Book Reviews

Book by Wiseman, D.G., Hunt, G.H., Zhukov, V.I., & Mardahaev, L.V.
Review by Harold W. Faw
Department of Psychology
Trinity Western University
Langley, B.C.  Canada

This book introduces itself as “a work focused on the study and practice of teaching excellence in higher education” and as “the product of international collaboration” (p. ix).  Sounds compelling!  It definitely presents concepts relevant for university teaching, some of them quite practical.  And it does comprise five chapters authored by Russian scholars and four written by American academics.  Beyond that, evidence for collaboration is thin.

Several pedagogically sound themes are woven throughout the book.  One is the priority of developing whole persons, not just preparing technically competent minds.  Another is the recognition of close links among clear communication of our expectations, student motivation, smooth classroom logistics, and genuine learning.  A third is the necessity of truly engaging students in the process of discovery, challenging them to invest fully in the academic tasks they encounter and to actively manage their own learning.  Well prepared lectures have their place, but student-centered methods of instruction are vital for teaching a generation of technologically savvy students.

Books produced by multiple authors can suffer from uneven writing quality, and that is the case here.  While the wording of some sections flows smoothly, other parts remain hopelessly murky, even after numerous re-readings.  Further, the authors have an annoying penchant for listing techniques or concepts, frequently without sufficient clarification or illustration to make them understandable.  For example, of the seven student-centered techniques of teaching covered in chapter six, only one or two (already familiar to me) made sense.  In addition, some chapters are poorly structured, and section headings at times confuse readers rather than help them anticipate what’s coming next, since high level headings are printed in the same font as narrow topics.  Finally, the book ends abruptly, with no attempt to draw a conclusion or to clarify what the international collaboration aimed to accomplish.

Despite these objections, I found much of the book both stimulating and valuable.  In my own teaching, I will be more determined to foster student effort by designing projects that are meaningful and challenging, yet achievable, and by clearly communicating my expectations while being attentive to theirs.  I am also intrigued with the idea of including portfolios of student work in the assessment process.  The unique dimension they incorporate is that prior to their submission, students reflect candidly and deliberately on the quality of their own work.

As its title suggests, this book is addressed to university instructors.  Given the sketchy explanation of many of its concepts, I think that experienced teachers will profit more than novices.  But academic advisors will also find parts of it worth reading.  The prominent theme of motivating students, encouraging them to invest time and effort in their academic tasks, is directly linked with advisors’ roles as they assist students in charting their academic pathways and setting realistic objectives.  In addition, the intriguing concept of “self-regulated learners” found on page 76 seems to precisely capture the intent of developmental advising--equipping students to take responsibility for their own academic goals and choices.

The limitations of this book are substantial.  Nevertheless, I applaud its authors for their obvious passion to see university teaching improved and for their courageous attempt at mutually enriching cross-cultural collaboration.  I sincerely hope that future efforts—including those sparked by this book—will achieve more of this potential.

Teaching at the University Level: Cross-Cultural Perspectives from the United States and Russia (2007) Book by Wiseman, D.G., Hunt, G.H., Zhukov, V.I, & Mardahaev, L.V. Review by Harold W. Faw. Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas Publishers Ltd., 196 pp, $49.95. ISBN # 978-0-398-07745-7
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