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Enhancing Student Learning and Development in Cross-Border Higher Education (New Directions for Higher Education, Number 175)
Date Reviewed: October 18, 2017
This volume is dedicated to cross-border education, a type of internationalization focused on education strategies that move across national and regional lines. Editors Roberts and Komives cite J. Knight’s description of internationalization as “the process of integrating an international, intercultural, or global dimension into the purpose, functions, or delivery of postsecondary education” (10). Internationalization, at first blush, may appear but a mere euphemism for globalization, a rather deleterious concept especially when partnered with education. Roberts and Komives, however, are quick to point out how internationalization differs from globalization in both purpose and process. Globalization promotes rampant product production, increased uniformity, the ubiquity of certain products and hegemonic narratives, and is often associated with the pernicious effects of the exploitation of vulnerable populations around the world. In contrast, “internationalization is a process of infusing international ideas across a variety of functions and experiences” in which “distinct attributes of identity are accorded value” (10). Internationalization, according to Roberts, “embraces the inevitable – a shrinking planet with growing shared reliance on each other” but also seeks to preserve culture (10). Cross-border education (CBE) goes beyond the traditional study abroad mindset; it requires “infusing international, cultural, or comparative perspectives in existing courses,” “modifying teaching and learning processes through virtual experiences,” and incorporating scholarship from other cultural settings to bring the world “home” to students within their own schools (16). It also encourages fluidity of people, programs, projects, and policies across national and regional lines and places a high premium on critical analysis of the cross-cultural application of educational practices.
Section one addresses how to systematically study educational practices and evaluate their transferability to a different context. Darbi Roberts’ contribution requires readers to address how and why educational systems choose from which programs to borrow. Section two illustrates examples of student learning and development programs around the world (South Africa, China, UK, Mexico, and more) created to address specific populations and needs within their own cultural and national boundaries but which may prove incredibly useful for others throughout the world. Previously, much research on student learning and development originated in the United States, but this volume highlights the growing programs in other parts of the globe. McGlory Speckman writes about first-year village programs in South Africa, where this program was developed, and the need of many students from backgrounds of “economic, social, and political deprivation” for a communal and supportive environment as they transition to a university setting (34). Wong’s chapter is a fascinating foray into a unique population in China, students born under China’s 1979 One Child Policy, whose disruptive adjustment to university life requires universities to set up programs addressing this population’s lack of compromising skills and enhance their resiliency and self-reliance. These programs include everything from complicated team work, physical training, and mentorship to a simulation activity called the “city challenge” in which “students are given very limited pocket money and they have to earn their food by selling products they invent” (45). Chapter 5 focuses on a specific program at the University of Sheffield, UK, dedicated to “looked-after children” and “care leavers” (49). Encouraging this population towards higher education is a real challenge, as “only around 6% of English care leavers enter higher education at the age of 19, compared to 48% of a similar age in the general population” (53). Mexico’s legacy of political corruption, financial disparity between rich and poor, and a general lack of civically engaged citizens have created a challenging environment for local universities trying to educate their students to become leaders, according to Alicia Canton’s chapter. The Universidad de Monterrey (UDEM) has invested in numerous initiatives to encourage students to become involved in their communities such as implementing active pedagogies “connecting the student to current problems within the local community,” requiring every student to complete an internship at a local organization, offering cocurricular courses to develop leadership competencies, and mandating “every student perform 480 hours of service” (59-60).
Section III moves readers back into the realm of theory, providing analytical tools for exploring data produced in specific student learning and development environments like those described in Section II. This section exemplifies how those designing initiatives to enhance student learning and development, especially in the arena of cross-border education (CBE), must explore the significance of context as well as content. Readers are prompted to explore prevalent cultural assumptions, national agendas, and various socio-political discourses which have informed and shaped their own definitions of learning and development, as well as those of the programs they wish to adopt or adapt. Broido and Schreiber’s chapter presents social justice frameworks for student learning and development as well as concise renderings of various pertinent dimensions of student development theories (identity development, cognitive-structural development, and self-authorship theories). Drawing on the work of Hofer and Weinstock, Broido and Schreiber note how “patterns of epistological development vary among cultures” and how cultural assumptions about knowledge, truth, and authority, can profoundly affect how students learn and develop (70). The general values of a culture “as well as the role of the family, religion, and social identity enhances a critical perspective on designing appropriate strategies for student learning and development” (75). Chapter 8 applies an ecological systems view to Singapore, a culture that highly values formal education, an attribute likely stemming from a belief among families that education is a passport out of poverty. Deference to elders and authority, possibly arising from a Confucian root in the culture, are attributes which lead to a particular learning environment, not unique to Singapore but definitely significant when considering program adoption across borders. Chen’s and Mathies’ contribution looks at increased interest in assessment and evaluation in the halls of higher education, in the U.S. and around the world, over the last few decades. The fact that college admission in many Asian cultures is controlled by the government via a national entrance exam, exemplifies just another way in which U.S., European, and Asian institutions approach education differently (89). Formerly faculty and now on staff as an academic advisor, I fully concur with the authors of chapter 10 that “in a cross-border educational paradigm, it is increasingly important for faculty and staff to orient their work and self-understanding of their roles to be that of educators” (93). The need for internationally competent staff will only become more critical in the future.
