Select an item by clicking its checkbox
Learning, Teaching and Assessment in Higher Education: Global Perspectives
Date Reviewed: February 4, 2016
This global study of teaching, learning, and assessment goes beyond the typical single country context to extend to good pedagogical practice on six continents.The argument of each chapter is supported by examples of good practice accounts from around the world, a collection that forms a refreshing change from a generic case study model. Although the examples lean most heavily toward English-speaking institutions and classrooms, there is significant attention paid to various elements of pedagogy from many cultural perspectives. The author takes great care throughout the book to consider all elements of the changing higher education landscape, including the changing student body, changes in technology, and changes in expectations about the goals of higher education and graduate employability.
The twelve chapters of this book take a comprehensive view of diversity in higher education teaching, learning, and assessment. The book opens with a consideration of cultural mores and assumptions that directly affect interactions in higher education. Brown looks both to the past and the future in subsequent chapters, noting pedagogical traditions and innovations in the context of today’s higher education landscape. She argues that we must adjust to a technology-rich world that necessitates more focus on “learning how and learning why than on learning what” (21). Her view of technology in the balance as both a distraction and a valuable addition to certain aspects of both teaching and learning is refreshing, as so many books either glorify or decry technology in classrooms and society. This ability to see things in the balance is one of the greatest strengths of this book: rather than arguing for a “best” way to teaching or learning or assessment, this book offers multiple possibilities from multiple contexts and thus leaves much to the reader to judge based on his or her context and constraints.
Brown identifies a few global trends. The most widespread seems to be a move from transmissive to transformative education. She notes that there is a “movement from perceiving the university teacher as an all-knowing, unchallengeable authority figure” (27) and parallel a movement by institutions and disciplines toward encouraging learning outside of the lecture hall. Another trend is teaching toward the multiple literacies expected of a twenty-first century graduate, looking well beyond academic literacy to digital, assessment, and interpersonal literacies (88). Finally, Brown notes that all education needs to think of itself as taking place in a global environment. This book is itself a fine way to encourage broader thinking about pedagogical contexts in higher education: our students are shortchanged when we privilege our own pedagogical traditions and ignore the broader, global context of higher education.
The strengths of this book are many. For instance, the author provides substantive and exhaustive bulleted lists in each chapter, a diverse set of highlighted good practice accounts, and a full chapter devoted to higher education teacher development. The book is easy to navigate, written in clear prose, and at once expansive but grounded in particulars. I would recommend this book highly to teachers and administrators in higher education across the disciplines.
Working Cross-Culturally: Identity Learning, Border Crossing and Culture Brokering
Date Reviewed: January 18, 2016
Michael Michie’s 2014 publication of his dissertation argues that previous research into cross-cultural teaching has focused on skills, methods, and curriculum, but ignores teachers. To address this lacuna, Michie interviews six professional, western, K-12 science teachers of indigenous students and investigates what qualities characterize successful cross-cultural teachers and how teacher training can prepare instructors for cross-cultural contexts.
Michie’s work makes three contributions to pedagogical discussions of cross-cultural teaching. First, Michie provides a sustained examination of the ways cross-cultural experiences shape teachers into “culture brokers” or “border crossers.” Michie claims the most successful teacher of indigenous students learns to be a border crosser in his or her identity formation even before entering the classroom. Second, Michie analyzes successful border crossers and constructs a profile of a border-crossing teacher. Finally, Michie suggests what kind of training shapes teachers to be successful culture-brokers.
Michie claims an “international” framework for his study (1), but limits his subjects to those teaching in western, English-speaking sites (Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, 141). Michie argues that his focused data allows him to speak more precisely, and leaves expansion of this deep, thorough analysis to successive studies.
Michie’s project unfolds in six chapters. In chapter one he defines the project and identifies himself as a “participant-researcher” with his subjects (2). In chapter two, Michie reviews the literature on western teaching of indigenous children. He sifts the anthropological, biological, and ethno-historical studies on “border crossing” and “cultural brokerage” (5) to refine the terms. He defines culture “as the social environment in which an individual is raised and lives and includes a range of concepts and beliefs that is accepted by individuals as defining their group identity” (14). The role of education is to “help those growing up in a culture find an identity within that culture” (Michie cites Bruner 1996, 15). This move brings identity studies and questions of power into the forefront of pedagogy – the (western, powerful) identity of the teacher and the (indigenous, marginalized) identity of the students. Thus teaching requires dexterity and self-awareness in crossing cultural borders.
Michie’s first contribution is to distinguish between terms in the literature. In his subjects, Michie finds that “border crossing” (“the ability of people to move metaphorically between cultures,” ) is a specific identity formed in “marginal people” (51). In contrast, “culture broker” (“a strategy which an individual can be used to promote cross-cultural understanding,” ) is the “role” that an “intermediary” chooses when mediating between cultures (52). Next, Michie proposes that teachers in cross-cultural situations can choose a mediating role while actively cultivating respect and appreciation for the cultures they move between (as border crossers do; 52, 79).
