Sunday, June 12, 2011

Spring 2011 EDC Resource Review

The Spring 2011 edition of the EDC Resource Review is now available!

If you would like to win a copy of Catherine Black's edited volume The Dynamic Classroom, reviewed in this issue, please leave a comment on this post telling us one strategy you have used or experienced that made the classroom a more dynamic place.  Contest closes at midnight Pacific time on June 30, 2011.  Winner will be randomly selected.  No geographical restrictions apply.  Thanks to contest sponsor Atwood Publishing.

Review: World History Sources

Reviewed by:  Linda B. Nilson, Director, Office of Teaching Effectiveness and Innovation, Clemson University, USA

This site is a project of the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University that was made possible with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation.  The materials address every region of the world--some resources are specific to Canada--from the beginnings of human society through the present time.  They include 1) scholarly evaluations of online archives of primary sources with a view toward quality and teaching value; 2) eight guides written by prominent world history scholars on strategies for analyzing major types of primary sources--specifically, music, images, objects, maps, newspapers, travel narratives, official documents, and personal accounts; 3) eight multimedia case studies of scholars interpreting and adding historical context to these types of primary sources; and 4) sixteen case studies written by high school and college instructors describing how they used a particular primary source to teach in their classes. 
Given its broad historical and geographical scope, this site holds value for faculty in literature, classical studies, anthropology, political science, sociology, geography, music, art, and area studies, as well as all for history faculty of all specializations.  However, many of these faculty may not know about the primary sources available and the  most effective ways to use them in the classroom.  This site will help educational developers advise faculty on creative ways to teach with a wide variety of primary sources.  It could even serve as a base for a workshop on teaching with primary sources.

Review: The Dynamic Classroom and Win Them Over

Reviewed by:  Trevor Holmes, University of Waterloo

At first I wondered why, with many extant standard works in the areas of active learning and preparation for teaching, we need two more to give us scholarly and practical advice about teaching in higher education. Two recent books from Atwood Publishing prove to be useful additions for our new decade with immediate application to the field of practice, though for different reasons and written in quite different tones.
Riding the wave of “engagement” as a precondition for learning (these days, I often find that people will pin such high hopes on engagement as to make it in fact a PROXY for learning, but that’s another story), The Dynamic Classroom: Engaging Students in Higher Education invites any postsecondary educator to consider how best, from design principles, to support all sorts of students in active and deeper learning. I find that from introduction to conclusion, Catherine Black’s edited collection is welcoming, inclusive, and respects practitioners and students alike. The book’s strengths include its diversity of authors and strategies, as well as its often-seamless movement between theory, principles, and practice. 
Divided into four parts, Black’s collection offers practical advice (some of it research-based) for tertiary educators who are either new or considering teaching in a new way:
  • Preparing the Ground for Engaging Students (Questioning, Universal Design, Mind-Mapping)
  • Engaging Students in a Variety of Settings (Discussion in small and medium classes, teaching large classes, inquiry circles)
  • Engaging Students with New Technologies (Blogs, discussion boards, LiveJournal, Online Teaching, ePortfolios, Personal Response Systems, Podcasting)
  • Assessing Students’ Engagement (Online Participation, Portfolio Assessment)

