engaged learning

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As we finish this semester, it might be a good exercise to look back and see what worked, what didn’t quite work, and what will never work. Student evaluations often convey needs or anger or unfocused frustrations; very little that can actually teach us, so we must ponder our ...

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Teaching the Whole Student - Engaged Learning With Heart, Mind, and Spirit

Schoem, David; Modey, Christine; St. John, Edward P., eds.
Stylus Publishing, Llc., 2017

Book Review

Tags: engaged learning   |   holistic teaching   |   social justice
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Reviewed by: C. Hannah Schell, Monmouth College
Date Reviewed: December 13, 2017
This book gives both more and less than what its title promises. For the editors of this collection, teaching “the whole student” requires engaged learning (“active, participatory, experiential learning that links doing with thinking”) and integrative pedagogy (“crossing and stretching traditional intellectual disciplinary boundaries”) (1). In turn, these commitments are part and parcel of a larger commitment to educating for social justice, and the essays take on a wide array of ...

This book gives both more and less than what its title promises. For the editors of this collection, teaching “the whole student” requires engaged learning (“active, participatory, experiential learning that links doing with thinking”) and integrative pedagogy (“crossing and stretching traditional intellectual disciplinary boundaries”) (1). In turn, these commitments are part and parcel of a larger commitment to educating for social justice, and the essays take on a wide array of topics, including effective and balanced service-learning, learning communities “done well,” and the importance of meaningful, sustained diversity engagement. Some of the essays are rather auto-biographical while others focus on a particular course or program. As is the case with many books of this type, the collection is an uneven assortment, and it is not always clear how an essay pertains to the promised subject of “teaching the whole student.” For those reasons, it can be somewhat disappointing.

Read in one way, however, hope emerges as a kind of connecting line and important theme. This is addressed most directly in the essay by Gillies Malnarich, who describes a moment of personal crisis as a teacher. She lay awake at night wondering, “What does it mean to educate for hope?” How can we make space for “raw, angry, heartbreaking, life-affirming hope… especially in our classrooms,” she asks, drawing upon both Paulo Freire and Rebecca Solnit’s writings (58). It also becomes clear that the kind of relational pedagogy being prescribed by many of the writers requires a willingness on the part of the teacher to bring his or her whole self into the classroom. In her essay on “Incorporating Social Justice into Teaching,” Kathleen Manning encourages readers to think of teaching as a spiritual act: “Teaching is not something learned once and perfected. The ever-changing nature of students, theory, and your personal and professional cycles as a person and professor make teaching an art. Because you are affecting people’s lives, approaching teaching and learning as spiritual practice places it in the realm of transcendence. Particularly when using principles of social justice to work toward a more just world, faith, trust, and authenticity must be part of the teaching and learning processes” (52).

There are many helpful ideas and strategies here, including the “Where I’m From” poetry assignment, a powerful way for students to disclose important aspects of their identity and express “links between their faith tradition and ethnicity,” among other things (164 - the activity comes from Beverly Daniel Tatum’s Can We Talk About Race? [Beacon, 2007]). Some of the essays include useful appendices - see, for example, the collaborative learning self-assessment (77) or the chart describing experiential classroom activities to promote dialogue (143).

Ultimately the strength of this book can be found in the questions that it poses more than in the answers it suggests. Each essay concludes with a set of reflection questions prompted by the content of the essay, and a patient, thoughtful reader could work her way through this book and be richly rewarded.

Exposing and disrupting the values which perpetuate white normativity puts a strain on the adult classroom. Individualism is a cornerstone value of whiteness and patriarchy.  As persons committed to the flimsy lie of pulling oneself up by the bootstraps, too many students believe that education is best attempted alone. Conforming ...

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Enhancing Teaching and Learning Through Collaborative Structures (New Directions for Teaching and Learning, Number 148)

Bernstein, Jeffrey L., and Flinders, Brooke A., eds.
Jossey-Bass Wiley, 2016

Book Review

Tags: collaborative learning   |   engaged learning   |   learning community
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Reviewed by: Allison Gray, St. Mary's University (TX)
Date Reviewed: November 30, -0001
This volume of collected articles provides snapshots of collaborative teaching and learning in action at US universities. While the authors describe a range of techniques and structures, there is an emphasis throughout on intentionally building and sustaining communities composed of teachers, learners, and even community partners. Richard A. Gale (“Learning in the Company of Others”) and Jeffrey L. Bernstein, et al. (“How Students, Collaborating as Peer Mentors…”) illustrate the positive ...

This volume of collected articles provides snapshots of collaborative teaching and learning in action at US universities. While the authors describe a range of techniques and structures, there is an emphasis throughout on intentionally building and sustaining communities composed of teachers, learners, and even community partners.

Richard A. Gale (“Learning in the Company of Others”) and Jeffrey L. Bernstein, et al. (“How Students, Collaborating as Peer Mentors…”) illustrate the positive effects of collaboration in college courses. Gale succinctly articulates numerous benefits of collaborative teaching, from increasing fruitful ambiguity that can inspire critical thinking, to providing teachers with opportunities for “the systematic investigation of student learning” (21). Bernstein’s experience working with students as peer mentors shows that a collaborative approach to class leadership can embolden students to take risks with low stakes, improving their participation in brainstorming and creative activities.

