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Using Technology to Support Learning and Teaching
Date Reviewed: January 30, 2015
Using Technology to Support Learning and Teaching provides an overview of the key ways in which teachers and course designers are using technology to support teaching, learning, and assessment. As with the other books in the Key Guides for Effective Teaching in Higher Education Series, this text combines practical examples of techniques and methods with educational theory and research. The book thus contributes to a more general conversation about the effective pedagogical use of technology in a way that does not focus solely on describing the technological tools, but also takes seriously how “they might be best implemented” (2). For example, the first chapter outlines several influential theories (such as behaviorism, cognitivism, constructivism, humanistic theories, and connectivism), in order to provide a framework to underpin later considerations of various technologies for practitioners.
Beyond presenting the technology, the book stimulates further thinking and discussion about how technology relates to teaching and learning. Each chapter includes “Pauses for Thought” sections, “Case Example(s),” “Useful Resources (many of which are URLs),” screenshots and QR codes, as well as discussion questions in the conclusion. At the outset, the authors tell their readers: “This book isn’t meant to be read from cover to cover. We expect and would encourage you to dip in and out of it. To pick it up when you are considering various developments in your, or your colleagues’, teaching” (ix). Each chapter stands on its own; the chapters do not directly flow from one another, nor is there a comprehensive introduction or conclusion to the book.
Using Technology to Support Learning and Teaching comprises ten chapters, of which the first two respectively discuss learning theory and inclusive practice (disability and diversity); the next eight chapters cover the wide range of technology available for higher education, including a specific chapter on each of the following: the use of social media for collaboration and networking; technology for interaction; technology for assessment and feedback; podcasting and vodcasting; virtual learning environments; open source software; immersive online 3D environments; and future developments. What might otherwise be a daunting and time-consuming task, these latter eight chapters give teachers a comprehensive and jargon-free overview of the expansive array of technological tools now available, with many concrete examples, hints, and tips for how they may be used in teaching and learning. For instance, the chapter on assessment provides rubrics for evaluating student blogs and wikis. It also includes “how to” sections and tips for using multimodal feedback (such as video and screencapture).
In describing each technology, the authors present what technology has to offer educators. They note specific cautions and considerations (such as copyright laws), but their focus is positive. For example, the authors note how Virtual Learning Environments “have been criticised heavily for being inflexible, unintuitive, difficult to navigate. . . and even ‘boxy’”, but they continue to say that nevertheless, “we would like to emphasise that VLEs still have significant benefits for learning and teaching” (155).
The book is not limited to one context, but is directed toward teachers in any discipline, in any format of teaching (including traditional face-to-face classes, online settings, and hybrid-format courses). It will be of interest to anyone who seeks to utilize technology in higher education, or who is more broadly interested in critical reflection on the relationship between educational research and technology in practice.
The Art of Effective Facilitation: Reflections From Social Justice Educators
Date Reviewed: January 30, 2015
There is a whole industry of administrative agents and auxiliary student service providers inhabiting the world of higher education bordering the classroom. Whether it is in the areas of residence life, student affairs, or service learning, practitioners provide social justice education (SJE). Inside the classroom, universities and colleges engage faculty to provide discrete courses, or enable interdisciplinary multicultural experiential learning for their students under the rubric of social justice education. Indeed, as this collection testifies, even student peer instruction can be key to unlocking conversations and attaining social justice learning outcomes.
The book’s multiple authors were brought together under the aegis of the ACPA-College Student Educators International Commission for Social Justice Educators. Faculty, administrators, development support staff, and students themselves contribute a variety of chapters focusing on the task of facilitation. As the title suggests, each gives a thick description of their context to flesh out the claim that facilitation is an art rather than an exact science. This is not a simple how-to manual.
The book is organized into four sections: Frameworks from Theory to Practice; Understanding Identities and Facilitation; Facilitation Design and Techniques; and Supporting Student Social Action. One might ask, “Why should teachers of Theology and Religion care?” One attractive answer is that SJE aims at transformation and action in relation to social structures of dominance and oppression. There are underdeveloped suggestions in the text that dominant religious assumptions need examining on campus and in wider society. Certainly the investment of religious studies and theology disciplines in the questions of race and whiteness, gender, sexuality, and broadly, identity -- however controverted -- means that awareness of the theoretical and practical bases of campus work for students is important.
To my mind, the most interesting chapters are those framed largely as dialogues between two authors. Where facilitating conversation, awareness, disclosure, negotiating triggers, and gaining empowerment is the topic, this mode of writing is immediately attractive for demonstrating what is being written discussed in a way that cannot otherwise be done.
The authors are wonderfully humane in addressing their own growth in awareness of the importance of social justice education, and their faltering steps to facilitate that growth along with their students or peers. Social justice education is about relationships and fostering learning that is transformative. Not all will agree with the account of justice that is drawn on in the book: Justice as inclusive individual identity rights procedurally secured over against hegemony is the framework. Certainly different ways of living religious traditions, with their thick accounts of the good framing what counts as just, will dispute some assumptions here. Nevertheless, or rather, precisely so, they are invited into the conversation that is facilitated. Teachers of theology and religion might take much of the wisdom accrued here into their class discussions, seminars, and workshops. Further, everyday teaching will be more attuned to the strivings toward justice in the wider higher education community.
I would have liked more discussion about ableism and people with disabilities. At times the thick description felt thin, given the constraints of what is communicable on a page: the experiential stories almost needed longer narration to draw in a reader who does not always inhabit the SJE discourse. What is in one sense a distraction for one jumping into the field -- numerous references to authoritative tomes unknown -- is at the same time a boon to the reader wanting to explore further: the chapter bibliographies are extensive and rich.
