engaged learning

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Getting Started With Team-Based Learning

Sibley, Jim; and Ostafichuk, Peter
Stylus Publishing, Llc., 2014

Book Review

Tags: engaged learning   |   student learning   |   team-based learning
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Reviewed by: David B. Howell, Ferrum College
Date Reviewed: October 15, 2015
Team-based learning (TBL) was developed over thirty years ago in response to challenges posed by students coming to class unprepared as well as the need for students to apply their knowledge to authentic and complex real-world problems. In this book, Sibley, Ostafichuk, and their contributing authors offer an overview and introduction to TBL for faculty who want to get started with this model of teaching and learning. Filled with vignettes ...

Team-based learning (TBL) was developed over thirty years ago in response to challenges posed by students coming to class unprepared as well as the need for students to apply their knowledge to authentic and complex real-world problems. In this book, Sibley, Ostafichuk, and their contributing authors offer an overview and introduction to TBL for faculty who want to get started with this model of teaching and learning. Filled with vignettes of successes and failures by faculty who have used TBL, the book concludes with appendices of resources, a variety of options to use in the classroom for implementing TBL activities, and reflections on the challenges of implementing TBL in teaching. The book is helpfully divided into three sections.

Section one begins with an overview of TBL by introducing its four essential elements: (1) creating properly formed and managed permanent teams; (2) developing a readiness assurance process (RAP) to ensure motivated and prepared students; (3) using application activities which require students to use course concepts and skills; and (4) holding students accountable for their own learning. With this model of instruction the focus is shifted away from the professor to students who actively use what they have learned to solve problems. The next two chapters focus on ways to design and implement a TBL course. Roberson and Franchini’s approach to design is to begin in the middle by designing the team application activities and tasks that allow students to practice using the disciplinary concepts of the course and thus demonstrate their learning. The final chapter in the opening section (by Kubitz) provides a literature review of studies which documents the effectiveness of TBL and connects the model to a variety of learning theories (Vygotsky, Brunner, Perry, and Zull).

The heart of the book is found in section two with chapters which elaborate on the four essential elements of TBL introduced earlier. Each chapter is full of practical advice and vignettes from faculty who have utilized TBL. The authors discuss, for example, the different stages of the RAP - selecting appropriate quality readings (they recommend shorter rather longer assignments), developing individual readiness assessment and team assessment tests, offering practical advice about writing good multiple choice questions and developing reading guides to assist student preparation. The key to a successful TBL course is found in the application activities which engage students’ interests. When it works, the authors argue that student focus shifts from “what is the right answer?” to discussions about “why?” and the supporting evidence. They offer a number of ways in which students may simultaneously report on the decisions made about the same problem they are working on. Courses should be designed in such a way that students are accountable and rewarded not only for their individual performances, but also for contributions to the team and overall team performance.

The authors argue that for TBL to be effective, it is best to use it for an entire course rather than use it piecemeal. The book is full of practical advice, however, which is well-grounded in literature about teaching and learning so that faculty members who are hesitant to transform a course to TBL can still benefit from reading (advice such as how to write effective multiple choice questions and how to facilitate discussions). I should note that the vignettes and examples in the book from faculty who have used TBL include no one from Religious Studies. But after reviewing the book, I am motivated to try this model in my teaching.

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The Other Side of Pedagogy: Lacan's Four Discourses and the Development of the Student Writer

Johnson, T. R.
SUNY Press, 2014

Book Review

Tags: engaged learning   |   teaching methods   |   teaching writing
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Reviewed by: Crystal Benedicks, Wabash College
Date Reviewed: May 15, 2015
Readers of T.R. Johnson’s ambitious The Other Side of Pedagogy: Lacan’s Four Discourses and the Development of the Student Writer will find some unexpected juxtapositions: Ouija boards and zombies side by side with Hannah Arendt and Keith Richards, student writers jostling with hysterics and narcissists. From this amalgam of unlikely characters, Johnson’s more conventional thesis emerges: contemporary education lacks a sense of its goals, other than ...

Readers of T.R. Johnson’s ambitious The Other Side of Pedagogy: Lacan’s Four Discourses and the Development of the Student Writer will find some unexpected juxtapositions: Ouija boards and zombies side by side with Hannah Arendt and Keith Richards, student writers jostling with hysterics and narcissists. From this amalgam of unlikely characters, Johnson’s more conventional thesis emerges: contemporary education lacks a sense of its goals, other than a vague notion that student development means initiating students into a loosely-defined ideal of the academy. Johnson suggests that we can rescue ourselves and our students from this stagnation by recognizing what has been there all along: the pulsing unconscious, the unbidden and ultimately irrepressible system of desire that we all carry around with us but like to pretend we do not. This evocation of the unknowable and uncanny is what mobilizes Johnson’s playful evocation of high and low culture.

