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Enhancing Teaching and Learning Through Collaborative Structures (New Directions for Teaching and Learning, Number 148)
Date Reviewed: November 30, -0001
This volume of collected articles provides snapshots of collaborative teaching and learning in action at US universities. While the authors describe a range of techniques and structures, there is an emphasis throughout on intentionally building and sustaining communities composed of teachers, learners, and even community partners.
Richard A. Gale (“Learning in the Company of Others”) and Jeffrey L. Bernstein, et al. (“How Students, Collaborating as Peer Mentors…”) illustrate the positive effects of collaboration in college courses. Gale succinctly articulates numerous benefits of collaborative teaching, from increasing fruitful ambiguity that can inspire critical thinking, to providing teachers with opportunities for “the systematic investigation of student learning” (21). Bernstein’s experience working with students as peer mentors shows that a collaborative approach to class leadership can embolden students to take risks with low stakes, improving their participation in brainstorming and creative activities.
The majority of authors convincingly demonstrate that collaborative learning offers students benefits far beyond the immediate course or program experience. Ellen G. Galantucci and Erin Marie-Sergison Krcatovich (“Exploring Academia”) emphasize that their experience as undergraduate collaborative learners helped them prepare for their later work in graduate school and as educators. These authors note that the mentoring they received contributed to their professionalization and enabled them to discuss pedagogy confidently on the academic job market.
Multiple articles address the potential for fruitful collaboration with community partners beyond the university. “Collaborative Structures in a Graduate Program,” by Robyn Otty and Lauren Milton, describes a multi-year Centralized Service Learning Model (CSLM) that combined the work of two graduate courses and several community programs. In their article “The Development of a High-Impact Structure: Collaboration in a Service-Learning Program,” Brooke A. Flinders, et al. illustrate students’ internalization of high-impact learning outcomes, including “participation in meaningful work” (44).
One important contribution of this text is the collection of students’ testimonies. A number of the authors asked course participants to complete some form of self-assessment. Overwhemingly, students who worked as peer mentors or group leaders reported gaining confidence, independence, critical thinking skills, and practical experience that could be used in the professional world. In Flinders, et al., “The Development of a High-Impact Structure,” young professionals in the nursing field provided feedback about ways their participation in the service-learning program helped them prepare for clinical work.
This volume offers a wealth of suggestions for designing learning communities; Milton D. Cox’s contribution (“Four Positions of Leadership…”) identifies traits that administrators and facilitators have found to be essential when organizing faculty learning communities. Each article clearly explains its authors’ methodology, making this a helpful resource for teachers who are looking for direction in implementing collaborative learning strategies. While it might have been helpful in some cases to learn more about how community partners assessed the contributions of university teams to their work, overwhelmingly the articles demonstrate that collaborative learning is beneficial for students and teachers. For those looking to build more collaboration into their courses, this set of articles provides inspiration and concrete guidelines
Facilitative Collaborative Knowledge Co-Construction (New Directions for Teaching and Learning, Number 143)
Date Reviewed: August 4, 2016
Facilitative Collaborative Knowledge Co-Construction is the second volume in a series under the Jossey-Bass New Directions for Teaching and Learning imprint (see Carolyn Jones Medine’s review of volume 1, From the Confucian Way to Collaborative Knowledge Co-Construction, posted April 15, 2016). Van Schalkwyk and D’Amato both have experience at the Centre for Teaching and Learning Enhancement at the University of Macau, China. As such, this volume and its predecessor aim at improving the learning experience of Asian students, particularly in Confucian teaching contexts. In the first volume, the “authors provided a framework that was designed to encourage teachers as they move from a Confucian way of teaching toward a more collaborative way of providing a co-constructed knowledge base in the classroom” (i).
“One can certainly train students to memorize facts and follow algorithms, but unless they know what the algorithms mean and when and how to use them, their mastery of the subject is only superficial. Moreover, most of the knowledge that is acquired by rote learning will be lost quickly because it has no connection to anything meaningful in students’ minds and lives” (3), argue the editors. One challenge in considering this volume for use in US-based contexts is that it is firmly aimed at those who have traditionally taught using rote learning and memorization of facts – repeated references to “the Asian classroom” make this clear. One questions the degree to which such methodologies are entrenched among religious and theological educators in this country. Certainly constructivist learning is a challenge for any number of traditional educators, but involving students in problem-solving or helping them see the value of personal reflection and application in their learning is less foreign to many of us.