Roberts and Komives close their volume with a look at how partnerships can enhance student learning and development by taking into consideration institutional motivations for transferring, adapting, hedging, or even avoiding certain programs or policies. Some aspects of student learning and development programs (such as career decision making, counseling, intercollegiate sports, student governance, fraternities and sororities, coed housing, and so forth) may work well in the “home” country but prove disastrous when transplanted into another environment. This volume will prove illuminating to any student affairs professional, academic advisor, study abroad or exchange coordinator, faculty, or administer within higher education today but it is especially germane to those directly or even tangentially involved with policy adoption across borders.
Stop Talking: Indigenous Ways of Teaching and Learning and Difficult Dialogues in Higher Education
Date Reviewed: November 30, -0001
In 2009, authors Ilarion Merculieff and Libby Roderick participated in the second of two higher education projects sponsored by the Ford Foundation’s national Difficult Dialogues initiative. This project was designed to “turn the tables” on traditional academic professors so that Alaska Native people would become their own teachers (iii). This book, Stop Talking, tells the story of the second project, laid out in a format that parallels the experience gained in a faculty immersion workshop with Alaska Native teachers, followed by an ongoing community of inquiry (chapters 1-5). The final chapters show the nature of change in pedagogy designed by faculty participants for one academic year and the assessment of the entire project, reflections, and strategies for changing higher education through indigenization (chapters 6 and 7).
The goal of this project was to instill deeper understanding of traditional indigenous worldviews, issues, and pedagogies by fostering respect for different ways to be teachers and learners (x). Sixteen faculty members participated in experimenting with Native ways of teaching and learning and introducing “difficult dialogues” regarding Alaska Native concerns during a week-long intensive workshop. The flow of the intensive time together is outlined in the first four chapters.
The format for teaching during the workshop included much silence, a slower pace, and no note-taking. Learning occurred by non-verbally internalizing that which was important because words, in the Aleut tradition, are considered a constraint on intelligence, getting in the way of living in the present; therefore, ground rules for the intensive workshop included paying attention to being part of a whole through deep connection, often wordless, thereby making one a “real human being.” Participants learned that Native pedagogies occur out of teaching practices such as slowing down to be in relationship with each other and the Earth, close observation and emulation, use of all senses in silence, storytelling, dance, and games. Participants used these practices throughout the week during daily workshops, and were invited to think about the courses they normally teach in light of such practices. The difficult conversation topics followed later in the week, when faculty participants began to deal with the institutional racism and the Western methodology of science and research used in institutions that ignores or devalues Native ways of learning and teaching.
During the intensive, faculty began to integrate the particularity of their course material with a wider, deeper pedagogy. Afterward, the group agreed to meet monthly for one academic year to continue their community of inquiry. They conducted formal assessment of their work, and engaged in deep reflection together.
Roderick’s call to this indigenizing of higher education is important: “If we can do these two things – learn from these ancient cultures fresh ways of approaching the tasks of learning while simultaneously working to overthrow the ongoing legacy of colonization that still plagues modern indigenous peoples – we will have accomplished a great deal” (ix). Indeed, such work is essential for equitable, deep education. This work is our future. This book, filled with story and wisdom, is our guide.
Knowledge Games: How Playing Games Can Solve Problems, Create Insight, and Make Change
Date Reviewed: November 30, -0001
The first section of this book is devoted to working through the complex definition of what constitutes a “knowledge game,” and more specifically, what does not. Schrier’s book is a substantial literature review of the vast – and rapidly growing – field of games that contribute to knowledge production. “Knowledge games,” by her definition, are “the set of practices, contexts, designs, and relationships that emerge from and around those games with a goal or sub-goal of generating new knowledge about humanity, society, the universe, and any previously unknown phenomena” (26). In contrast to games such as “citizen science games,“ “crowd games,” “collective games,” “participatory games,” and “human games,” Schrier takes great care to delineate that she is exploring only those games which seek to produce knowledge, solve authentic, applicable problems, and/or “generate new ideas and possibilities for real world change” (25).