Johnson posits a model of student development based on Lacan’s famous lecture series of the late 1960s. Student writers, Johnson argues, move through four stages, as articulated by Lacan in his theory of the four main types of discourse. In the first two stages, the discourses of mastery and of the University, students are passive receptacles of teacherly authority, their unconscious ideally repressed and their prose, when they can write at all, “empty mimicry” (133).

The last two discourses are where things get really interesting. The third discourse is that of the hysteric, whose appearance is “a singularly disruptive performance . . . wreaking havoc with the conventional, lockstep procedure of the bureaucracy, as when Marlon Brando’s character in The Wild One, when asked what he is rebelling against, responds ‘Whaddya got?’” (195). Here, Johnson offers a useful reframing of the problem student, the eye-roller, the note-passer, the interrupter. Instead of understanding these students as impediments to classroom coherence, Johnson casts them as paradoxically more advanced than the good student who always has the right answer. These disruptive students are engaging the unconscious when they exceed and unsettle the roles prepared for them, the social assumptions about who and what they ought to be. However, like Keith Richards writing “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” in his sleep, the hysteric cannot control his or her discourse, but rather “stumble[s] in a narcotic dream from one summit to the next” (188).

The final discourse is that of the analyst, a discourse marked by humility, openness, and equality. To explain this discourse, Johnson imagines a class in which students and teacher listen carefully to one another and thus arrive at unexpected and unplanned places, a class in which students write papers that put multiple texts in conversation with one another to see what emerges. These students and teachers harness the unconscious to the extent that they are engaged in dialogue with the other. If we seek to sustain these productive engagements, we must realize that “the aim of our courses is ultimately to teach our students to love – specifically, to love working and playing with words and texts and ideas, and, through these, to love each other, the wider world, and the ideal of justice, more and more and more” (207). These are inspiring words, and perhaps the most evocative explanation I’ve ever heard of why pedagogical practices like service learning and community engagement – which court unexpected moments of empathy and, ideally, writing and thinking that resonate beyond the self and the stale loop of teacher-oriented writing – are so critical to breathing life into our institutions.

One of Johnson’s most powerful contributions in this book is his insistence on seeing students and teachers as complex, embodied people who bring the fullness of their selves and their unconscious desires with them into the classroom. Throughout, I found myself recognizing myself and my students, and recognizing myself in my students. Johnson’s appeal to our fullest personhood allows him to think of pedagogy as a way of understanding people interacting with people, ideas with ideas, and not as a goal-oriented assessment task.

Yet, while Johnson’s unpacking of Lacan’s four discourses is illuminating, the way he frames them as a linear developmental schema – something, he acknowledges, Lacan never intended – is at odds with the more associative, recursive nature of the unconscious itself. That is, for a book that delights in the juxtaposition of high and low culture, its structural principles are over determined, as if Johnson is trying to contain the very unconscious he is unleashing.

Finally, Johnson’s book fits squarely into a recent trend in composition studies: the urge to retell the history of the field to highlight a neglected thread that, when exposed, could reinvigorate our teaching. Indeed, Johnson spends the first half of the book detailing an exhaustive history of psychoanalysis’s second-class status in the history of writing pedagogy. Byron Hawk’s A Counter History of Composition (2007) and Donna Strickland’s The Managerial Unconscious in the History of Composition Studies (2011) are two examples of recent books that do something similar, turning to psychoanalytic theories of desire and repression to get at what is unknowable, almost magical, about both the activities of writing and of teaching. Johnson’s text is an imaginative and welcome, if sometimes unwieldy, addition to this new canon of writing pedagogy.

 

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Jane Addams in the Classroom

Schaafsma, David, ed.
University of Illinois Press, 2014

Book Review

Tags: civic engagement   |   engaged learning   |   social justice
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Reviewed by: Anne M. Blankenship, Central Washington University
Date Reviewed: April 23, 2015
This book’s eleven essays propose ways in which educators might apply Jane Addams’s approaches to education and community engagement. Each essay offers a historical examination of Addams’s writing or work, followed by lessons in the practical application of her efforts to “socialize democracy” (13). With the exception of two Jane Addams Hull-House Museum affiliates, all contributions come from high school and university English instructors. Their general approach, however, ...