Within and across sections are a few different approaches. There are course-specific stories of techniques and how they have worked, together with suggestions for how they could work for you. A number of chapters set down principles to improve instruction or guide instructional choices. Some of these and several additional chapters offer specific tools or recommended elements of tools and how to implement them.
The book closes in an innovative manner: authors of five of the chapters provide questions for further reflection and integration. They are of mixed quality as prompts, and perhaps most enlightening for those for whom such thinking isn’t already habitual or instinctive. I would consider moving each back to its own chapter or section as a means of effecting both closure and door-opening at once.
One gem among several excellent articles is T. Haffie’s article on “broadcollecting” using clickers. It is compelling not only because of his nine principles for personal response system use, but also because of his obvious respect for the capacity of professors and students to sustain engaged intellectual inquiry together. He asserts that the proper role for clickers is formative feedback, and acknowledges the vulnerability involved in changing one’s practice. Also, and this is I hope not because I have some deep-seated need for NINE principles, J. Specht’s chapter on engagement and learning disabilities covers important history and explains well the reasons behind Universal Design, Universal Instructional Design, and Universal Design for Learning. Her work will, I hope, find its way into workshops on my own campus.
While separately each of the articles was strong, I would have appreciated a little more alignment between E. Wood’s delineation of questioning modes and K. Cawsey’s later thoughts on pauses, question posing, and discussion. As well, I remain befuddled by the inclusion of the E. Meyer et. al. K-12 ePortfolio chapter (with its examples of parent feedback and comma-abusing teacher feedback). Recommendations for higher education in that chapter seem an afterthought, and there are many tertiary education examples that could have been pressed into service instead for this important emerging tool.
For a text authored by so many Canadians, I noted the North American hegemony of its research base. The majority of cited literature comes from the U.S. paradigms, when a great deal of wisdom exists in international research. This gives us the occasional glimpse of behaviourist and mechanistic underpinnings. Thank goodness there are counterexamples in a few cases; wisely, the editor neither sought in advance nor demanded afterward fidelity to any particular theoretical norm.
At the same time, the volume is unapologetically practical; in fact, it is a (mostly) good example of what Maryellen Weimer might group under “Wisdom of Practice” (1) pedagogical research. Some of it relies on educational research, but some chapters seem to have little added value among the cited assertions from other experts (a conference paper here, a website there, some respected guide unmoored from its original research base). And, ultimately, that is fine. Those of us seeking ways to re-energize or invent anew in our own classrooms or help others do the same will find, for the most part, clear descriptions and principled designs from which to learn. The variance in cited studies need not concern readers who can accept that chapters within each section do different kinds of work.
One nagging sense I have is that the book is more optimistic than it ought to be about the individual teacher’s role in causing engagement and learning; I would almost want to see a companion piece written by the same authors, with the same topics, FOR the learners themselves. Teacher-doing is only part of the equation, and not always the sovereign part; learners (not just “millennials,” natch) need to find their own internal motivation and independence sometimes, not be seduced or tricked into doing so by overscaffolding course designers and deliverers. Disengagement is not something always to leave at the doorstep of course design or delivery; there are multiple reasons why those in the role of “student” may not be participating in their own education, many of which might or might not be mitigated by individual instructor behaviour or design skill. I’d like to see a collective responsibility in a community of learners, so that whole programs share books like this in designing wider curricular approaches in full cooperation with students. Dream on, I guess, especially in light of the second book under review.
In contrast to The Dynamic Classroom (in which learners and teachers are often represented as journeying together),  Patricia Linehan’s Win them Over: Dynamic Techniques for College Adjuncts and New Faculty sets up a less positive tone from the outset. The very title Win Them Over situates learners as resistant beings, difficult and suspicious, perhaps consumers in need of a sales pitch. Higher education comes off as a contest with winners and losers (among the professoriate and among learners). This adversarial construction, while perhaps reflective of some hard truths in our era, rubs me the wrong way, and is part of the book’s larger problem with tone. It is written in one of these wisdom-of-the-trenches, shoot-from-the-hip rhetorical styles to which some will respond favourably, and for those people, its unadorned honesty will be both entertaining and useful. There’s a bit too much of “what could go wrong” fearmongering throughout (in funny illustrations, a few of which could be quite panic-inducing); luckily, there are equal portions of helpful solutions. After something like 16 years of teaching, I have encountered all those things that could go wrong, so it’s not invention on Linehan’s part, but it does set a somewhat negative tone for instructional improvement.
Having said that, on the ground doing consultations with instructors and workshops about course design, I have already found people responding well to the format and content of Linehan’s explanations and tools. Based on experience and some educational literature, she has distilled need-to-know nuggets about every aspect of teaching and learning from basic logistical strategies to complex ideas about motivation, objectives, assessment, and active learning (always written in a humorous way). Sacrificing nuance and deferring divergent theories to a utopian future when you may have the time, Win Them Over’s worksheets, tables, and checklists have already found their way into my own practice as a faculty developer and as a sessional instructor. And although the bibliography is both short and eclectic, weighing in at fifteen texts of different sorts, at least we are invited to make use of these further resources and can get a sense of where some of the advice comes from. 
Generally, then, if you are a graduate student, postdoctoral fellow, sessional instructor or new full-timer beginning to teach within the next few weeks or months, or if you are looking for immediately applicable tips and organizers, Win them Over will oblige happily and honestly. Even as someone with a lot of experience, I found myself picking it up to double check my own approaches during a recent teaching term, and finding it instantly valuable. It is exactly what it aims to be: no-nonsense and practical; I need to cover my ears to avoid some of its pitch and tone, but that is my problem and certainly will not be universally experienced. I would hesitate to give it out without a warning that we don’t all see students as adversaries!  On the other hand, if you have a little bit of time to digest some solid principles or to learn the how and why of a few new techniques, whether you’re an educational developer or you’re are at a relevant stage of a university teaching career, multiple brief or leisurely dips into the warm waters of The Dynamic Classroom will repay effort for the health of your courses. I hope to see another edition of the latter or even a sequel as we find out more about the intersections between engagement, design, assessment, delivery, and learning.

