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147 practical Tips for Emerging Scholars: From Publishing to Time Management, Grant Seeking, and Beyond
Date Reviewed: June 15, 2016
The authors of 147 Practical Tips for Emerging Scholars describe their work as offering much “to initiate or advance your success as a scholar, and nothing to lose as you invest a short time to read it” (22). This is a bold claim for a slender volume. However, this clear, honest, unpretentious work lives up to that promise. Authors Kathleen King and Ann Cranston-Gingras identify a key problem with the structure of academia: Those who seek to engage with it too often find themselves without guidance: the professional lives of doctoral faculty, new faculty, and experienced faculty (the three groups the book addresses) are often unsupervised and lack critical guidance for developing and establishing professional reputations, maintaining schedules, pursuing tenure, and avoiding mistakes.
Guidance for making good professional decisions is what 147 Practical Tips seeks to provide. The key word which characterizes these tips is “practical”; the tips range from advice about scheduling to reminders to spell-check all correspondence. Some of the tips are about personal development; the authors focus not just on writing, but writing well, learning to vary styles and approaches. Others concern etiquette, with the dos and don’ts of collaborating with peers and contacting publication editors. The final section encourages scholars to apply this knowledge in the service of other emerging scholars, becoming the mentors to students and colleagues we wish we had had. Throughout, there is the acknowledgment that not all of the tips are relevant to all persons at all times; instead, King and Cranston-Gingras intend this to be a re-read resource, to be returned to as often as necessary.
Though both authors work in education departments, the tips are meant to be applicable across disciplines – which is one of the book’s unfortunate weaknesses, as most tips are by necessity wholly unspecific. In addition, the section on technology already feels a touch outdated, as though it were targeted to an older audience, one which could use reminders that Dropbox can facilitate collaboration and all-caps text reads like shouting.
For a short, cross-discipline guidebook, however, this book provides a significant amount of helpful hints and general guidance. Even in its limited scope, it encourages readers to take the extra steps they need to learn about publications, trends, and significant works inside their own disciplines, and then to apply the information here as necessary. The advice is often simple but rarely simplistic; even the most basic suggestions are good reminders of things too easy to forget in what can be chaotic pursuits. An emerging scholar myself, I would recommend this book to others on the path to establishing academic careers, and I expect to find myself opening it again.
Building a Pathway for Student Learning: A How-To Guide to Course Design
Date Reviewed: March 14, 2016
There are many important discussions happening in the academy about how to re-envision the student experience in order to provide better learning opportunities. The culture of higher education is undergoing a shift from an instruction-centered model to a learning or student-centered paradigm. These discussions are extremely significant in that they force faculty to re-evaluate and re-envision the traditional models – and ultimately lead to a more thorough and permanent education for the students. However, many of these studies are difficult since ways of applying these new theoretical models is often not immediately obvious. In Building a Pathway for Student Learning, Jones, Noyd, and Sagendorf have compiled a comprehensive and effective workbook addressing this lack.
The workbook represents the results of a faculty development course design retreat that the authors have conducted for the last several years. This is not a book about course design, it is a systematic workbook giving direction for designing a learning-centered course in any discipline. At every stage in the course design process, the reader is reminded that, “our success ultimately comes not from what we as instructors are able to do but from what our students learn as a result of taking our courses” (9). To this end, the following pathway is suggested for effective course design. First, know the students you will teach. Second, identify the course learning goals. Third, build a summative assessment to determine the extent to which students have accomplished the learning goals. Fourth, develop a list of learning proficiencies that are required to successfully accomplish the learning goals, and then sequence them. Fifth, create learning experiences that will allow students to build and develop the central proficiencies, and to accomplish the learning goals. Sixth, construct several formative assessments, and use them to evaluate student progress toward the core proficiencies, which will encourage student improvement.
After going through each of these stages, the authors lead the reader through two synthetic activities: creating a course poster and syllabus. The course poster assembles the learning experiences to be utilized in class, the proficiencies that will be developed, the way these proficiencies will be assessed, and the goal of the class, in order to ensure coherence and alignment within the course, and to transparently display the structure of the course to students. The syllabus is envisioned as a tool to demonstrate the learning-centered design of the course, not just the course policies and assignments. Each of these synthetic steps is aided by the use of the companion website.
