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Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning
Date Reviewed: November 30, -0001
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.
Best Practices for Flipping the College Classroom
Date Reviewed: May 13, 2016
On one hand, lectures are ethically questionable. On the other, lectures are essential. So much depends on the details. Personal style, class size, topic du jour, student readiness to explore topics, and so forth. A lecture is necessary in ...
I have a confession to make: I have flipped my courses and agree with Waldrop and Bowdon that using lecture classes as a control in future experiments is probably unethical.
On one hand, lectures are ethically questionable. On the other, lectures are essential. So much depends on the details. Personal style, class size, topic du jour, student readiness to explore topics, and so forth. A lecture is necessary in order to deliver particular skills and concepts.
In the flipped learning model, educators are more important than ever and teaching can be even more demanding. This is where Best Practices for Flipping the College Classroom speaks to instructors in higher education. The editors have gathered strategies “across a broad spectrum of academic disciplines, physical environments, and student populations…. [in the] hope that this book will inspire further research in other disciplines” (12).
Chapters are case studies, with each course described in terms of format, enrollment, instructor’s strategies, and research methods. Each chapter ends with practical suggestions. The disciplines include chemistry and calculus (chapters 2, 3), nursing and psychology (chapters 4, 6), history and economics (chapters 5, 8). A marketing course is covered in chapter 7 and a creativity class in chapter 9. The case studies are bookended by a helpful Introduction, “Joining the Flipped Classroom Conversation” (chapter 1), and two closing chapters: “Student Practices and Perceptions” (chapter 10) and “Conclusion: Reflecting on the Flipping Experience” (chapter 11).
Katherine Sauer’s description of her work in her microeconomics classroom (chapter 8) is of particular interest. What she does in her discipline informs and echoes much of what I do as a professor of religious studies. Her fundamental question is simply this: “In order to help my students learn, what is the best use of my face-to-face time with them?” (112).
Sauer provides a worksheet to help instructors identify course learning outcomes, intermediate objectives, key terms, and ideas. She also notes the importance of reading guides and careful development of “pre-class materials” (homework assignments in its many forms, from readings to videos to screencasts). Students come to class prepared for work. It is her contention that prepared students are incentivized; students use their completed reading guides (notes!) for success with short quizzes at the very beginning of class. While she does not explicitly reference Bloom’s Taxonomy, she pushes lower levels of the taxonomy (such as quiz content) outside the classroom. She uses class time for activity that is identified by upper levels of the taxonomy: application, analysis, evaluation, and creation. The result is that more material gets covered. Students spend more time outside of class with the material, students arrive prepared, and the class as a whole is ready for work. The classroom becomes a lab (my word, not hers) for active learning through critical thinking, collaboration, and reflection. Students are “primed,” instruction is spontaneous and relevant, and instructors think on their feet.
The conclusion (chapter 11) provides the authors’ perspectives on key issues: (1) motivations for flipping, (2) favorite techniques and strategies, (3) motivating students to prepare for class, (4) benefits, challenges, and rewards, and (5) types of support needed. The editors wrap up with final words of advice (151-154). This could serve as both a helpful reference and “go to” guide for flipping a classroom. They write, “prepare to be impressed with what your students produce” (154). Flipping a classroom is not for the faint of heart, but it will enliven your teaching and put you in good company.
Live Online Learning: Strategies for the Web Conferencing Classroom
Date Reviewed: October 15, 2015
For many reasons, universities and seminaries are asking faculty to teach more courses online. As a result, professors are ever vigilant for online strategies and tools that could help them with communication, interaction, and live online collaboration between professor and learners, learner and learner, and learners and course content. For professors in religious studies and theology who want to or are required to teach live online, this book is a good place to start. Based on years of research and experience, Cornelius, Gordon, and Schyma propose best practice guidelines in using web conferencing technology and provide helpful tips for teaching that is learner centered. Each of the ten chapters begins with an outline and concludes with a helpful summary.
The usefulness of this book is its breadth in the coverage of materials for teaching in a web conference classroom. Chapter 1 covers creating the virtual classroom environment by using web conferencing technology to create the learning space that inspires learning and teaching. Chapters 2 to 8 follow, in a logical manner, the actual design of a live online course and cover preparation to teach in a virtual classroom, welcoming students to the virtual classroom, bringing professor and students together to the learning space, engaging learners, gaining feedback, helping learners work together, and assessing for learning. The authors conclude in chapters 9 and 10 with thoughts and tools to help professors assess their skills in the live online teaching environment and creative and inclusive ways of using web conferencing technology to support diverse groups of learners.
Within each chapter there is a wealth of information and practical suggestions. From the beginning to the end the authors cover topics and practices such as: creating learning space, strategies to inspire students and professor, exploring the technology, planning live online sessions, building trust and rapport, engaging learners through activities, collaboration and group work, effective group activities, and student centered assessment. For instance, chapter 5 provides a good example of the breadth of information as it relates to engaging learners. The authors explain the importance of engaging learners; give examples of activities that can be used in any context, followed by step-by-step practical ways to introduce learning activities and activities that maintain student engagement. What is further helpful in this chapter and each of the chapters in the book is the way the authors cleverly interweave their narrative with actual teaching and learning experiences from teachers and learners that gives genuineness to the teaching and learning situation.
In summary, Live Online Learning Strategies for the Web Conferencing Classroom succeedsbecause of thebreadth of information and depth of its application. Because it is written in non-technical language, this book will be especially helpful for new instructors who are beginning to teach online live. Its focus on teaching and learning issues and student-centered learning is a welcomed resource.