teaching for transformation
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Transformative Learning and Identity
Date Reviewed: February 26, 2015
The subject of theology and religion is related to the human desire for and experience of transformative inner experience. Contemporary theological education tends to especially draw students who are internally motivated for their own transformation or for facilitating other’s transformation through their ministry. In this sense, Transformative Learning and Identity touches upon the DNA of theological and religious education.
This book is one of the fruits of the author’s research on transformative learning, which developed from another of his books, How We Learn (London, U.K.: Routledge, 2007),a comprehensive account of general learning theory. In Transformative Learning and Identitythe author reviews the theoretical development of the concept of transformative learning through a survey of knowledge and research to “understand and explain how the most rewarding and far-reaching human learning processes take place and why and how they have become so important in today’s world” (xiii). As such, this is not a self-help book with pedagogical strategies.
What the author means by “today’s world” carries the foundational assumptions of this book. He calls this contemporary context late-modernity which includes an economic environment that allows upward mobility among classes heavily dependent on the performance of individuals. For him, this is the context of the individualism from which the quest for identity rises. Individualization provides the possibility “to create one’s totally own existence in the very best and personal way – if only one was able to manage all the many life situations and make the right choices all throughout” (62). With such an ideal of individual choices, the responsibility of one’s own accomplishment of the ideal rests on individual will and capacity. Transformation then becomes a crucial task for individuals to accomplish. Illeris’ main conceptualization follows from Jack Mezirow’s understanding of transformative learning – a process of meaning creation, of which elements like individual experience, critical reflection, dialogues, holistic orientation, awareness of context, and authentic relationships are important building blocks. Using this foundation, Illeris surveys the thoughts of several scholars to further exploration of transformative learning. After a brief survey of psychoanalytic theories of change and a cursory survey of emancipating pedagogical theories including Paulo Freire’s critical theory, and one feminist approach developed in the 1980s, he surveys the theories of Yrjö Engeström, Robert Kegan, Peter Jarvis, and Mark Tennant. Through his analysis of the development of various theories in Part I, he concludes that transformative learning “comprises all learning that implies change in the identity of the learner” (40). Thus, he devotes Part II to identity development through the theories of Erik Erikson, Thomas Ziehe, Kenneth Gergen, Mark Tennant, Etienne Wenger, Pierre Bourdieu, Anthony Giddens, and Zygmunt Bauman. In Part III, he examines transformative learning from different standpoints such as developmental stages, the processes of progressive and regressive transformation, motivation and identity defense, personality and competence, and its habitus as in school, work, individual, and society.
The author’s intent is to build a more authoritative definition of transformative learning through a theoretical survey of the history of the concept. Along with the survey, his understanding of regressive transformative learning is an important contribution. Regressive transformative learning happens when expected progressive transformative learning is frustrated but still results in identity change. When it happens simultaneously with another progressive transformative learning experience, it can result in identity transformation.
There are several points that may need to be augmented to bring out this book’s full potential for religious and theological education. As Illeris writes from his location in Denmark, despite some experience in Teachers College, Columbia University, this work seems to mostly assume a middleclass European or European American context. Hence, it needs to be translated with intercultural sensitivity to find relevance in the context of diversity of cultures, power dynamics, socio-economic classes, and genders in the twenty-first century higher education. A discussion about emancipatory transformation and deeper reflection on critical pedagogies like those of Freire and McLaren would help translate this work into theological school contexts. Another useful dialogue would involve the topic of spirituality. From a Christian point of view, transformative learning can be conceptualized as involving the spiritual engagement of a person.
This book is a helpful theoretical resource for those who want to conceptualize impactful teaching and learning experience. I recommend exploring this book with a theological lens in order to dialogue with the different theories surveyed: it could yield helpful dialogical points that could advance the search for realization of transformative learning in theological school contexts.
Interactive Open Educational Resources: A Guide to Finding, Choosing, and Using What's Out There to Transform College Teaching
Date Reviewed: February 26, 2015
Shank’s Interactive Open Educational Resources is a welcome resource for any educator needing guidance as to how best to employ interactive learning materials (ILMs) in their classroom. The author’s style throughout is that of an encourager. He wants instructors to understand that ILMs are something more than using an online book or PowerPoint presentation. He claims that ILMs have the potential to address “significant modern-day learning challenges such as student preparedness, student
engagement, and attentiveness” (7).