Review: Teaching What you Don't Know

Reviewed by:  Lori Goff, Instructional Designer, Centre for Leadership in Learning, McMaster University

In the delightful and illuminating book Teaching What You Don’t Know, Therese Huston exposes a growing trend in academia - that university professors are increasingly finding themselves in situations where they are teaching outside of their area of expertise.  Teaching outside or at the edge of one’s  understanding is  a practice that is prevalent not just with sessionals and junior faculty members, but, as Huston shows, it is a common dilemma experienced by university instructors at all stages of their careers.  While graduate education often prepares faculty members to be experts in a very specific area of their field, undergraduate courses are simultaneously becoming more interdisciplinary and expanding in breadth to provide students with a survey of a field that is rapidly advancing in knowledge.   Thus, according to Huston, undergraduate university instructors are finding more and more that they need to learn or relearn content or skills in order to teach their assigned courses well.  The practice of teaching what one doesn’t know well is often coupled with teaching students whom one doesn’t know well.  Students from the millennial generation are different than students ten or twenty years ago and they are certainly different than their instructors especially in how they learn and how they prefer to receive information.   Huston gently suggests that the sooner instructors realise that their students are very different from them, the easier and happier their teaching life will be.
Through academic research that involved over thirty interviews with faculty members combined with real-life experiences, examples, profiles and case studies, Huston addresses an issue that is seldom discussed and helps take the shame out of teaching outside of one’s understanding.  Her compassion, empathy, and commitment to providing students with the best learning experiences possible are evident in the countless practical examples and strategies she suggests to help instructors manage and thrive in situations where instructors find themselves outside of their comfort zone.  The sensible tips, appealing examples, and strategic suggestions that cover a vast array of disciplines and learning experiences can help novice and experienced instructors alike to calm their anxieties, reduce stress, and improve the quality and impact of their teaching overall.  She identifies several pedagogical advantages that the new instructor has over the seasoned expert, while urging mid- and late-career faculty members to  revitalize their passion for teaching by looking for and recognizing the new and unknown elements from every teaching assignment.  Huston’s passion and respect for students is paralleled by an equal regard for instructors who face the challenges of teaching content with which they are not completely comfortable and for teaching students whom they don’t fully know.  
Teaching What You Don’t Know is a fun, easy-to-read, and hard-to-put-down book that I would recommend to anyone who is new to university teaching or who has an interest in improving their teaching.  This book would make an excellent text to distribute to new faculty or engage in the services and programs provided by educational developers at teaching and learning centres.  

Review: How Professors Think

Reviewed by:  Isabeau Iqbal, Doctoral Candidate, Department of Educational Studies and Educational Developer, Centre for Teaching Learning and Technology, University of British Columbia
How Professors Think is a book about the work of committees who conduct peer reviews of fellowships and research grants. The book is based on an empirical study of multi-disciplinary social science and humanities competitions in the United States. As part of her research, Lamont conducted interviews with panelists, program officers and chairpersons and she also observed three panels.  In her study, Lamont, who describes herself as a “sociologist of knowledge” seeks to examine “how the worth of academic work is ascertained” (3). 
 Because this book doesn’t scream “educational development,” I feel compelled to explain that I was drawn to this book for one specific reason: to see if Lamont presents ideas that might coincide with, and help me better understand, the summative peer review of teaching.  The short answer is that she does but, admittedly, there is limited overlap between how multidisciplinary panels go about assessing research and how departmental colleagues evaluate teaching for tenure and promotion. So, in order to get the most from this book and then be able to apply it to the peer review of teaching, one needs to have a fairly solid sociological background or be prepared to do much follow-up reading.
Nevertheless, there are ideas in this book that would be of interest to educational developers who wish to deepen their understanding of academic culture.  Namely, Lamont refers extensively to a body of literature on “evaluative cultures” (a new term to me) and, in doing so, provides illuminating information on how academics from different disciplines approach evaluation.
Given that peer review is a central aspect of academia, this book is relevant to educational developers who want to expand their knowledge of the context within which they work. However, for the educational developer seeking a more straightforward introduction to academic culture than that provided in Lamont’s somewhat complex book, I would suggest: