teaching for transformation
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Critical Perspectives on Service-Learning in Higher Education
Date Reviewed: August 14, 2015
Service-learning, as a valued curricular support to learning, has received attention in institutions of higher education as an approach that provides students with social and academic capabilities for their future careers. The concept of service-learning has been around for centuries in the American academy, but higher education in Europe has not fully embraced service-learning as an innovative pedagogy to better prepare graduates for a global workforce.
Research on service-learning has mainly focused on the benefits students receive, and how to organize service-learning to produce these benefits. Author Susan Deeley suggests “[moving] away from attempts to ‘prove [service-learning] works’ towards a more sustainable approach of improving how it works” (31). Critical Perspectives on Service-Learning in Higher Education offers a pioneering voice in the field of service-learning because the author practices what she preaches. She addresses the role of the teacher in service, offering practical strategies to facilitate critical reflection and academic writing, and tips for writing critical incidents and reflective journals to enable students’ “lifelong critical development” (8). The author constructs a theoretical paradigm with guidance on how to design, implement, and accomplish service-learning.
Through the analysis of a theoretical perspective, Deeley offers multiple practical service-learning applications, including some from personal experience, both in local and international settings. The author does not intend to solve the critical need for innovation in teaching across the disciplines; rather, she offers learning theories, ideas, and perspectives for the regard of service-learning as a critical pedagogy that fosters agency and empowers students to explore on their own terms with guidance from faculty. Each chapter can stand alone or be used as a resource for teaching and learning.
The book is divided into two major sections: (1) theory and (2) practice grounded in field experiences. In search of an inclusive view of service-learning, the first section (chapters 2 to 4) engages the reader in defining “service-learning” through a theoretical and philosophical lens, presenting an extant list of definitions and considerations that raise questions about service-learning’s “suitability” as a critical pedagogy. The second section (chapters 5 to 7) moves toward the practical application of service-learning “[which] involves students as active learners, constructing meaning in order to make sense of their experiences” (103). Students experience a “transformation” in the process of reflecting critically on their beliefs, opinions, and values. The research includes journal excerpts from eight students over the course of seven years showing how service-learning works in community settings.
The importance of summative co-assessment is underscored for facilitating a democratic approach to learning that helps students master and articulate skills which are transferable to the workplace. While only three pedagogical theories are reviewed (traditional, progressive, and critical), the discussion provides an approach to enhance the scholarship of teaching (Boyer, Scholarship Reconsidered: Jossey-Bass, 1990). This approach is advanced by Deeley’s explanation of practices used in critical reflection.
Even though the book was written from an international viewpoint, the service-learning experiences only take into account two countries: the United Kingdom and Thailand. Thus, additional approaches from around the world would enhance the global perspective. This book is an excellent resource that would benefit faculty members and administrators collaborating to integrate this “powerful pedagogy” as a complement to or replacement for traditional forms of teaching and learning.
Transforming Students: Fulfilling the Promise of Higher Education
Date Reviewed: April 8, 2015
North American faculty often teach and work in milieus in which the value of a liberal arts education is continuously in question. Economic realities of the last decade have prompted administrators, faculty, and practitioners to think more deeply about the sustainability of liberal arts institutions in general. And, in some contexts, the transition to increasingly corporate models for higher education leadership means that terms such as customer service, brand, and product are gaining utility in order to emphasize the value of a liberal arts degree in a competitive market. Charity Johansson and Peter Felten recognize these trends and contend that a liberal arts education should provide spaces for college students to learn how to embrace change and encounter the unknown: faculty should be emphasizing a transformative learning process rather than a informative one that offers facts but does not push students to develop abilities to deal with complex variables after graduation. Johansson and Felten argue that a university can provide an environment conducive to transformative learning by clarifying its purpose and by developing a student’s capacity and opportunity for positive change (1). Johansson and Felten’s research is grounded in the recent literature on transformative learning in the field of adult education; Transforming Students applies these concepts and theories to young adults with the intention of emphasizing the practices and theories in which transformation can readily emerge in higher education (4).
According to the authors, the content of transformative learning begins with disruption and is followed by reflective analysis, verifying and acting on one’s new understanding of the world, and integrating what one has learned and practiced into everyday life (3). A sharp contrast is drawn between informative and transformative teaching and the various pedagogical practices that characterize them. Administrators, staff, and faculty have a responsibility to not only provide a safe, welcoming space for transformative learning to occur (which includes disruption and dissonance), but they also ought to respond holistically, meaningfully, and with integrity to the spontaneous actions of students who are “find[ing] their way along their journey” (89-90). The interplay of the individual and community in this transformative learning process will effect change because “the ultimate outcome of this type of learning is action in community” (82). If taken seriously by the educator and the institution, transformative learning has the potential to change both the institutional context and the broader community.