How College Works
Date Reviewed: January 30, 2015
College students respond to my enthusiasm for old-fashioned dorms − long hallways, shared rooms, communal bathrooms − with the same eye-rolling disdain I once brought to my mother’s valorization of a three-mile walk to school. So when I heard that authors Chambliss and Takacs extol dorm life in How College Works, I was curious. Would they affirm other staples of college life from a bygone era? Book in hand, I discovered that the authors’ massive database, compiled by mining Hamilton College resources (including graduating student surveys, one thousand student papers collected over five years, and campus focus groups) and following a hundred Hamilton College students from their first year to ten years past graduation, supports research findings that confirm the value of several longstanding practices at liberal arts colleges. Although the authors acknowledge that Hamilton College is not representative of American higher education (it ranks fifteenth on US News & World Report’s list of national liberal arts colleges), they suggest that their exclusive focus on Hamilton has enabled them to uncover, beneath the kinds of statistical correlations that both define and constrain large-scale studies, experiences crucial to a good college education anywhere. I agree. On my reading, their findings and recommendations (evidence-based, resource neutral, and free of red tape) are relevant for schools with profiles far different than Hamilton’s.
Although the authors do advocate traditional dorms because they correlate with enhanced student engagement, most of their recommendations focus on the faculty. (1)Put your best teachers in your first-year classes. First-year students tend to choose their courses based on their time and location, not their subject matter. Students follow a compelling professor into a second or third course, often becoming de facto majors before they become declared majors. Because students perceive that a professor is the discipline she teaches, students dismiss an entire field after one bad course. (2)Frontload writing-intensive classes: students experience the biggest gains during their first two years, and the weakest students gain the most. (3) Engage students outside the classroom. Graduating seniors report that dinner at a professor’s home had a profound impact. Crunching the numbers from two thousand senior surveys and controlling for GPA, major, gender, race, and so forth, the authors were startled to discover that students who were a guest in a professor’s home even once have an 11 percent higher college satisfaction score than students who were never a guest. (4) Don’t equate college success only with assessable skills. Yes, alumni do comment on the difference that their writing, speaking, and critical thinking skills make in the workplace. But alumni who are highly satisfied with their college experience also report “confidence” and “relationships” as key outcomes. Alumni repeatedly attest to a sense of efficacy they attribute to four years of taking on and successfully meeting challenges, and they strongly affirm not only friendships forged in college but also their membership in a community that, over four years, shaped their identities and their values. Evidence, not nostalgia, supports the authors’ case that three factors − skills, confidence, and relationships − comprise an index of satisfaction that shows how college works, now as in the past.
Alright, not a strange land. It’s just Berkeley. Let me back up. I am currently about halfway through a teaching gig at Pacific School of Religion thanks to the intrepid work of the Hispanic Summer Program. For two weeks, I am helping a group of students find their way ...
Cheating Lessons: Learning from Academic Dishonesty
Date Reviewed: January 19, 2015
I did not want to read this book. Having perused a number of books on the subject in recent years, I was suffering from plagiarism fatigue. However, when the head of our center for teaching lent me Cheating Lessons, promising me that it contained new insights and would be good airport reading during an upcoming trip, I acquiesced.
I soon discovered that Cheating Lessons is aptly named. Author James Lang draws on case studies, but not primarily to teach his readers about why students plagiarize or commit other academic ethics infractions. Rather, Lang invites his readers to treat each case as a distinct lesson in how students learn. Focusing on contextual rather than dispositional factors linked to cheating and drawing on a body of empirical research, Lang explores powerful pedagogies that come into view in the wake of learning failures to which his case studies attest. Scrutinizing the Olympics of Ancient Greece, civil service tests in China’s dynastic history, and Atlanta’s No Child Left Behind testing scandal, among other examples, Lang establishes that high-stakes testing settings as well as those that focus on performance rather than process offer students only an extrinsic motivation to learn. Most significantly, these environments are highly conducive to cheating.
Juxtaposed with these cases are chapters that describe cheating-resistant learning environments. Lang draws his examples from interviews, observations, and teaching materials shared with him by award-winning college and university teachers. These teachers serve as our guides for exploring contexts that promote learning through mastery rather than performance, feature low-stakes assessment, activate students’ intrinsic motivation to learn, and support learners’ self-efficacy. Lang excels at extracting from his data examples and vignettes that draw readers into the classrooms of these teacher guides. There we observe how they promote student engagement by forging links between course questions and questions that students bring to the course. Particularly insightful are Lang’s suggestions for addressing a problem that may especially beset those of us who teach required subjects: when confronted with students’ indifference to a question or topic that captivates us, what learning strategies can we employ that will elicit from students a strong desire to grasp hold of the learning challenges we pose to them? Teachers highlighted by Lang offer creative and inspiring examples of assessment practices that bolster students’ intrinsic motivation to learn and enhance their self-efficacy (for example, a literature course in which students work with literary classics and then teach them to residents of a juvenile correctional center).
Lang’s account of powerful pedagogical practices, rich with possibilities for enhancing learning in the religious studies classroom, makes Cheating Lessons a valuable resource. However, the book may not be the best choice for airport reading. Engrossed in Cheating Lessons at O’Hare, I was quite startled to be on the receiving end of wisecracks from strangers who supposed from the title that its advice focuses on the bedroom rather than the classroom.