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A conversation about the benefits, possibilities, and challenges of teaching online with Dr. Roger Nam of George Fox University, Dr. Eric Barreto of Luther Seminary, and Dr. Kate Blanchard of Alma College.
Enhancing and Expanding Undergraduate Research: A Systems Approach (New Directions for Higher Education, Number 169)
Date Reviewed: March 4, 2016
The Council for Undergraduate Research (CUR) wonders why undergraduate research (UR) – which has been shown to increase student retention, graduation rates, and post-graduation achievement – is not practiced more broadly. What can be done to encourage this pedagogical shift? This book advances the cause by providing a reference for academic decision makers showing the benefits of UR, featuring systems and consortia that have successfully implemented the practice.
CUR has championed undergraduate research from 1978 to the present, through publications, awards, and outreach activities, such as holding workshops for consortium leaders. This book is an overview of a series of workshops in which six particular systems and consortia participated. There is a chapter from each workshop with a synopsis of their UR experience and a focus on distinct aspects. The workshop participants included: California State University System (CSU), University of Wisconsin System (UW), the Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges (COPLAC), Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE), City University of New York System (CUNY), and the Great Lakes College Association (GLCA).
The editors arranged the volume so that the first chapter provides an introduction to CUR and the workshops that brought these groups together, providing a context for the book with specific topics following. Chapter 2 introduces the effective system/consortia practices found across the six groups in focus. Chapters 3 through 8 focus on the experiences and successes of these particular groups. Chapter 3 highlights the increased success of underrepresented students through UR at CSU and Chapter 4 illustrates how at UW it positively affected economic development in the region. Chapter 5 considers the impact on faculty workload and compensation at COPLAC, while Chapter 6 addresses meeting fiscal and enrollment challenges through successful institutionalization at PASSHE. In Chapter 7, CUNY shares their funding strategies, with Chapter 8 revealing how GLCA incorporated research skills into their curriculum. The book concludes with Chapter 9, which considers which aspects of UR belong at the campus level and which are better suited for the systems and consortia.
This compilation reveals how challenges such as faculty and administrative support, funding, and changing institutional culture can be overcome through creating UR system leaders and strategic plans. In these examples, this was accomplished through CUR workshops, outside funding, community support, successful program branding, UR offices, and by providing consistent and meaningful communication to stakeholders. By having the six different groups share their own challenges and strategies, the book successfully models the viability of UR and provides concrete examples others can build on to create their own programs. An additional strength is also a weakness – the compact nature of the book is appreciable, but leaves the reader wishing that some of the topics had been expanded.
This work is an invaluable resource for higher education decision-makers considering whether to incorporate or expand UR on their college campuses, as they consider creative and attainable solutions to the changing academic landscape.
Class Not Dismissed: Reflections on Undergraduate Education and Teaching the Liberal Arts
Date Reviewed: August 14, 2015
Entering his career as a high-flying yet narrowly trained graduate researcher in astronomy, Aveni’s engagement with students in his discipline and in the interdisciplinary context of liberal arts education has seen his own research flourish -- as indicated by his full title as Russell Colgate Distinguished Professor of Astronomy, Anthropology, and Native American Studies at Colgate University. That this flourishing has been driven by continually seeking ways to entice his students to enjoy and collaborate in learning and research, rather than by dint of solely private endeavor against the grain of his teaching commitments, is marvelously set out in his tales of fieldtrips, flunked comet observations, and explosive co-teaching assignments.
Teachers of religion and theology may find themselves under increasing pressure to justify their place in the liberal arts context. Aveni shows clearly how imagination and good teaching practices can both competitively enhance a discipline’s standing and co-operatively benefit collegial efforts in other areas. My particular interest in the book arises from the challenge of leading general education redesign efforts at an institution where religion and theology are deeply cherished. I have needed to imagine how other disciplines can enrich my teaching of theology as integral to a liberal arts education. Aveni, with a lifetime of experience, has been helpful both practically and philosophically as I approach my local task. For example, where we emphasize interdisciplinary integration with some co-teaching and team teaching, Aveni looks at those arrangements as more beneficial when disintegrative – that is, when conflict between teachers generates a learning opportunity for students.
Those not yet inducted to the professional discourse on general education and the liberal arts will find this text a winsome entry, shorn as it is of the social science research-speak that can clog the fluency of that vital conversation. Aveni is a dedicated practitioner, demonstrating in his own prose the liberal arts skills that should be demanded even of those in STEM.
Aveni questions the commodification of education in his last full chapter: “Education just isn’t a commodity, and I don’t think students in the midst of a classroom experience can fully judge its value” (175). He is, at the same time, also able to take the long view on teaching evaluations to recognize their relative worth. He is not a traditionalist in the sense of insisting on a classical western canon, claiming that its proponents, such as Allan Bloom, are “many whose backgrounds demonstrate a profound lack of inquiry into cultural ideals other than their own” (183). Readers will be rewarded with this kind of punchy delivery that invites learning by agreement or disagreement, but not through over-complication and obfuscation. Aveni writes as a generous peer. He is quick to recognize the importance of senior mentors, alongside mundane realities of budgetary constraints, innovative grant-seeking, and teaching driven by research. Throughout, the author’s wit and humor stand out, but readers will be struck most of all by his care for his students.