Select an item by clicking its checkbox
Dynamic Lecturing: Research-Based Strategies to Enhance Lecture Effectiveness
Date Reviewed: July 18, 2018
Against the prevailing tide in higher education, Christine Harrington and Todd Zakrajsek argue that lectures, when prepared well and incorporated appropriately, are one of the most effective ways to enhance learning. The first part of their book is focused on making this case and on delineating the different forms a lecture can take. The second part of the book focuses on ways to make lectures more effective for learners. That second part takes up the bulk of the book (7 of the 11 chapters). The third part provides tools and resources for preparing and evaluating lectures. These final two chapters give helpful rubrics, charts, and questionnaires that can easily be adapted for one’s own lectures or for evaluating others’ lectures. This book would be a useful addition to an individual professor’s library and, most especially, to a center for teaching and learning library.
Both authors of Dynamic Lecturing are trained in psychology and have experience in teaching and learning and faculty development centers, so the examples are often from social science or natural science classrooms. However, many of their suggestions could easily be adapted to theology and religious studies. Using research from the scholarship of teaching and learning, they argue that lectures are efficient and effective for novice learners but are less so for expert learners (by which they mean advanced undergraduates and graduate students). This book, therefore, would be most useful for faculty who frequently teach lower-division courses for undergraduates; it could still be quite useful for those wanting to make their lectures more effective, even if they work with other learner populations and use other kinds of teaching tools.
This distinction between novice and expert learners is significant in the context of theology and religious studies: in certain courses, students may enter the classroom assuming they are the experts (for example, if the course focuses on their own religious tradition, especially if the professor is not another “insider”). Harrington and Zakrajsek’s discussion of techniques like pre-testing may be a way to address this unique dynamic: if a student took a pre-test and found that they did not know as much as they thought they knew, they might find themselves more open to learning from a professor’s lecture.
As their title suggests, this is not a book about individual teaching choices, but rather is focused on research-based strategies: nearly every paragraph has multiple citations that refer the reader to studies done on teaching and learning. A bibliography accompanies each chapter, so references are easy to track down, if desired. The studies are often explained well, so the reader knows what the research suggests; there are times, however, when the conclusions seem overstated. For example, a study used to argue that lectures are more helpful than active learning sessions to novice learners is explained in a parenthetical note: 88% of students agreed or strongly agreed that a lecture helped them learn course content compared with 49% of students who agreed or strongly agreed that active learning sessions helped them learn course content (10). Self-reporting is not the same as demonstrating mastery of the content. In other places, the authors note that students are not always the best judges of their own learning (see, for example, studies on learners’ overconfidence ). The research cited throughout the book is not limited to self-reporting and includes very helpful data on what promotes student engagement and learning.
Slow Looking: The Art and Practice of Learning Through Observation
Date Reviewed: July 18, 2018
“The definition of slow looking is straightforward,” writes Shari Tishman, “It simply means taking the time to carefully observe more than meets the eye at first glance" (2). Imagine taking students to an art museum and focusing on just one painting. You would be taking the time to support your students in looking, really looking at art. Can they list everything they see in the painting? Could they identify twice as many items if you gave them more time still? Does the painting look different if they move closer or change their angle? Are there interesting juxtapositions of objects, shapes, or colors within the painting? These questions are natural to slow looking. It is a rewarding classroom practice and an indispensable aspect of method in theological and religious studies.
This book was written “with educators in mind” and it contains many practical ideas on how to use slow looking in the classroom. Examples range across disciplines: Virginia Woolf’s observations concerning “The Mark on the Wall,” zoological sketches of a caracal cat, and the mechanical intricacies of an old-fashioned office stapler, among others. Drawing on previous research, Tishman examines three dispositional tendencies involved in slow looking: ability, inclination, and sensitivity (145). Sensitivity is particularly critical; this is the capacity to employ slow looking in the appropriate context. As educators in the humanities seek to more clearly articulate the lasting benefits of our work, this careful examination of slow looking as an important lifelong skill is timely.
