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I’ve been reviewing instructional video presentations for a project. Primarily I screen them to review how effective the presenter is in applying sound pedagogy. It’s amazing how many basic rules of good communication presenters break—consistently—-even professional speakers and celebrated “master teachers.” The other side of the ...
When it comes to effective teaching, “less is more.” While the brain is an amazing information and multi-sensory processor, research suggests it can only effectively learn one new thing (concept) at a time. The maximum number of “bits of information” the brain can process at any given time is eight (...
Reflective Teaching in Higher Education
Date Reviewed: April 15, 2016
A group of English, Scottish, Irish, and Australian scholars has produced a thorough and insightful resource for effective teaching in higher education that seeks “to bring together the latest knowledge and understanding of teaching, learning, and assessment in higher education” (xi). The editorial team developed the approach to reflective teaching on the basis of the ten point Teaching and Learning Research Programme (TLRP) developed in the UK. The chapters in each section refer to the relevant principles in TLRP and put forward credible arguments grounded in recent empirical research. The editors intersperse useful reflective activities and case studies throughout each chapter in order to promote reflective inquiry by individuals and groups of teachers.
The editors organized the book into five parts: Becoming Reflective; Creating Conditions for Learning; Teaching for Understanding; Reflecting on Consequences; and Deepening Understanding. Taken together, these five elements constitute a model for the development of effective teaching in higher education that is comprehensive, open-ended, and ongoing. The approach offered here functions like a dynamic spiral toward adaptive expertise. The emphases on evidence-based theory and practice, constructivism, teaching as jazz improvisation, assessment as a crucial component of learning, and robust inclusion all recommend this book to contemporary educators in higher education.
I find only two deficiencies in this impressive body of work. At four hundred pages, only the most dedicated teachers or administrators in higher education will read the work as a whole. I tried to plow my way through to the end several times, but could only make limited progress in any one session of reading due to the density of the material. I think a book half the size of the existing volume would have sufficed.
The second problem concerns the commitment of the authors to critical pedagogy. Toward the end of the book, the editors advocate ever more strongly for a largely Frierian-based approach to diversity and inclusion as the best – perhaps the only – way forward in higher education today. While I have more than a passing interest in critical pedagogy, I find the narrowing of the philosophy of education bandwidth advocated here to be overly confining and surprisingly uncritical. I would have liked to see a treatment of multiple approaches that would support the establishment of egalitarian and inclusive communities of learning in higher education.
I see four likely uses for this book. Those charged with leading doctoral seminars on teaching in higher education may find this a particularly valuable resource. I know that I will. It could well serve as a viable alternative to Barbara Gross Davis’s Tools for Teaching (2nd ed., Jossey-Bass, 2009). This book could also help new professors develop the kind of reflective practice that will enable them to become expert practitioners of the craft of teaching. Many individual chapters of the book could find use by those leading in-service faculty development sessions. Finally, academic deans or committees responsible for promoting effective teaching in faculties could profitably work their way through this resource in its entirety as a way to gain a 360° sense of effective teaching and learning in higher education today.
It Works for Me, Flipping the Classroom: Shared Tips for Effective Teaching
Date Reviewed: March 14, 2016
The pedagogical landscape of education has recently experienced a tectonic shift in terms of professional development. Once in the field, teachers seeking improvement and new ideas as to how to improve their craft, like so many professionals, used to wait for top-notch scholars to produce new research-based, paradigm-changing tomes. The thinking was that those in the trenches, those who filled kindergarten classrooms and chemistry labs across the country, were not creative enough to provide cutting-edge educational discoveries; only those who labored for a doctorate and took to the ivory towers of academia were capable of such exploration. Sadly, by the time these game-changing discoveries trickled down to the huddled masses in the faculty workroom, these ideas had already been discovered by accident and had been shared among the other faculty on the quad. Teacher’s in-service did not focus on the next great discovery but on how to share the discovery with fellow teachers.
As this new wave of creative teachers began filling the gaps in higher education after proving themselves as master teachers and scholars in this area or that (and with the advent of social media), the focus kept evolving: for example, how can this idea, discovered in a chemistry classroom, be applied to the theology, composition, or social work classroom? Thankfully, Hal Blythe, Charlie Sweet, and Russell Carpenter, all writing professors at Eastern Kentucky University, have made it their mission to improve teacher effectiveness across the nation, first with their Noel Studio for Academic Creativity and now with their It Works for Me book series.
