope to instill in our students. Most importantly, I think, is the lesson that the most powerful influences on us are often those in which we are continually swimming but which we often cannot see. We must learn the practice of “seeing” the water we swim in. The practice is imperfect, messy, and will not make you particularly fun at parties, but it is vital for any transformative learning to occur. We can do this in a myriad of ways, such as those laid out in this volume, by practicing reflexivity.
What is reflexivity? The editors, influenced by Foucault’s concepts of discourse, knowledge, and power, define reflexivity as “encompassing a critical assessment of the significance of environment, power, and context as well as subjectivity in the delineation and construction of knowledge” (1). Reflexivity implies “a responsibility to critically examine our world, and how we position ourselves, and are positioned in that world” (1). Reflexivity is not narcissistic navel-gazing; it involves an intimate interrogation and critical examination of the personal, political, and professional. It is a practice. Contributor David McCormack describes reflexivity as the “practitioner’s attempt to turn their awareness to whatever is happening at any given moment at a personal, interpersonal, organizational, and societal perspective and to use that to illuminate the interpersonal dimension in their work” (122). The self is not freestanding – it always has a context.
Why is reflexivity critical to education? Education must be reflexive in order to avoid being merely indoctrination. Education can make space for reflexivity, can give educators and students an opportunity to analyze not just “what works” but also to interrogate for whom does it work and to what end. Learners need spaces to confront dominant narratives and cultures, and educational spaces can provide just that.
Contributors to this volume are primarily affiliated with the Department of Adult and Community Education at Maynooth University in Ireland. Each was invited to “challenge traditional thinking in education” (10). The chapters of this volume exemplify a myriad of ways reflexivity can be practiced in educational spaces. Despite this variety, each of these contributions emphasize the critical imaginative element among practitioners, a willingness to see things as possibly otherwise. Whether the reflexive practice happens within discursive analysis, writing, theater-making, transformative learning, systems theory, defining citizenship, facilitative work, or narrative inquiry, it requires imaginative capacity and a willingness of the practitioner to critically examine the very bedrock of their experience and the systematic assumptions underlying their everyday reality.
This book would be especially helpful for educators and administrators hoping to equip their students with theoretical tools and practical exercises aimed at “bringing to light dynamics of power which privilege conformity” and “revealing the normally occluded dynamics of dominant discourse”(6). It is also a resource for those who see themselves occupying hybrid spaces: those who acknowledge a multiplicity of knowledges and competing and intersecting realities and experiences, who interrogate and trespass boundaries, and, overall, who strive to “see” the water in which they swim.
Date Reviewed: December 10, 2019
Social media and the daily news both mark the continued normalization of violence. Given that one of the chief aims of liberal education is toward personal development and the attainment of civic responsibilities, the normalization of violence is a central issue with which twenty-first-century educators must grapple. To this end, Pedagogies for Building Cultures of Peace is a useful resource both for centralizing current research on structural and cultural violence and the concomitant dehumanization of the “other” (Chapters 1-4). Further, the book details the many benefits of engaging youth in structured critical dialogue about their experience and internalization of violence in many forms and leverages this dialogic strategy for the transformational aim of building peace and destabilization of structural violence (Chapters 5-9).
This book is a theoretical treatment of a specific dialogic experience examining the normalization of violence. It is evident that the experience was significant for the participants, and the detailed reporting of the participant dialogue helps make clear some ways in which structures of violence are normalized for these youth. However, as with qualitative research – the difficulty lies in transferability, specifically in the question of how generalizable the experience of these ten youth is for a broader audience. In part, this challenge could have been alleviated with a more detailed description of both the methods used in the dialogic process itself and by providing more information about the participants themselves. That difficulty aside, the central argument – that safe, collaborative, and critical dialogue functions as a viable pedagogical strategy for building real peace – is compelling, even if the author does not provide practical details for creating this type of dialogue or these types of spaces (a brief outline of the dialogic structure utilized does appear in Table 10.3).
Readers of The Wabash Center Journal on Teaching will find the final two chapters the most beneficial. These summarize the dialogue and extract pedagogical implications, which are supported by research in experiential learning, social constructivism, relational epistemology, and power analysis. Taken together, these chapters provide a robust theory that must inform teaching aimed towards peace. As Abidi observes, “education that neglects to challenge normalizations of violence, and the relations that maintain violence as an accepted norm in society, further reinforces unquestioned ideologies of the dehumanized other” (113). It is, therefore, no longer an option to say nothing about the normalization of violence in the classroom – rather collaborative critical conversation must be employed towards the end of peace.
Date Reviewed: December 10, 2019
As a Roman trained missiologist who teaches intercultural pedagogy and ministry, as someone who grew up on the US-Mexican border and who has worked in religious formation since the age of twelve, I was drawn to this book’s title and cover design, a world map on a chalk board. I am blessed with a large number of international graduate students, most of whom will be returning to their home countries or will be called to work internationally. The book’s title seemed a tall order – but it did not in the least disappoint.
Penned by a seasoned missiologist and professor who knows how to draw educationally from his extensive international travel and work abroad, the work is exceptionally readable, one which strives to integrate course content, or knowledge of the biblical tradition, with contemporary human experience, or alternatively phrased, an appreciation for an ongoing dialogue between a course being content-centered and student-centered. Plueddemann does this especially by engaging Edward Hall’s highly effective categories of “high and low context” styles of communication, together with Geert and Gert Jan Hofstede’s development of power distance. Filled with examples and anecdotes, not only from his own teaching but also from other practitioners appropriately placed at the end of every chapter, he makes a strong case for paying attention to biblical pedagogy, one which is profoundly experiential and cognizant of diverse contexts. His sources are carefully selected so as not to overwhelm the reader with jargon and very applicable to those wishing to respectfully do global Christian mission in a way in which Bible and culture inform each other, especially in contexts which are much more communal than our U.S. contexts. His brief inclusion of key learning theorists such as Piaget, Lewis, Dewey, MacDonald, and Freire show their continued relevance, and provide a necessary bibliography for further study.
It is not often that we find good pedagogical material specifically aimed at teaching theology or religion, so this little gem is a welcome one, a work carefully tailored to shifting contexts, learning styles, and contemporary media globalization. Much to my amazement, Plueddemann’s tools can be applied to a variety of educational tasks such as teaching language, preaching, summer camp work, Sunday school, mentoring and coaching, and even parenting. His appreciation of the teaching potential of novels and other forms of art provides ways in which teachers unfamiliar with local contexts can begin to enter these learners’ worlds. Teaching across Cultures’ ecumenical sensibilities, similarly, such as the inclusion of the work of Thomas H. Groome, well-known in Catholic educational circles, makes it a useful text beyond the Protestant world.
Will I assign this text? Definitely! My own use of some of the biblical and anthropological tools he cites will be enhanced by his examples of how they can be applied to educational and pastoral settings, not only to those which demand intercultural sensitivity, but even to those which we think we already understand.
Date Reviewed: December 10, 2019
Online learning has come a long way in twenty years. Although distance education has been around in one form or another for a really long time, online education had fairly humble beginnings in California in the late 1990s. As noted in the foreword of Creativity and Critique in Online Learning, “At the end of the 1990s the internet was seen as an interesting application, but not necessarily relevant to all subjects or modes of teaching” (vii). The initial benefit of distance and online education was that it would connect learners together in a networked classroom that spanned further than four cinderblock walls. What initially started as a distance enterprise, where students would log in to a remote learning server and be funneled into a class with potentially dozens to hundreds of other faceless paying customers (and may or may not have received an actual education), the Learning Management System (LMS) has evolved into a “commonplace and essential piece of technology infrastructure in almost every university” (viii). Yet creativity does not come without critique, as is often the case when boundaries are stretched and broken. This volume provides a summary of the creative side of online learning as well as a critique of the overall process, at least within the purview of Open University’s experience as a leader in online learning, answering significant challenges and squashing anecdotal myths throughout.
The editors and contributors, all of whom are either faculty at Open University or products of one of Open University’s online programs, seek to rewrite the narrative regarding online education. Rather than asking “Can online study really replicate the challenges and occasional joy of learning in a face to face environment?” (2), these contributors shift the focus to answering questions such as “How can [online learning] help teach the ‘hard to reach’ and how can it provide learning for those who have failed in (or rejected) learning in a face to face context?” (2). Putting aside such arguments as online education being more cost-effective in a bloated yet dwindling brick-and-mortar learning environment and what tools and techniques work the best in an online context, the contributors pull directly from their experience and ground their findings in action research that seeks to add a cogent and coherent voice to the ever-widening field of online learning studies. Creativity and Critique in Online Learning presents real-world problems with and in online learning with real-world solutions from real-world practitioners, some of which worked and some which did not. Of particular note in this volume are the chapters on developing effective forums (chapter 3), engaging students in informal learning communities (chapter 5), addressing concerns with academic dishonesty (chapter 7), and developing appropriate yet effective teacher-learner relationships (chapter 11).
Overall, I found this volume helpful. As the director of a completely online graduate program in biblical studies and Christian leadership, I recognize the growing challenge of developing online learning experiences that are academically rigorous while also developing spaces for relational connection and personal growth. I was afraid this book would be another “do it our way” argument. However, the essays are more akin to the casual conversations we catch over coffee at a professional conference than the peer-reviewed “expert” keynote that we actually paid to hear.