In chapter three, Michie analyzes the participant interviews looking for evidence of border-crossing experiences and cross-cultural encounters earlier in life. Teachers of indigenous students report positive affective and cognitive experiences when they engaged (pre-professionally) indigenous and first nation people (73). Michie identifies three successive degrees of engagement in the teachers. “Border crossers” choose a transitory role and show “interest in the culture and aspirations of indigenous people”; “border workers” “continue to work at the border as allies of the indigenous people”; “border mergers” exhibit a fully bi-cultural identity and do not distinguish between the cultures they navigate (80-81).
Chapter four examines how participants understand the role of culture broker or border-crosser and for what purpose they use that role. Chapter five evaluates participant ideas of how to enable teachers to cross cultural borders in their classrooms. Michie then defines what kind of training can best shape K-12 instructors to teach from a culture broker role. Finally, chapter six summarizes Michie’s conclusions and applies the best teacher training practice to specifically preparing western instructors to teach science as foreign cultural knowledge to indigenous students.
This study can be applied to the pedagogy of religion in at least two situations. First is for college or seminary instructors to consider teaching the academic study of religion as a “foreign” way of knowing. How might students of deep religious conviction respond differently to a perceived exercise of dissecting their sacred text if instructors cross that cultural divide between confessional faith and academic study first? The same cultural crossing might bring “nones” into a new world of thinking about and reflecting analytically on religion. Second, Michie shows that, as professional teachers, our cultural identities and our ability to meet students have already been shaped – positively or negatively. Reflecting on the degree(s) to which we are able to meet our students, cross metaphorical and cultural borders, and broker academic culture with newcomers is critical to our growth as teachers.
Swimming Upstream: Black Males in Adult Education (New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, Number 144)
Date Reviewed: January 16, 2016
What person of sound mind would make a conscious decision to swim upstream against the current of turbulent waters? The correct answer is “probably no one.” Swimming upstream requires not only excellent navigational skill but perhaps, more importantly, demands that one possess the tenacity and spirit of a survivor. That is precisely why the metaphor “swimming upstream” is so appropriate in describing the plight of scores of African-American men who elect to enter and succeed in higher education (1).
Swimming Upstream: Black Males in Adult Education is one volume in the series entitled: New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education. This anthology is intended “to make space for the experience and voices of Black men in the canon of adult education literature, to promote a critical assessment of institutional policies and practices, and to foster awareness and involvement among adult educators” (89).
The format of this book is well-suited for academic settings. Each essay is preceded by a short introductory paragraph. At the close of each chapter the authors provide a robust list of reference sources that should prove helpful for students and educators alike.
The first chapter discusses the impact of race and racism in the American adult educational system. Chapter two addresses myths and stereotypes employed to depict Black men and their influence on educational attainment. Chapter three explores the reasons for entering adult basic education programs and the role of gender identity. The topic of high school equivalency is discussed in chapter four. Chapter five addresses young Men of Color and engagement in adult learning. Chapter six is concerned with college reentry for African-American males. Chapter seven addresses the sobering topic of Black male college study following a term of incarceration. Chapter eight discusses military veterans and access to the GI Bill to pay educational expenses. The final essay, chapter nine, culminates with a call to action for educational practitioners.
Understanding context is critical. In recent years a growing constituency has emerged that believes society has entered a post-racial or “colorblind” era. They advance the proposition that one’s race or ethnicity has no bearing on one\'s ability to survive and prosper in modern America. I strongly disagree with the post-racial theorists but recognize that it would be helpful for books like Swimming Upstream to squarely confront the legitimate concerns of post-racial proponents. In so doing one hopes that individuals on both sides of the argument will ultimately reach a consensus that the mission of ensuring equal educational opportunities for every individual remains a struggle that must still be waged today. Swimming Upstream moves that discussion forward with compelling statistical and anecdotal evidence.
In 1903, the late W.E. B. DuBois prophesied in The Souls of Black Folks that the problem of the twentieth century would be the “color line” – the invisible yet palpable line of demarcation between Caucasians and African-Americans that was often characterized by overt discrimination and bigotry. More than one century later the question of whether “Black lives matter” is, in my view, a logical extension of DuBois’ central thesis. It can be argued that Swimming Upstream may unintentionally serve to remind us that certain remnants of the issues raised by DuBois remain unresolved today. For some readers this will speak to the relevance and timeliness of Swimming Upstream.
An average book informs and a good book intrigues the reader. But an excellent book sparks self-reflection and may even compel one to act in new and bold ways. As a college instructor I routinely survey students to ascertain why they decided to embark on a college education. The primary responses from students generally, and African-American males specifically, are: “I want to make my parents proud of me” and “I want to set a positive example for my children/siblings/family.” Those learners confirm what I have long known to be true: that given equality of economic and institutional opportunities, African-American males have no less potential to achieve academic and vocational success than any other segment of the American population. College study may not be right for everyone but it must become accessible for anyone. Arguably that is the controversial and exciting rationale for Swimming Upstream. It is an excellent anthology that serves to affirm our collective belief in the basic humanity and intellectual capacity of every individual.
