Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Review: The Chicago Handbook for Teachers



Reviewed by: Barbara J. Millis, University of Texas San Antonio

This “how to” book must receive mixed reviews.  The “basics” of effective teaching don’t change—thank heavens!—so any book that lays them out, as this one does, will be useful for beginning teachers in particular.  The authors clearly and coherently discuss key topics such as preparing for class; the first weeks; lecturing; student writing and research (with a good discussion of academic dishonesty and how to prevent it and deal with it); testing and evaluation; creating and sustaining an inclusive classroom; and using electronic resources for teaching.  Their chapter on active and collaborative learning is less useful because they do not adequately address the implementation of effective group work, a shortcoming reflected also in their suggestions for further reading.

The authors have included chapters on topics not always addressed in “how-to-teach” books.  I found the chapter on “Teaching Science: Challenges and Approaches” particularly helpful because this is a key concern at major research universities.  The discussion of various lab types (demonstration, hands-on; open, inquiry-based) was illuminating.  They also address teaching as a part-time instructor, a highly relevant topic as they note, given the fact that almost half of all college and university classes are taught by contingent faculty.  This chapter also provides advice for graduate teaching assistants.  The chapter on “Evaluating Your Teaching” was a welcome addition to a “how-to-teach” book, although it did not explore options in depth. 

Linda Nilson’s Teaching at Its Best: A Research-Based Resource for College Instructors most closely parallels this one.  I recommend the Nilson book because of its greater depth and more exacting scholarship. 

Review: Succeeding as an International Student in the United States and Canada



Reviewed by:  Melanie Santarossa, University of Windsor

Charles Lipson’s Succeeding as an International Student in the United States and Canada is an information guide for both foreign students studying in North American university and the faulty who will welcome them into academia.

International students will appreciate the breadth and depth of Lipson’s expertise.  On account of Lipson’s many experiences mentoring, teaching, and advising international students, he effectively reveals the challenges foreign students face when navigating a new campus, country, and culture.  Realizing that academic and social environments collide, Lipson provides detailed suggestions on how international students can manage their day-to-day needs and activities, and also offers insight into how they can learn, study, and work within the higher education setting.  Further, to the benefit of foreign students who may read this book, Lipson acknowledges the fact that in addition to language skills, issues of age, familial obligations, or religion may also act as obstacles to transition.  With these considerations in mind, Lipson informs students of the campus or community resources that may enhance their educational experience.

Lipson’s wealth of knowledge is also useful to faculty whose classrooms may be comprised of many foreign students.  By outlining the main issues international students face in their academic work, Lipson reminds instructors that there may be distinctive traits of North American universities that, if not discussed, might hinder the success of foreign students.  In this respect, Lipson’s book propels educators to reflect on how they can enrich the student experience.  That is, instructors may be inclined to explore group dynamics, classroom atmosphere, and student-to-teacher interaction as seen through the perspective of an international student.  Likewise, the extensive appendix of glossary terms and phrases may encourage faculty to consider explaining or clarifying these terms for their foreign students either while teaching, during office hours, or in their syllabi.

In essence, Succeeding as an international Student in the United States and Canada provides international students with the knowledge and resources required to achieve their personal and professional objectives while studying in North America, and it also convinces North American faculty to recognize their responsibility in making this path to success an easier process for their international students.
Hello everyone, the spring/summer 2012 issue of the Resource Review is now available (see below).  A special thanks goes to our reviewers: Alison Downie, Melanie Santarossa, and Barbara Millis.  Titles included in this review were provided by SAGE publishing and The University of Chicago Press.

Review: The Adjunct Faculty Hanbook, 2nd ed.




Reviewed by:  Alison Downie, Indiana University of Pennsylvania

The second edition of The Adjunct Faculty Handbook (the first edition appeared in 1996), is a timely, valuable reference resource in the literature of higher education.  The new editors have retained the essential purpose, audience, format, and organization of the first edition while updating content to address the current climate.

As the Preface to the second edition points out, adjunct instructors constitute 50% to 70% of all teaching faculty in the United States (xi).  The seven chapters reflect this significance for higher education, presenting a range of information which will be useful to teaching faculty, administrators, and directors of centers for teaching excellence.

As with the first edition’s eleven chapters, the chapters of the second edition are independent.  Since they are written by different authors, there is some content overlap, yet this is never mere repetition. A helpful feature retained from the first edition is the brief synopsis of content and relevance for particular audiences on the first page of each chapter.

The first chapter treats nuts and bolts administrative details for those new to the university environment, and chapter two gives a thorough overview of technology in the classroom.  Two chapters presenting learning-centered pedagogy will be helpful to any teaching faculty and the chapter on evaluating student work will be especially helpful to new teachers.  Chapters five and seven provide excellent strategies on pressing needs regarding professional development and network technologies for support, especially for online instructors.