Where these insights may be useful is in reminding faculty of the unique needs of international students coming from Confucian-based systems. Chapters in this volume focus on the value of constructivist, cooperative, and collaborative learning; relational intelligence; insights from neuropsychology; sociocognitive skills and emotional intelligence; and “engendering critical reflective thinking within a collaborative teaching and learning context” (2-3). Mary M. Chittooran’s chapter on “Reading and Writing for Critical Reflective Thinking,” for example, contextualizes specific tools like questioning, feedback, and the presentation of alternative explanations, demonstrating how each might best be used with Asian students. Chittooran also explores sixteen different reading and writing activities; any of these might spur creative ideas for teaching a variety of students. Helen Y. Sung’s exploration of emotional intelligence offers seventeen suggested questions to help expand students’ emotional fluency.
There is some repetitiveness between chapters, particularly as various authors review the characteristics of Confucian learning environments and how education is changing. This volume may lend itself best to “cherry picking” whatever portions or techniques are needed for a given professor’s context or students. Most of Amato’s chapter on brain-based learning with Yuan Yuan Wang, for example, may translate over to a variety of educational contexts. Their advice that “learners should not be grouped by age but should be grouped by processing or aptitude levels in most learning activities” (55) is as germane in a Biblical languages class as it is in a room full of international students.
Becoming an Embedded Librarian: Making Connections in the Classroom
Date Reviewed: July 15, 2016
It would be easy to become intimidated while reading Michelle Reale’s book. It isn’t just her wealth of practical knowledge and hard won experience that may intimidate the reader, it is the daunting nature of embedded librarianship (EL) itself. Reale writes that “embedded librarianship necessitates the stepping out of an old, comfortable role and embarking on a new way of being, without the safety net of known results” (79). Even so, setting the intimidation factor aside, there are excellent reasons to add this book to your reading list.
The author makes the most of this slim volume, a mere 104 pages, by combining both her personal journey through and scholarly support for her flavor of EL. Tucked in the middle of Reale’s twelve chapters are two chapters discussing educational theory in-depth as it applies to EL. The author’s theoretical foundation is based on Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger’s “community of practice” model of learning. This community work constructs learning through the art of conversation. In addressing the group work that establishes a community of learning Reale writes “learning begins to take shape in community as students are encouraged to think out loud” (37). Her focus is on the librarian encouraging and mediating student communities within the classroom. This approach explains her dedication to in-person EL.
While Reale’s scholarship on the application of educational theory to EL is helpful, it is her personal journey that makes this book special. Reale brings the reader along the path, mitigating neither failure nor success, allowing the individual to decide whether this journey is also for them. The book reads a bit like a suspense novel with the reader wondering whether the hero will survive the next faculty encounter or student misunderstanding. The journey is filled with practical advice including concept mapping – hand out sheets of paper with just circles in them to allow the students to fill in; marketing – quoting Ulla de Stricker “Marketing isn’t our issue. Relationships are” (73); and personal goal setting that helps librarians visualize success.
Reale’s chapters “Relationship Building,” “Clarifying Your Role,” “Establishing a Teaching Style,” “Setting Personal Goals,” and “Personal Branding” are as effective for standard librarianship as they are for EL. Consequently, even if the reader decides the EL journey is not for them the read is still worthwhile.
There was one small negative. It is not evident from the cover that the book discusses only in-class embedding. There is no discussion about online embedding which is becoming more and more relevant with the rapid growth of online education. That in itself is not negative. But this comment juxtaposing online and actual classroom embedding, “I am primarily interested in actual classroom embedding and believe it to be true embedding” (xviii), may lead some to believe Reale is a bit too chauvinistic in her approach. Her comment on one-shot instruction, “The days of one-shot instruction just don’t work anymore,” (8) may add weight to this opinion for those who strive to excel in online embedding or creatively moving forward with one-shot instruction. But considering the value of the rest of the work these are minor concerns.