Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Books that influenced my teaching

A colleague is undertaking a sabbatical project that involves collecting books related to teaching in higher education. I was honored to be asked to provide some for his list, and in the spirit of last week's post, I figured I would share them here as well. He was asking specifically for books about teaching in higher education, which I'll start with; he also clarified with me over email that particularly inspirational disciplinary books may also be of use to him, so I'll share some of those as well.

General Teaching Books

Without going back through my old notebooks, here are the books that I remember reading and enjoying. I've provided Amazon links mostly to remove any ambiguity, not because I have any particular need for people to shop there.
  • How People Learn is an excellent overview of what is known about learning, and I remember that reading this helped me build a better understanding of some core educational concepts. Like most professors, I had practically no formal education in how to teach, and I had picked up a lot of folk wisdom; this book was useful for turning this ad hoc understanding into something more rigorous.
  • How Learning Works, I read this about the same time as the previous one, and I remember it covering similar ground but with more emphasis on higher education. Since I read these at the same time, and many years ago, I may have muddled some of their influences, but to me that's okay: I believe I have internalized most of the main premises into my action, and that was the goal.
  • Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation. This book was recommended to me by a colleague, and it was fundamental in helping me shape my current understanding of learning as a social process. I have directly drawn on the ideas of this book in designing my game production studio courses. If anything, I wish I could use more of the ideas in this book: my main annoyances in higher education are precisely those conventions and structures that make it hard to follow the patterns of LPP described here.
  • Visible Learning and the Science of How We Learn provides another overview of the science of teaching and learning, framed and supported by the Visible Learning meta-studies. This is a fascinating piece, and in some ways it is a quantitative counterpoint to Situated Learning's qualitative perspectives. It's fascinating and well-supported, and yet the authors' apparent disdain for non-quantitative work left me feeling uneasy. (For what it's worth, I came across this book by reading Grant Wiggins' blog, where he points out one of the most important contributions of Hattie's work: that there are many easy classroom practices that have a higher effect size than students' socio-economic status. Also, in digging up that link, I just found out that Wiggins died in May 2015, over a year ago, and now I am kind of bummed. I knew I had missed his writing; I didn't know he had passed away.)
  • Speaking of Wiggins, Essential Questions: Opening Doors to Student Understanding focuses on what I consider the most fascinating aspect of Understanding by Design: framing inquiry through essential questions. Longtime readers will know that I have been tinkering with EQs as a method to frame my courses for a few years, and now I feel like they are a critical tool to my course design and evaluation process. In fact, now I often prefer to describe courses in terms of their questions rather than their content.
  • Although I have not read their entire book, I will point out Papert and Harel's chapter "Situating Constructionism" from Constructionism. I think I may have read this more times than any other article. I find it fascinating, and when I am pushed to state what educational philosophical camp I belong to, I would have to say constructionism. (Of course, then I usually have to explain that I didn't just say "constructivism," and people give me blank stares. Hence, I include this chapter here, because anybody interested in effective higher education philosophy should read it.)

Other Inspirational Books

There are several books I have read that are not about education in particular, but that reading them greatly informed and influenced my teaching practice. Here are some:
  • Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate and Scholarship Assessed, which I read in my third year as an assistant professor, gave me a much broader view of what it meant to be a scholar and a professor. Relevant to this post, it helped me to see how my teaching was scholarship, not just something that produced scholarship. This fundamental observation from Boyer's classic work is still something I find broadly misunderstood in academia. The counterpart by Glassick et al. provides a well-known six-stage framework for assessing scholarship—a framework I use not only in my own work, but which I worked to incorporate into my department's promotion and tenure documents.
  • A Theory of Fun for Game Design. For those who are not familiar with Koster's amazing treatise, this is not a book about how to design games but rather about why we design games. The fundamental thesis presented here is that learning is fun, or put another way, fun arises from learning. I read the first edition of this book shortly after becoming an assistant professor, and the ideas of game design here strongly influenced my course design.
  • Agile Software Development: The Cooperative Game. The title of this book hints at its thesis: that software development is a cooperative game—not engineering, not modeling, but a game. Internalizing this principle has allowed me to apply my research on game design directly into my teaching work. 
I hope you find this list useful. Please feel free to share your feedback or your own favorites in the comments!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for providing the link to the chapter on Situating Constructionism. I looked on Amazon for the Constructionism book and the only copies they had were selling for $1500!!!