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One of my favorite movies growing up was the The Sound of Music. I loved—and still love—the opening scene: the vast panoramic of Julie Andrews, arms outstretched, as Maria, belting at the top of her lungs: “The hills are alive with the sound of music!” Each song and ...
Date Reviewed: September 6, 2018
Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing, 2018 (x + 180 pages, ISBN 978-1-62036-697-4, $24.95) One might assume that a text called Creating Wicked Students would discuss types of “wicked” problems – complex social-environmental issues that cannot be solved with existing modes of inquiry and decision-making – that instructors might address through a problem-based learning approach. However, this work actually is an introduction ...
Creating Wicked Students: Designing Courses for a Complex World
Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing, 2018 (x + 180 pages, ISBN 978-1-62036-697-4, $24.95)
One might assume that a text called Creating Wicked Students would discuss types of “wicked” problems – complex social-environmental issues that cannot be solved with existing modes of inquiry and decision-making – that instructors might address through a problem-based learning approach. However, this work actually is an introduction to course design most useful for beginning instructors or those redesigning their courses according to sound pedagogical principles. Situating himself against those who view higher education as solely preparing students for the workforce or transmitting content, Hanstedt emphasizes the importance of instilling a sense of authority in our students by helping them develop skills and attitudes that will empower them to make meaningful change in the world.
Hanstedt’s holistic vision of education includes attitudes and dispositions alongside skills and content mastery, and will likely resonate with instructors in religious studies and theology. Although he does not explicitly refer to our disciplines, he does offer examples, anecdotes, and insights from colleagues in a variety of fields and institutions, which is a strength of the book. He references seminal work in the scholarship of teaching and learning – including that of: George Kuh (2008, High-Impact Educational Practices, AACU); James Zull (2002, The Art of Changing the Brain, Stylus); and David Krathwohl (2002, “A revision of Bloom’s taxonomy,” Theory into Practice 41) – but does not engage with previous scholarship on wicked problems. Readers interested in learning more about pedagogical approaches to wicked problems could consult the work of the work of: Brown et al. (2010, Tackling Wicked Problems, Routledge); Carcasson (2017, “Deliberative Pedagogy as Critical Connective” in Deliberative Pedagogy, Michigan State University); or Lee (2016, “Systems Thinking,” in Resilience by Design, Springer).
This book could be useful as an introduction to course design for someone less familiar with the fundamentals, such as how to develop measurable learning outcomes, align course goals with institutional goals, nest content within higher-order goals, engage students’ prior knowledge, or incorporate applied learning. The structure of the book allows for one to follow it step-by-step as a course design manual, and it also includes recursive “intermissions” to encourage reflection along the way. In addition, his discussion of how to prompt critical thinking through multiple-choice exams offers helpful strategies for encouraging students to explain their thinking on ambiguous questions with follow-up questions that explain or justify their choice (92-98).
Date Reviewed: July 6, 2017
For the faculty member transitioning a course from face-to-face (F2F) to an online or blended learning environment, Kathryn Linder’s workbook is a wonderful resource. After opening with a couple chapters reviewing the key components of backward course design, developing appropriate course learning objectives, and assessment, the remaining chapters provide a step-by-step guide for an instructor to convert a course from a physical to a virtual teaching space. The chapters cover a variety of topics including effective learning activities, assessment methods, creating a social presence, using and creating multimedia, and social media engagement.
Each chapter contains a short introduction to the pedagogical theory behind the topic (What Do We Know About…) followed by a series of guiding questions, worksheets, and templates for incorporating the theory into course development (A Step-by-Step Guide to…). After a summary of the key ideas, there are questions for faculty and administrators, followed by a graphic that illustrates course design steps and additions. Online resources are often noted for additional planning. An instructor or administrator is provided with all the tools and resources necessary for working through the process in a hands-on, orderly fashion.
The book’s main strength is its highly practical nature, highlighted by the ready-to-use worksheets, templates, and checklists for every step in the process. Not only does it explain the desired resources, it usually gives real-life examples of how the tool was used in a blended classroom effectively.
Another strength of this book is Linder’s ability to translate and explain technological tasks reasonably for the technophobe. Without talking down, she methodically explains technical components in understandable and achievable action steps for readers. Equally important, she recognizes that schools use different types of technology (for example, Learning Management System), and identifies the major software, programs, and platforms available, accounting for this variety in her instructions.
There is little to offer by way of criticism of the book. More than adequate appendices and glossaries complete an already copious amount of resources. The solid reference section supports the extensive research, clearly supporting the material.
Given the practical nature of this workbook and its many ready-to-copy worksheets, it is strongly recommended for faculty members transitioning a classroom course to a blended or online delivery format. Likewise, academic deans leading a group of faculty through a similar transition process will find this a one-stop resource, especially if they are able to partner with an educational technologist.
The questions and challenges concerning the teaching of Islam and race that I raised last year in “Teaching Islamic Theology through Black Lives” are no less urgent and relevant now as they were then. In that contribution, I attempted to delineate ways in which I could make important interventions on ...
Date Reviewed: July 15, 2016
Ralf St. Clair’s instructive book on designing courses will provide helpful guidance to new professors and a meaningful review to those seasoned in the classroom, along with some potentially new material for those veterans. Divided into ten well-defined chapters, Creating Courses for Adults walks readers through the learning theory associated with the adult student population, as well as the practical logistics of designing different kinds of courses for different adult populations. The array of courses discussed range from online for credit instruction to non-credit onsite education for trade school students. Taking seriously the role and the needs of the professor and not just the students, St. Clair begins with a welcomed and affirming chapter, “All About You,” which includes a very helpful section entitled, “Why Who You Are and What You’ve Done Matters.” While this book accepts that teaching is about the students, the author accepts the often unappreciated fact that teaching is also about the needs of the professors, who feel a sense of vocation to this work.
St. Clair operates out of the helpful notion that “nobody is an intuitive or completely natural teacher” (page xii), a claim that will challenge seasoned instructors to continue to plan and will encourage new professors with their often unarticulated sense of intimidation. Several chapters are especially rich in what they provide the planning process. Chapter three, “Context Drives Design,” makes distinctions among formal learning, non-formal learning, and informal learning. Adult learners may bring previous experience in formal learning to the classroom, since formal learning is education that leads to a diploma or certificate. They will certainly bring experience in non-formal learning, such as that experienced in an open-ended group, and informal learning, which refers to learning achieved through everyday activities. In fact, the latter two learning experiences can so shape the approach to education of adult learners that it becomes difficult for them to embrace a world of formal learning, even if it is adult-education friendly. For this reason, teachers must give some thought in course design to preparing students for the particular educational context that the course provides.
St. Clair also offers helpful approaches to online learning. In addition to a useful bibliography of online course design material, St. Clair proposes that design issues in online education do not fundamentally differ from onsite education. Citing current literature that explains online course design, St. Clair concludes that the best literature provides questions for online course design that do not substantially differ from face-to-face education. While acknowledging that his conclusion will not be universally accepted, St. Clair nonetheless provides an affirmation that online education can be informed by the same theoretical approaches that guide other forms of education.
Readers wanting an accessible approach to course design, grounded in both theory and application, will find St. Clair’s Creating Courses for Adults to be valuable. The book belongs in the collection of any teaching and learning center of higher education for its content and its current bibliography.