The workbook has much to commend. First, each chapter contains a helpful and thorough survey of the more significant research on the topic under consideration. Second, the system suggested to redesign courses is logically ordered, and effective. Third, at several key points the authors suggest proactive ways of finding evaluation of stages in the course design from colleagues. Most importantly, the authors recognize that effective course design has to be a flexible system; they do not claim to have all the answers for how every course can best be structured, rather they provide a series of guiding questions so that individual instructors can think through how to order their classes so that they effectively take students from wherever they begin, to the acquisition of central proficiencies and the accomplishment of learning goals, whatever the discipline. For these reasons, this book should be essential for anyone developing or revising courses towards a learning-centered model.
Facilitating Seven Ways of Learning: A Resource for More Purposeful, Effective, and Enjoyable College Teaching
Date Reviewed: December 23, 2015
Two university educators who have led campus teaching and learning centers and worked as academic administrators have served us all well with their Facilitating Seven Ways of Learning. Davis and Arend seek explicitly to connect teaching practices to specific learning goals chosen for university classes. Not only do I recommend this book to you, but I will use it in my January PhD Teaching Seminar.
At times the language of the book is a bit grand, talking about being “trapped” in a “lecture paradigm” with an “obsolete” view of learning (5, 8). They claim “confusion reigns as the paradigm crumbles (15).” I forgive them, for it does not continue too long. Perhaps the assumption was that a grand view was necessary to sell books to skeptical readers. Nevertheless, the book delivers what it promises: to help faculty, trained as scholars, researchers, and writers, to focus additionally on being effective teachers concerned about learning – for citizenship, personal development, and the ongoing generation of knowledge.
Conversation about teaching is increasing in graduate schools, professional schools, and universities. At a recent consultation, I heard faculty members talk among themselves about how they trusted their colleagues, knew that individual classes were faithful and effective, and yet were concerned that their overall curricular goal for critical, integrative practical theological wisdom was not occurring. One mentioned that they all worked hard at fulfilling goals for individual classes, but had not attended to specific integrative commitments of their curriculum together. Facilitating Seven Ways of Learning is a way to begin addressing that concern.
After assisting faculty to define course learning goals, the authors take seven explicit learning commitments and demonstrate effective pedagogical practices. The seven ways of learning are: building skills; acquiring knowledge; developing critical, creative, and dialogical thinking; cultivating problem-solving and decision-making abilities; exploring attitudes, feelings, and perspectives; practicing professional judgment; and reflecting on experience. One can see the influence of Bloom and Shulman here. The authors help faculty clarify how learning goals connect with these seven ways of learning and offer concrete strategies for teaching. To quibble: I am not certain that simply reflecting on experience is a goal. Is it not more a learning strategy for professional judgment, acquiring knowledge, or practicing decision-making skills? Regardless, this book will generate conversation among faculty members and will assist them to make the move from learning commitments to classroom strategies.
As mentioned, I will use this book in my next PhD teaching seminar. Faculty are committed to assisting doctoral students to consider the vocation of teaching, connect academic study with teaching, and gain practical skill in course design and teaching practices. I have brought together bibliographies on theological education, course design, and learning strategies that I routinely share with graduate students. With Facilitating Seven Ways of Learning, students can practice naming commitments of their disciplines and their own scholarship, explore the learning goals they have for their students, dialogue with faculty mentors about the particular concerns of classes, and connect teaching practices to learning commitments. Clearly this book was written after years of experience in a college teaching center, empowering faculty colleagues. I recommend it.
Building Catholic Higher Education: Unofficial Reflections from the University of Notre Dame
Date Reviewed: December 16, 2015
In this slim volume, Christian Smith, a sociologist of religion on the faculty of the University of Notre Dame, takes on a pivotal question for the future of Catholic higher education: faculty engagement with Catholic intellectual tradition. Exploring the convergence of Notre Dame’s three strategic goals – to provide an unparalleled undergraduate education, to gain recognition as a globally premier research university, and to remain thoroughly and distinctively Catholic – Smith brings into sharp focus two fundamental issues: (1) that any faith-grounded university’s capacity to fulfill its mission rises and falls on the knowledge, quality, and dispositions of its faculty; and, (2) that Catholic universities must wrestle with how their faculties engage Catholic intellectual tradition in their academic disciplines. His wrestling with these issues makes the book worth reading for anyone involved in faith-based higher education.
