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Enhancing Teaching and Learning Through Collaborative Structures (New Directions for Teaching and Learning, Number 148)
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 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
Publicly Engaged Scholars: Next-Generation Engagement and the Future of Higher Education
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 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.
Reflecting on Service-Learning in Higher Education
Date Reviewed: November 30, -0001
M. Gail Hickey has gathered together a valuable resource in Reflecting on Service-Learning in Higher Education. The chapters provide a vast collection of best practices and important principles to consider when engaging students in academic service-learning. The book is divided into three sections focusing on different perspectives for reflection: Community Partnerships, Classroom Practice, and Diversity.
Although the first section is titled “Reflection on Community Partnerships,” it is really more a reflection on institutional commitment to building community partnerships. The section has two provocative chapters that take the reader through a reflection on just what impact an educational institution should have within its surrounding community and how service-learning can help the institution attend to the voices of the community in which it is placed. Sherrie Steiner’s principles for implementing reciprocity provide a great framework for institutions and faculty to consider while developing service-learning curriculums. Joe D. Nichols asks important questions about the focus on research and specialization at the expense of community and civic engagement and draws from multiple sources to foster reflection around alternatives to faculty recognition of such public work.
“Reflecting on Classroom Practice” is the second and largest section of the book. Each chapter offers a perspective on how service-learning has worked in a particular context. This collection of cases from fields as varied as education, sociology, fine arts, and dental hygiene offers a myriad of suggestions for how to structure a curriculum that incorporates service-learning. There are suggested rubrics, logistical considerations, a solid bibliography with each chapter, and suggestions for what worked well and how one might improve the process over time. Readers will find this section full of ideas, suggestions, and methods focused on building a curriculum, partnering with community members, and methods for reflection with students.
The final section, “Reflecting on Diversity,” pushes even further into the questions that come up when students engage in service-learning with diverse communities. Here the case studies offer insights into how students perceive and articulate the impact of their service-learning on their growing sense of their own contextual lenses and the lenses of those with whom they work. Faculty and administrators are invited to anticipate the types of responses their own students will have in an effort to foster positive reflection and growth in the students that is fruitful for the partner communities as well.
One concern with the book is that community partners are not represented as writers of the chapters. The effort to shed light on the importance of effective community partnerships and the responsibility of higher education institutions to develop service-learning curriculum in partnership with the surrounding community is important. The inclusion of the voices of partner communities as authors could have added to the depth of the book.
Reflecting on Service-Learning in Higher Education is a resource that will be appreciated by high school and university faculty and administrators. The questions raised and the suggestions shared will be useful for any institution looking to begin or strengthen their commitment to service-learning in higher education. Institutions, faculty, students, and the communities with which they partner will all benefit from M. Gail Hickey’s invitation to reflect.
Teaching as Scholarship: Preparing Students for Professional Practice in Community Services
Date Reviewed: November 30, -0001
This book brings together faculty reflections on pedagogy and inter-professional collaboration from a broad range of disciplines within a single institution in Toronto: Ryerson University. While a single institution may appear to provide only a limited contextual perspective, the nature of the varied disciplines represented here provides a diverse set of resources, drawing from early childhood studies, nursing, disability studies, social work, sociology, city planning, and midwifery. Though the fields of theology and religion are not represented among the contributors, educators in theological and religious education will resonate with the need to better equip students for inter-professional engagement.
Though all contributors are from the same institution, the commonality or coherence among chapters ends with the institutional affiliation of the authors. The editors note the book’s lack of coherence, and justify this by saying that the “frontiers” of community-services-related learning “are not neat, formulaic, or easy to navigate” (5). For this reason, reading this text cover-to-cover can be a disappointment, since the chapters are not of equal quality, nor do they create any obvious structure or overall argument.
That said, there are gems in particular contributions for those interested in learning about teaching techniques and reflections that draw from critical pedagogies and integrative approaches, bringing the best of new theories in education. For instance, in “Drawing Close: Critical Nurturing as Pedagogical Practice,” authors May Friedman and Jennifer Poole bring together insights from Indigenous studies, Black feminist thought, maternal pedagogies, and mad studies to argue for a way of being in the classroom that promotes a nurturing relationship between student and teacher, challenging the Enlightenment and Western ideals of independence as a goal of education. These authors call for a suspension on neoliberal concerns for risk and lack of efficiency, instead arguing that an interdependence approach requires the risk of blurring the distinction between teachers and students (96). If a reader of this book were to choose one chapter to read from among the many contributions, this would be the chapter to focus on, and the bibliography provides additional resources to pursue.