The book is divided into three sections. The first provides an introduction, answering the question “What are Interactive Learning Materials (ILMs).” The second is devoted to “Finding ILMs.” And the last section concerns “Choosing and Using ILMs.”
In the opening section, Shank defines ILMs and their relationship to open educational resources (OERs). He writes that ILMs are not easily defined because they have no universally accepted design and structure. Readers discover that ILMs should be interactive, online, and teach a specific objective or set of objectives. They should also contain one or more of the following processes – “applying, analyzing, and problem solving” (13).
The second part of this book is a resource guide to locate specific ILMs. The author claims that by using specific search strategies, and key digital repositories and libraries, the process of locating ILMs is made easier. A common thread found throughout this section is that of “accessibility.” The author gives priority to sites freely available and user friendly.
Shank identifies specific collections of ILMs – including online educational repositories, media sites, museums, educational institutions, and professional organizations, as well as government and nongovernment agencies. In essence, “knowing where to look will save a lot of time and bring us closer to acquiring the right kinds of resources” (23). For example, the author asserts that MERLOT is a general repository containing thousands of free, peer-reviewed, high-quality ILMs covering most disciplines.
The OER Commons is a similar repository that “functions as a portal for teaching and learning materials around the world” (46). Educators are encouraged to be contributors to the repository’s resources.
Beyond North America, readers are introduced to ARIADNE, a European-based repository committed to the development and exchange of learning resources, and JORUM, a British-based repository.
Universities are another source of high quality ILMs. However, because of their vast numbers, the author suggests starting with institutions with known collections, or where the educator has a personal connection. Shank also expounds on a number of other educational repositories including the North Carolina Learning Object Repository (NCLOR).
The author also encourages educators to give consideration to non-profit organizations like museums, professional organizations, and governmental as well as non-government agencies – groups that have “increasingly integrating interactive learning materials into their online resource offerings to educationists at all levels” (95). Among those highlighted is the Smithsonian Institution that offers innumerable educational resources.
Shank encourages educators to remember the “three main areas of selection criteria – content, engagement, and design (CED) – to evaluate the quality of the identified ILMs” (31). Nonetheless, the overriding consideration should be given to content and accuracy.
In the third part, the author offers suggestions for choosing and using ILMs. He encourages educators to find ILMs that are appealing and address different learning styles. He writes that students will be more likely to spend time concentrating on and engaged with ILMs if their environment is more immersive with materials, entertaining, or compelling (144). ILMs can be incorporated as course blogs, wikis, social networking sites (such as Facebook) and learning management systems (LMS). Instructors could also link ILMs to their online course syllabus.
Shank contends that ILMs provide valuable feedback concerning student performance. Assessment is critical since it shows instructors whether course learning objectives are being achieved and makes the student more accountable for work they do (144). ILMs can also help struggling students to review or come to understand key concepts at their own pace (133). As the author indicates, “the more learning activities engage students, the more likely it is that the ILMs will have robust feedback” (122-123)
Interactive Open Educational Resources is a cutting-edge book that provides transformative approaches to education. It is also a valuable resource guide. It will assist instructors to make a new kind of education possible in the classroom.
Echoes from Freire for a Critically Engaged Pedagogy
Date Reviewed: February 19, 2015
Whose side are we on when we teach (4)? Theological education and religious studies have sometimes been the type of elitist, domesticating education that Paulo Freire warned against – education that supported colonial powers. Peter Mayo’s book is not written specifically for teachers in seminaries or religious studies, but it offers both challenge and resources for profound reflection on issues of the politics of knowledge relevant to all theological and religious work. Mayo calls educators to move toward social justice and revitalization of the public sphere in ways reminiscent of Freire. Through Mayo, readers find companions in liberating movements for an authentically dialogical approach to education. What’s more, Mayo offers encouragement through his awareness of the movements of “globalization from below,” insisting on integration of theory and practice for substantive democracy.
First, Mayo poses pedagogical and philosophical questions situating Freire’s contribution in the tradition of John Dewey’s “education for democracy” (36). Readers must consider Mayo’s judicious acknowledgement of both the excesses and contributions of socialism, Marxism, and Neo-Marxist thought. Furthermore, readers are challenged to consider ways their pedagogy approaches knowledge as dynamic rather than static (92). Next, Mayo explores common ground for potential partnerships rooted in shared work and theory. Postcolonial, peace activist, anti-racism, neo-Marxist, liberation feminist, and other emancipatory educators will find companions in this call to confront the spread of hegemonic global capitalism. Like an invitation to a remarkable symposium, the gift in Mayo’s book is an introduction to the work of key figures who echo Freire including: Lorenzo Milani, Margaret Ledwith, Julius Nyerere, Paula Allman, Antonia Darder, and Henry Giroux. Each of these thinkers invites study in their own diverse contexts. Mayo points out common threads of shared praxis and analysis in their work providing directions for further study and unifying a growing movement.