In this volume, as in the previous seven volumes, Blythe, Sweet, and now Carpenter, have assembled a cadre of interdisciplinary scholars from across the country to engage in a conversation about what these teachers and administrators have found in their efforts to “flip” the classroom in an attempt to improve student learning and retention. The authors selected for this volume exhibited good ideas and were invited to share those ideas with others. Generosity, author and speaker Michael Hyatt would say, has become the new currency in learning, leadership, and life.
This volume is divided into seven sections and includes an introduction and take-away-style conclusion. The sections this reviewer found of note were the opening where the flipped classroom is defined (all instructional content is found outside the classroom and classroom time is used for conversations, processing, and reflection), the sections on in-class and out-of-class assignments, and assessment. Each larger section opens with a short introduction from the editors, which is followed by a number of short essays from the contributing authors where each author or team of authors discusses their experiment with flipping the classroom. References, where applicable, have been provided. The concluding take-away section offers twenty ideas, such as never spending more than fifteen minutes on any activity, using Bloom’s taxonomy when crafting course components, engaging other faculty to get feedback on flipped assignments or course structure, and developing your own competency in technology.
Overall, this is an incredibly helpful volume. Its strength is in sharing ideas that might inspire a new way of doing one assignment or offering one lecture that might increase student learning and retention. In that way, it works!
Visible Learning and the Science of How We Learn
Date Reviewed: February 12, 2015
Visible Learning and the Science of How We Learn is an accessible volume that reinforces the concept of “visible learning” previously presented in Hattie’s 2009 Visible Learning (VLT) with supporting research and interpretations from the fields of education, sociology, and neuroscience. While some of the supporting research is new, the authors also harken to longstanding, now standard, studies on various topics. The writing is concise (most of the 31 chapters are about six pages) and the organization of the book allows it to be used as a compendium on topics related to learning and teaching.
The book is organized using nine overarching principles that connect learning theory and teaching under three main sections: (1) learning within classrooms, (2) selected topics in learning theory, and (3) a theme of “know thyself” (self-esteem, competence, self-knowledge, and metacognition). Along the way Hattie and Yates address trendy but dubious ideas in education, such as learning styles, multitasking, and uncritical ideas about instructional technology and the Internet.
This volume is among those that make the shift from a focus on the teacher and on the act of teaching, to the learner, the processes whereby learning actually happens, and impediments to learning. The working assumption is “achievement in schools is maximized when teachers see learning through the eyes of students, and when students see learning through the eyes of themselves as teachers” (xi). The value in this perspective is helping teachers understand the experience of learning on the part of the learner. Understanding and appreciating what goes on “inside the head of the learner,” can help instructors make learning “visible.” This means that teachers can design learning experiences to match how students actually learn, not how they may assume their students learn. The goal is to help teachers act with informed intention.
While there is not much new in terms of learning theory, the book has value to theological educators in several regards. First, it is a good primer on pedagogy and current research on learning for instructors who do not have a background in learning theory. Second, the book provides motivational reinforcement for the importance of making the switch from teacher-focused instruction to student-centered learning. The book does so in a balanced manner, citing supportive research for both the importance of the teacher’s role and behavior in the classroom (effective use of direct instruction, the role of feedback, and so forth) and the necessity of focusing on student attention and engagement in the process of learning (cognitive load, attention, memory, motivation, and how knowledge and skills are acquired by learners). Third, several chapters touch on issues of concern particularly important to the theological and religious studies contexts. For example, Chapter 4 deals with the personality of the teacher and trust; Chapter 21 explores research and myths about students as “digital natives” and the impact of instructional technology and the Internet (Chapter 22 is titled, “Is the Internet turning us into shallow thinkers?”). Part 3, Know Thyself, focuses on the affective dynamics of teaching and learning, an issue which is consistently undervalued but is critical to matters of belief, faith, and self-understanding (formation).
This is a worthwhile and useful volume. It covers the field of what makes teachers effective in the classroom. Its strength is in (1) making often complex concepts accessible in both writing and the format of the book; (2) providing balanced, research-informed coverage of concepts related to the complex acts of teaching and learning, and (3) helping teachers and instructors make the shift from over-focusing on the teaching act to appreciation and understanding of the process of learning as experienced by students.