Summer Reading: Teaching and Learning

One of the perks of working at my institution is a somewhat unusual academic calendar in which our graduation occurs the last Saturday in April. We may start our spring semester alarmingly soon after New Year’s, but it’s all worth it come May and nearly four months of open time beckons. This longer summer recess is nice, don’t get me wrong, but I’ve also found it can be a double-edged sword. To put it bluntly, I don’t do very well with large blocks of unstructured time. Like, at all. I’m also temperamentally averse to things like organization, calendars, planners, and the like. Left to my own devices, I find it very easy to set ambitious goals for the summer only to flounder around for three months only to wallow in panic and guilt when August arrives and those goals seem as far away as they were back in early May.

Thankfully, I’ve been able to develop some habits that allow me to at least temporarily thwart my aversion to calendars and planning, and have made better use of recent summers. One of the most helpful, yet simplest, things I do is make a reading list. It’s easy to get motivated to read books that I’ve been wanting to tackle but haven’t been able to during the rush of the semester. There’s the stack of scholarly monographs for my historical research, but I also read several teaching and learning books over the summer. This, too, is professional development, as I direct my university’s teaching center and need to keep up with the latest research and trends in that field, too. But even though it’s technically “work,” it’s also very much pleasure reading for me, too. I get inspired to try new things, learn new insights about my students and how best to engage them, and have the opportunity to reflect deeply and critically on my own practice. But all that only happens if I make myself accountable for my goals. So here is my summer reading list for teaching and learning, offered here as both food for thought and a way to hold myself publicly accountable for completing my reading list. Hopefully you’ll see something that interests you and pick it up; this is an exciting time for the scholarship of teaching and learning, and there are a number of great new works to help inform our teaching!

So without further ado, here is my 2017 Summer Teaching and Learning reading list:

Sarah Rose Cavanagh, The Spark of Learning: Energizing the College Classroom with the Science of Emotion.

OK, I’m cheating a little bit here, as I’ve already read this one. But we were fortunate to host Sarah on our campus this month to lead some faculty workshops based upon her research for this book, and it’s been fascinating. I’m particularly intrigued by her argument that rather than being a mutually-exclusive dichotomy, “reason” and “emotion” are more interactive than we often realize. Indeed, Cavanagh argues, reason is itself emotional. Knowing more about how emotions, and emotional regulation, affect students’ learning, particularly as this relates to cognitive load, has given me several ideas about how I might incorporate some activities and interventions in my own classes. I hadn’t thought much at all about the role emotions play in our cognitive function before reading this book, and it was a revelation to me. A fascinating read that has made me think deeply about about my approach to assignments and classroom practice.

Robert Talbert, Flipped Learning: A Guide for Higher Education Faculty.

Talbert, a Mathematics professor at Grand Valley State, is one of the authorities on flipped learning, and probably the best source for this methodology on the collegiate level. He wrote a good deal about flipped learning several years ago on Casting Out Nines, his blog that was affiliated with The Chronicle of Higher Education, and I found that series extraordinarily helpful as I “flipped” one of my survey courses. I’ve been eagerly waiting for his book, as I think it promises to be the best guide for flipped learning in a college classroom.

Kathryn Linder, The Blended Course Design Workbook.

There are a fair amount of good books out there on course design. And there are a fair amount of good books out there for course design for online teaching and learning. But until now, there wasn’t anything comparable for web-blended courses (courses that are somewhere between 25%-80% online with the remainder in the traditional face-to-face format). Many institutions like mine, who are moving into the online realm, offer more courses that are blended rather than fully online. As I’ve discovered in doing faculty development for our own blended programs, course design for this modality is not the same as doing so for a fully online course. Yet the only available resources for course design were those for fully online classes, which has been frustrating for both me and my colleagues. Linder’s workbook is a godsend; she’s an expert on blended and online learning, and has deployed her expertise to create an effective resource for those who are straddling the face-to-face and online arenas.

Paolo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

I’ve already read this one, too, but it’s not cheating to put it on the list because I read it every summer. Freire’s original masterwork has become somewhat of a cliche in a lot of circles, and it’s definitely become one of those works that more people talk about than have actually read the text. Freire’s context–teaching literacy to impoverished residents of Brazilian favelas (shantytown slums)–might be different than the US college classroom, but his insights about education as emancipatory in its potential are applicable to any setting where teaching and learning are happening. Freire’s injunction to avoid what he calls “the banking model” of education, where “facts” are deposited in students only to be withdrawn and spent at some later date, is a vivid reminder that education fails if it seen in merely transactional terms. Rather, Freire argues, we ought to see education as something that helps students achieve conscientizacao (critical consciousness), which is something that can only occur if students themselves are agents of their own learning. Freire’s work deeply informs my own practice, and I think it’s acquired a fierce new relevance in the fraught climate of higher education today.

So there’s my teaching and learning reading list for this summer. With all of you as my witness, I commit to reading and learning from these texts and using their insights to inform and revitalize my own teaching for the upcoming year. What are you reading this summer? Any teaching and learning literature? Leave your recommendations in the comments!

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