In this way, Mayo’s book offers encouragement for those engaged in critical, emancipatory work. Despite evidence of increasing militarism and corporate encroachment on daily life, the reader finds sustaining encouragement in growing global movements for social transformation. We are encouraged by robust manifestations of Freire’s influence that extend from Brazil around the world, in places including: Malta, Italy, California, Nottingham, England, Rhode Island, and Tanzania. Mayo illustrates local educators/actors confronting corporate globalization while at the same time weaving together transnational networks of support.
Educators in theology and religious studies will find rich resources for pedagogy that is both critical and emancipatory in this volume. The breadth of voices included and the depth of Mayo’s familiarity with Freire’s ethos and writing spark new dialogue for transformational teaching. Although this book could be accused of being overly ideological, those making such an accusation could be called to examine their own political commitments for complicity with systems of injustice. If teachers were true to Freire’s vision, we would be in conversation with each other across borders and cultural contexts. Mayo both models and invites us to join that work uniting reflection and action.
Problems of xenophobia, racism, and cultural accommodation persist in theological education and religious studies as well as other forms of higher education. Educators interested in political mobilization, community development, and liberating praxis will find Mayo posing key problems in transformative ways.
Last Wednesday most of us opened our cyber-devices to a feed full of news about three young Muslim students in North Carolina who were murdered at home by a gun-toting white neighbor, apparently acting in defense of some deadly cocktail of anti-theist “rationality” and parking-related irrationality. The shooter’s wife ...
Sustainability in HIgher Education: Stories and Strategies for Transformation
Date Reviewed: February 6, 2015
At the risk of sounding trite – this is a good book and is well worth spending some serious time engaging. I approached it with a certain amount of skepticism, but was rapidly converted to the sensibility and obligation of sustainability within the context of higher education. The authors clearly demonstrate that there are a number of ways to approach the challenge, offering practical insight for taking up the task.
The book is divided into six sections, with four articles in each: Leadership and Commitment, Curricular Transformation, Defining the Paradigm for Change, Institutional Mission and the Culture of Sustainability, Accountability, and Professional and Personal Transformation. The authors approach the topic of sustainability from a number of angles and situations. They represent the range of higher education, from the community college to the major research university, both state and private. A careful reading will provide insight into how sustainability can be introduced into the maintenance of physical plants, curricula, teaching practice, and campus life and community. Most importantly, and this is a subtext woven throughout the book, there are multiple, practical descriptions of how a culture of sustainability can be established. Tactics for funding the movement to sustainability are also presented in a number of the narratives.
The section on Accountability was one of the more engaging; if the task of creating a sustainable campus and culture is to be achieved there must be ongoing accountability, at every level. The first chapter, Sustainability Strategic Planning: Establishing Accountability in a World of Distractions (18), by Julie Newman of Yale, describes how “raising the bar” for sustainability was achieved at a large, prestigious and very diverse educational institution. As she puts it, “The course of action from vision to implementation calls for walking a fine line between enabling a creative process of continuous improvement over the long term while setting and achieving incremental, measureable, and impactful goal along the way” (221). Newman’s description of the walk to accountability could easily fit most educational institutions.
Sustainability in Higher Education issues an unwritten challenge to those engaged in religious and theological education. There are no theological schools included in the book. While there is a description of Spelman University’s development of a “wellness program” as one of the ways to sustainability, there is no mention of a spiritual component. Santa Clara University’s Jesuit president, Michael Engh, is cited calling for a more just and sustainable world and for ethical implications being explored, but there is no direct appeal to theological method or thought. In the chapter Living the Questions (22), only two paragraphs were devoted to whether or not spiritual traditions could be engaged (268-9). The vision of creation in Genesis, and the hopefulness God has in it, as witnessed in the Incarnation, might also provide justification for developing cultures of sustainability. Theological educators should consider the challenge, and explore how faith contributes to a culture of sustainability. This is a good book that prods us to think along those lines.