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Handbook for Higher Education Faculty: A Framework & Principles for Success in Teaching
Date Reviewed: September 13, 2017
As a second year professor at a graduate institution of higher education, David Garrett Way’s Handbook for Higher Education Faculty: A Framework and Principles for Success in Teaching helps me understand my role as a faculty member in higher education. Way’s work synthesizes his forty years of teaching experience with the hope that he can help beginning educators with practical teaching knowledge (6). Way’s goals are to prepare his readers to accomplish a multitude of tasks. First, readers will be able to successfully execute their teaching plans in and out of the classroom. Second, educators will encourage deep and lasting learning in students. Third, educators will effectively assess learning as an authentic process while also documenting all efforts throughout their career. Finally, educators will be prepared to be evaluated by others (13).
Way puts forth his plan in seven well-executed chapters. In Chapter 1, “Teaching and Identity” (15), Way uses the maxim that teaching is to lecturing as being is to doing. Teaching is a larger concept than lecturing and being is a larger concept than doing. The integration of all of these concepts is conversation. Since teaching is about generating conversations, Way proposes that we must understand who we are as beings living in specific identities. While thinking through some teaching techniques such as “warming up” (25) and “think-pair-share” (26), Way uses these concepts to help educators take inventory of their own individual styles and evolving personal theory while putting conversations with students into practice.
Chapter 2, “Reflection and Teaching,” examines the dialogue that educators have between their “Espoused Theory” and their “Theory-in-Use” (32). In essence, Way believes that as educators, we must approach our pedagogy with a theory that we want to embrace (such as fostering dialogue) while being aware when our espoused theory goes awry (such as dominating class time with lecture, thereby squelching dialogue.) In essence, our thinking around our teaching takes continuous time and reflection.
Chapter 3, “The Role of Higher Education in Society” (45), asks one of the most important questions in Way’s work: “(w)hat risks will you be willing to make in your career to remain true to your strongly held values?” (54). Assuming that the humanities and sciences must both engage with society for the betterment of society, Way does not want educators waking up twenty years into a career and asking “How did I get here? Why am I doing these things?” (55).
In Chapter 4, “Preparing to Teach” (57), Way thinks through the macro and micro dimensions of prep work in overall course design and individual class sessions. Reviewing best practices in macro and micro design, Way argues that backwards course design (a concept borrowed from engineering) prompts an educator to begin by deciding what students must accomplish by the course’s end. I found the example of Cornell’s James Maas’s use of varying the stimulus very enlightening. Varying the stimulus in his case means recognizing that the average person’s attention span starts to drift after 10-15 minutes (67). Accordingly, Maas may lecture for ten minutes on an abstract concept and then move to a concrete activity for students to engage.
In Chapter 5, “Creating Effective Learning Experiences” (71), Way examines how educators can plan and execute plans to the point that students desire meaningful and sustained learning that is “transforming, sustained, emotionally charged, surprising, painful, empowering, and fulfilling” (72-73). Way argues that an effective learning experience is a “kind of space – physical, emotional, psychological, intellectual and even spiritual” (73). In Way’s experience, role-playing and simulation are two methods that accomplish this.
Student assessment occurs over time while evaluation is the final cumulative process of assessment. Chapter 6, “Assessing Student Learning and Providing Effective Feedback” (87), provides principles for planning, assessment, rubric development, and peer evaluation. Way concludes his book with Chapter 7, “Professional Development: Document and Measuring Progress” (105), as the culminating push for teachers in higher education to begin accumulating documents and engaging in events that provide a framework for modeling pedagogical growth.
While I thoroughly enjoyed reading and pondering deeply my own pedagogical frameworks, principles, and early experiences in teaching, I was left wondering if there could be a follow up to Way’s text that addresses the gendered nature of teaching. A recent study on student evaluations (“Student Evaluations of Teaching [Mostly] Do Not Measure Teaching Effectiveness” by Anne Boring, Kellie Ottoboni, and Philip Stark) suggests that student evaluations are systematically biased against women. As an African American female professor in higher education, I have already felt the ways gender impacts teaching identity in my own educational experiences. I wonder if there are specific tools, frameworks, and principles that provide female faculty and faculty of color a blueprint for pedagogical success.
Notwithstanding this, I enjoyed reviewing this important work that is crucial for early career faculty.