The Culturally Inclusive Educator: Preparing for a Multicultural World
Date Reviewed: December 1, 2015
The Culturally Inclusive Educator: Preparing for a Multicultural World has the potential to complement and advance efforts of educational institutions and educators who grapple with becoming more inclusive. Dena Samuels’s work will convince those who have not begun this work to begin. Even more, it will equip them to do so.
Agreeing with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s claims that “education is the civil rights of our generation” and that “great teaching is about so much more than education; it is a daily fight for social justice” (116), Samuels’ work demands both self awareness and institutional struggle. Because a “social justice journey is a marathon, not a sprint,” a training plan is required. This book is one such training plan.
For the individual educator, Samuels offers numerous tips, including an extensive not-to-be missed list of inclusive educators characteristics (108-9). Yet, for all the difference individual educators can make, in order to make the deepest impact, this “bottom up” approach (e.g., addressing microagressions in the classroom) must be combined with a “top down” commitment (e.g. recruit and retain diverse faculty and administrative leadership, develop inclusive curricula, demand rigorous assessment of diversity trainings). Samuels stresses institutional diversity practices instead of relying solely on “individual champions who come and go” (76).
Samuels is hopeful even as she admits that becoming culturally inclusive educators and educational institutions is a long-term and, at times, difficult venture. She speaks from the experience of investing in the process.
I have learned that my skin color . . . represents something, whether I want it to or not . . . when I become aware of my easily manifested entitlement, I tangibly feel the sting of inequality, even as the recipient of unearned privilege. It is important that I have deeply felt this pain, not as White guilt, but as a reminder that these systems of inequality affect us all, obviously to different degrees, and that my objective is to dismantle them (90).
Some readers will be introduced to new vocabulary such as microaggression, noun-based identifiers, nondominant (instead of minority), meritocracy, and code switching. Others will be surprised by research results. For example, studies have found that voluntary inclusiveness trainings may produce more inclusive behavior than mandatory trainings (43), and that training faculty when they are in graduate programs is more beneficial than when they are in their teaching positions (44). Yet others might be surprised to hear that faculties and institutions are not as prepared as they think they are (24). Minimally, readers will gain much from the extensive bibliography, helpful appendices, and references to various survey instruments.
Other than a desire to read more about instances of institutional and classroom success, I am satisfied with this book’s ability both to convince me that my own “minor actions can make a major impact,” and to encourage and guide me toward amending my practices and the practices of our educational institutions.
Revisiting The Great White North? Reframing Whiteness, Privilege, and Identity in Education (Second Edition)
Date Reviewed: May 15, 2015
Published seven years after its first edition, Revisiting the Great White North? reframes the persistence of white privilege in Canadian educational context. As with the first edition, this book interrogates Canadian identity, multicultural discourse, and color-blindness mythologies that serve to hide and maintain white normativity. “It fills a gap in the Canadian literature on the ways Whiteness masquerades in our institutions and within Canadian mythologies” (xxvii).
Each of the original chapters from the 2007 edition is reproduced in this volume and is appended by new reflection questions and a brief reframing piece, written by the original author. One author revised her original piece, and one new chapter is added by a scholar from the province of Québec. With the exception of one scholar who taught Canadian students in Buffalo, N.Y., all of the authors are Canadian and represent nearly all of the provinces. The authors are all leaders in anti-racist education, including George Sefa Dei. Their perspectives are diverse not only in terms of region, but also in racial identity, ethnicity, discipline, and gender. Each author shares his or her implication in whiteness through both personal testimony and critical inquiry, contributing to the book’s engaging style and accessibility.
This volume contains five sections comprising three to five chapters. The first section focuses on conceptualizing whiteness; its chapters examine how white identity is constructed and reinforced in Canada, and how it presents barriers to teaching and learning. Section two is entitled “Whiteness and Second Peoples,” a phrase referring to the “colonizers of the First Nations” (7). These chapters consider the place of both non-white and white people in antiracism work. The danger of white scholars doing work that is motivated primarily by guilt is noted, pointing to the inadvertent reproduction of white power or an “overly optimistic representation of disadvantaged groups” (91). Section three is concerned with the development and deconstruction of white identity, including the “ability to be colour-blind and not colour-blind simultaneously” as “the hallmark of the achievement of a mature, anti-racist White identity” (119).
While the whole book is focused on whiteness and education, it is peppered with references to teaching experience and students’ comments. The last two sections are specifically concerned with teaching and learning. Section four spotlights the pervasive beliefs of white, middle-class university students that Canada is a raceless society and a pure meritocracy. The final section, “The Institutional Merit of Whiteness,” addresses race and identity related issues in education, exposing how whiteness is emphasized in school codes, administration, and policy development.
Revisiting the Great White North? is not limited to its Canadian context. It will be of interest to anyone who works to expose white privilege and promote anti-racism in the educational arena. While its attention is given to whiteness and race, it is critically aware of and makes reference to the intersection of race with ethnicity, class, and gender. The book is a must-read for those who wish to participate in an educational discourse that moves beyond liberal platitudes of “sympathetic knowledge about racial and cultural Others,” which “once again re-inscribe Whiteness as goodness and rationality” (186).15