This book’s eleven essays propose ways in which educators might apply Jane Addams’s approaches to education and community engagement. Each essay offers a historical examination of Addams’s writing or work, followed by lessons in the practical application of her efforts to “socialize democracy” (13). With the exception of two Jane Addams Hull-House Museum affiliates, all contributions come from high school and university English instructors. Their general approach, however, applies to all educators, including those in religious studies and theology. As Petra Munro Hendry proposes, Addams’s work can inspire us to understand “teaching as a form of social ethics” (48).

The book’s central message emphasizes the need to listen to and understand the experiences and worldview of one’s students and community. Concluding that the intellectual approach of our educational system fails to meet the needs of most citizens, Addams designed an “experiential, participatory learning” environment for the diverse immigrants of Chicago (62). She believed that accepted methods of cultural and social improvement for the working class merely reinforced the distance between social classes. Contributors to this volume interpret her approach as a challenge to teach social justice and engage the diversity of students’ experiences. Essays by Lanette Grate, Susan C. Griffith, and Erin Vail recount their successful classroom efforts to engage their students with local social justice issues, using Addams’s method of allowing current events to guide their work. Jennifer Krikava argues for the necessity of balancing the goals of outsiders (like standardized testing) with the need to equip students with skills that will enrich their future lives. Darren Tuggle agrees, demonstrating the benefits of reciprocal learning through his program that acclimates high school students to college life while providing learning experiences for university students training to become teachers. In these ways, educators address the unique needs and experiences of their students while simultaneously introducing them to the necessity of engaging their community and its social needs. Lisa Lee and Lisa Junkin Lopez explain how administrators can facilitate these processes through community programs.

David Schaafsma and Todd DeStigter frame all these approaches as contributions to Addams’s efforts to “support democracy” (17). Retaining such a consistent focus unfortunately resulted in considerable repetition – several authors drew similar meaning from Addams’s account of the “Devil Baby,” for example. Greater variation and critique of Addams would have expanded its contribution and my confidence in the book’s historical interpretation.

Schaafsma and Hendry’s essays offer sound critique, however, of current scholars and Addams’s contemporaries who dismissed her work and narrative-style writing as “sentimental” and “nonscientific” (190). The reformer’s methods reflected her ultimate point: dictating social change from a distance is undemocratic and at best ineffective, if not damaging. Reformers and educators must reject the dichotomy of benefactor and subject to embrace the contributions and participation of all people affecting a relationship, including those extending beyond the immediate contact. We can all use a reminder of this lesson, and this book suggests how to apply it to today’s educational system.

 

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For the Love of Learning: Innovations from Outstanding University Teachers

Bilham, Tim, ed.
Palgrave Macmillan Springer Nature, 2013

Book Review

Tags: engaged learning   |   student learning
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Reviewed by: Ryan Korstange, Middle Tennessee State University
Date Reviewed: March 26, 2015
For the Love of Learning: Innovations from Outstanding University Teachers is a compendium of thirty-six essays which describe various aspects of innovative pedagogy. The essays were submitted by educators who have received recognition by the United Kingdom’s prestigious National Teaching Fellowship Scheme (NTFS), that is designed to recognize excellence in learning and teaching in higher education. Many of the essays describe the results of projects funded by NTFS grants. ...

For the Love of Learning: Innovations from Outstanding University Teachers is a compendium of thirty-six essays which describe various aspects of innovative pedagogy. The essays were submitted by educators who have received recognition by the United Kingdom’s prestigious National Teaching Fellowship Scheme (NTFS), that is designed to recognize excellence in learning and teaching in higher education. Many of the essays describe the results of projects funded by NTFS grants. As Bilham makes clear in the introduction, the collection is an attempt at inspiring fresh and creative approaches to the challenge of shaping students through education.

In many ways, this is a collection of case studies as much as a collection of essays. The contributions focus on the description of pedagogical tools which the author has used successfully. None of the specific examples elicited apply directly to the disciplines of theological and religious studies, but the educational theory and the spirit of innovation which lay behind these specific practices are readily transferable.

There is a consistent call to engage students, which rests on the supposition that an engaged student learns better, and is retained. Several strategies for this type of engagement are presented. Essays 1 and 9 advocate for the involvement of students in the production and presentation of new content. Essays 11 and 27 suggest the employment of problem-based learning models, in which students seek out their own answers to real-world problems often with limited interference from the instructor. Essay 15 argues that humor in teaching can boost engagement when treating particular difficult or confusing topics.