A few of the games she examines include those she designates as “cooperative contribution games” (Happy Moths, Citizen Sort, Reverse the Odds), “analysis distribution games” (VerbCorner, Who Is the Most Famous?, IgnoreThat!, Apetopia), “algorithm construction games,” (The Restaurant Game, Foldit, EteRNA, The SUDAN Game, Which English?), and “adaptive-predictive games” (SchoolLife), although she notes this final category is not yet robust, being instead “the next frontier of knowledge games” (30-31).
The second section of Schrier’s book tackles the challenging question of “why” knowledge games. That is, in what ways might knowledge games contribute to problem-solving? What kinds of motivation to play exist within these games, which are often produced very cheaply and without access to the million dollar production budgets of games in the entertainment world? Further, to what degree is social interaction nurtured or constricted by such games? Schrier acknowledges that these are complicated questions that require deeply contextual responses. She does not really offer answers, instead choosing to sketch out a brief summary of relevant research findings that point to principles related to motivation and games.
The final section of this book turns towards “perspectives, potentials, and pitfalls” to be found in the midst of knowledge games. While Schrier draws on significant theorists and wider literatures here (for example, Lave and Wenger, Jenkins, Benkler, Gee) she only lightly engages issues of ethics, and leaves entirely untouched pragmatic questions of pedagogy.
This book is not likely to be of much interest to people teaching in the fields of religion or theology, with the limited exceptions of those for whom shared knowledge creation in the midst of significant amounts of data are of pressing concern, or those for whom games are a specific focus. In that case Schrier’s appendices, where she lists categories of knowledge games along with examples, and where she enumerates a significant set of design principles, will prove useful. Aside from those small exceptions, this book is not likely to be pertinent to the readers of Teaching Theology and Religion.
Rethinking Knowledge within Higher Education: Adorno and Social Justice
Date Reviewed: March 5, 2015
It is common to hear concern about the commodification of higher education. Administrators’ reliance on business models built on the logic of the marketplace -- emphasizing the bottom-line, rational management strategies, and consumer-focused marketing -- is often at the center of any conversation about the future of higher education. Although Jan McArthur’s book does not address these issues directly, it does, in fact, make an important contribution to the discussion by forcefully challenging the instrumental economic basis for the university or college educational experience. Moreover, she rejects the “traditional liberal ideas of education as a good in itself” (19). For McArthur, higher education’s primary purpose is to contribute to the building of a more just and equitable social order.
McArthur’s monograph is a revised version of her PhD thesis, written under the supervision of Paul Ashwin at Lancaster University (UK). She divides her book into three major parts. Chapters one and two lay the theoretical groundwork for the rest of the book, offering an overview of her understanding of the relationship between knowledge and social justice. She draws on the work of Theodor Adorno to develop her own approach to critical pedagogy, especially emphasizing his ideas of negative dialectics and non-identity. This, in turn, leads to her commitment to a higher education that can be a “home for complex and contested forms of knowledge, engaged with in risky and uncertain ways, where there is safety from normalizing forces” (32).
The next four chapters make up the second part of the book and each addresses a different aspect of knowledge in higher education. In chapter three MacArthur argues that what should be distinctive about knowledge within higher education is that it be “not easily known.” That is to say, the difficulty encountered with such knowledge mirrors the complexity of the social and natural worlds, thus making it useful. In the fourth chapter, MacArthur critiques the current emphasis on the standardization of knowledge, arguing that knowledge within higher education should allow students to develop “their capacity to step outside of the mainstream, to question and challenge the status quo; to live in their own right in the intellectual world” and should not be grounded in a predetermined set of acceptable ideas that denies students their “true autonomy” (98). MacArthur’s fifth chapter introduces three metaphors she sees as especially useful for informing the educational experience of students and critical academics: exile, sanctuary, and diaspora. These metaphors speak to the ways that knowledge can be both a cause of separation from, but also a means of linking to, society. In the sixth chapter, MacArthur argues that the dichotomy between theory and practice is a false one. All knowledge should be “understood in an holistic way, as both theory and practice, philosophical and useful, social and economic” (147). Finally, in chapter seven, she summarizes her argument and suggests several avenues for additional work and reflection.
This necessarily brief overview of the book cannot adequately convey the significance of MacArthur’s refreshing and well-written work. Her argument for placing social justice at the very core of higher education is both forceful and convincing and relevant for those teaching in religious studies or theology departments. For faculty struggling with questions regarding the future of higher education and who are looking for something beyond a business-model approach, MacArthur’s book offers a worthy conversation partner. She concludes her work with a challenge to those who would choose to follow her lead: “We should cease to feel the need to apologize for academic work that shows its passionate motivations and committed values. . . . Free and curious human beings can never be mainstream, predictable, or standardized” (160).