Critical Pedagogy and Marx, Vygotsky and Freire: Phenomenal Forms and Educational Action Research
Date Reviewed: August 22, 2017
Luis S. Villacaňas de Castro, an assistant professor in the department of Language and Literature Education at the University of Valencia in Spain, wrote Critical Pedagogy and Marx, Vygotsky, and Freire as a companion volume to his earlier book The Copernican Turn and the Social Science, which was published in Spanish in 2013. Villacaňas de Castro writes extensively in epistemology, critical pedagogy, political philosophy, and language education and publishes in both Spanish and English.
This volume has three sections and an introduction. In the introduction, the author explores the Copernican turn, which involves paradigm-shifting theories. He argues that four scientific theories qualify as Copernican turns: Freud’s psychoanalysis; Marx’s works in sociology; Neo-Darwinism; and the Theory of Relativity. Villacaňas de Castro explains that “a Copernican turn thus involves two kinds of knowledge: about the object and the subject; knowledge about specific realities; and also new knowledge about how human beings should understand themselves in relation to those four objects” (2). He argues that each Copernican turn creates epistemological obstacles, and he engages these obstacles through the lens of the German concept Erscheinungsformen, which he translates as phenomenal forms. The author explores “the threats and difficulties that the Erscheinungsformen pose to teaching and learning, and how educators should negotiate these obstacles” (5). Villacaňas de Castro uses the works of Marx, Vygotsky, and Freire to translate the epistemological obstacles into pedagogical problems and then engages pedagogical approaches to solve the problems (7). The author argues that these pedagogical approaches justify participatory action research as the most effective educational approach.
The first section deals with Marx, Freud, and pedagogy. In Chapter I, Villacaňas de Castro introduces the major concepts of Marxist sociology and Freudian psychoanalysis in terms of pedagogical approaches to address the epistemological obstacles. Section II explores epistemology, critical pedagogy, and the liberal principle. The two chapters in this section engage concepts from Marx and Vygotsky to unpack and engage Erscheinungsformen. Villacaňas de Castro argues that this chapter reveals “a theoretical blind spot in Vygotsky’s pedagogy…which it is in the interests of critical pedagogues to resolve” (46). The work of Freire becomes key as Villacaňas de Castro develops this critical pedagogy in the form of social democracy.
The last part of the book, Section III, explores the theory and practice of educational action research. Using Freire’s pedagogical approach and John Elliott’s liberal pedagogy, the author concludes “that John Elliott does not provide educators with a liberal pedagogy, but rather an appropriate method for them to fulfill their main critical goal: to help students understand the nature of the key subject matters that determine their life in society” (114). This supports Villacaňas de Castro’s argument and he concludes that participatory meta-action research is “an effective measure to break the vicious circle both students and I have fallen into” (144).
This book is a very complex and abstract argument. Villacaňas de Castro’s academic writing style will throw off many readers. His sentence structures are very long (including a 141-word sentence on pages 86 and 87) with many embedded clauses. This makes attempting to unpack the already difficult concepts of Marx, Vygotsky, and Freire more challenging. However, the author develops a solid case for a stronger critical pedagogy rooted in participatory action research.
Theological libraries that support programs with components of theological methodology should add this text to their collections. In addition, faculty and graduate students who are working with participatory action research should read this book to explore the epistemological foundations of their methodology.
Visible Learning and the Science of How We Learn
Date Reviewed: February 12, 2015
Visible Learning and the Science of How We Learn is an accessible volume that reinforces the concept of “visible learning” previously presented in Hattie’s 2009 Visible Learning (VLT) with supporting research and interpretations from the fields of education, sociology, and neuroscience. While some of the supporting research is new, the authors also harken to longstanding, now standard, studies on various topics. The writing is concise (most of the 31 chapters are about six pages) and the organization of the book allows it to be used as a compendium on topics related to learning and teaching.
The book is organized using nine overarching principles that connect learning theory and teaching under three main sections: (1) learning within classrooms, (2) selected topics in learning theory, and (3) a theme of “know thyself” (self-esteem, competence, self-knowledge, and metacognition). Along the way Hattie and Yates address trendy but dubious ideas in education, such as learning styles, multitasking, and uncritical ideas about instructional technology and the Internet.