The beauty of this title is its ability to focus on the benefits of slow looking as educational practice in a deep way. Many excellent books on pedagogy adopt a wide scope. They pull their lens back and look at course planning or broad curricular systems. Slow Looking has much to offer courses and curriculum, but Tishman is adept at returning continually to the exercise of slow looking to reveal its complexity and practical efficacy from different vantage points. According to Tishman, slow looking is a “learned capacity” foundational to critical thinking (7). Foundational, yes, but it should not be thought of as synonymous with critical thinking or be conceptually absorbed by critical thinking. Slow looking is its own discrete process. Tishman explains, “Slow looking is not primarily judgment oriented, though its fruits certainly inform good judgments. Rather, slow looking emphasizes deferring judgment in favor of apprehending the complexity of how things are at the moment” (149). There are three types of complexity: complexity of parts and interactions (anatomy, for example), perspective (different physical or conceptual vantage points), and engagement (interplay between perceiver and perceived). Teachers will already see how parsing complexity in this way can lead to extended classroom reflection on a given subject of observation and the process of looking itself.
Slow Looking strikes the perfect balance between practicality and philosophical depth. Tishman writes fluidly and moves easily among descriptions of classroom technique, phenomenological analysis of observation, and the intellectual history of student-centered education. Slow Looking will be a continual source of inspiration in my own teaching and scholarship – it is highly recommended.
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 ...
Non-Cognitive Skills and Factors in Educational Attainment
Date Reviewed: October 18, 2017
Hope, Utopia and Creativity in Higher Education: Pedagogical Tactics for Alternative Futures
Date Reviewed: August 11, 2017
Educators who value the critical pedagogy of Paulo Freire, Henry Giroux, bell hooks, and Peter McLaren will be stretched and stimulated by Craig Hammond’s Hope, Utopia, and Creativity in Higher Education: Pedagogical Tactics for Alternative Futures. Hammond is critical of “institutional structures that have ossified around familiarity and academic routine” (35) and that tend to reproduce “a rather drab journey towards a perdition of apathetic inaction and uncritical conformity” (186). Instead, he advocates for “creative and democratic academic engagement” (11). Or, in more effusive rhetoric, Hammond writes: “The tyranny of … the academic warder, replete with encased frameworks of functionally categorized shells of knowledge, can be transformed to a context where knowledge is collaboratively resituated and revived, inhabited, and co-produced in multiple new and fresh directions” (53). His book includes autobiographical reflections, theoretical interpretations, practical teaching resources, and examples of artifacts created by students in Hammond’s courses at Blackburn College in the UK.
Following an introduction, the book consists of ten chapters organized in three parts. The three chapters of Part 1 develop the pedagogically-relevant theoretical insights of Ernst Bloch, Roland Barthes, and Gaston Bachelard. The level of theoretical sophistication Hammond provides is rare in pedagogical texts. Part 2 begins to put practical substance to a critical, utopian pedagogy. In these three chapters, Hammond draws on Guy Debord and the Situationists to develop pedagogical strategies for creative engagement, illustrates the utopian potential of an alternative pedagogy via an autobiographical example, and provides practical teaching resources (autobiography assignment, peer-assessment framework, and syllabus). In Part 3, Hammond shares artifacts, commentaries, and narratives by learner collaborators in his utopian pedagogy.
The pedagogy offered here – articulated as hopeful and utopian – is more Marxist than religious in its ideals. Nonetheless, given the widespread concern with diversity and inclusion in higher education settings in recent years, professors of theology and religious studies with an appreciation for critical pedagogies will benefit from reflecting on the theoretical ideas and pedagogical strategies offered here. Perhaps the easiest entry point for adaptation of Hammond’s ideas to the religious studies or theology classroom is via his discussion of Guy Debord’s (1970, Detroit: Red & Black) Society of the Spectacle (80ff.), with its clear renunciation of consumer society and the commodification of education. A more hopeful, utopian pedagogy is merited to respond to these societal pressures and allures.
Hammond’s book – with its autobiographical elements, theoretical summaries, and pedagogical materials – combines disparate materials, all conveyed in evocative language (as suggested by the quotations offered above). This is not a book to be skimmed quickly. And this is perhaps as it should be. One of Hammond’s students, quoted in Part 3, comments on the incongruity of sitting in courses in which “the lecturer outlines the ills of didactic teaching and learning, from the front of the classroom, with no sense of irony” (166). By suggesting possibilities rather than delineating best practices, Hammond’s book is better aligned with the pedagogy it champions. Readers will likely find some aspects of the text more stimulating than others. Depending on the reader, perhaps it will be the theory, perhaps the autobiographical reflections of Hammond, perhaps the description of the creative autobiographical project, perhaps something else. As long as some creative and contextually relevant pedagogical intervention in the standard practices of our classrooms arises from this encounter, Hammond will have succeeded in his project of advancing a utopian pedagogy.