For more than thirty years, Change magazine (published in association with the American Association for Higher Education) has been one of the most important venues for dialogue about issues central to higher education. It has helped administrators, teachers, and policy-makers focus discussion, raise concerns, assess innovation, and expand understanding. For this reason alone, Learning from Change should be considered a valuable resource for academic professionals and students of higher education. Editor Deborah DeZure and fourteen contributing editors have combed the archives of Change to select and collect what they consider to be "landmarks" of the teaching and learning landscape. It is a weighty book of over four hundred pages, well indexed and introduced, divided into thirteen useful categories, each framed by a leader in that particular field. Indeed, while the sub-headings of this book are far from exhaustive, they do provide a clear indication of what the editors of this collection as well as the journal itself consider the more pressing issues and themes of the last three decades.
Topics include "Promoting a Culture of Teaching and Learning"; "Work, Service, and Community Connections"; "Philosophy, Psychology, and Methods of Teaching"; "Assessing Student Learning"; "Evaluating College Teaching"; "Media and Technology"; and sections on student portraits, curriculum, learning communities, the National Teaching Project, science education, professional and graduate (including teacher) education, and teacher narratives. Within each of these sections can be found excerpts from the magazine (over 160 in all) that were selected according to specific criteria including the historical importance of the article, the relevance of the article today, a prophetic or predictive perspective, and the quality of writing (xxiv). While the use of these criteria may not have yielded the "best" articles from Change magazine (such subjectivity is hardly appropriate), it has provided the reader with both variety and insight.
In the "Curriculum" section, for example, edited by AACU Vice President Jerry G. Graff, readers are presented with the work of Ernest Boyer and Martin Kaplan, Carol Geary Schneider and Robert Schoenberg, E. D. Hirsch, Jr., Carlos E. Cortés, and others who report on changes in our approaches to liberal education. In excerpts ranging from a few paragraphs to several pages, readers encounter discussions of core curriculum, basic skills, citizenship, and cultural diversity. Throughout, the emphasis is on the attributes of universal curricular innovation that have some significance to all campuses, not just to localized cases, which have limited transferability. Likewise, in "The Origins of Contemporary Learning Communities," edited by Zelda F. Gamson of the New England Resource Center for Higher Education at the University of Massachusetts-Boston, the "collegiate ideal" is examined in terms of "a community committed to a larger world and engaged in constructing knowledge" (115). From Judson Jerome on the residential college to Martin Duberman on Black Mountain, from Arthur Levine on Brookwood Labor College to F. Champion Ward on the University of Chicago, these essays provide a sense of the purposes and practices of an educational process--the development of these specialized communities-- that is becoming increasingly important on contemporary campuses. Sprinkled throughout this section, as in others, are Change reports from specific campus sites; these are not articles so much as dispatches from the field yielding snapshots of a time and place otherwise lost to academic history.
Indeed, history is perhaps the most important aspect of this collection, which provides an organized view of educational change as it happened, framed in terms of the priorities and policies of today. In "Media and Technology," readers will recognize what editor Kenneth C. Green, founder and director of the Campus Computing Project, calls the plus ša change of the field: the more things change, the more things stay the same (395). For while the articles may "transcend the context of time," they also remind us that "although technologies may be new and constantly changing, the implementation challenges seem structural" (397). In fact, these articles suggest that by reviewing the historical literature about television in the classroom, the early essays on computers in higher education, or the place of distance learning in the digital age, we can and will be better prepared for inevitable changes. We can and should learn from the past. Nowhere is this more pertinent than in the section on "Evaluating College Teaching," wherein editor Peter Seldin of Pace University explodes such myths as "there is no way to identify good teaching," "good teachers are born not made," and "evaluation of teaching has not changed much over the years" (339-340). Through letters on the effects of teaching, research into evaluation, overviews of the art, surveys of policy and practice, and the mining of memory, this section demonstrates the depth of self-analysis present in the college classroom and the breadth of research methodologies that have been brought to bear on the quest for educational excellence.
One of the most important methodologies of the last decade has been the narrative analysis. According to editor Diane Gillespie, teacher narratives, once shunned as overly subjective and insufficiently rigorous, are now considered "an epistemological middle ground" supported by "concrete particulars for evidence" and "abstract ideas for insight and understanding" (367). In selecting work for the "Teacher Narratives" section, Gillespie, an important voice in the movement for reflective teaching, focused on stories of struggle and revelation within a critical context. From Peter Elbow's examination of what classes tell him to Lawrence Blum's documentation of interracial dialogue, these essays promote scholarship that reaches deep within the classroom experience, exposing vulnerabilities, examining failures, and above all opening a dialogue about the stories that underpin all teaching and learning. The promotion of thoughtful analysis figures prominently in the sections on "Assessing Student Learning"; "Science Education Reform"; and "Philosophy, Psychology, and Methods of Teaching"; but most particularly in Carnegie Foundation Senior Scholar Pat Hutchings' section on "Promoting a Culture of Teaching and Learning." Through the writings of Lee S. Schulman and Parker J. Palmer, Ursula Elisabeth Wagener and Russell Edgerton, Hutchings invites readers to "look at teaching through the lens of culture" and thus "shift our focus beyond method and technique" to "questions about the web of beliefs and behaviors that shape what faculty members actually do in the teaching and learning settings that constitute their work" (1). This goal is accomplished throughout the section.
Clearly, there is much to grapple with in Learning from Change, and much to recommend it to a wide and diverse audience. In fact, the only real criticism is the inevitable result of format and journalistic origin. For in trying to cover the greatest possible range of themes, editor DeZure has been forced into a difficult situation. While most of the articles represent important voices and ideas, they are not nearly as effective as they were in their original form, complete and in context, and what is most frustrating about this book is the ellipses which frame and interrupt the selections. But with that said, it must also be acknowledged that the editors are well aware of this difficulty and provided readers with complete and useful citations for all articles. Likewise, some readers might find fault with the categories chosen, especially when a specific article might have fit easily into several sections or provided a foundation for an entirely different topic. But this too has been addressed by the editor, who acknowledges that such divisions are artifacts of recent trends in higher education and thus subject to changes in what is an ongoing conversation.. Ultimately, the writing in this book is accessible, the topics are pertinent, and the organization makes for easy access. Furthermore, as a resource for additional investigation into Change magazine, it is invaluable. DeZure tells us that the book "is designed for audiences both inside the academy and outside its increasingly permeable walls who want to understand key dimensions of teaching and learning in higher education" (xxiii). This it accomplishes, and to this end it will be a valuable addition to any academic bookshelf.
Posted April 4, 2002
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©2002 by Richard Gale.