Date Reviewed: December 10, 2019
At a recent workshop on “Diversity, Civility, and the Liberal Arts,” I found myself in the company of faculty and staff teams from small colleges and universities around the United States who find themselves, like Leonie Rowan, “motivated by a desire to create university contexts in which diverse learners feel themselves to be included, valued, and safe” (1). This desire names the telos, or end, towards which critical, liberative pedagogy aims – freedom. Unlike the Aristotlean defense of the liberal arts as education suitable for free persons (read: male, property-owning citizens), Rowan’s notion of freedom extends to all learners, especially those whose participation in higher education has been constrained by the unjust dynamics of the sociohistorical contexts in which they happen to be born. Rowan argues that education can be transformational when the decision-making processes in higher education – from curriculum and syllabus design to admissions policies and the student support portfolio – begin with the question: “For whose freedom – in whose interests – do we, now, labor?” (4). It is an important question that suggests that not all student-centric approaches lead to models of student-as-customer and higher education as a private good.
For readers who have followed debates about diversity and inclusion in higher education since at least the 1990s, the terrain Rowan is covering and the companions along the way will likely be familiar – notably, the relationship centered, liberative philosophies of Paulo Freire, bell hooks, and Parker Palmer. Like many social currents today, it is difficult to avoid a sense of déjà vu when reading about education and “its fundamentally constructed and negotiated nature” (16) and the need for academics to embrace “the idea that language is a site of struggle” (18). The key move Rowan makes is the attempt to get underneath these now familiar discursive moves in order to understand “what it actually, really, feels like to study within a university classroom” (15). In so doing, she sides with social justice theorists like Nancy Fraser whose notion of participative parity juxtaposes classical questions of social justice as distributive justice with questions related to recognition and representation: “do people have the opportunity to participate in an environment on an equal footing” (14)?
The middle chapters demonstrate how pedagogical decisions that flow from notions like participative parity have the potential to transform student engagement. Empirical evidence for this potential is drawn largely from Rowan’s own classroom experience educating future teachers from diverse backgrounds in an Australian university. The data sets consist of student course and instructor evaluations as well as brief “doorstop” interviews with students, most of which confirm what she highlights in the scholarly literature about student engagement and diverse learners. These chapters would, in the end, make much better stand-alone scholarship of teaching and learning articles, offering insights from her own successes and failures to create the type of classroom space she desires. In a telling example of the challenges of actualizing this type of space from chapter four – for me, the strongest section of the book – Rowan describes what she refers to as “one of the most appalling lessons I have ever taught” (115). She acknowledges that in her attempt to empower diverse learners with a lens for critically interpreting past discrimination against First Nations people, she inadvertently opened the door to “inappropriate and offensive language.” The effect was immediate: the goal of a charged but hospitable environment (one of Palmer’s educational paradoxes) devolved into something “destructive and frightening.” Despite her extensive background and skills as a facilitator of difficult dialogues, she acknowledges that this episode created fissures in the class that could not be overcome – indeed, “several of the participants never returned to the class again” (115).
What is most striking about this example in the context of her overall argument is the short shrift she gives it. Offered under the heading “A Summary and a Pause,” she relates this anecdote in the space of a page or two, as a kind of aside. Yet, for me, this anecdote is at the heart of her project, illustrative of the pitfalls of liberative pedagogies that fail to adequately acknowledge the priority of her other pedagogical concern: relationships. She concludes the anecdote with an apology to all the students involved, and in this gesture – as well as the telling of the anecdote itself – Rowan reveals herself to be the kind of caring, reflective, intentional pedagogue needed to hold educational paradoxes in creative tension and to resist conflating “giving students an opportunity to have their individual voices” and “anything goes” (116). Yet, the reader is left wondering what she would do differently next time? The evidence she has gathered from years of student evaluations and the practical wisdom she has accumulated teaching these topics semester after semester surely has something important to say about how this might be handled, whether in forms of restorative practice for that particular class or decisions she made the next time to create a more “sufficiently hospitable” (116) environment before introducing similar content. Given her primary data sets for the rest of her argument, it may also have been instructive to hear how students processed that experience in their evaluations.
This particular example points to a challenge that has become more acute in recent years as attempts to create participative parity in college classrooms and curriculum have sparked various forms of resistance by those who perceive this type of parity as a threat. While Rowan acknowledges this challenge, the lack of engagement with recent scholarship on concepts like white fragility risks limiting the liberative early insights of luminaries like hooks, Freire, and Palmer. Emerging research on best practices for engaging straight white males as social justice allies on college campuses reveals something about the educational paradox faculty face when introducing issues of social justice in their classrooms – environments that help some diverse learners feel valued and safe may have the opposite effect on other diverse learners (e.g., Vianden 2018). Rowan alludes to this paradox when she coins the term “furiety,” which she refers to as an approach that recognizes, on the one hand, multiple dimensions of diversity including individual differences within traditional categories (e.g., race) and, on the other hand, “a commitment to intellectually charged activities approached through pedagogical variety” (87). Furiety opens a way into a deeper analysis of the example above. More importantly, for those of us who struggle daily to live into the question “For whose freedom – in whose interests – do we, now, labor,” Rowan’s further development of the term may encourage us to respond with greater integrity: “All of my students.”
Date Reviewed: December 10, 2019
Gallagher and Maguire wrote The Religious Studies Skills Book for undergraduate students taking religious studies courses. Recipients of the American Academy of Religion’s Award for Excellence in Teaching and longtime Wabash Center affiliates, Maguire and Gallagher draw on the breadth of their experiences as scholar-teachers to craft an accessible book that covers the basics – and more.
They dispel myths, like the assumption that teaching about religions in public universities is unconstitutional, and they clarify common confusion, including the distinction between studying theology and religious studies. They also offer insights into what makes the study of religion so compelling and worthwhile:
Students of religion are in a field unlike any other. The field has interdisciplinary breadth and global and historical depth that can’t be found elsewhere on campus. Many students come to the academic study of religion expecting personal spiritual development. Although that might be an accidental outcome of exposure to ideas in any course, teachers tend to be strongly interested in developing students’ skills and knowledge, goals achieved in part by reading, observation, and discussion that brackets personal judgement and biases . . . If a single introductory course in religious studies teaches nothing else, it will at least show you that there are many other ways to understand the world. (69-70)
I quote this passage at length because it exemplifies one of the two most important features of this book: the authors write to and for students. They do this from the first to the last page. I never felt like they overlooked the student to speak to a colleague. Midway through, I flipped back to the title page and wrote, “How many of us write for this audience? They’re taking students seriously!” It’s refreshing, and it is one aspect of the book that would make me want to assign it.
The book’s other great strength is how the authors model what they expect students to learn. Most chapters include explicit examples. The chapter on comparison offers lengthy examinations of how comparison works using excerpts from sacred texts (Matthew and Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures) and scholarly ones (definitions of religion). In some places, the authors anticipate students’ observations, and in others, they expand their scope. For example, they note fairly obvious similarities between the gospel and Science and Health, and then they expand the comparison through a series of questions about authorial intent. In addition to the explicit examples, Gallagher and Maguire build an argument through the arrangement of the book’s chapters and draw on evidence from scholarship on teaching and learning. The companion website provides more general information and additional exercises, too.
My main concern is how the book can reach its intended audience. Ideally, students in introductory courses would read and absorb the Skills Book. Realistically, the motivated majors in a third-year seminar will be carrying copies with dog-eared pages, and, years from now, graduate students learning how to teach will be lucky to find a copy with some dedicated major’s marginalia.
Date Reviewed: December 10, 2019
Out in the Center: Public Controversies and Private Struggles provides a fresh perspective on the inter- and intra-personal dynamics of writing center work. Building upon Greenfield’s and Rowan’s Writing Centers and the New Racism: A Call for Sustainable Dialogue and Change (2011), Condon’s I Hope I Join the Band: Narrative, Affiliation, and Antiracist Rhetoric (2012), and Denny’s own Facing the Center: Toward an Identity Politics of One-to-One Mentoring (2010), this edited collection presents the personal narratives of underrepresented voices in writing centers and invites critical conversation about the complexities of identity negotiation among tutors, writers, and administrators.
While some writing centers claim to be neutral spaces where writing is engaged apart from the culture that produced it, this collection acknowledges the ways in which writing and collaborations around writing are always already both personal and political – shaped by a confluence of internal and external factors. Writers, tutors, and administrators bring their selves to the work, thereby making public their past, present, and emerging identities, which are inextricable from the social, political, economic, and cultural dynamics of the communities in which centers reside.
The collection is organized into six parts – race, multilingualism, gender and sexuality, religion, class, and (dis)ability – some with more narratives than others. This imbalance likely speaks to the variety of submissions and also signals the need for even more narratives from underrepresented and marginalized perspectives. Additionally, while each part is purposefully arranged, the editors recognize that identities are intersecting and note in the review following each section that identity categorizations are fluid.
Part I narrativizes the interplay between the reading or erasure of black female and male bodies in one-to-one consultations and the writing classroom and how those occurrences interconnect with public discourse on issues like black natural hair, Black Lives Matter, and black masculinity. Part II explores the benefits and complexities of multilingualism in the center and ways that tutors can leverage linguistic dexterity. Part III focuses on the role of gender and sexuality in the identity formation of writing center administrators and tutors. Part IV takes up religion, an identity-marker that is sometimes unseen, and asks how inviting disclosure of religious identities might challenge hegemonic norms. Part V considers how class converges with other identities in writing centers, inviting interrogation of economic standing and belonging. Part VI explores how learning differences can shape writing practices and influence pedagogical approaches to tutoring.