The majority of authors convincingly demonstrate that collaborative learning offers students benefits far beyond the immediate course or program experience. Ellen G. Galantucci and Erin Marie-Sergison Krcatovich (“Exploring Academia”) emphasize that their experience as undergraduate collaborative learners helped them prepare for their later work in graduate school and as educators. These authors note that the mentoring they received contributed to their professionalization and enabled them to discuss pedagogy confidently on the academic job market.

Multiple articles address the potential for fruitful collaboration with community partners beyond the university. “Collaborative Structures in a Graduate Program,” by Robyn Otty and Lauren Milton, describes a multi-year Centralized Service Learning Model (CSLM) that combined the work of two graduate courses and several community programs. In their article “The Development of a High-Impact Structure: Collaboration in a Service-Learning Program,” Brooke A. Flinders, et al. illustrate students’ internalization of high-impact learning outcomes, including “participation in meaningful work” (44).

One important contribution of this text is the collection of students’ testimonies. A number of the authors asked course participants to complete some form of self-assessment. Overwhemingly, students who worked as peer mentors or group leaders reported gaining confidence, independence, critical thinking skills, and practical experience that could be used in the professional world. In Flinders, et al., “The Development of a High-Impact Structure,” young professionals in the nursing field provided feedback about ways their participation in the service-learning program helped them prepare for clinical work.

This volume offers a wealth of suggestions for designing learning communities; Milton D. Cox’s contribution (“Four Positions of Leadership…”) identifies traits that administrators and facilitators have found to be essential when organizing faculty learning communities. Each article clearly explains its authors’ methodology, making this a helpful resource for teachers who are looking for direction in implementing collaborative learning strategies. While it might have been helpful in some cases to learn more about how community partners assessed the contributions of university teams to their work, overwhelmingly the articles demonstrate that collaborative learning is beneficial for students and teachers. For those looking to build more collaboration into their courses, this set of articles provides inspiration and concrete guidelines

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Publicly Engaged Scholars: Next-Generation Engagement and the Future of Higher Education

Post, Margaret A.; Ward, Elaine; Longo, Nicholas V.; Satlmarsh, John, eds.
Stylus Publishing, Llc., 2016

Book Review

Tags: civic engagement   |   engaged learning   |   engaged teaching
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Reviewed by: Frederick Schmidt, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary
Date Reviewed: November 30, -0001
Preparing citizens through education is not a novel idea. Its origins lie in Greco-Roman approaches to the task, and in American history the goal of educating the citizenry can be traced back to Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914), William James (1842-1910), and John Dewey (1859-1952). Dewey, who was perhaps the most articulate about the implications of pragmatism for education, saw academic preparation for life in a democracy and the moral education ...

Preparing citizens through education is not a novel idea. Its origins lie in Greco-Roman approaches to the task, and in American history the goal of educating the citizenry can be traced back to Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914), William James (1842-1910), and John Dewey (1859-1952). Dewey, who was perhaps the most articulate about the implications of pragmatism for education, saw academic preparation for life in a democracy and the moral education of children as part of the same endeavor.

The contributors to this volume acknowledge Dewey’s role in this enterprise, but do not explicitly explain why these essays represent the “next generation” of educators inspired by his vision. The best explanation, perhaps, is that they emphasize academic advocacy, as opposed to broader social wellbeing; engagement with society over preparation for engagement with society; and social location over citizenship as a point of departure for academic work.

With that set of assumptions in mind, it is easier to discern the larger purpose of the sixteen essays in this volume which include an introduction and afterward, along with chapters devoted to three subject areas: (1) “The Collaborative Engagement Paradigm”; (2) the work of “New Public Scholars”; and (3) thoughts on “The Future of Engagement.”

The vast majority of the contributors to this volume are specialists in education and programs in community engagement, and there are individual writers from the disciplines of art and political science. For that reason, some seminarians and seminary faculty will find more immediate points of contact with their work than others. Both groups will also find themselves asking – if education driven by engagement is appealing or necessary – whether the more natural point of contact for seminaries is the community, the church, or both.

A critical evaluation of the essays will also raise other questions to which there are no simple answers:

  • What is the place of “social relevancy and public legitimacy” in shaping the curriculum of higher education (1)?
  • Can engagement as a model for learning set aside more abstract, disciplinary concerns (17)?
  • What role has commodification played in shaping higher education and is learning through engagement immune to commodification (24)?
  • To what degree do faculty members remain accountable to the disciplines that they represent when using engagement as a model for teaching and, if so, how is that accountability achieved?

The answers to those questions will all look potentially different in theological schools and seminaries where faculty regularly grapple with the relationship between the work that they do and the needs of the church. Indeed, that realization may point to the most important question that the subject matter, but not the book itself, raises for theological educators: What does it mean for seminaries to engage the church “as reciprocal partners and coeducators” (5)? Answering that question is one that everyone who cares about theological education would do well to answer.

 

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