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Inquiry-Based Learning for Multidisciplinary Programs: A Conceptual and Practical Resource for Educators

Book-Review
Blessinger, Patrick; and Carfora, John M., eds.
2015
Emerald Group Publishing Limited
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Tags: inquiry-based learning   |   student learning   |   student learning goals

Reviewed by: Emily Bennett
Date Reviewed: 2017-06-30
Inquiry-Based Learning for Multidisciplinary Programs is the third volume in this series that addresses inquiry-based learning (IBL). Appropriate to its subject of multidisciplinarity, this book’s contributors are from a wide variety of academic disciplines, work in different institutional contexts, and approach IBL in different ways. The strength of collecting together such variety is that almost any teacher interested in IBL can find inspiration and practical resources for teaching that ...

Inquiry-Based Learning for Multidisciplinary Programs is the third volume in this series that addresses inquiry-based learning (IBL). Appropriate to its subject of multidisciplinarity, this book’s contributors are from a wide variety of academic disciplines, work in different institutional contexts, and approach IBL in different ways. The strength of collecting together such variety is that almost any teacher interested in IBL can find inspiration and practical resources for teaching that empowers students and connects to their experiences outside the classroom.

In introducing IBL, Blessinger and Carfora write, “IBL, as an approach instead of a specific method, is a cluster of teaching and learning strategies where students inquire into the nature of a problem(s) or question(s). The problem or question scenario thus serves as a mechanism and catalyst to engage actively and deeply in the learning process” (5). Ways to implement IBL include “case analysis or case creation, research projects, field word investigations, laboratory experiments, and role-play scenarios” in which students collaborate and become self-regulated learners (7). Readers who are unfamiliar with IBL can quickly grasp the concept, thanks to the editors’ opening chapter and to the other authors who explain the meaning of IBL in relation to other pedagogical concepts and movements. Readers who are familiar with IBL will find the case studies interesting because they show a common approach used in different countries, in undergraduate and graduate education, and in online and face-to-face education.

Instructors of religion will find several ideas of interest here, especially but not only if they teach in interdisciplinary programs. For instance, William E. Herman and Michele R. Pinard point to how IBL connects with environmental and gender issues (51). The perspective on folknography illustrated by David M. Lucas and Charles W. Jarrett will be relevant for some courses in religious studies (67). Nicholas J. Shudak develops an approach of resonances for students learning about another culture, which would be applicable to learning in religious studies. He explains how finding connections between students’ own context and another helps them to develop a deeper understanding but also may water down some differences (91-98). Alia Sheety and Nicholas Rademacher, from departments of education and religious studies, describe their use of a flipped classroom, off-campus experiences, and student research projects for a collaborative course on social justice (124-130).

After reading about the variety of approaches to IBL in different contexts, it is striking how many different learning activities fall under IBL. The editors point out that the case studies show how IBL in multidisciplinary programs enhances both student learning and instructor teaching (9). Indeed this book gives the impression that IBL is very appropriate for multidisciplinary teaching and learning, since its use of real world or multi-faceted problems necessarily asks students to learn outside the confines of one discipline. The book would have been enhanced by adding a conclusion in which the authors respond to each others’ analyses since, despite their different contexts, they offer an interlinking set of insights for contemporary higher education.

 

Reviewed by: Jim Wilson
Date Reviewed: 0000-00-00
If you are a librarian or educator engaged in student learning, and are satisfied with the sameness and predictability of current methodologies, read no further. However, if you have need of developing strategies that are up-to-date, relevant, and promote shared perspectives, read on. Emerging Strategies for Supporting Student Learning equips the reader with an arsenal of educational approaches, geared for higher education. They are field-tested, validated by case studies, and ...

If you are a librarian or educator engaged in student learning, and are satisfied with the sameness and predictability of current methodologies, read no further. However, if you have need of developing strategies that are up-to-date, relevant, and promote shared perspectives, read on.

Emerging Strategies for Supporting Student Learning equips the reader with an arsenal of educational approaches, geared for higher education. They are field-tested, validated by case studies, and include both North American and European perspectives.