The collection concludes with a final chapter and afterword that encourage readers to recognize the pedagogical and epistemic value of these lived stories in their own contexts and for future research. Engaging meaningfully and critically with these stories and the intricacies of intersecting identities that they underscore enriches our ability to create more inclusive practices in hiring, training, and tutoring – a worthy charge and a fitting ending for this valuable work.
Date Reviewed: December 10, 2019
Armed with strong backgrounds in institutional research and effective educational leadership, Phillips and Horowitz provide educators with an excellent resource for improving academic success with proven data use strategies and practices for community colleges. A central, uniting focus of the book is the need for information to be contextual, “useful, useable, and actionable” (9), and the need to enlist the widest number of stakeholders within its ecosystem. Administrators, researchers, faculty, and staff are encouraged to be co-partners in cultivating academic excellence.
Rather than placing data at the center, the authors advocate for a model that places “the use of data” at the center. The book is divided into three sections: (1) “A New Model for Data Use,” (2) “Putting the Model to Work,” and (3) “Case Studies of Data Driven Reform.”
The first part outlines a new model for data use that is user-friendly, improves educational instruction, and maximizes student success, combined with intentional adaptation to those it serves. For example, “few educators want to [be] analysts; they want to be provided with useful information and assisted in applying it toward student success” (56). Attention is also given to analytics, behavioral economics, organizational theory and habits, and the role of emotion in decision making.
In the second section, Phillips and Horowitz reveal a data use model that is put to work removing obstacles to student success. Specific consideration is given to leading and lagging indicators and the employment of backward mapping that begins with the identification of lagging indicators or goals. Attention is then refocused on the leading indicators that influence them, and which a college has the ability to control and reshape in proactive ways. Lagging and leading indicators have the ability to switch places from time to time. Scrutiny is also given to disaggregation and how different demographic subpopulations can impact the design of programs, services, and policies. The authors make use of a four stage, continuous improvement approach for use of educational strategies that moves from assessment, to planning, to implementation, to monitoring, and back again to assessment (110). They believe that data should be processed in manageable bites and reflect an institution’s unique cultural context and problem areas (176).
When evaluating outcomes of particular programs or services, Phillips and Horowitz call for academic institutions to review all other policies and programs that may or may not have an impact, positively or negatively. When introducing data and discussing it educators need to make sure that the content is real, that they include moments of humor, that they engage with the data, and that it works towards a consensus in decision-making. Resistance is another key factor for community colleges to scrutinize. College staff often bring their “own history of belief and experiences to the process and accept only information that confirms those beliefs” (104). Helping people to move outside their comfort zones and embrace change can assist in creating a positive, data-informed culture.
The last section provides actionable approaches and case studies drawn from community colleges from differing socio-economic and ethnic settings that intentionally choose to embrace a data-informed culture and foster proactive uses of information for student success. A failing institution was among the colleges examined – it had been on the verge of being shut down by state authorities because of dissatisfaction with its academic quality and student success.
This book is more than a guide for interpreting data by academic researchers. It also provides a research-based, comprehensive, and practical approach for improving academic excellence in all areas, and amongst all segments of the college community. This book will help teachers of religion and theology to increase their classroom effectiveness – in lecturing and interacting with students.
Date Reviewed: December 10, 2019
Against the backdrop of growing debate over both the nature and value of higher education, David Cunningham and twelve scholars offer what they believe may serve as a “common purpose” – vocation. Along with the word, “calling,” vocation has theological roots, but Cunningham argues that a “more expansive” approach to the word “is attentive to questions of profession, work, and employment” and “encompasses a much broader range of concerns that will arise during a college student’s current and future life.” The writers of this volume do not believe that appealing to the concept of vocation will eliminate conflict swirling around competing visions of the academy, but they do believe that the concept appeals to both the roots of the modern university and the goals of faculty from across the academy (3).
With that goal in mind, Cunningham and his co-contributors divide their effort into four parts. Eschewing a disciplinary-centered approach to their work, they instead consider “four different pathways or approaches through which the disciplines can come into conversation with one another: first by emphasizing certain themes that are common to them all; second, by borrowing concepts from one discipline that can apply to many other disciplines; third, by focusing on the future lives of undergraduates…; and fourth, by considering some of the institution-wide obstacles that need to be addressed if the language of vocation and calling is to be perceived as relevant to all academic departments and programs” (14).
In a closing epilogue, Cunningham notes that the volume demonstrates that neither vocation nor calling exhaust the concerns that arise from their use in the academy. The words, “responsibility, character, virtue, mission, covenant, mapmaking, storytelling, performance, work, [and] leisure,” along with others, figure in the contributions to this volume (315). That should come as no surprise, he argues. From the very beginning, Cunningham commends a definition of vocation that is “capacious, dynamic, and elastic” (315, cf. 10ff.).
Accordingly, he argues that one should approach the issue of vocation prepared to use multiple vocabularies that reveal different, but interrelated discoveries. To have a vocation means that one is shaped by that calling (317ff.); that one is summoned “from without” (319f.); that one must decide what to do (320f.); that those who are called inevitably consider their link to the callings of others (321f.); and that they are compelled to think about the impact their vocations will have on the future (322ff.).
This is the second of three volumes in an ambitious and welcome effort to recapture the inspiration of vocation as a locus for higher education. The first, published in 2015 under the title, At This Time and in This Place, focused on pedagogy. The third, published in January of 2019 appeared under the title, Hearing Vocationally Differently, and expands on the vocabulary associated with vocation, relying on contributors from diverse religious traditions.
One may well wonder what the prospects will be for the project of this series. Embattled as the academy is – by forces both within and without – one would hope that scholars will find a common inspiration that will lend new energy and focus to their work. But even cursory attention to the debates roiling college and university campuses underlines the truth that “an optimist is someone who is not in possession of all the facts.” It is difficult to believe that disciplines that are struggling to define a shared vision of the work that they are doing could agree on a vision for the larger work to which the whole academy is devoted.
The task that the writers propose is made all the more difficult by the choice of “vocation” as the organizing principle around which they attempt to rally their readers. As Cunningham himself observes, the verb vocare is transitive (317). As such, it implies that one is not only called, but one is also called by someone or something. The absence of a shared understanding of who or what issues that call - if anyone or anything does – underlines how little shared vision may be in the offing for the modern academy.
For theological educators the answer to that question and others ought to be easier to achieve, but anyone who teaches in the modern divinity school knows better than that. As seminaries struggle to address declining enrollments, degree programs are crafted with an eye to the individual’s goals and the notion of vocation – and the spiritual formation that accompanies it – has slipped again to the margins of theological education. Where it still lingers, it is necessarily governed by private definitions. In the meantime, seminary faculties differ with one another as much or more on such questions as the faculties at any college or university.
The effort made by Cunningham and his co-contributors comes, then, as both question and indictment: What is it about the concept of vocation that leads even a small but brave cohort of scholars without shared confessional commitments to imagine that they can galvanize their work around the concept? The indictment is this: What are the factors that have relegated the question of vocation to the margins of the very institutions that gave birth to the vocabulary?
Date Reviewed: December 10, 2019
This edited volume profiles higher education communities of practice, with contributing authors reflecting on their experiences of dreaming, scheming, and implementing communities of practice (CoP) within a variety of higher education contexts. As an elementary teacher turned practical theologian, I am encouraged to see this attentiveness to social learning within higher education. The CoP concept has significant potential for critiquing, enhancing, and transforming teaching and learning practices within religious and theological educational contexts.
It is noteworthy that, despite the current climate in higher education being identified as chilly and non-supportive of collaborative activities (xii), the enthusiastic response to Jacquie McDonald’s call for papers exploring the use of CoP for learning and teaching in higher education resulted in two volumes. A more practical focus is evident within this second volume.
The Foreword, written by Etienne and Beverley Wenger-Trayner, provides a helpful overview of the history of the CoP concept. CoP theory is identified as having moved through three phases, from the community defining learning, to learning defining the community, to the consideration of a broader landscape of practice, acknowledging learning taking place at the boundaries between communities of practice as well as within them (viii). Theological educators will benefit from considering the relevance of each of these phases.
The volume is divided into four parts. Part I consists of case studies. Amongst these first seven chapters, the more generalizable are certainly relevant to teachers of religion and theology. These include the first chapter, with its focus on the use of CoP to support the capacity development of supervisors of HDR students, and the fourth chapter, with its focus on the practice of generous scholarship and collegiality through academic writing retreats. Here Sally Stewart Knowles advocates for attentiveness to the actual practices and processes that lead to publication. Noting the proven value of writing retreats, Knowles implies that the communities fostered by such retreats must move from fringe status to becoming an integral part of a research environment (78). The sixth chapter, with its focus on collaborative autoethnography and decoloniality, may also prove invaluable in terms of researcher preparation in various contexts.
Part II focuses on curriculum development. Here theological educators may particularly resonate with an emphasis on “transformational approaches to professional learning” (161) within chapter eight and the interdisciplinary focus on transformative education and sustainability within chapter thirteen.
Theological educators and students will benefit from considering the various student-focused CoP within Part III. Doctoral students may particularly engage with the development of informal organic networks outlined in chapter fourteen. Variations on the Equity Buddies concept outlined in chapter seventeen may be valuable for supporting first-year students within theological colleges.
