- Taking Stock: Research on Teaching and Learning in Higher Education
The book is the outcome of a symposium sponsored by the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario and is a treatise on and summary of the state of research on teaching in higher education. Its purpose is “to help us take stock of what we know about teaching and learning [in higher education] and what, through further research, we need to know” (p. xii). The book is a timely one, given the recent attention to outcomes of undergraduate education amidst [End Page 427] increasing teaching workloads, increasing sizes of undergraduate classes, and concern regarding a potential increase in expedient pedagogical practices to cope with large class sizes.
The volume is organized into five sections, most having three chapters plus a commentary. Topics include the following: taking stock, student learning, how teaching and learning impact one another, exemplary teaching practices, and evidence-based practices. The 16 contributors to this well-researched compilation bring impressive credentials in higher education, including active involvement in the scholarship of teaching and innovation in higher education, and advocacy for the importance of high-quality teaching in higher education. Many have been recipients of teaching awards themselves, all are researchers in teaching and learning in higher education, and the book reflects a global perspective with contributions from Finland, South Africa, Hong Kong, and Australasia as well as English-speaking countries.
The opening chapter, “Practices of Convenience: Teaching and Learning in Higher Education,” gives a detailed overview of the book and notes that “much of our current approach to teaching in higher education might best be described as practices of convenience, to the extent that traditional pedagogical approaches predominate” (p. 4). Although these practices are convenient in moving students through the system, “as far as learning effectiveness is concerned, [they] are decidedly inconvenient” (p. 4). The contributors to the volume are particularly interested in fostering “deep” rather than “surface” approaches to learning through teaching practices identified by research as supporting learning that is meaningful, relevant, and oftentimes transformative for the individual learner. The underlying concern throughout the book is that this kind of teaching in higher education is too rare.
Subsequent chapters not only situate the topic of teaching and learning in higher education in sociohistorical context but also firmly establish the very strong research basis of the volume. A snapshot of Chapter 2 gives a sense of the type of information and discussion in each of the other chapters in the book. This chapter includes attention to research about the nature of academic learning and understanding, the influence of teaching and learning environments on student learning, and the importance of students’ conceptions of knowledge and learning, which vary from those who see learning in terms of memorization and reproduction of knowledge to those who seek personal meaning, deeper understanding of the content, and new ways of understanding the world. Concomitantly, understanding the perceptions of students regarding teaching and the role of the teacher is a critical factor in enabling instructors to “induce deep approaches [to learning], and so encourage conceptual understanding” (p. 28). The research reported includes a study of four contrasting subject areas—electrical engineering, biological sciences, economics, and history—across 12 institutions. The findings identified the importance of “ways of thinking and practicing within the subject, threshold concepts, and the inner logic of the subject and its pedagogy” (p. 40). The study also noted “the damaging effect of inappropriate level and pace in lectures” (p. 41) and other teaching practices that instructors could improve easily if they knew about better alternatives.
The book is clearly written and replete with reports of research studies and specific examples of how teaching and learning issues play themselves out in different disciplines. What is made apparent from the research is the urgent need for change in higher education teaching, particularly at the undergraduate level. The traditional “sage on the stage” practices of convenience must give way to approaches that engage...