Student-Assisted Teaching: A Guide for Faculty-Student Teamwork is a collection of brief and focused descriptions of innovations in student-teacher collaborations edited by Judith E. Miller, James E. Groccia, and Marilyn S. Miller. Rather than a theoretical study, it is a carefully constructed and tightly written guidebook for faculty developers, administrators, and faculty who are looking for practical and genuine ways to involve students in teaching. "Student-assisted teaching" is defined by the editors as "an instructional process where undergraduates are given responsibility by faculty for portions of their fellow undergraduates' learning experiences" (Miller et al., p. xv). The roles for student assistants include tutoring and mentoring one-to-one and in groups, teaching lessons, reading papers, observing, collecting data, and supporting teacher self-evaluation. There is a surprising number of distinct roles for the students identified in this book--as many as there are unique acronyms and names to distinguish them, such as "PE," "TI," "SI leader," "student associate," "peer teacher," "peer instructor," "peer facilitator," "preceptor," and more.
The editors' rationale for creating this collection is to "explicate student-assisted approaches so that educators can harness the potential of higher education's hidden learning resource--the undergraduates themselves--to improve the college learning experience" (Miller et al., p. xv). In validating the goal of this book, Wilbert McKeachie observes in the foreword,
". . . one of the most effective methods for achieving both cognitive and attitudinal goals of education is undergraduates teaching undergraduates" (Carpenter, 1959; Davage, 1958; Johnson & Johnson, 1975; Webb & Grib, 1976; quoted in Miller et al., p. v).
Each of the twenty-four short chapters is written by experienced faculty or faculty developers (or in one case an undergraduate journalism major) from different post-secondary institutions. Each chapter outlines a different approach or model for student-assisted teaching, followed by a description of its intended outcomes and the results of the assessment of those outcomes. Then a thorough review of costs and benefits, followed by recommendations and insights about whether and how to replicate this model in other settings, is provided. There is also a summary or conclusion which becomes useful for recalling and comparing the many models. Each model is quite distinct from the others and each deserves individual perusal.
In addition to bibliographic references in each chapter, the book also offers an extensive bibliography of other works by the authors included in the collection. This bibliography alone is a valuable resource for those interested in increasing student involvement in learning.
The first twelve models presented are relevant to courses with first-year students and to general education courses. These are followed by ten models for use in "difficult" courses, such as science and math courses, and specialized courses, such as honors courses and distance education courses. Then come six models for courses appropriate for all students. Finally, there are three very intriguing models for faculty development in which faculty are the learners and students facilitate the learning.
It is rewarding to browse through the diverse and creative responses to familiar problems confronted by colleagues from a variety of disciplines and universities. For the reader with a defined problem or special interest, a matrix displaying a list of attributes and characteristics drawn from all the models is cross-listed with the chapters, thus showing which chapters address particular needs and interests (p. xxi). Once the reader has reviewed a few of the chapters, the meaning of these listed characteristics becomes clearer. The matrix represents the editors' consideration of a reader's need to locate and focus quickly on models that most closely match a reader's context, goals, and available resources. This laudable intent to facilitate connections across contexts makes this book practical and useful to those who have a problem to solve or limited resources to stretch.
This concern for practicality and applicability is also exemplified in the editing of the chapters. They are concisely written, with as much contextual information as is needed to understand the purpose and methods of the models described. Several chapters include charts to display the results of assessment of the models or other components of the models being described. Appendices also provide examples of forms and other materials that might be useful in replicating a model. The authors are candid about replicability: If a model does not bear transporting intact to a different setting, they suggest elements that might be transportable. They are realistic about the cost, in time and money, for implementing a model. This includes the time needed to attract, recruit, select, train, and supervise the student assistants and to assess outcomes. The authors emphasize the need for support from administrators and colleagues in order for a model to be implemented and sustained--especially those that involve offering students either units or monetary compensation.
Reviewing this book brings out one clear point: Involving students in teaching in a manageable and meaningful way requires not only time, thought, planning, flexibility, and persistence but also, and especially, persuasion. Getting permission, money and participants for the realization of a project involving student-assisted teaching requires effective communication strategies. The editors have chosen a format which shows how to express the essence of a vision so that diverse audiences, with related but distinct missions, may recognize its applicability to their missions. Someone who wishes to set up an innovative program to improve student engagement and increase student-teacher collaboration can refer to the models in this book for inspiration to design, propose, and "sell" such a program And someone who has already developed and implemented such a program can turn to this book for guidelines for documenting the project.
In their conclusion to the book, the editors offer their own synthesis of the observations and conclusions in the preceding chapters. Their concerns about the issues raised in the chapters, and sometimes left unresolved, such as whether and how to pay the students and how much authority is appropriate to give to students, should be taken very seriously by those who consider the implementation of student-assisted teaching.
There is one concern that is not addressed, however. It results from the premise of the book that stretching the capacity of teachers and the institution to meet students' needs with limited resources and achieving an instructional advantage from student-assisted teaching are two goals that can be realized compatibly and simultaneously. Each of the three editors is both a university faculty member and an administrator of a program and no doubt has experienced the challenge of balancing these goals. Perhaps it is because they know this struggle so well that they have given extra attention to the "productivity" outcomes for each model in particular, comparing the increase in learning of the students served by the teacher and student assistant with the cost of the teacher and the student assistant. Whatever the reason might be, while there is much attention given to the advantages for the beneficiaries in these models, there is little space for precise and well-supported information about the cognitive or other outcomes for the student assistants who are the providers. Surely, readers interested in innovation accept the need to quantify outcomes in order to justify the support requested for their programs. But it would be unfortunate if--after enjoying the wonderful ideas and innovations described in the book--readers were left with the impression that student-assisted teaching is more about savings for the institution than it is about investment in the most important resource we have, our students.