Johansson and Felten do not speak explicitly about religious studies or theological education, but an adept reader can easily apply their theory of transformative learning to any classroom context. With its emphasis on mentoring and creating safe spaces for openness, disruption, and critical reflection, this text prompts readers to reflect deeply about their role as educators, practitioners, or co-curricular programming staff. The cited research is qualitative rather than quantitative; much of the evidence used to support Johansson and Felten’s argument is anecdotal in nature from the context of Elon University. This may be seen as a lacuna in the evidence to some readers, but overall the anecdotal evidence provides a clear, precise thesis that is rooted in students’ experiences of transformation during their time in college.
Though other texts may need to be referenced for an in-depth, quantitative approach to higher education research, Transforming Students is especially helpful for those who want to read a short, accessible text that theoretically grounds pedagogical styles and higher education practices as transformational to “prepare students for a life of continuous change and development” (2). This book is not a list of best practices across the landscape of liberal arts institutions – though some best practices from Elon University are used as examples – but rather it serves as a convincing argument for transformative learning as a crucial paradigm for pedagogy, practice, and the holistic institutional mission of liberal arts colleges and universities. According to Johansson and Felten, transformative learning does not have to hang in the balance: there are indeed practices and methods that provide intentional spaces and opportunities for facilitated reflection and increased transformation. This concise text encourages educators, provides simple entry points into pedagogical theories, distills current student development research into poignant sound bites, and offers conceptual measures for engaging the transformative learning process with one’s own students, both inside and outside the classroom.
Transfer, Transitions and Transformations of Learning
Date Reviewed: April 8, 2015
This edited volume of eleven articles explores the concepts of transfer, transitions, and transformation within a focus of educational technology. This title is part of the International Technology Education Series, and the authors mainly come from the field of education. The articles engage a number of fields including: engineering, science, technology, vocational education, nursing, and architecture.
The opening chapter provides a literature review of transfer, especially in relationship to transitions and transformation. A successful transfer is defined as “a product where something learned in one context is used to assist learning in another context” (2). The authors explore this concept in regards to motivation, sameness and difference, unproductive transfer, transfer in relationship to transitions and transformation, and transfer as boundary crossing. After this introduction, various authors offer research studies and exploratory essays around these subjects.
Several of these studies deserve special mention. Bjurulf’s chapter on the LISA (Learned in Several Arenas) Project explores transfer between work and school within vocational education. This research study uses semi-structured interviews to explore the nature of transfer. Her research supports the conclusion that the transfer of knowledge must be a holistic blending of practice and theory. Another article by Baartman, Gravemeijer, and De Bruijn examines transfer in relationship to technology in non-technical jobs as boundary-crossing skills. They engage transitions, which encompass successfully taking a learned concept from one situation and applying it to another situation. For these authors, and in a number of articles in this book, transfer occurs as a consequence of transitions. Baartman, Gravemeijer, and De Bruijn observe that boundaries should be viewed as learning opportunities as students work to successfully take skills back and forth between school and the workplace. They indicate that it is important to design education for successful transitions that empower boundary-crossing opportunities.
Some of the articles, such as Pavlova’s and MacGregor’s, focus upon transformation and transitions, but many of articles do not engage either concept. Both Pavlova and MacGregor engage transformation in terms of the self and as social change. For Pavlova, transformation is demonstrated in both critical self-reflection and emancipatory change. MacGregor focuses on factors that foster or inhibit transformation in teachers as they make the transition from their last year at university to their first year in teaching. MacGregor’s transformation also engages self-reflection as teachers’ identities are transformed by their experiences of teaching and learning.
Many of these studies might be considered essays or well-developed literature reviews rather than research studies, because they lack an identifiable research methodology. Overall, the various articles appear to be disconnected and underdeveloped with the exception of the authors mentioned. A final concluding chapter would have been helpful to weave these articles together and draw some overarching conclusions. However, the articles are easy to read, contain good bibliographies, and provide an introduction to the scholarly discourse around transfer.
For theological education, transfer is an important aspect of field education. The relationship between theory and practice and methods of creating transfer between the two is critical for the quality of theological education, but the value of this title for theological education is limited. Theological schools with strong pedagogical educational programs or terminal degrees in education might benefit from adding this title to their libraries. Universities with graduate educational programs would want to add this title, especially for those with vocational teacher preparatory programs.
Becoming Beholders: Cultivating Sacramental Imagination and Actions in College Classrooms
Date Reviewed: March 26, 2015
This thought-provoking, insightful collection of twenty articles is directed toward teachers at Catholic colleges, but it is applicable to anyone who teaches in higher education and who comes to that task from a faith perspective. A wide variety of disciplines are represented, including art, literature, writing, chemistry, math, economics, sociology, communication, history, Spanish, and, of course, religion. The book’s title and subtitle are suggestive. The title derives from a Hopkins poem, “Hurrahing in Harvest”: “These things, these things were here and but the beholder / Wanting” (xii). “Sacramental imagination” in the subtitle is described as “a deeply Catholic perspective on the world, one that sees God manifest throughout the natural, created world” (ix). This perspective is cultivated through “Actions in College Classrooms.” The authors therefore discuss in detail activities in courses that they have taught that relate to the topic of the book. They often quote from students’ journals or essays as a means of demonstrating student learning. They also describe activities that go on outside the classroom, such as trips to museums, personal reflection during the week, and service with nonprofit agencies as additional ways by which the sacramental imagination is cultivated.