Like many other researchers focusing on emerging trends in education, Allen echoes the common refrain that today’s rapidly changing society necessitates “new approaches to support student learning” (1). Where this volume finds its niche and wields special power, is its ability to connect across disciplines – amongst librarians, information workers, and classroom instructors. It can also be utilized with students from undergraduate to doctoral level, and in varied settings.

Among the trends included in this text are: student digital literacies, learning and teaching activities, designing face-to-face, blended and online courses, assessment, and issues of lifelong professional development. The chapters are divided into sections that include a concise introduction, subject content, summary, and references.

Allen brings to her research an acute awareness of the challenges faced in higher education, having worked for several years in varied educational settings in the United Kingdom. She might even be faulted for showing too much concern when covering certain settings in minute detail. For example, she reminds us that because educators have so little choice about room allocation, “it is worth visiting it beforehand to check the facilities….This double checking could help you avoid being in an embarrassing situation” (126). This relentless attention to detail can also be viewed as her way of ensuring that such strategies are successfully executed.

Throughout the text, we are encouraged to ask critical questions that will help inform the decisions we make about education strategies. When examining formative and summative assessment, the author offers a multitude of questions that might be asked beforehand, including: Why am I assessing? What type of assessment is better served? And where is the best place to do the assessment? (91-92).

The strategies Allen offers are never dogmatically presented. They are, rather, offered in a smorgasbord manner. They are easily constructed and user-friendly. She encourages the use of ice-breakers, informational graphs, and e-posters at academic gatherings and as a way of allowing material “to be presented in a colorful and imaginative way” (87).

Pedagogic models like flipped classrooms are viewed as a way of maximizing student engagement and which runs counter to conventional approaches to teaching and learning.

Traditionally face-to-face classroom time is spent by a tutor explaining or presenting new ideas, and this may be followed by some activities. In a flipped classroom, students explore the material outside the classroom and then spend time with the tutor clarifying and developing deeper knowledge through discussion and activities. (116)

Keeping up-to-date with professional skills is a high priority for this author. She suggests several digital resources across the spectrum to help make that happen, including the American Library Association (ALA), Flickr Creative Commons, MERLOT, and the National Digital Learning Resource (NDLR) – a “collaborative educational community in Ireland…. interested in developing and sharing digital teaching resources and promoting new teaching and learning culture” (110).

The emerging strategies included in this book bear testimony that education is both evolving by the day and in need of constant need of revision. This book helps us move a little toward embracing good educational practice and relevancy.

Every once in a while, integration becomes the golden fleece in curriculum design, teaching, and assessment. Deans can feel pressured to identify the way the curriculum, and the Faculty, integrates subjects and learning in the curriculum and its course of study. They may feel frustrated when called upon to find ...

Reviewed by: Steven Ibbotson
Date Reviewed: 0000-00-00
James Lang has written yet another immensely valuable book for post-secondary faculty. Using the analogy of “small ball” from baseball, the author provides classroom activities requiring only a few minutes that can easily be incorporated into a course sporadically or regularly to improve learning. Each strategy is based on the latest research about the human brain, and Lang has witnessed their “positive impact in real-educational environments” (7). The strengths of the ...

James Lang has written yet another immensely valuable book for post-secondary faculty. Using the analogy of “small ball” from baseball, the author provides classroom activities requiring only a few minutes that can easily be incorporated into a course sporadically or regularly to improve learning. Each strategy is based on the latest research about the human brain, and Lang has witnessed their “positive impact in real-educational environments” (7).

The strengths of the book are numerous. First and foremost, it accomplishes the stated purpose. In each of the nine chapters, Lang explains the theory behind the learning principle, describes how the theory has been carried out in classroom models, and then summarizes the principles common in each model. Within the models, the reader finds activities that teachers can incorporate into any class and use randomly or repeatedly that enableing students to learn effectively.