In the first chapter Smith lays out the texts from which he will work: the University of Notre Dame’s mission statement, Fr. John Jenkins’ inaugural presidential address, excerpts from Jenkins’ annual addresses to faculty, and Provost Tom Burish’s letter announcing a committee to explore hiring outstanding Catholic faculty. In four subsequent chapters Smith details the assumptions behind these texts with their implications for faculty; elaborates a range of ways that faculty, whether Catholic or not, can support Notre Dame’s mission; proposes what the pursuit of social science disciplines might entail in a context where Catholicism matters; and, takes a hard look at whether it is possible for Notre Dame, or any other faith-grounded university, to pursue three goals simultaneously – unparalleled undergraduate education, premier research status, and robust engagement with the Catholic thought across all disciplines. (He doubts that it is.) A paper by John Cavadini on the role of theology in a Catholic college or university serves as the appendix.
Smith’s dialectical approach emphasizes boundaries. He asserts that universities “cannot meaningfully call themselves ‘Catholic’” unless “Catholicism as a distinctive approach to life and the world” significantly influences intellectual inquiry, scholarship, and teaching; initiatives in valuing social justice or in spiritual formation will not suffice (65). His chapter detailing the “tensions, trade-offs, and dangers” involved in attempting to achieve excellence in undergraduate education and premier research status “in an institutional, cultural, and pedagogical context that is robustly Catholic” is refreshingly practical and pragmatic (78). Smith recognizes the challenge involved in an academic department attempting to maintain coherence with some faculty focused on teaching, others on research, and still others on Catholic dimensions of a discipline.
At points Smith is nostalgic for an era when Catholic universities were Catholic by virtue of their enmeshment in the webs of a subculture. He is far more anxious about the prospects for maintaining the Catholic character of universities than is John Haughey, S.J., whose Where is Knowing Going? The Horizons of the Knowing Subject (Georgetown University Press, 2009) offers an alternative, analogical approach to the question. Still, Smith makes his case that Catholic universities cannot maintain a robust Catholic identity without a critical mass of faculty members who both understand and engage Catholic thought and life critically and faithfully. Read together, Smith and Haughey could animate a vital conversation in which Catholic college and university faculties need to participate.
Starting Strong (A Mentoring Fable): Strategies for Success in the First 90 Days
Date Reviewed: December 16, 2015
Lois J. Zachary and Lory A. Fischler’s Starting Strong is an accessible book that has varying use depending on one’s institution. The book is composed in two sections. The first is a fable situated within a large corporation that has multiple divisions and an official mentoring program. The main characters are Cynthia, a VP of Marketing and Communications, and Rafa, a newly hired financial analyst. The fable follows them through six mentoring conversations and maps their mutual development. The second section is a summary and strategy for having those same conversations in your own mentoring relationships. Zachary and Fischler’s writing is easily absorbed and their ideas about mentoring presented in the form of a dialogue allow readers to imagine themselves in similar conversations whether they are a mentor or mentee. Scholars who are in institutions with formalized mentorship programs may find this to be a helpful book because it can assist with structuring early mentorship meetings, setting boundaries and goals, and setting the stage for both mentors and mentees to benefit from a mentoring relationship from the beginning.
Starting Strong’s weakness for those teaching and learning in Religious Studies and Theology is that the book’s corporate setting results in some mentoring relationships that are hard – if not impossible – to copy to the relationships in which most professional academics will engage. For example, Cynthia has no power over Rafa. She is only a mentor, there for his development. This model excludes the teacher-student relationship in which mentoring takes place -- where assessment is a significant obstacle to overcome toward building rapport with students. So long as teachers hold the power to evaluate students, then the mentorship relationship Zachary and Fischler imagine does not happen in academia. By the same token, unless your institution has a formalized mentorship program that explicitly takes people out of their colleges and departments and into relationships with people in other faculties, the risks to tenure and promotion from a mentor who works closely with one’s supervisors does not allow for the kinds of open exchanges and risks Cynthia and Rafa take in developing Rafa’s leadership skills. Zachary and Fischler did not write this book for academics, but if academics are going to think about mentorship and the development of students and faculty then the question of how that might be done within higher education’s hierarchies needs to be asked.
It is worth the time to think about how to formalize mentorship programs into specific institutions – both for students and faculty – and this book can help once those programs are implemented. For those who are looking for a book that can help start the process of mentoring someone, including graduate students, then this is a useful book to mine for ideas, especially the second section in which the authors summarize the conversations one needs to have to achieve mentoring success in the first ninety days. I recommend Starting Strong as a resource for graduate student supervisors, but its assumptions do not translate as well into undergraduate mentorship.