Monday, December 17, 2012

Review: The Elements of College Teaching

Irving, David K. (2011). Elements of College Teaching. Atwood Publishing.

Reviewed by: Melanie Santarossa,
                       Faculty and Curriculum Development Centre,
                       OCAD University

The aim of David K. Irving’s The Elements of College Teaching is to provide new and seasoned teachers with a comprehensive guide to the basic elements of teaching in colleges and universities. A “how-to” book is a useful resource in teaching and learning circles, however, it is important to note that the scope of Irving’s text is more fruitful for those new to the teaching profession. First-time teachers entering colleges and universities would benefit from the information contained in Irving’s book as he provides concise guidelines on how new teachers can develop assignments, prepare for classes, and evaluate student performance. In this way, the contents of the book will age gracefully given that, for new educators, The Elements of College Teaching would remain a useful beginner’s guide to navigating the higher educational teaching experience. In reviewing this book as a “how-to” guide for beginner teachers, it must be said that a shortcoming of this resource is its lack of examples. That is, although Irving uses personal anecdotes to frame the basic instructions on how to create a syllabus or grading rubric, a new teacher would better profit from examples of a well-constructed syllabus or grading rubric. Despite the limitations to the text, The Elements of College Teaching will serve as a practical resource for new university and college faculty who are without departmental training or professional development support.

Review: Job Search in Academe.

Reviewed by: Alice Cassidy,
                         In View Education and Professional Development

Maybe I’m not the ideal reviewer of this book. The subtitle is this:  How to get the position you deserve. I am not sure I would agree that this is ever true for anyone. Then again, I have always liked the line in the Rolling Stones song, “you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you might find you get what you need”. I offered to review this book a short while back while I was preparing a session for the 2012 EDC conference in Halifax called “Networking for fun and profit:  Build your own rainbow”, in which I shared some strategies for seeking the kinds of work, paid and otherwise, that interest you, be it to make a change, to keep a foot in the door upon retirement, to find work when your previous job is no more, or to find your first permanent job upon graduation. This book would be relevant to people who self-describe in any of those categories.

Organized by a clever ‘showbiz’ metaphor, the chapters titles are, for example, Writing the Script (the application process), The Screen Test (the campus interview), The Awards Ceremony (negotiating the contract) and so on. The chapter titles did capture my interest, though I need to confess that when I was quite young, I thought the ideal job would be movie director. Many chapters are written by people in a variety of roles (including graduate students) speaking from their own personal experiences and/or starting with relevant quotes – a sort of mini case-study. In fact more detailed case studies are peppered through the book. Community colleges, universities, industry and some professions are represented and though it is mostly an American perspective, at least one author hails from the UK and another from Canada.

Perhaps it is best to read this book not chapter by chapter, but by picking and choosing based on the stage you are at right now or the aspect of a job search that you are working on, such as your curriculum vitae, the application process etc., with an index to help you in that regard. You will find practical tips, sometimes in the form of bulleted lists. There are even some templates and examples included here and there. Will you learn a few things or a lot of things to help you start your search, hone your curriculum vitae, prepare for an interview, and, fingers crossed, negotiate for the things you want once you are offered a job? Yes!  Might you lose interest in the whole prospect if you crack open the book and start reading from start to finish? Maybe. Then again, maybe that is just my perspective! Though I really liked the narrative aspect of many of the chapters, I often wanted to see more of a synthesis and found myself asking questions  – is this story common or an outlier? What can I take from your experience to help me?  Can we cut to the chase and see tips that are ‘tried and true’? Can you just give me a list of what to do and how to do it as best as I can to get the job I want and deserve?  Oh yeah, life’s not always like that!

Wishing you well in your job search in academe, whatever stage you are in, or reason for looking. My last sage piece of advice on the matter relates to a quote attributed to Albert Einstein:  “Not everything that counts can be counted and not everything that can be counted counts.” In my EDC Rainbow session, we talked about “how you’ll know” a prospect might be right for you. Follow your head, or your heart? Sometimes it depends on a large variety of factors and circumstances – personal and financial most often. In my journey I discovered not always clearly what I wanted, but more often much more clearly what I did not want – I think that both are equally important. Visualize a typical day, and you making a particular choice. Does it feel right? Could it make you happy? Life’s short, my friends and Einstein was right. And, contrary to the book’s subtitle, you don’t always get what you deserve, but be confident that you have a lot of control over what makes you happy in life. 

Review: Handbook of online learning

Rudestam and Schoenholtz-Read, eds. (2010). Handbook of Online Learning, 2nd ed. Sage Publishing.

Reviewed by:  Judy Chan, 
                        Centre for Teaching, Learning, and Technology,
                        University of British Columbia

The Handbook of Online Learning edited by Rudestam and Schoenholtz-Read is a very comprehensive reference text for researchers and possibly some administrators of online courses and programs. The first few chapters provide a solid theoretical foundation on online learning, clarifying conceptual principles that underlie effective online learning. Some topics in the first half of this Handbook include The Flourishing of Adult Online Education, Changing Philosophies and Theories of Online Learning, Globalization in Online Learning, etc. Contributors of these chapters provide thorough discussions and analyses on a number of topics. A thorough understanding of the evolution of online learning supports instructors and educational developers in constructing an effective online learning environment.

