Select an item by clicking its checkbox
Designing Transformative Multicultural Initiatives: Theoretical Foundations, Practical Applications, and Facilitator Considerations
Date Reviewed: March 3, 2016
Sherry K. Watt has assembled talented “conscious scholar practitioners” to address the growing need to design university policies, programming, and classroom pedagogies that address difference. This book addresses both the theoretical and practical aspects of multicultural teaching. As the preferred term “conscious scholar practitioners” suggests, both aspects are vital for developing multicultural policies and teaching practices. Watt explicitly places the book within the model of radical pedagogy most commonly associated with Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed and bell hooks’ conception of teaching for liberation. The challenge of the book is to translate the theoretical principles of this tradition into policies that shape institutions and to provide practical models for how these principles can be actualized on today’s university campuses.
The book is organized into four parts. The first part lays out the guiding principles for transformative multicultural initiatives. Here the main terms found throughout the volume are laid out clearly and the general theoretical ground is set. Part two moves to the practical question of design and provides helpful tools that should be used during the beginning phases of design as well as how best to evaluate such programs at their conclusion. Since assessment is often difficult to conceive of in the midst of radical pedagogical models, this section struck me as particularly helpful for navigating such a pedagogy within the managerial space of the contemporary university. Part three provides six case-studies in which conscious scholar practitioners present their own programs. This is a valuable section because of the examples given, but perhaps most importantly because they offer valuable lessons learned in their unflinching self-analysis of their programs. Part four provides important reflections on the institutional challenges that exist for those trying to carry out the programs advocated and modeled in the volume. While reading this chapter I had hoped for more constructive advice for dealing with the various forms of institutional and individual resistance to multicultural initiatives, but many of the stories in these chapters highlight the main forms of resistance to radical pedagogical models in the contemporary university.
This volume is not specifically directed towards educators in theology and religious studies. However, all of the chapters are intended to be adaptable to various contexts. For those scholars who want to deepen and center difference in their classroom and across their university this book strikes me as incredibly valuable. For departments of theology and religious studies seeking to form stronger links with other departments, staff members, and administrators, this volume can provide a common vocabulary and methodology. The volume may in fact be most valuable as a model that can facilitate interdisciplinary work as special attention is paid to multicultural initiatives within the physical and mathematical sciences. These fields are often neglected in radical pedagogy models, but as theologians and scholars of religion are encouraged to carry out more interdisciplinary teaching this volume may help frame such work within radical pedagogical models.
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.
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.