student learning

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I teach texts. I read texts. I write texts. Every once in a great while, I even text texts. But I’ve noticed recently that many more of the texts I receive have fewer and fewer actual words. I’m talking acronyms certainly (LOL and lots more I haven’t ...

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Inside the Undergraduate Teaching Experience: The University of Washington's Growth in Faculty Teaching Study

Beyer, Catharine Hoffman; Taylor, Edward; and Gillmore, Gerald M.
SUNY Press, 2013

Book Review

Tags: faculty development   |   student learning   |   undergraduate teaching
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Reviewed by: Brenda Llewellyn Ihssen, Pacific Lutheran University
Date Reviewed: February 6, 2015
University of Washington colleagues and scholars Beyer, Taylor, and Gillmore began their work in assessment with a rather simple – but important – question: “Without external pressure to do so, do faculty make changes to their teaching?” (17). To answer this and the subsequent follow-ups (“If so, what changes?” and “Why?”), they engaged in an extensive, qualitative study that drew from a sample of fifty-five male and female faculty members and eight graduate ...

University of Washington colleagues and scholars Beyer, Taylor, and Gillmore began their work in assessment with a rather simple – but important – question: “Without external pressure to do so, do faculty make changes to their teaching?” (17). To answer this and the subsequent follow-ups (“If so, what changes?” and “Why?”), they engaged in an extensive, qualitative study that drew from a sample of fifty-five male and female faculty members and eight graduate students of various ethnicities and in different stages of their professional careers. The findings of their study, they argue, challenge the prevailing image of professors as disengaged from anything other than their research, and show that faculty remain deeply engaged simultaneously with both their research and with current pedagogical methods, best practices, new and emerging technologies, and – above all – the development of critical engagement for their students with their respective disciplines. Perhaps most surprising, they argue, is that the findings of this study demonstrate that professors exhibit a desire for improved teaching even though most have not received teaching-training and even in the absence of external pressures.

Then why change? A faculty member makes it through the semester, notes intact; what, then, stimulates the need for any change at all? Beyer, Taylor, and Gillmore’s findings reveal that even with increased interest in the development of “best practices” among faculty at institutions of higher learning (91), change in the classroom is driven by interaction between faculty and their students (91), and generally takes one of two forms: internal or external. In the case of internal change, faculty work to introduce methods that encourage greater, earlier, and deeper engagement with their own course content. This type of change is often induced by assessment, observation, or conversation between faculty and student. External changes, on the other hand, are introduced as a result of workshop activity, collegial conversation, and observation. It is worth noting that external change accounts for the smallest percentage of reasons for change, a mere 12 percent (105).

This book is valuable for revealing in quantifiable terms what many in this field already know; that teaching is a dynamic and malleable activity. But what it also reveals is that the greatest changes in the classroom occur when professors are tuned into the intimate voice of their own discipline, within the context of their own classroom. External influences and opportunities are important, but what appears to be more important is the willingness of a professor to pay rigorous attention to the needs of particular groups of learners, at particular moments in time. And though it should not be necessary to provide evidence of how hard professors work and how much they care, it is nice to have this study as evidence.

 

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Learning to Learn: International Perspectives from Theory and Practice

Crick, Ruth Deakin; Stringher, Cristina; and Ren, Kai, eds.
Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2014

Book Review

Tags: learning theories   |   lifelong learning   |   student learning
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Reviewed by: Carmen J. Pagán--Cabrera, American University of Puerto Rico
Date Reviewed: January 30, 2015
“Learning to learn” is a strong and appellative concept for people involved and interested in education. The book’s title suggests a continuous search for an appropriate and practical understanding of the meaning of “learning to learn,” and its significance in the practice at various levels. “Learning to learn” is viewed as a holistic and dynamic concept that encompasses relationships with learning, reasoning, knowledge, consciousness, critical thinking, working memory, education ...

“Learning to learn” is a strong and appellative concept for people involved and interested in education. The book’s title suggests a continuous search for an appropriate and practical understanding of the meaning of “learning to learn,” and its significance in the practice at various levels. “Learning to learn” is viewed as a holistic and dynamic concept that encompasses relationships with learning, reasoning, knowledge, consciousness, critical thinking, working memory, education self-awareness, motivation, lifelong learning, life-wide learning, inference, systems of thinking, spiritual matters, social heritages, cultural contexts, and “natural learning” as an ordinary activity with others. The concept is also related to fields of knowledge such as education, psychology, sociology, and so forth, and it is presented as a paradigm in continuous construction.

This book is strategically divided in two main parts; (1) theory and (2) international research and practices. Seeking for a comprehensive view of education, the first part engages the reader in the concept of “learning to learn” from a theoretical and philosophical perspective, bringing together an extensive list of definitions, visualizations, and considerations related to the subject. The second part offers research based on nine case studies showing how “learning to learn” works in the practical arena in schools, curriculums, educational polices, and teachers’ pedagogical practices. However, even though the book does not deal directly with specific pedagogical strategies in the classroom, the discussion offers good insights and approaches that can enhance the practice of teaching. This aspect is further advanced by the authors’ emphases in explaining the methodologies used in the research.

“As an organizing concept in education. . . learning to learn” not only deals with scientific matters concerning learning, but also with curriculum, pedagogy, and educational policies within the politics of a particular context (xv). Written from an international perspective, the book takes into account the educational experiences and practices from a few European countries, China (Hong Kong), Australia and New Zealand, and considers one example from the United States. Nonetheless, the authors’ intentions are clear − to influence and offer relevant applications for an international understanding of what “learning to learn” means for a global world. That said, additional approaches from Africa and Latin American countries are strongly needed.

Learning to Learn can serve as something of a paradigm for excellence in education and learning. It can also function as a helpful text for reflecting on the meta-competencies required to be fully efficient in contemporary vocational contexts. This meta-competency includes a strategic competence for lifelong learning (93). The challenge of this discussion for religious and theological educators is evident -- it requires educators to examine the applications of “learning to learn” in their particular educational practices.

Educators will benefit from reading this book and may feel motivated to read the extended literature references in the book, particularly those concerning recent texts advancing new theoretical approaches on this topic. Furthermore, educators will benefit from the rich research data discussed in the theoretical and practical sections. This material represents an excellent source for advancing new research, while at the same time offering useful applications for educators’ practices in their individual higher educational contexts.

 

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The Art of Effective Facilitation: Reflections From Social Justice Educators

Landreman, Lisa M., ed.
Stylus Publishing, Llc., 2013

Book Review

Tags: administration   |   social justice   |   student learning
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Reviewed by: Andy Draycott, Talbot School of Theology/Biola University
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. ...

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.

 

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How College Works

Chambliss, Daniel F.; and Takacs, Christopher G.
Harvard University Press, 2014

Book Review

Tags: first year classes   |   higher education   |   student learning
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Reviewed by: Martha J. Reineke, University of Northern Iowa
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 ...

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.

 

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