Finally, the focus within Part IV on virtual CoP will be of relevance to those engaging students in quality learning experiences through online teaching, learning, and research. Themes that emerge through these chapters include the organic nature of communities and the fostering of a culture of collaboration.
Given that some contributors make extensive use of acronyms, readers unfamiliar with these acronyms may need to engage in the discipline of slow reading. While a final summary chapter reviewing and discussing key themes and findings that emerged throughout these papers would enrich this work, educators will nevertheless benefit from focusing on those chapters most relevant to their contexts. Overall, religious and theological education readers are likely to glean inspiration, ideas, and implementation strategies that contribute to learning with and from one another in today’s isolating yet interconnected world.
Multicultural Andragogy for Transformative Learning
Date Reviewed: April 18, 2019
In the Foreword and the Introduction of Multicultural Andragogy for Transformative Learning, the editors lay out the goals and the structure of this multi-author volume. But the reader will not get past the first paragraph of the Forward before encountering one of many punctuation errors that plague the volume. In addition to multiple punctuation errors, some chapters contain so many spelling and phrasing errors that the reader is distracted from engaging with the content. Further, the quality of the research, the quality of the writing, and the author’s ability to support his/her assertions varies widely from chapter to chapter. The result is a collection of chapters that are very loosely connected, with little consistency in how each author engages with the intersection of multiculturalism, andragogy, and transformative learning.
The volume is organized into three sections. The first provides the reader with the foundations for understanding the learning theories of andragogy and transformative learning and how both relate to culture. The second section examines andragogy and practice in a variety of cultural contexts. The final section describes “transformative multicultural andragogy” (xvii) in practice. While some chapters stand out as cogent and applicable, too many other chapters suffer from lack of editorial attention and guidance. The first section of the volume would most benefit from said guidance. Each chapter explains the theory of andragogy; many also describe transformative learning. Andragogy is also explained in detail in the Preface, making much (and in one case, most) of these initial chapters repetitive. Rather than re-explaining these theories, these chapters would be better spent connecting adult learning in various contexts to multiculturalism.
Some of the chapters in sections two and three are valuable as stand-alone articles on their stated topics, but as a whole the chapters do not work together to enlighten the reader about multicultural andragogy as it relates to transformative learning. To be fair, the editors state that they “have set a broad scope for the theme” of exploring the intersection of culture, andragogy, and transformative learning (xx). However, only a few of the authors explore all three of these concepts. When a chapter in a volume is notable for addressing the stated topic of the volume, the scope of the volume is perhaps too broad.
In the Preface and Conclusion, the authors state that “the primary focus of this text has been to elicit the connection between cultural perspectives and adult learning” (xxiv, 270), and in the Conclusion, they propose a new learning model representing the relationship between andragogy, transformation learning, and multiculturalism. What one would hope to learn from this volume is how they interact, not just that they do, so that the model can be tested and reproduced in an adult learning environment. The editors are correct that the relationships between these concepts should be explored and described, and that adult education would benefit from such work. However, Multicultural Andragogy for Transformative Learning lacks the focus and editorial oversight to accomplish that goal.
Qualitative Research in Theological Education: Pedagogy in Practice
Date Reviewed: April 16, 2019
If you are looking for a current collection of essays about the state of qualitative research in theological education, then this volume edited by Moschella and Willhauck will be extraordinarily useful. The contributors offer a broad-based, international approach to their topic, complete with case studies and a select bibliography. Together, they argue that qualitative research is essential to the formation of ministers and theological scholars.
Moschella’s introduction provides a concise overview of how this collaborative project began, key themes in the field of ethnographic studies, and how each of the essays addresses these issues. There is real value here for the reader who is just plunging into the study of qualitative research and needs an overview of how the discipline is developing.
This is a handbook in four parts, with fifteen chapters. As such, it is designed for both reading and reference. In addition to the introduction, most readers will benefit from the first two entries that comprise
Part One, “Exemplary Research Essays.” Whitmore’s essay, “Theology as Playbook and Gamefilm: Explaining an Ethnographic Approach to Theology to a Sports-Centred Culture,” uses sports analogies to underscore the vital connection between theology and practice. This is one of several essays that emphasize the theological nature of ethnographic research. For theological educators, this is an important contention which broadens the discussion beyond contrasting qualitative versus quantitative methods and goals. Just how inclusive that discussion can become is indicated by Sorajjakool and Prachyapruit in “Qualitative Methodology and Pedagogy: A Study of the Lived Experiences of Thai Peasants within the Context of Western Development Ideology.”
Part Two, “Issues in Education and the Practice of Research,” includes ten chapters that emphasize the embodied and contextual nature of qualitative research. They are also a reminder that the interdisciplinary nature of this work is a necessary and fitting response to the complexity and messiness of real life. While there are several strong essays in this group, particular note should be taken of “Promoting the Good: Ethical and Methodological Considerations in Practical Theological Research” by Graham and Llewellyn, along with “Just Don’t Call It ‘Ethnography’: A Critical Ethnographic Pedagogy for Transformative Theological Education” by Wigg-Stevenson.
Part Three, “Integrating Qualitative Research into Theological Education”, includes Mellott’s “Qualitative Research in Theological Curricula” and Clarke’s “Wonder and the Diving Dance: The Lived Reality of Qualitative Research within a Master of Divinity Curriculum.” Both essays are valuable for theological educators and will repay rereading. The concluding section, Part Four, “Valediction,” is a single essay by Willhauck, “The Gift and Challenge of Qualitative Methods for Pastoral Formation.” Four major themes for teaching qualitative research are identified and briefly discussed including: contextualization, communication, reflection/reflexivity, and vocation (264). Willhauck’s elaboration on these themes makes a fitting conclusion to this extraordinarily rich and suggestive resource.
Reset the Heart - Unlearning Violence, Relearning Hope
Date Reviewed: April 16, 2019
Mai-Anh Le Tran, an associate professor of religious education and practical theology at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, tackles a profound question in her book Reset the Heart: Unlearning Violence, Relearning Hope when she asks, “what does it mean to educate for faith in a world marked by violence?” Tran, who is a past president of the Religious Education Association, is an ordained elder of the United Methodist Church.
This intriguing volume about the problem of faith in a violent world begins in August 2014 with the deaths of Eric Garner in New York City and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Situated within this violence and racism, Tran allows three questions to guide her search for meaning and answers: “What does it mean to educate for faith in a world marked by violence? How are Christian faith communities complicit in the teaching and learning of violence? What new (or renewed) practices of faith and educational leadership can help us unlearn violence and relearn hope?” (10). The search for these answers provides her agenda for “resetting the heart” (10).
Tran’s first two chapters struggle with her first question as she draws upon frameworks from social psychology, cultural studies, postcolonial theory, and racial formation theory. In Chapter Three, she examines the church’s complicity in the teaching and learning of violence. She offers a reframing of Charles Foster’s five major critiques of the church’s “catechetical culture” as a foundation of her answer. Finally, she attempts to answer her third question in Chapters Four, Five, and Six as she models relearning hope.
Throughout this volume, Tran explores a number of subjects that interrelate with her subject including race as political theology, racism as a form of violence, religious education malpractice, and the erasure of historical memory. Her model for relearning hope includes practicing communicability, redeemability, and educability. She reminds her readers again and again of the vital importance of religious education and the role of the religious educator in fostering transformation. As she writes in her conclusion, “Let the people of God say ‘Amen.’ And let Christian religious educators remind the people what ‘Amen’ means” (164).
Tran makes excellent use of a powerful theological writing technique rooted in what theologian Heather Walton describes as “performance autoethnography.” Her use of this technique makes the book’s content come alive in a faithful and academically solid narrative; Tran shows readers theology instead of just telling them. This is particularly true in her opening chapter as well as in Chapters Four, Five, and Six, when she integrates the support of 14 other theological voices that she engages as “theological reflectors.” This complex and stimulating writing does make the writing style in Chapters Two and Three, where Tran establishes her argument within the wider academic narrative, seem flat and uninspiring. Nevertheless, this is a very well-written narrative that is a pleasure to read.
Tran provides readers with a valuable and insightful addition to the theological understanding of religious education. This volume should be added to all theological libraries and is a must read not only for academics who specialize in religious education but also for clergy and leaders in parish religious education.
Knowledge and Decolonial Politics: A Critical Reader
Date Reviewed: April 15, 2019
Decolonization as an epistemological framework remains a pressing topic. Decolonization challenges the insidious ways in which colonialist ideologies persist as neo-colonial manifestations in economic, political, military, judicial, educational, and spiritual spheres, among others.
The series of essays in Knowledge and Decolonial Politics address different challenges within the educational system in Canada. The goal of the book is to address “intellectual colonialism” by decentering Western hegemonic ontology, epistemology, rhetoric, and policies (4-6). As the introduction claims, the “book intends to expose and challenge Western knowledge systems, and dominant political systems, and their role in subjugating, marginalizing, and oppressing local and Indigenous knowledges” (4).
After the introduction, the remaining seven chapters each consider a separate issue in need of decolonization with regard to pedagogy: dismissiveness of indigeneity in the curriculum, the classroom, rhetoric of “development,” land ethics, spirituality, spirit-body unity, and indigenous languages. Each of the chapters addresses a topic that is essential to the experience in the classroom, and which requires critical reflection from both teachers and students. As an edited work, the interconnectedness of the chapters sets up a promising framework.