Other chapters included interesting suggestions and interventions in education, such as “Educating for Social Action among Future Health Care Professionals” which focused on a learner-centered model for course creation. This chapter includes appendices for how the authors Jacqui Gingras and Erin Rudolph were able to craft a course with considerable input from students regarding course themes, which assignments they would have to complete, and what grading rubrics would entail. Other chapters (3, 8) draw from narrative theory and describe the way students are taught to listen to the narratives of clients as well as to their own personal narratives. While this book’s chapters are not equally helpful, the insights available in a few choice chapters are worth the read.
Teaching Civic Engagement
Date Reviewed: November 30, -0001
This collection of fourteen essays, most of which originated from a faculty workshop on Pedagogies for Civic Engagement sponsored by the Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Theology and Religion, is divided into three sections. The collection represents a variety of perspectives and the authors engage that diversity through a distinct set of questions. “What is the civic relevance of the academic study of religion, considered on its own terms and in its increased diversity? What unique contributions does religious studies offer the public sphere, especially when seen as separate from the work of religious communities who concentrate on religious belonging? How might the disciplines dedicated to such study offer a distinctive shape and response to the civic mission of the contemporary university?” (xiv-xv). Further uniting the individual contributors’ perspectives are their insights offered towards the development of a model of civic engagement that answers these questions.
Section I describes the CLEA model of civic engagement. The employed acronym is drawn from the terms complexity, location, empathy, and action. The terms refer to dimensions, better still, capacities essential for civic participation emerging from the “virtues of civility, reasoned deliberation, and commitment to the common good” (xiii). The intellectual capacity needed for democratic society is evident when persons achieve awareness of the complexity of the world, especially a view of the world beyond the way the powerful control the interpretation of social reality (8-10, 14, 25). As democracy blossoms into pluralism, the person who would be a responsible citizen must exhibit awareness of his or her social location and point of view relative to that of other persons (15, 27-28). Beyond awareness of difference, he or she must have empathy, namely a sense of connection to others as all are (or should be) in pursuit of the common good (15-16, 31). The responsible citizen must act on what he or she has come to know as true (16, 34).
In Section II, various strategies for teaching civic engagement are described. Among the various methods used for teaching civic engagement is reflective writing which is summary and evaluation of different points of view relative to one’s own view (49, 50-53). In critical assessment of texts and media, students learn to interrogate symbols, internet (websites), newspaper and news programs, visual and performing arts, and various forms of entertainment (49, 53-54, 88-89, 95) but also learn how they may be used responsibly (100-102). Field trips are immensely helpful aids in teaching (49, 54-55, 77-80, 119-121). Another method of teaching civic engagement is community-based learning which involves teachers and students going into the community as well as representatives from the community visiting their classroom (49, 55-56, 66-71, 110, 112, 136-137). Engagement may also be taught through students’ involvement in community service projects designed to address a need or problem in a community (49, 57, 110, 112). Ascetic withdrawal, for example, in the form of abstinence from or limiting use of cell phones, smart phones, email and texting, impulse buying, consumption of fast-food, use of products made through exploited labor, may enable students to empathize with other persons adversely affected by American consumerism and to discern and cease the unhealthy habits they have formed through compulsive behaviors (93-94, 151, 155). Successful teaching requires creativity in the selection of instructional methods as well as discernment of the combination of methods, two or more, that will lead to achievement of specified learning objectives (58-59).
Section III goes further into defining civic engagement and locating it within the curriculum. Civic engagement is defined as participation in political processes such as voting, development of relationships, and collaborations or partnerships that lead to policy that contributes to the common good (165, 167, 170, 175). Civic engagement is not only local and national but also global (184). It is connected to, inseparable from, the idea of social justice (185). Also, it is connected to advocacy, not taking a political position but rather “taking a side in a debate and arguing for it” (209-210). Disagreement about the relation of and distinction between religious studies and theology is resolved in the consensus that both function best as means for analysis and critique of societal and cultural traditions that result in privilege and inequality (236). Whether in religious studies or theology, the course offered in civic engagement is an opportunity for students and teachers to practice democracy (17, 188-190, 246-247).
In spite of the charge that the described teaching methods are difficult to grade and are not academically rigorous (37-39, 218-220), this volume of essays merits consideration. It is a rich resource on instructional methods. The combined essays offer a substantive definition of civic engagement. Most importantly, the collection correlates teaching method to the cultivation of capacities needed for life in democratic society.