by Linda B. Nilson
We can’t keep up with our own discipline’s research, so how are we supposed to stay abreast of the college teaching literature? Let me make it a little easier for you. Here are six recently published books that capture what I think are the latest and most important developments and trends in college teaching and learning. If you’re new to teaching, start with the how-to basics in my book Teaching at Its Best: A Research-Based Resource for College Instructors 3rd ed. (Jossey-Bass, 2010).
Susan A. Ambrose et al., How Learning Works: Seven Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching (Jossey-Bass, 2010). We just can’t find out too much about how the mind learns. The authors derive research from anthropology, sociology, organizational behavior, and cognitive, developmental, educational, and social psychology to distill seven learning principles: the effects on learning of students’ prior knowledge, their organization of the material, their motivation, and their level of development and class climate, as well as the importance of practice and feedback, the prerequisites of mastery, and the role of self-regulation in self-directed learning. The book provides teaching recommendations for each principle.
José Antonio Bowen, Teaching Naked: How Moving Technology Out of Your Classroom Will Improve Student Learning (Jossey-Bass, 2012). While I really dislike the primary title—it misrepresents the book’s material and purpose—Bowen’s best-seller gives directions, reasons, creative ideas, software, and resources for flipping your classroom. Games merit his special attention because students find them so engaging. Although the evidence that technology actually increases learning is thin, the value of active learning is indisputable.
James R. Davis and Bridget D. Arend, Facilitating Seven Ways of Learning: A Resource for More Purposeful, Effective, and Enjoyable College Teaching (Stylus, 2013). This book offers a fresh, overarching organization of how we should be teaching, depending upon our student learning outcomes. The authors relate seven categories of outcomes (e.g., building skills, developing thinking and reasoning processes, practicing professional judgment) to different ways of learning (e.g., behavioral, learning through inquiry, learning through virtual realities) and to different teaching methods (e.g., tasks & procedures and practice exercises, question-driven inquiries and discussions, role plays, simulations, games, and dramatic scenarios). Their recommendations make solid sense.
Terry Doyle and Todd Zakrajsek, The New Science of Learning: How to Learn in Harmony with Your Brain (Stylus, 2013). If I may quote from my review printed on the back cover: “This is a path-breaking book. . . . More sophisticated and empirically-grounded that any study skills manual, [it] addresses all the major research findings on how the human brain learns. It does so using language and examples that students—in fact, anyone with a mind—can understand and immediately apply to enhance their attention, depth of processing, retention, retrieval, and far-transfer abilities. It deserves to be required reading for all college students—really, anyone interested in learning.” And this includes faculty! Consider assigning this book to your students as well.
Arthur Levine and Diane R. Dean, Generation on a Tightrope: A Portrait of Today’s College Student (Jossey-Bass, 2012). The authors assemble compelling survey evidence for the generalizations they make about Millennial students. You can gain a nuanced understanding of how the generation’s unique experiences and demographics have shaped their values, aspirations, politics, social lives, family lives, and attitudes about education.
John D. Shank, Interactive Open Educational Resources: A Guide to Finding, Choosing, and Using What’s Out There to Transform College Teaching (Jossey-Bass, 2014). This is a valuable reference book on free, high-quality, digital resources for teaching and learning at the post-secondary level. These resources, some of which are interactive, span simulations, games, multimedia tutorials, demonstrations, virtual labs and experiences, animations, videos, and audio recordings. Useful in traditional, flipped, online, or hybrid courses, they can serve as engaging homework assignments, in-class activities, supplementary lessons, or lecture enhancements.
Since all these books come from two major publishers, Jossey-Bass and Stylus, your campus library either has them in their collection or can get them for you quickly through interlibrary loan. However many years you have taught, you will surely learn new tools-of-the-trade. And if you are feeling burned out, you’re likely to find a fresh approach, perspective, or resource that will refuel your passion for teaching.
Linda B. Nilson is founding director of the Office of Teaching Effectiveness and Innovation at Clemson University and author of Creating Self-Regulated Learners: Strategies to Strengthen Students’ Self-Awareness and Learning Skills (Stylus, 2013), Teaching at Its Best: A Research-Based Resource for College Instructors, 3rd ed. (Jossey-Bass, 2010), and The Graphic Syllabus and the Outcomes Map: Communicating Your Course (Jossey-Bass, 2007). She also co-edited Enhancing Learning with Laptops in the Classroom (Jossey-Bass, 2005) and volumes 25 through 28 of To Improve the Academy: Resources for Faculty, Instructional, and Organizational Development, the major publication of the Professional and Organizational Development Network in Higher Education. More info on her LinkedIn profile.