Several of the essays advocate refining the nature of assessments. For example, essay 13 argues that if constructed well, assessments can be an important educational tool serving to teach not just to assess learning. Essay 17 identifies several problems with current models of assessment: they often do not measure the types of thinking that the course requires, or reflect the ability the students develop as thinkers through the course, or consider the fact that all students are different. Essay 18 discusses the benefit of formative assessment, which seeks to encourage deeper thinking and correct misunderstanding early in the educational process, rather than penalizing students at the end of the course, as summative assessment often does. Essay 33 argues that assessment can be viewed as a means for enhancing the employability of students. While none of these essays provide answers to the problem they do provide important conceptual steps forward to aid faculty in thinking through the design of learning experiences and strategies for assessing what has been learned.

Finally, the impetus to spend time developing the employability of students is a point well taken (see Essays 4, 24, 27, and 31-26). In many American universities there is an increasing emphasis on the acquisition of job skills – making sure college and university courses contribute to student employability. This trend directly impacts the teaching of theology and religion.

In conclusion, this volume is a tremendous resource for someone looking to enliven their teaching. It is not a roadmap to an innovative religious studies course, but it highlights proven pedagogical approaches which are shaping the lives of students in the United Kindgom, and are worth considering for anyone who takes the task of education seriously.

 

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From Entitlement to Engagement: Affirming Millennial Students' Egos in the Higher Education Classroom (New Directions for Teaching and Learning, Number 135)

Knowlton, Dave S.; and Hagopian, Kevin Jack, eds.
Wiley, 2013

Book Review

Tags: engaged learning   |   engaged teaching   |   student learning
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Reviewed by: Hee-Kyu Heidi Park, Xavier University- Cincinnati
Date Reviewed: February 19, 2015
“How bad has it gotten in your class?” the first article’s author asks. “Students eating steaming plate lunches, kissing passionately, conducting loud phone conversations, playing video poker?. . . Asking to be excused from class to barbecue chicken at the go-kart track for a radio station where the student interned last summer?” (7). If these examples sound even remotely familiar, you may find this issue of New Directions for Teaching and Learning ...

“How bad has it gotten in your class?” the first article’s author asks. “Students eating steaming plate lunches, kissing passionately, conducting loud phone conversations, playing video poker?. . . Asking to be excused from class to barbecue chicken at the go-kart track for a radio station where the student interned last summer?” (7). If these examples sound even remotely familiar, you may find this issue of New Directions for Teaching and Learning helpful. This volume addresses the challenge of teaching millennial students, born between 1982 and 2001, who are often labeled as coming to higher education with an attitude of entitlement that can frustrate professors.

The first three chapters explore the theory behind this volume. The first two chapters reframe the concept of entitlement by reflecting on the structure of higher education classrooms (chapter 1) and seeing the psychological vulnerability of students (chapter 2) as an opportunity for ego engagement – a process that the editors describe as “productively affirming student’s egos” to offer “new opportunities for deep learning and ever-strengthening intellectual rigor” (2). The third chapter is an empirical study that explores how students feel they deserve entitled treatment in higher education.

The second cluster of articles explore practice and application of reframing entitlement into ego engagement in specific areas. Chapter 4 explores ways to construct a syllabus that invite student engagement proactively, and chapter 5 lays out several practical suggestions professors can utilize to conceptualize their pedagogies. Chapters 6 and 7 provide case studies of actual classroom assignments that engage millennial students’ egos successfully: chapter 6 describes an assignment that immersed millennial students in discipline-based political activities to foster positive ego engagement and chapter 7 describes an assignment that engaged students in narrative pedagogy through digital storytelling. Chapters 8 and 9 explore ways to engage students through already existing classroom practices. For example, chapter 8 provides specific insights about engaging students through technological gadgets and provides practical suggestions for teaching. Chapter 9 explores ways to engage students before and after class periods to affirm their egos. The rest of the three chapters explore ways to engage the moral sense of millennial students by involving them in social justice issues and student-directed goal setting. The author invites faculty to consider their own reactions to student incivility as possibly a response to a professor’s bruised ego  ?  an over-dependence on official authority based on position rather than on their ability to help students learn effectively.

While graduate level professors may experience students’ sense of entitlement less bluntly than is described in some of the articles, I have sensed in my own teaching that the vocation of religious leadership tends to attract people with a sense of self-importance that poses challenges similar to those described in this volume. What the authors conceptualize as ego engagement is a model for empowering students who appear to be aloof to the subject matter but who are seeking meaningful engagement that leads them to deeper growth. From Entitlement to Engagement offers practical advice for fostering creative teaching that meets students’ psychological needs and motivates them to find growth through their own learning tasks.

 

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