A helpful new feature of the second edition is inclusion of five appendices which will be useful for new teachers and all those supporting them. Of  particular note is Appendix E, “Suggested Readings and/or Web Site URLs,” a concise resource list featuring links to outstanding university centers for teaching excellence, which is helpful for any teacher wishing to revise or update teaching strategies.  

Most significantly, the second edition provides up to date scholarship and practical information, particularly on the theme of technology in relation to teaching and learning.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Review: 147 Practical Tips for Teaching Sustainability: Connecting the Environment, the Economy, and Society.



Reviewed by: Alice Cassidy, University of British Columbia and In View Education and Professional Development

Where does your morning coffee come from?  I mean, starting from the bean on the tree, and from a variety of considerations:  geographical, cultural, ethical, ecological, chemical… Think about it, and then go read this book to see how you could invite your students to not only think about it, but also calculate it, act upon it, and more.

This book is dedicated to the planet, because it sustains and inspires us. And to the teachers and learners who carry the tradition on. I thought the first part of that dedication was a touch corny at first. But upon reading this slim volume that is jam-packed with good ideas, I decided that the dedication was very sincere. These authors, as well as those who wrote the forwards and afterwords care about this planet we live on, and they show us myriad ways that we can help our students care too.

Whether you want to infuse a little or a lot of sustainability into your course, regardless of discipline, or you are looking for some new ways to be interactive and reflective, this book, organized into 17 theme chapters and with each tip numbered (let’s see, 17 into 147… that is about 8 tips per chapter) will help you.

The first chapter, Defining Sustainability, starts to tackle this now common, but not always easily definable or agreed-upon term. Hey, I once left halfway through a day-long meeting because the 25 people in the room wanted one definition and could not agree on it! In the Sustainability Education Intensive (SEI) that my colleagues and I designed, we provide a selection of definitions (http://blogs.ubc.ca/tagsustainability/intensive/sustainability-literacy/) and ask participants to use a questions worksheet to guide them through the various perspectives.

Sustainability can be defined as a version of the following: [To meet] the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs (United Nations General Assembly. 1987. Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development: Our Common Future.)

My only real quibble about the book is that it focuses almost exclusively on an American perspective, referring to the history of environmental policy in the United States, and with most of specific examples or references from…. you guessed it. I would not mention it, except that, after all, the book is dedicated to the planet. Some exceptions apply:  I found a tip referring to a World Bank address; another to Jared Diamond’s book, Collapse, with examples from various societies; and one citing a film, Thirst, about the world’s water supply. We also see the Talloires Declaration, a 10-point action plan for incorporating sustainability and environment literacy in teaching, research, operations and outreach, signed by over 350 presidents and chancellors in over 40 countries. Check it out at http://www.ulsf.org/programs_talloires.html. A total of 37 post-secondary institutions in Canada have signed. Is yours there?

But, speaking of our fine country, how does the term “ecological footprint” appear in 4 tips (a tip index helps direct the reader) without noting that it was coined and first developed in Canada, based on work done by Bill Rees and Mathis Wackernagel at the University of British Columbia?

In his forward, Anthony Cortese imagines a time when “the educational experience of all students is aligned with the principles of sustainability.” (p. xiii) He presents five elements that would need to be in place, including such concepts as interdisciplinary systems thinking,  and “making human/environment interdependence, values and ethics a seamless and central part of teaching all disciplines” (p. xiii). I really like these, plus the others that have a lot in common with good teaching practice that promotes learning; things such as active, experiential learning, a focus on real-world complex problems, the importance of forming partnerships with communities and of course practicing and doing, not just reading, talking, listening.

The 147 tips will help you with the very thing of inviting your students to practise aspects of sustainability. Here are a few examples that I really like, partly because I can see the applicability to a variety of disciplines and contexts. I present the tip number, so you can easily find it when you buy your copy:

9. Look to history for moments when different beliefs and values aligned to fashion more sustainable solutions.

15. Identify steps in the life cycle of a natural product or in the process flow of a business or home (this refers to the coffee question I posed at the start.)

16. Examine how capitalist and democratic ideals and sustainable practices interact with each other. There is so much potential here – reference to the recent Occupy movements, political systems, financial markets…

33. Take a tour of your campus or town and note what buildings embody the wisdom of building structures that use nature’s laws as models [read about the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system at http://www.cagbc.org/AM/Template.cfm?Section=LEED]

43. Explore what informs revered leaders (the possibilities for assignments or in-class activities around this are huge!)

53. Contemplate a daily routine and note the sustainable and unsustainable aspects. Could any be adjusted or eliminated? How?

58. Write a letter:  take a stand on an issue important to you and write to a newspaper, government official, or?  I know of university courses where this is an assignment; what a great way to connect academia with the world in which we live.