The authors point out major weaknesses in the Canadian educational system which fail to prepare teachers and students to engage anti-discriminatory and anti-racist discourses and pedagogies. Despite the legal advancements and robust rhetoric in official documents, much remains to be implemented inside the classroom. The essays call for integrating various ways of knowing that are attentive to non-western cultures in order to challenge meaningfully the Eurocentricity of the curriculum.
It would have been beneficial throughout the essays to include specific references to actual indigenous communities and values. Many of the indigenous values mentioned remained in the abstract. Interesting points of contact with African indigenous values were raised in a few of the essays, but were underdeveloped (chapters four, six and eight).
Wambui Karanja’s chapter on western-based international intellectual property laws is the strongest and most compelling. The essay challenges current legal frameworks applied to land protection or conservation. It delves deeply into existing international protections for different communities. Karanja explores new possibilities that center indigenous communities and value traditional non-western wisdoms in order to develop a decolonizing framework for collaboration on indigenous land rights issues and knowledge production.
Overall, the essays raise important questions for decolonizing the curriculum. The topic of student assessment could have complemented the overall mission of the authors. Nevertheless, the authors demonstrate a deep knowledge of the colonial mindset persisting in neocolonial rhetoric and practices within institutions that claim a liberal concern for marginalized communities and alternate modes of learning. Educational institutions and overseers continually return to practices that re-inscribe colonial settler values through curricular values, status quo teaching strategies, language exclusivity, and the spirit/body dichotomy. While the essays do not recommend many concrete decolonializing strategies, they provide initial reflections on critical topics by naming the colonial injustices embedded in current educational practices, which can stimulate readers to develop further crucial insights identified by the authors.
Toxic Ivory Towers: The Consequences of Work Stress on Underrepresented Minority Faculty
Date Reviewed: April 2, 2019
Ruth Enid Zambrana’s Toxic Ivory Towers presents readers with new research on the conditions and consequences of workplace stress among underrepresented minority (URM) faculty in higher education. It draws from the “largest web-based survey of URM faculty in the United States to date” (13) and focuses particular attention on the experiences of African American, Latinx, and American Indian early- to mid-career faculty at elite universities (12). The study examines “the associations between workplace stress, academic organizational factors, coping strategies, and physical and mental health among URM faculty” (10). Zambrana also brings more than thirty-five years of experience to the table as a URM teacher, researcher, and faculty member in order to demonstrate that “workplace stress on URM faculty colleagues is uniquely and adversely impacting their lives” (21).
In chapter one, Zambrana illustrates the gap between the stated commitments and actual commitments of universities to diversity initiatives in general and to URM faculty in particular. Then chapter two explores the complicated history behind recruiting URM faculty into the academy. Chapters three through five focus on the climates in which URM faculty experience high levels of stress: climates that are often structurally racist (chapter three), that use mentoring programs to mask deeper problems (chapter four), and that foster micro- and macro-aggressive discrimination (chapter five). Chapters six through eight deal with the impact of work stress on URM homes and families (chapter six), on advancement opportunities such as promotion or tenure (chapter seven), and on emotional and professional well-being (chapter eight). Chapter nine considers the complexities around gender dynamics. Chapter ten exhorts academic leaders to listen to and learn from URM faculty experiences in order to renew their practices.
On occasion, Toxic Ivory Towers plods along on account of too many first-hand verbatim reports. More selectivity in verbatims would help with flow. Also, it would be more beneficial to readers if Zambrana proposed a clearer roadmap for the future. Creative solutions are usually more complex than learning from past mistakes and correcting them. However, the many strengths of the book will lead many readers to overlook its weaknesses. Zambrana unmasks the misleading data that a lot of universities publish on the “success” of diversity initiatives; she offers constructive language for URM faculty to help name their experiences; and, her work provokes responses that challenge the status quo. Those who read this book may experience a diverse number of responses: some may be surprised by research findings, others unsettled by testimonies, others reassured they are not alone in their experiences, and still others an aggregate of reactions. Every academic leader (presidents, deans, department chairs, and so forth) who wants positive change in these areas will benefit from interacting with Zambrana’s research, and virtually every URM faculty member will benefit from her adeptness at naming the workplace stressors that they experience.
Teaching Readers in Post-Truth America
Date Reviewed: March 21, 2019
Many teachers have had cause in the last few years to ponder questions around teaching in a “post-truth” culture. How do reading, writing, and thinking change in a world in which groups cannot or will not agree on essential facts and rules of evidence? How can we teach meaningful reading in an overwhelmingly information-rich landscape? How can we heal the divisiveness that pervades so much of our culture, and how can we help students discern true from false? This book is written primarily for instructors in first-year college writing courses, but much of it will prove useful to frustrated teachers in any discipline. It does not give many specific recommendations for classroom strategies, but it does set out thoughtful ideas about how to think about teaching reading.
The book begins with a chapter on “theoretical first principles.” Chapter 2 considers the ways in which standardized tests (and teachers in turn) encourage an unthinking reverence for text by dismissing the role of the reader. Carillo provides convincing evidence of negative outcomes from this approach. These two chapters set the stage for an argument in Chapter 3 about reading and writing as embodied, affective acts, as this writer is firmly against the devaluing of emotion and engagement so common in a world that prizes objectivity. In Chapter 4, Carillo argues that modeling and imitation have been given short shrift in reading instruction. She gives several useful tips for developing imitative exercises that help students see good reading and writing practices, and she especially trumpets the power of annotation, illustrated with a case study from her own teaching. The problems highlighted in Chapter 5, specifically targeting writing and composition instruction, are common to other fields as well: focus on reason over emotion; focus on traditional essay forms; and lack of focus on psychological studies that can enhance both teaching and learning.
This book’s title promises more than it delivers, although it delivers a lot. Carillo’s insistence on redirecting students away from claims and argumentation and “toward stylistic elements that contribute to a text’s meaning” (41) will strike many teachers trained in other modes as difficult to attain. “Reading for argument” is, for Carillo, a problem: students only read for a relatively simplistic argument and miss so much that could make them stronger readers, such as inquiring about the how and why, not just the what. Yet many teachers find that students can’t even read for argument, a fact this book glosses over.
That said, a call to encouraging more affective and empathetic reading is timely and needed. The use of Peter Elbow’s doubting and believing game (47-50) will be familiar to many in religious studies, as will the call to look outside one’s own discipline for expertise. This book helps teachers think about ways to mitigate aspects of culture that revere text and steer students “away from the language of negotiation and compromise” (114).
Creating Engaging Discussions: Strategies for "Avoiding Crickets" in Any Size Classroom and Online
Date Reviewed: March 19, 2019
In the preface to their book, Herman and Nilson note that there are not many book-length treatments of discussion as a teaching method; the relative few that exist focus on student participation and are primarily oriented toward small face-to-face classrooms. Other books feature discussion as one tool among many in the teacher’s toolbox, and again focus on getting students to talk. But, as Herman and Nilson write, “Talk alone is cheap” (xxiv). The fact that students are participating in a discussion does not necessarily mean that they are actually learning. In addition to questions of participation, treatments of discussion as a way of learning also need to take into account the variety of classrooms in which students are learning: large and small, face-to-face, online, and blended. This is what Herman and Nilson set out to do.
Chapter one lays out three common challenges of discussion in both online and face-to-face classrooms: inconsistent or uneven student engagement, lack of adequate connection between course goals and discussion content or process, and lack of assessment. Chapters two and three focus on student behavior, chapter four suggests a variety of strategies for ensuring that discussions advance learning, and chapter five details ways to assess discussion both for skillful student engagement and for clear connection to course content. Chapters six through thirteen are case studies, written by a variety of practitioners and addressing a variety of discussion delivery systems (face-to-face, online, and blended) and levels (undergraduate, graduate, and professional). The final chapter, written by Herman and Nilson, provides writing prompts, discussion questions, and workshop ideas that both teachers themselves, and those charged with the professional development of teachers, could use to engage with the book’s contents.
Like many of Nilson’s previous books, this one is packed with information. As a practitioner, it is tempting to grab one or more of the discussion activities referenced in the quick guide at the front of the book and then return the book to the shelf. Doing so is a mistake precisely because of one of the ideas this book successfully advances: the need to align discussion content and process with course learning goals. This emphasis on alignment is one of my main learnings from the book, and one I will need to keep pondering and experimenting with. Each teacher must consider her course content, delivery system, institutional objectives and constraints, and student population in wisely selecting and applying discussion tactics to her particular circumstances. If I have one suggestion for the authors of this book, it might be to put the quick reference at the end to underline this point.
I will confess that when I picked up the book, I was dubious about the value of the case study chapters for my work as a theological educator. What is the relevance of collaborative autoethnography to a class on Christian worship, or of course-based scientific research to a class on Christian formation? As I continued reading, however, the case studies underlined two of Herman and Nilson’s theses: the need for and value of learning from others, even when their circumstances are different than ours, and the benefits of a deep dive into a tactic rather than a quick ransack of possible takeaways. So having finished reading the book, I plan to read it again – this time with colleagues, and over time.