Several of these essays have appeared elsewhere, some in publications related to Collegium, a Catholic organization that describes itself as “a colloquy on faith and intellectual life” (http://collegium.org/). (Indeed, the book is featured prominently on the group’s webpage.) The organization, Contemplative Mind in Society, is mentioned, as is the work of Parker Palmer. One, then, could see this book as part of a larger conversation about spirituality and education. Here a Catholic perspective on higher education is brought to bear. Incidentally, two authors have Wabash connections: Angela Kim Harkins was a Wabash fellow, and Anita Houck acknowledges a Wabash colloquy. The title of their essays are both representative: Houck’s “You Are Here: Engagement, Spirituality, and Slow Teaching,” and Harkins’ “Cultivating Empathy and Mindfulness: Religious Praxis.” Other interesting titles (and topics) include economist Peter Alonzi’s “Pauses,” English professor Melissa A. Goldthwaite’s “Rhetorics of Silence: A Pedagogy of Contemplation, Empathy, and Action,” and communications professor Jonathan M. Bowman’s “Mutual Benefice: Helping Students Find God in a Research Methods Course.”
Readers of this resource might be tempted to read only the articles written by professors of theology or religious studies. That approach might be a good entry point to the book, but the treat is to see how teachers in various disciplines are cultivating sacramental imagination in their classrooms. A particularly intriguing example was Stephanie Anne Salomone’s use of a “This I Believe” essay in a geometry course, thus “Linking the Mathematical Axiomatic Method with Personal Belief Systems.”
The concluding sentence of the book was fitting and invites reflection. Jonathan M. Bowman writes, “I have reinvigorated my own experience of transcendence as I teach and mentor my undergraduate students” (313). Reading this book – and pondering its implications for our teaching – can help us too “become beholders.”
Adult Education and Learning in a Precarious Age: The Hamburg Declaration Revisited (New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, Number 138)
Date Reviewed: February 26, 2015
In 1997, the International Conference on Adult Education (CONFINTEA) crafted the visionary Hamburg Declaration on Adult Learning and Agenda for the Future (UNESCO, 1997) claiming that adult education could contribute to “a world in which violent conflict is replaced by dialogue, a culture of peace based on justice . . . and the creation of a learning society committed to social justice and general well-being” (2-3). What is the value of an idealistic treatise like the Hamburg Declaration? And what does it matter to theological education?
Religious education faculty want their teaching to impact student learners and to make a positive difference in their global communities. In an ever-changing world, it is essential that theological educators situate their teaching within the larger sociocultural milieu, recognizing how contextual realities inform and shape both the process and content of adult learning. The Hamburg Declaration demands that educators heed its call and answer its pedagogical implications.
Contributors to this current volume were invited to provide a critical analysis of the Declaration’s core themes, particularly in light of political, social, economic, and cultural transformations occurring throughout the world today (4). They chronicle the challenges and opportunities that adult education has had in issues surrounding democracy, women, literacy, work, environment, technology, international policy, and economics – particularly in the years since the declaration was published. While today’s pressing concerns may differ from those in 1997 – for example, the changing nature of work and unprecedented advances in technology – nevertheless, a review of these themes may be instructive for how educators might examine related issues within the context of religious and theological education.
The Hamburg Declaration follows from the emphases of adult educators such as Brookfield, Freire, Hooks, and Illich, who affirm the political nature of education. Political and social realities do indeed shape the context of student learning. In cultivating appropriate pedagogical strategies to address the most urgent global issues, Adult Education and Learning in a Precarious Age suggests that we pay heed to the process of framing problems and how these inform solutions. Reiterating the emphasis in Hamburg, co-editor Welton affirms an “ethic of dialogue respectful of the different moral and spiritual options” that is “best able to promote the learning process” (17). Such dialogue is essential as teachers engage students in critical reflection of relevant global issues. Yet, the preliminary analysis by the authors of this volume invites further interaction from an explicitly theological perspective.
Although one may question the actual progress made on the concerns identified in the Hamburg Declaration and the role of adult education, this work still serves as timely inspiration for values-driven religious educators who are motivated by the pursuit of truth, justice, and ethics; who long to foster transformative education with impact beyond the classroom. As Nesbit, this volume’s co-editor, asserts, “What is possible is shaped, in part, by our visions” (98).