Well, I could go on; after all I have only gotten up to about a third of the tips. I encourage you to take a look, whether you focus on a chapter at a time (pick from Personal Responsibility and Empowerment, Learning Through Experience, Effective Communication, and 14 more), or leaf through, you will see 1-2 paragraph tips that I know you will want to try in your next teaching or facilitating event.

I hope that, like the book, I have convinced you that sustainability is everywhere, from the moment we get up in the morning. It can connect to any course, and it should. It links theory and practice; it shows us that each of us can make a difference. Enjoy your coffee.

Review: Engaging Ideas: The Professor's Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active learning in the Classroom, 2nd ed.






Reviewed by:  Melanie Santarossa, University of Windsor

The aim of John C. Bean’s Engaging Ideas: The Professor’s Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom is to help teachers design and incorporate engaging writing activities into their disciplinary courses. Readers will appreciate the pace of Engaging Ideas as Bean carefully scaffolds the contents of the book; he presents the theoretical background that supports writing integration before he recommends strategies for coaching the writing process. Following this, he offers examples of discipline-specific writing assignments and suggests how teachers can effectively develop similar exercises in their own fields of study.

Bean’s intention for the book originates from his observations of academia. Witnessing that professors shy away from incorporating writing assignments into their courses because it requires hours upon hours of grading, he introduces the book as a mission to dispel this fear by challenging academics to rethink what is meant by the term “writing assignment” (12). Bean convinces readers that they can associate positivity with the term “writing assignment” if they learn to welcome transparency into the development of writing exercises. Bean encourages educators to make the writing process part of the final grade, that is, to develop a writing assignment that requires students to submit drafts, notes, and doodles before (and then also with) the final paper. Bean claims that such strategies will ease the grading load, as professors will be able to revise and edit assignments long before the final papers appear on their desks.

Not excluding the benefit educators will gain from the theory, exemplars, and strategies in Engaging Ideas: The Professor’s Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom, Bean’s book is a worthwhile read if only because his optimism toward the term ‘writing assignment’ is contagious, and as such propels us to spread enthusiasm toward writing integration throughout academia.


Review: Understanding the New Majority of Non-Tenure-Track Faculty in Higher Education




Reviewed by:  Kathryn Linder, Suffolk University


Adrianna Kezar and Cecile Sam’s text, Understanding the New Majority of Non-Tenure-Track Faculty in Higher Education, offers an excellent starting point for both researchers and policy makers.  Written to “fill the void in the literature that lacks a meta-analysis of the research about non-tenure-track faculty” (p. 4), the authors methodically explore the literature around who comprises the non-tenure-track faculty population (including full-time and part-time workers) and their experiences in terms of work conditions and expectations.  Through their acknowledgment of the importance of non-tenure-track faculty in the current higher education climate, Kezar and Sam also successfully tackle some of the most relevant questions in contemporary higher education regarding the role of tenure and the future of higher education more generally.  Importantly, almost one third of the text is devoted to suggestions for future directions in policy-making, hiring, and the professionalization of non-tenure-track faculty.  It should also be noted that this is the first volume of two, with the second (ASHE Higher Education Report 36, 5) focusing more explicitly on “theories applied to study on-tenure-track faculty and philosophical and practical tensions represented in the literature” (p. x).

Kezar and Sam’s text stands out from other research regarding non-tenure-track faculty members because of their intentional focus on presenting a “holistic” view that includes both “ideological and data-driven perspectives” (p. 2).  In this way, the authors offer a jumping off point for additional research on non-tenure-track populations while also illustrating how this research can be done most effectively.  Kezar and Sam convincingly portray the lack of data-driven research that has been conducted on the growing population of non-tenure-track faculty and issue a call for more depth and breadth in explorations of their work and experiences.  Perhaps most importantly, Kezar and Sam note the positive impact that research can have on the day-to-day lives of non-tenure-track faculty.  Indeed, they state that “a powerful mechanism for breaking invisibility is to distribute data, making other people aware of the sheer number of non-tenure-track faculty on campus” (p. 103).  Kezar and Sam’s combination of current data with recommendations for future actions offers a strong model for how researchers can continue to contribute to the growing literature on non-tenure-track faculty.

One critique I have of Kezar and Sam’s text is their presentation of statistics and numbers.  In particular, the “Portrait of Non-Tenure-Track Faculty” chapter contains lots of numbers regarding disciplinary fields of non-tenure-track faculty, full-time versus part-time placements, hiring practices, and gender and race statistics of the population.  This chapter would have benefited from some graphic representations to help readers see the impact of changing numbers over time. 

As non-tenure-track faculty populations continue to grow, Kezar and Sam’s text responds to a significant gap in the literature.  Most significant, however, is their emphasis on the need for more contextualized research on the non-tenure-track faculty population that takes into account institutional structures and geographic regions.  As the authors acknowledge, any path forward will be most successful if it is based on “research, principled thought, and evidence-based decisions” (p. 115). Kezar and Sam’s contribution to the literature on non-tenure-track faculty certainly makes that success more likely.