Interactive Lecturing: A Handbook for College Faculty
Date Reviewed: March 8, 2019
Barkley and Major have compiled an invaluable compendium of information about improving on traditional class lectures by including interactive elements. Like McKeachie’s Teaching Tips or Davis’ Tools for Teaching, this book can be read cover to cover or approached as a resource to consult when needed, as just about every page includes some practical suggestions for improving teaching and student engagement. The book opens with a two-chapter consideration of what the authors call a “Conceptual Framework for Interactive Learning.” These chapters examine the benefits and drawbacks of lectures and active learning strategies as well as the wide variety of each, arguing ultimately for an integrative model that takes advantage of the best of both approaches. The suggestions in these chapters and throughout the book are based on recent research rather than recourse to traditional arguments about the superiority of one modality over another. The ultimate strengths of this book, beyond the sheer volume of useful information, are its thoughtful mix of approaches and avoidance of a one-size-fits-all approach, all presented in concrete, actionable terms.
This handbook is divided into three parts: the conceptual opening, twelve chapters on Engaging Presentation Tips, and eight chapters on Active Learning Techniques. The second two parts include 53 tips for creating engaging presentations and 32 suggestions for active learning techniques, most illustrated through specific examples. These are previewed at the beginning of each relevant chapter in a simple chart that directs reader attention to what each tip aims to improve and directions for implementing changes. Although it is impossible to itemize those tips here, it is indicative of the scope of the handbook’s broad coverage that the index includes subjects as diverse as voice modulation, metacognitive reflection, “dead wood words,” and background color of slides. Overall, Barkley and Major suggest many simple changes to the typical lecture that can result in more student engagement, such as how to devise a “power close” to any lecture; how to structure and practice presentations with, for instance, a “weatherperson” approach; and how to guide students in taking “sketch notes” during lectures. From “Guess and Confirm” to “Translate That!” to sticky note diagrams, these authors provide a wealth of possibilities to teachers and their students for making lectures interactive and engaging.
The approaches in this book are meant to work across disciplines and teaching platforms, including online and hybrid modalities. It is not geared to beginning or veteran teachers but rather to any teacher who wants to improve the classroom experience for students and for themselves. The advice here is rich, practical, and based on research, experience, and common sense. This book seems ideal for individual use but also for any departmental faculty resource collection.
Islamic Schooling in the West: Pathways to Renewal
Date Reviewed: March 6, 2019
East and West have long struggled to coexist without detriment to cultural and religious beliefs. With growing globalization and immigration the issue of tolerance and acceptance of different viewpoints is of urgent importance and value. Books on this highly challenging and relevant issue attract the attention of a wide audience. Islamic Schooling in the West is clearly such a book. The authors of the book live and work in Australia. Specifically, Mohamad Abdalla founded three Islamic studies centers at Australian universities, Dylan Chown is a well-known researcher of Islamic pedagogy in the Australian educational environment, and Muhammad Abdullah has 25 years of teaching experience in Australian state schools. This does not mean the book is designed specifically for the Australian community; the book’s ideas and suggestions can be applied to Islamic schools in the West, provided the schools are open to renewal and improvement.
Islamic Schooling in the West is a collection of work by contemporary educators and scholars who wish to both keep Islamic schools consistent with traditional Islamic philosophy and make them relevant and highly sought after. The desire to preserve traditional knowledge (2) within the Islamic paradigm and the need to be welcomed and accepted in Western society resulted in this practical manual on how to use modern teaching practice for the benefit of Islamic schools in the West. While some of the book’s chapters focus on specific educational experiences in Australia (for example, “Muslim Schools in Australia: Development and Transition” by Jan A. Ali and “The Importance of Islamic Studies from an Islamic Worldview in Australia” by Ibrahima Diallo), the majority of chapters can be applied to any Islamic school in a Western community. For example, the chapter “Islamic Pedagogy: Potential and Perspective” by Nadeem A. Memon and Mariam Alhashmi aims to challenge a common stereotype that Islamic education is about teaching religion only (169). Thus this book can be used in any Islamic school in the West – not just in Australia.
In general, Islamic Schooling in the West is a book designed to promote the renewal of Islamic education in the Western community. In the twenty-first century, it is necessary to not only keep the traditions and pass down centuries-old knowledge but also to take advantage of updated educational practice and use contemporary teaching and learning techniques to overcome the difficulties Islamic schools face in the West. This book will be interesting for both scholars and teachers.
The Embodied Playbook: Writing Practices of Student-Athletes
Date Reviewed: February 11, 2019
Michael Rifenburg begins and ends his book with the melancholy story of a student who didn’t make it. A freshman at Auburn University, “Trey” was a star on the football field, but a dud in his classes. Rifenburg – then a master’s student working as a tutor for athletes – tries to help him, but it doesn’t work. When the Auburn football team wins a national championship a few years later, Trey has already dropped out and disappeared.
Rifenburg’s book helps us understand what went wrong with Trey’s education. His ultimate argument – that writing teachers can better support student-athletes by understanding the embodied knowledge they bring from the playing field to the writing classroom – asks teachers to see the hidden talents in even those students labeled remedial. Rifenburg pushes past both the “dumb jock” stereotype and the tension that exists between academics and athletics in many colleges. He breaks down these misconceptions and boundaries to explain student-athletes as possessors of “a prior knowledge honed through bodily engagement with text and through writing practices that privilege the body as a central mode of meaning making” – a knowledge that has long gone unrecognized and untapped in the writing classroom, where the abstract practice of writing can seem disconnected from physical experience (5).
As a graduate of Division I sports powerhouses like Auburn and the University of Oklahoma – where he worked in a writing center dedicated to serving student-athletes – Rifenburg is well-poised to make this argument. He was embedded for a season with the University of North Georgia’s men’s basketball team, where he attended practices and interviewed players and coaches about how they make meaning on the field. He performs detailed readings of baffling football plays from Auburn’s thick playbooks. His conclusion is that student-athletes learn complex theoretical plays through physical engagement, with the implication that this kind of learning is multi-modal, exacting, and collaborative – and potentially transferable to the traditional writing classroom. He concludes that student-athletes learn their sport through three “cognitive processes”: spatial orientation (or understanding their bodies in relationship to other bodies on the field), haptic communication (or physical touch, as when a coach re-positions a player’s hips), and scaffolded situations (or the step-by-step process through which players build up to learning a complex play). For Rifenburg, these skills are not that different from what writers do: position their ideas in relationship to other peoples’ (or spatial orientation), understand writing as a communal activity that takes place within and between groups of people (or haptic communication), and build upon many early drafts to create longer, complex texts (or scaffolded situations). He ends by prompting the reader to ask how these cross-currents between writing and playing can be leveraged to support student-athlete writers in the classroom.
In the end, Rifenburg raises more questions than he answers. His description of the analogy between writing and playing sports is original and clear-sighted, but it remains only an analogy, as he stops short of offering strategies for putting this insight into action – an odd lacuna for a book that places so much emphasis on concrete, embodied experience. Indeed, I often found myself mindful of what is left out of Rifenburg’s book. While he displays deep familiarity with the field of writing studies, he does not acknowledge gender studies or disability studies, fields that are historically groundbreaking in exploring embodied meaning. Similarly, Rifenburg’s focus is exclusively on men playing high-profile, competitive, aggressive sports; do other types of athletes experience bodily knowledge differently? What of swimmers, runners, or dancers? Women athletes? Do student-athletes at small liberal arts colleges or community colleges – where athletics are not as prominent – experience a different kind of relationship between sports and academics? Rifenburg’s study opens the door for many important inquiries to follow. Ultimately, he provides a model for thinking about matter, mind, and underexplored student expertise.
Fundamentalists U: Keeping the Faith in American Higher Education
Date Reviewed: February 6, 2019
The aim of Fundamentalist U is to “offer a more complete history of fundamentalist and conservative evangelical higher education” including the daily functioning of evangelicalism. The schools studied include Wheaton University, Gordon College, Biola University, Moody Bible Institute, Bob Jones University, and Liberty University.
The task at all these schools is to balance academic legitimacy while maintaining reputations for religious purity. Laats defines the (evolving) distinctives of Christian fundamentalism and evangelicalism; outlines what it has meant for these schools to be “real” colleges or universities; demonstrates how the schools function as centers for both evangelicalism and fundamentalism; and examines the methods, models, and tools they have used to teach new generations of students.
The distinctive realm of Christian fundamentalism includes an interdenominational religious network of K-12 schools, colleges, universities, and Bible institutes dedicated to the promulgation of orthodox Christianity and to “remaining true to the supernatural truths of real religion as revealed once and for all in the pages of an inerrant Bible” (5). It means maintaining a belligerent stance against modernism, high levels of authority vested in personalities and charismatic leaders, a defense of Whiteness, and rigid positions on race which are elevated into tests of loyalty.
The distinctives of Christian fundamentalism (for example, conservatism) include a policing of all sexual behavior including homosexuality (which is framed as the ultimate sexual sin); traditional cultural attitudes around gender, family structure, and sexuality; and a constant monitoring of faculty and students regarding orthodox belief and action, in order, in part, to maintain their donor base, please fundamentalist parents, and ensure a regular flow of new students.
Laats examines evangelicalism’s evolution into neo-evangelicalism, characterized by a willingness to critically examine beliefs, preparing students for missionary work, and the grafting of small government, free-market ideologies onto theology. Changing ideas about civil rights and racial equality forced schools to admit that racial segregation was an important part of evangelical character, that racial integration was “anti-Christian perversion” and that, in the 1970s, a fear of miscegenation and opposition to school desegregation orders fueled the formation of thousands of new K-12 Christian schools. Laats also outlines how the six schools studied became important intellectual centers for religious and political conservatism.
The first unfortunate aspect of the book is that moderate black, brown, and white believers who are part of the evangelical tableau are not characterized. Second, a short section on what racism, anti-blackness, and white supremacy meant and still mean for African Americans is a much needed addition. That is, an acknowledgment that the toxic mix of equating whiteness with true Americanism, unqualified support of war, and the easy inclusion of conservative political orthodoxy with theology would have provided some ballast that most students and teachers would find useful pedagogically. Still, this is an excellent introductory text on (white) Christian fundamentalism and evangelicalism. It is well-researched, well-written, and a pleasure to read.
God's Quad: Small Faith Communities on Campus and Beyond
Date Reviewed: February 6, 2019
This edited volume of fifteen chapters and six appendices provides a thought-provoking study of Roman Catholic small group ministries on college campuses and in parish settings. The authors represent a diverse sample of laity and clergy who are serving in a variety of settings in Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, and South America. The two editors, Ahern and Malano, share a background in the International Movement of Catholic Students (IMCS – Pax Romana). Ahern currently serves as an assistant professor of religious studies at Manhattan College, and Malano is the pastoral administrator of the Newman Center at the University of Hawai’i – Manoa. They believe that the answer to the question, “where is God on the quad?” is “in small faith groups and student communities” (xvii).
God’s Quad includes an Introduction, three sections, and appendices. In the Introduction, Ahern and Malano explain their three goals for this text. They write, “first, we want to draw more attention to the needs and realities of the ‘student church’…. the second aspect of this project is to highlight some of the ‘good news’ stories and best practices of small student groups… [and] the third and perhaps most important aspect… is to provide concrete and practical tools for student leaders and chaplains to build and strengthen small student communities” (xx, xxi, xxii).
Part I, Revitalizing the Student Church, offers two chapters that examine the potential of small group ministries in light of Pope Francis’s writings on renewal. Ahern explores four key foundations – empowering, ecclesial, encompassing, and engaging – that he argues are necessary for effective student organizing and evangelizing. Listening is another important concept. Healey argues, “be a listening church first and a teaching church second… what if we really listened to youth and young adults – their concerns, needs, doubts, questions, criticisms, burning issues, hopes and dreams?” (17).
The five chapters in Part II present global perspectives on Catholic student small group communities in Italy, Peru, India, Mali, and Eastern Africa. Part III complements Part II’s global views with North American perspectives from Boston College, Duke, the University of Hawai’i, Manhattan College, Purdue, as well as models of small group ministry at Catholic Relief Services and the Newman Catholic Center of Sacramento. These multiple case studies examine a variety of settings and models that illustrate the appeal and flexibility of these approaches.
In addition, Karoue and Manola’s epilogue compares and contrasts many of the concepts in the book and brings it to a very successful conclusion. The editors also include five appendices with resources for small student groups including models for theological reflection.
Ahern and Malano are to be commended for producing an engaging volume that is consistently of high quality across the various chapters, a rarity in edited volumes, as well as for providing geographical and background diversity. This is a well written, insightful volume that deserves to be included in theological libraries and in the collections of anyone who works in campus ministry, small group ministry, or who teaches these subjects.
Control is Not a Four-Letter Word!: Establishing Positive Classroom Behavior for the Year in the First Five Days
Date Reviewed: January 23, 2019
Control is Not a Four Letter Word provides an abundance of helpful information for everyone from the first-time teacher to the veteran teacher. After forty years of classroom experience, Sarah Clancy-Ballard bridges the gap between learning how to teach and establishing classroom authority. She believes a teacher sets the tone for the entire year in the first five days of a new school year (xii). The resonating theme of the text is that classroom control emerges from preparation and “the depth of commitment the teacher has to control the class” (xiii). The author examines the importance of first impressions, organizing and utilizing the written word, time management, and behavior management.
Clancy-Ballard’s classroom teaching experience leads her to believe the secret to classroom management is a teacher’s ability to control their classroom when students feel that the teacher cares for them on a personal level (6). The author notes facial expression and remembering student names are the most important things a teacher can to do to set the tone and communicate interest in students as individual people. She values relationship building both inside and outside of the classroom as a vital part of a teacher’s educational philosophy. Clancy-Ballard stresses that teachers need to form relationships with janitorial staff, fellow teachers, and administrative staff, and encourages new teachers to watch “veteran teachers: what works and does not, and how it changes with each principal” (33). She provides a detailed look at how to organize the classroom space, utilize textbooks, handouts, and instructional boards, and create a daily classroom routine. The book covers dozens of examples of routine-driven agendas, inspiring readers to “establish a routine for the beginning of class” (46).
Clancy-Ballard equips the reader with clear guidelines for implementing evaluation methods and time management within the classroom. She associates teacher time management and student assessment to classroom behavior management, pointing once again to the importance of preparation. The author emphasizes that “the student’s attitude about himself or herself and you is directly related to how he or she perceives they are doing in class,” thus connecting the teacher’s behavior to the student’s achievements (55). She encourages teachers to take inventory of their strengths and weaknesses, understanding how their “behavior in class will directly impact the behavior” of their students (66). Clancy-Ballard proposes a benevolent dictatorship approach in the classroom – treating students as intelligent individuals who have ownership of classroom management. By beginning the school year with clear expectations and explaining why the guidelines are instrumental to the class’s success, the teacher can establish control through preparation characterized by benevolent dictatorship (71).
Control is Not a Four Letter Word is primarily written for first-time elementary school teachers; however, it can be a useful reference guide for teachers from elementary through high school. This book is a useful asset for school principals to utilize with teachers for discussion about the numerous reflection questions. This could help ensure appropriate application rises from knowledge.
Professors at the undergraduate level, will find Control is Not a Four Letter Word a helpful tool to assist senior-level students as they leave the classroom and begin student teaching. During the first half of the school year, student teachers would benefit by using the text’s key concepts to observe and evaluate the lead teacher and their level of classroom control. By the second half of the year, student teachers would be well versed in the key concepts, and thus prepared to apply Sarah Clancy-Ballard’s methods in the classroom.
Hitting Pause: 65 Lecture Breaks to Refresh and Reinforce Learning
Date Reviewed: January 23, 2019
Timing is everything. It’s true for comedians and, according to Gail Taylor Rice, also for professors. Great comedians can hold an audience’s attention for over an hour because the attack-and-retreat nature of human attention. They know about volume control; high volume must be properly balanced with lower volume. Fast tempos must be tempered with slower tempos.
In the book Hitting Pause, Rice makes a compelling argument in favor of recognizing and designing classes in light of the rhythms of learning. Professors often suffer from the cognitive bias of "the curse of knowledge." This malady makes it nearly impossible for experts to put themselves in the shoes of someone who is learning things for the first time. A result of this curse is that it’s nearly impossible to appreciate how much time is needed for comprehending material.
Rice suggests that learners "might wish that there was a pause button connected to their college professors" (4). The pause button is a great metaphor. I think this idea could also be expanded as a highlighter pen for the lecturer. The professor needs to frequently slow down and make sure that students understand the importance of certain ideas.
The book rightly challenges the status quo of today’s university classroom as a place where professors read PowerPoint slides in darkened rooms while the gravitational pull of more interesting things like Instagram claim the student’s valuable and limited attention. Rice suggests that well-timed pausing can introduce the right kind of novelty and reflection to pull students out of their penchant for succumbing to time-wasting distractions.
Many educators believe the lecture is dead, and good professors will not use them. Lectures, however, aren’t necessarily bad; only bad lectures are bad. Rice offers solid research to give professors tested strategies for designing effective lectures that are punctuated with well-timed opportunities for reflection and emphasis.
According to Rice, starting a class with a pause invites students to become emotionally invested in learning. Again, we are so busy planning what we will teach that we forget to see things from a student’s perspective. An intentional pause forces us to think of starting a class like a pilot preparing for take-off. A good pilot will dutifully attend to a check-list to make sure that the plane is in good condition; teachers also need to consciously attend to their students’ current ability to learn.
The first half of Hitting Pause provides solid research about the pedagogical advantages of pausing. The second half contains numerous examples of starting pauses, mid-pauses, and closing pauses. Each example is categorized by appropriate setting and characteristics for use. The settings for use are divided into small classroom lecture, clinical or laboratory presentation, one-on-one session, conference presentations/in-service education, keynote/large-group presentation, course/unit, and online learning module. The characteristics include: affirming/positive, physical/movement, activates prior knowledge/experience, focuses/refocuses, creates community, generates curiosity, metacognitive, reviews, celebrates, commits to action, and provides a bookend. There are a great variety of examples which can be adapted to work in different settings.
Overall, this is a valuable book for teachers who are hoping to be more learning-centered.
Emerging Trends in Cyber Ethics and Education
Date Reviewed: January 18, 2019
This edited volume is built around the belief that educators can no longer ignore issues of cyberethics in either the content they teach or the tools they use to teach it. Over the past few decades the internet, in its various manifestations, has integrated itself seamlessly into our lives to the point that questions about the responsible use of digital tools are unavoidable. Furthermore, most students are now “digital natives,” born into the digital age with no memory of life before the internet. This reality makes it all the more critical to teach cybercitizenship and responsible internet use in the classroom.
Emerging Trends in Cyberethics and Education covers an impressively diverse range of topics and contexts in the course of eleven essays. It treats both K-12 and university-level educational contexts and considers classes that take place strictly online as well as those that meet face to face. The essays fall into three broad categories based on how they approach questions of cyberethics in education. First, there are essays that examine the ethical implications of using educational technology in the classroom, including questions of inclusivity and equal access, the quality of education made possible by digital tools and online environments, plagiarism and intellectual property rights, and discerning the accuracy of information available on the web. Second, there are essays that assess the role of educators in responding to challenges students face in online environments outside the classroom, cyberbullying being the most salient example. Finally, there are essays that consider how educators can teach students to be ethical users of the internet, social media, and other digital tools. Nevertheless, it is consistently clear throughout the book that these are not separate questions; the overarching concern among the authors is the cultivation of “cybercitizens” who can better navigate the complex promises and challenges of life in the digital age. The way teachers model responsibility and thoughtfulness in their use of digital tools, the steps they take in responding to violations of their students’ safety and privacy outside the classroom, and their efforts to explicitly teach cyberethics all play a role in this cultivation.
Educators in all contexts and subject matter can make use of this volume and the challenging questions it raises; the theology and religious studies classroom is no exception. Religion classes are particularly well situated to cultivate students as citizens because the subject challenges students to critically reflect on their own beliefs and to understand those with very different ways of thinking and acting in the world. Teachers in these subjects must now consider how, in an era in which knowledge and human interaction is increasingly mediated through digital platforms, one can integrate questions about cyberethics and digital citizenship into course design. As the editors of this volume assert, “these discussions should no longer be optional” (xv).
Interreligious/Interfaith Studies: Defining a New Field
Date Reviewed: January 18, 2019
During a job interview over a decade ago for a position in Christian theology, I mentioned how I incorporate non-Christian texts when teaching Christology (the study of Christ). One member on the committee was nonplussed, demanding an explanation. A rare occurrence then, it would be quite shocking now, as the emerging field of interreligious (or interfaith) studies is becoming more common. What exactly, though, are its methods, aims, definition, scope, areas of expertise, value, strengths, and limitations? Judged by the slash in this book’s title, much still needs to be formulated. This collection of eighteen essays (and an introduction by the editors) provides a solid foundation for furthering such attempts. The book is the fruit of a 2016 conference at California Lutheran University. Part One maps the field, and here the diversity of US colleges and universities augment the breadth and flexibility of definitions provided. Most contributors to this book prefer the term “interreligious” over “interfaith” (I prefer the latter, but much depends on how you define faith and religious).
A strong current in the essays is pragmatic: seeing the benefits an interfaith pedagogy can bring to a range of disciplines in the humanities – raising the profile of religious studies, and religious literacy, more generally. Some contributors in Part One, however, seem constricted by the academy’s theology / religious studies debate and argue about where interfaith / interreligious studies best belong, an argument that requires one to believe in the rigidity of such departmental boundaries in the first place.
Part Two examines interfaith pedagogical philosophies and specific curricula. Professors and future educators (at all levels) will benefit from how the contributors employ specific texts, classroom activities, and assignments. I am already thinking of how I can use some of these ideas in my World Religions module; for example, adding a more expansive sensorial list of preparatory questions for students before they visit religious sites and places of significance.
Part Three focuses on the challenges and benefits this field provides for students and educators; for example, how studying anti-racist approaches or ecological issues through an interfaith lens develops a more expansive, nuanced picture, while also encouraging deeper interfaith participation and engagement. Finally, Part Four (my favorite section overall) presents the value of interfaith studies beyond the classroom, with essays on its positive impact for religious leaders, for those in prisons, for those seeking to enhance secular careers (because of their multifaith literacy) – and civically in promoting a truly interfaith and pluralist society. On this last note, Dublin (my adopted hometown as a New Yorker) was the first major city to publish an interfaith charter. This book, however, is US-focussed (or limited, depending on one’s view): it could seem to the uninitiated that the field is primarily of relevance to the United States. Hopefully a second volume is planned to expand the focus beyond the confines of the fifty states, and not just to Europe, but globally.
By the way, in 2019 (and beyond), if anyone is asked how to teach Christology (or a similar topic), I suggest you bring in as many faith-positions as possible – that is where the fields of theology and religious studies are heading.
A Leader's Guide to Competency-Based Education: From Inception to Implementation
Date Reviewed: January 18, 2019
Recognizing the growing interest in competency-based education (CBE) in U.S. higher education, but also the lack of shared standards or practices around it, three experts produced this guide for other educators who are contemplating a move to (or revision of) this type of instructional program. The authors help those who are enthusiastic about CBE avoid pitfalls by offering practical guidance. They strike a cautionary tone throughout, beginning their Introduction with the sobering reality that “there are relatively few schools that have been able to move from interest to implementation” (1).
One of the reasons for caution may be that even a definition of CBE is hard to come by. The authors joke that “if you were to ask ten people to define CBE, you would likely hear ten different answers” (2). Instead they offer five “hallmarks” of CBE: (1) “time is variable, and learning is fixed”; (2) there is “required demonstration of mastery or proficiency” which is (3) “determined by rigorous assessments”; CBE is (4) “focused on the student learning journey” and is (5) “offered in a flexible, self-paced approach” (3-4). Many educational programs would claim one or more of these hallmarks, but taken together, they represent a distinct departure from traditional education. CBE’s most famous feature may be the way it changes the relationship between learning and time by replacing the credit hour with continuous direct assessment. As the authors demonstrate, however, this change complicates everything from the transcript to faculty workload to accreditation. CBE’s intense focus on individualized student learning paths and assessment (“assessment on steroids,” as I once heard) is also significant because it changes what learners actually do to learn and what teachers do to teach. Traditional faculty roles are likely to be unbundled, “reassembled” (89), and redefined – or replaced – by roles like coach, tutor, and psychometrician.
Given the challenge of defining CBE and the guide’s relative brevity, it would benefit from some case studies, at least for readers who are still trying to gain a clear picture of what a CBE program looks like and why an institution might adopt one in the first place. Cases would presumably also help CBE adopters appreciate why other institutions made the choices they did. The book reads instead like an insider’s guide.
The book’s best feature, accordingly, is its soup-to-nuts review of issues that educators must consider when designing competency-based education. Chapters address institutional culture, program design, assessment strategies, staffing and business models, and approval seeking. Readers come away fully aware that CBE is not just a different teaching approach but a potentially radical disruption to education delivery.
What is College Reading?
Date Reviewed: January 18, 2019
Co-published by CSU Open Press
What is college reading? As college teachers we may assume that it is a process of comprehension, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. But, as this edited volume overwhelmingly demonstrates, that is often not what it is for college students. How then can college teachers help students practice advanced reading skills? The problem is compounded by the fact that even college teachers who actively want to encourage students to read may unwittingly discourage advanced reading skills by, for example, giving reading quizzes in class (as discussed by Mary Lou Odom in this volume). This edited volume is a great resource for anyone wishing to engage questions about how to improve college reading.
Some chapters provide useful practical suggestions. For example, Chris Anson shows how to formulate reading log prompts that require students to engage with the underlying ideas in the reading. Other chapters describe exercises such as in-class annotations (Davies) and says-does columns (Huffman). The volume also contains several insightful discussions of other factors influencing college reading that are more difficult to address, but no less important. For example, some of the authors observe that reading, which we may think of as an individual activity, is a “complex sociolinguistic task” (Hollander et al., 59), and “a collective and holistic enterprise” (Maloy et al., 71). Brian Gogan provides a thoughtful reflection on reading in relation to “threshold concepts” (concepts that students need to grasp in order to move forward in a given disciplinary context). College teachers may use these insights to make reading part of building an intellectual community in the class.
The chapter by Young and Potter discusses how students are taught to read in K-12, where students are commonly given a decontextualized passage and then tested on their ability to understand inferences at the level of sentences or paragraphs. These students also commonly learn that for each question asked about the text, there is one correct answer in a multiple-choice format. They receive comparably little training in the advanced reading skills required for college, such as learning how to place a particular text into a connected web of texts that make up an ongoing disciplinary conversation, or asking their own higher-order questions and working with others’ questions that do not have a single “correct” answer. When students start college, therefore, they will commonly think of reading as looking for answers in a decontextualized excerpt; they are not accustomed to looking instead for interesting, productive problems in a web of texts (as also discussed in the afterword by Sullivan and Tinberg).
Other authors discuss the importance of instructors connecting reading with writing, drawing on both the writing-to-read and reading-to-write conversations (Anson; Freedman). Some chapters refer to the by now widely known finding that the majority of students do not do what their instructors think they do when completing a research paper assignment, and how to address the implications of this for formulating new types of writing assignments (Horning; Young and Potter). Related to this, Laura Davies points out in her chapter that students who write poorly are usually referred to the university’s writing center, rather than asked about their reading skills, which underlie their writing. Several chapters also touch on how reading might be given a stronger institutional footing through, for example, being explicitly incorporated into writing-across-the-curriculum initiatives (Odom), linking courses (Sturtz et al.), or providing a reading-across-the-curriculum community on campus (Hollander et al.).
In sum, as Leonora Freedman observes in her chapter, stronger responses to the problem of how to teach college reading skills can lead to increased student engagement as well as increased faculty morale. This edited volume is a very good place to start. It deserves a wide readership among college faculty and administrators, and this goal will no doubt be made easier by the fact that the publishers have made it free to download at wac.colostate.edu.