As an educational designer and an instructor of a blended course, Chapters 15 and 16 grabbed my attention. The contributors, Rena Palloff and Keith Pratt, of Chapter 15, Beyond the Looking Glass, make it clear that not every faculty member is ready to move beyond traditional models of teaching to adopt new online teaching practices. Sufficient training and mentoring is essential in making the transition to the online classroom successful. Likewise, students are unaware of the differences between traditional and online learning. Furthermore, their expectations, such as flexibility and peer-collaboration, of online learning may not match the realities. Palloff and Pratt provide a list of strategies to support faculty training and student orientations.

In Chapter 16, Teaching Professionals to Be Effective Online Facilitators and Instructors, the contributor, Leni Wildflower, offers a long list of practical tips from choosing the right software tool, designing participatory online courses, facilitating engaging discussion, maintaining presence and motivation, to providing supportive and constructive feedback. This chapter offers many practical strategies and points of consideration that will benefit both new and experienced online instructors.   

While the editor comments that the most valuable lesson learned is that students learn best when they can be collaborators and peer-instructors in their learning environment, few collaborative tools are introduced in this Handbook.  For instance, there is only a paragraph each introducing Open Educational Resources and Wiki Educator. I am also disappointed to notice that Moodle was only briefly discussed as a free open source software content management; Facebook was mentioned seven times and Twitter was not even listed in the index. Surely, smartphones and massive open online courses were nonexistence at the time this book was published. Perhaps I should not expect to find information on the latest technologies in a reference text.

Due to its comprehensive theoretical background on online learning, I also found calling this text a ‘handbook’ misleading. This book offers way more information and in greater depth than what most instructors expects to find in a handbook. Instructors and educational developers looking for a concise handbook on online learning should consider The Excellent Online instructor: Strategies for professional development by Rena Palloff and Keith Pratt (contributors of Chapter 15).

Review of E-learning: Theory & Practice

Reviewed by: Sue Fostaty Young, 
                       Centre for Teaching and Learning, 
                       Queen’s University, 
                       Kingston, Ontario, Canada

Through twelve well thought out chapters, Haythornthwaite and Andrews outline how teaching practices “are affected and (potentially) transformed with online, anywhere, anytime, anyone connectivity, and how newer practices overlap with and affect older practices” (p. 10). Each chapter includes a comprehensive summary as well as a list of supplemental readings for those whose interest has been piqued by chapter content.

Outlining what they consider to be the major features of computer-mediated learning, the authors discuss both the potentially positive and negative influences of anonymity, asynchronicity, mobility, connectivity and rapidity. Further, they provide real-world examples and practical suggestions for managing those features in a purposeful way to improve the online learning experience. Management of the major features, they argue, is entirely dependent on awareness and purposeful instructional decision-making.

In presenting the argument that e-learning changes the nature of learning by making the process a more democratic and community-based activity, the authors challenge conceptions and invite us to consider new theories of learning-specifically a new theory of e-learning.

The book is a nice balance of educational philosophy, theory building and practical examples and suggestion. Topics range from developing epistemic communities of practice through to practical suggestions on creating e-learning communities, dealing with problem students from a distance, moving from literacy to discourse and managing e-inclusion and exclusion. Over all, it is a useful resource for both e-novices and those who are more experienced, and is also thought provoking for teachers in face-to-face environments.

Review: "Sit & Get" Won't Grow Dendrites (2nd edition)

Reviewed by: Mercedes Rowinsky-Geurts PhD
                       Wilfrid Laurier University
                       3M National Teaching Fellow

The richness of a book like “Sit & Get” resides in the fact that not only can it be used as an extremely useful source of ideas to apply in the adult classroom, but it can also be an invaluable resource for researchers who would like to be up to date on the latest research regarding the various strategies presented in this edition. Starting with a theoretical framework on adult learning, Tate moves on to present twenty strategies that could be easily applied in any classroom across higher education.

Tate’s vast experience in adult learning and her creativity are clearly shown in the presentation of each strategy. Starting with a definition of the strategy, Tate moves on by presenting an updated and revised theoretical framework that provides a solid base supporting the use of the strategy. In each case, Tate’s careful selection of examples offers a variety of options to the reader. The ‘how to’ section that appears with each strategy offers a multiplicity of potential applications. At the end of each strategy’s presentation, Tate offers an actual space for reflection notes on the material presented. In this manner, the book becomes almost a reflective journal that may be modified with time. From brainstorming and discussion, to mind maps, humor and the use of drama in the classroom, Tate walks us through a variety of options and for each, she makes suggestions, gives options and offers a wide variety of applicable recommendations that professionals may adapt or adopt according to their audience. Compared to other resources available, I found this book extremely engaging and thought provoking. Tate goes directly to the point and reading this book is an agile and thought provoking experience.