This volume is among those that make the shift from a focus on the teacher and on the act of teaching, to the learner, the processes whereby learning actually happens, and impediments to learning. The working assumption is “achievement in schools is maximized when teachers see learning through the eyes of students, and when students see learning through the eyes of themselves as teachers” (xi). The value in this perspective is helping teachers understand the experience of learning on the part of the learner. Understanding and appreciating what goes on “inside the head of the learner,” can help instructors make learning “visible.” This means that teachers can design learning experiences to match how students actually learn, not how they may assume their students learn. The goal is to help teachers act with informed intention.
While there is not much new in terms of learning theory, the book has value to theological educators in several regards. First, it is a good primer on pedagogy and current research on learning for instructors who do not have a background in learning theory. Second, the book provides motivational reinforcement for the importance of making the switch from teacher-focused instruction to student-centered learning. The book does so in a balanced manner, citing supportive research for both the importance of the teacher’s role and behavior in the classroom (effective use of direct instruction, the role of feedback, and so forth) and the necessity of focusing on student attention and engagement in the process of learning (cognitive load, attention, memory, motivation, and how knowledge and skills are acquired by learners). Third, several chapters touch on issues of concern particularly important to the theological and religious studies contexts. For example, Chapter 4 deals with the personality of the teacher and trust; Chapter 21 explores research and myths about students as “digital natives” and the impact of instructional technology and the Internet (Chapter 22 is titled, “Is the Internet turning us into shallow thinkers?”). Part 3, Know Thyself, focuses on the affective dynamics of teaching and learning, an issue which is consistently undervalued but is critical to matters of belief, faith, and self-understanding (formation).
This is a worthwhile and useful volume. It covers the field of what makes teachers effective in the classroom. Its strength is in (1) making often complex concepts accessible in both writing and the format of the book; (2) providing balanced, research-informed coverage of concepts related to the complex acts of teaching and learning, and (3) helping teachers and instructors make the shift from over-focusing on the teaching act to appreciation and understanding of the process of learning as experienced by students.
Introduction to Applied Creative Thinking: Taking Control of Your Future
Date Reviewed: January 19, 2015
Creativity and pedagogical competency are paradigmatic phrases in the ever-changing arena of academics. With the advent of online learning and degree-completion programs, traditional academic institutions have found themselves scrambling to meet the educational needs of diverse populations. For in-seat programs, the most fundamental yet also foundational change has occurred in how faculty view themselves in the classroom. A host of questions arise as faculty wrestle with their own teaching identity. Are we lecturers? Are we project facilitators? Do we allow the students to guide the curriculum? How do we promote academic competency while also honoring cultural diversity? As the designers of the Applied Creative Thinking program and Noel Studio at Eastern Kentucky University, the authors of this volume see their work not as the evolution of a new theory, such as social learning theory or distributed cognition, as much as the genesis of “an emerging creative literacy” (viii). They firmly believe that we have the ability to be creative established within us, and that we “get better applying creativity the more practice [we] have doing it” (xi). Therefore, this book is built on an argument that “creativity is a set of learnable skills” (xi).
Designed as the student manual for a course in creative thinking, this volume can be divided into three major sections: theory, strategies, and implementation. The first section consists of the first five chapters. In it the authors define four major perspectives of creativity − process, person, press, and product − and introduce the concept of recursiveness. This opening section provides the foundation for the subsequent chapters in which the authors address additional issues related to creative thinking, such as whether creativity can be taught and some common myths regarding creativity. The next major section (chapters 6 to 14) describes various strategies for developing creativity (such as piggybacking, collaborating, and using metaphors). The final section (chapters 15 to 21) discusses how to develop a creative environment, including chapters on developing a creative strategy and creative uses of media and technology. The volume is composed more like a workbook than a textbook, and each chapter includes a concept list, creative exercises, and a bibliography for further reading.
One might expect this volume to be written for faculty interested in becoming more creative in their teaching discipline or who are interested in integrating creative thinking strategies into their curriculum or course design. It took reading only the first lines to realize that this volume is, in fact, oriented toward students who are either involved in a course focusing on creative writing or contemporary leadership strategies (or are simply interested in becoming more creatively competent). Once I recognized that the volume was student rather than professor focused, I found it to be quite helpful for reflecting on how creativity is a process that must be engineered by the student, and how to implement the strategic parameters of creative thinking as a professor. As an instructor interested in developing my creative competency, I was elated to discover that the authors, along with Shawn Apostel, published a companion volume for instructors in February 2013, titled Teaching Applied Creative Thinking: A New Pedagogy for the 21st Century.