Second, each learning activity is transferable across academic disciplines. For example, while discussing “predicting,” the initial research example is from the field of language learning. Lang then applies the principles to his discipline of teaching literature, before concluding with a kinesthetic example of learning an athletic skill. Additionally, Lang recognizes the increasing frequency of teaching and learning online. He also notes students’ access to social media and suggests ways to use the principles and activities of online teaching and social media in a non-traditional classroom format. Finally, while the focus is on in-class actions that take minimal time, he does identify how specific teaching concepts can be incorporated into course planning and the syllabus.

The book is well-organized, not only in its presentation but in the ordering of learning from knowledge acquisition to understanding to learning inspiration (motivation), with three strategies explained in each section. Each concept and activity is well-supported by research noted in a full bibliography. For example, in discussing retrieving, Lang gives examples of opening or closing questions an instructor can use in the first or last five minutes of class that will prove effective for short-term and long-term recall, in light of a variety of studies. Where there are questions about the validity of an idea or activity, Lang acknowledges the issues and interacts fairly with contrary opinion. In short, it is hard to find a negative with this book.

Because each chapter is follows the pattern of theory, model, then principles, a theology or religious studies teacher can easily take the knowledge or concepts they desire to teach and adapt them to any of the teaching strategies.

From a rookie faculty member experiencing challenges midway through a course to an experienced professor looking to improve student learning in a well-developed curriculum, there is something in Small Teaching for everyone. If your college cannot attend one of Lang’s professional development sessions, I would recommend academic deans purchase the book for faculty and together they could work through each chapter.

 

Reviewed by: Regina Pfeiffer
Date Reviewed: 0000-00-00
Whenever I’m asked, “How are your classes going?” my answer traditionally has been, “Ask the students.” As more faculty members shift their pedagogy to a student-centered learning, their focus must include not only delivering the content but also inviting students to explore the why of education. The articles in Finding the Why: Personalizing Learning in Higher Education edited by margit misangyi watts (sic), identify key ways to encourage students ...

Whenever I’m asked, “How are your classes going?” my answer traditionally has been, “Ask the students.” As more faculty members shift their pedagogy to a student-centered learning, their focus must include not only delivering the content but also inviting students to explore the why of education. The articles in Finding the Why: Personalizing Learning in Higher Education edited by margit misangyi watts (sic), identify key ways to encourage students to discover the purpose of higher education as more than training for a career. While many of the articles describe institutional changes that have been developed to address the student success beyond the university, the principles behind such designs can be incorporated by individual faculty members in approaching how to present their courses’ content.

One of the key principles is to encourage students to identify the applicability of a liberal-arts education to professional courses. One means by which this can be accomplished is described in “Integrative Learning: Making Liberal Education Purposeful, Personal, and Practical.” Ann Ferren and Chad Anderson describe several examples from various colleges that integrate learning across curricula and are adaptable even for larger institutions, such as designing opportunities for students to integrate curricula using collaborative projects, partnerships with the local community for service-learning, and making connections among disciplines. Furthermore, in “Project-Based Learning in Colleges of Business: Is It Enough to Develop Educated Graduates?” Penny Smith and Lindsey Gibbon note that business leaders are seeking qualities such as critical thinking skills, identifying and using creative problem solving, and communicating effectively. They note that “for business schools to graduate ‘well-educated’ students, they must forge and engage entire academic villages” (43) in preparing business students for their careers.

Another important component of finding the why requires understanding the challenges in culture that affect the attitudes impacting student-centered education. Several of the chapters incorporate strategies to change the culture at institutions themselves to meet the ongoing challenges to student success. Among such recommendations are faculty “talking to students in a way that is supportive and encouraging” (29) or engaging in the six “P’s” of place, preparation, pathways, plan, purpose, and personal connection as explained by Sanford Shugart in “Why Higher Education: Lessons Learned in a Learner-Centered College.”

While many of the articles describe specific activities involving changes within the entire institution, such as integrative classes or designing a community college’s plan from its inception, the authors do challenge individual faculty to incorporate helping students find the why within their particular courses. The key to student success in many of the articles involves engaging students individually, not just collectively. Therefore, some of the strategies discussed can be applied by individual faculty on a smaller scale. While my answer to “How are your classes going?” may be the same, my intentionality within my course itself should have students answering in the positive.

 

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