“Sit & Get” is well organized, clear and extremely adaptable to many levels. Educational developers, as well and instructors, would benefit immensely from this resource. The book is an easy read and as the reader moves through the many sections, the examples offered by Tate may trigger an immediate response of possible applications of the concepts, or what is even better, it creates opportunities for new ideas. I found this resource extremely dynamic and helpful to make a classroom experience better.

Review: Developing learner-centered teaching: A practical guide for faculty

Phyllis Blumberg’s (2009) Developing Learner-Centered Teaching: A Practical Guide for Faculty provides a practical, step-by-step guide of how to shift from instructor-centered teaching towards a teaching design more focused on being learner-centered.

Supported with a forward written by scholar Dr. Maryellen Weimer, Blumberg’s book provides what Weimer notes was needed, that is, “a well-documented book that handles the implementation of learner-centered approaches to teaching with integrity, robustness, and careful attention to detail” (Blumberg, 2009, p. xvii).

Blumberg builds on the five dimensions of learner-centered teaching proposed by Weimer (2002): (a) the function of content; (b) the role of the instructor; (c) the responsibility for learning; (d) the purpose and processes of assessment; and (e) the balance of power. Rather than suggesting readers transform all five dimensions at the same time, however, Blumberg suggests an incremental, small-scale approach is more appropriate. Courses can become learner-centered gradually by addressing the dimensions or components within the dimensions over a period of time. Similarly, and as one of the strongest features of this book, Blumberg gradually walks the reader through the transition toward learner-centered approaches by using just those: learner-centered approaches. At the end of each chapter an Application Activity allows the reader to work through some of the steps and plan for making a transformation. Activities for Part One of the book focus on choosing a course to transform and deciding which dimension and components to address. Part Two activities prompt the reader with questions to consider that speak to the dimension addressed in that chapter. The final activities, in Part Three, have the reader consider potential obstacles they may face when trying to make changes to their teaching. 

The book is divided into three main parts, with the first part providing a background of why instructor-centered approaches are not effective, as well as suggestions for why some instructors may resist a shift towards a learner-centered course design (p. 4). Blumberg then shifts towards the pull factors of learner-centered teaching, grounding support for this design in literature that addresses motivational, developmental, and learning theory. Components within each dimension are positioned within rubrics, and discussion of how to interpret the rubrics is provided. These rubrics effectively allow the reader to see how components can shift along 4 levels towards being learner-centered.

Each chapter in Part Two of the book addresses one of the dimensions of learner-centered teaching. Each component within the dimensions are broken down and placed on a dimension-specific rubric, thereby showing how each component can be shifted towards learner-centered approaches. Throughout these chapters, Blumberg uses her own assessment of a general education course as a case study to demonstrate how to analyze a course in terms of learner-centeredness. Furthermore, the Planning for Transformation exercise forms at the end of each chapter, which were completed by the instructor of the case study course, illustrate how the instructor plans to change the selected component(s) of the dimension. Using this case study throughout each of the chapters is another strength of the book, as it allows the reader to practice rating each of the components of a dimension on the rubrics, while also letting them compare their assessments to Blumberg’s. 

Part Three offers a discussion and conclusion section that may ease some of the discomfort readers might feel after grappling with how to transform aspects of their course from instructor-centered to more learner-centered. First, course characteristics and personal/departmental characteristics are discussed in terms of how they may interact with the course’s ability to become learner-centered. Furthermore, and perhaps more importantly for those who are uncomfortable with the learner-centered approach, is Chapter 10: Strategies for Overcoming Obstacles and Resistance (pp. 247-255). Not only does Blumberg offer a list of other resources to consult for more information about learner-centered teaching, but the Application Activity at the end of the chapter asks the reader to predict some of the sources of resistance they may face throughout their plan for course transformation. After predicting sources of resistance, the readers is asked to identify resources he/she can consult and who they can talk to for support, so that they can move forward with the learner-centered design. Consequently, if readers treat certain components of this book as a workbook and complete the activities while reading, Blumberg cleverly leaves them with a set plan for their course transformations and the lasting impression that they can overcome their own hesitation to change, as well as any other obstacles they may face. As a result, this practical and well-written book is recommended for all those who are willing to begin gradually shifting away from instructor-centered teaching towards a more learner-centered approach. This resource will be useful to a broad range of educators including instructors, faculty developers, administrators, and graduate students.

Blumberg, P. (2009). Developing learner-centered teaching: A practical guide for faculty.
San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Weimer, R. (2002). Learner-centered teaching: Five key changes to practice. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 

Fall 2012 issue now available

Hello everyone,

The fall 2012 issue of the Resource Review is now available (individual posts of reviews to follow).

Many thanks to this issue's reviews:  Alice Cassidy, Sue Fostaty Young, Kathleen Moore, Judy Chan, Mercedes Rowinsky-Geurts, and Melanie Santarossa.

Thanks also to Sage Publishing and Atwood Publishing for providing review copies.