Working with graduate teaching assistants is an important aspect of my job, and as such I am always looking for new resources to use with them. I am a big fan of Steven G. Krantz’s How to Teach Mathematics (2nd ed.), and Wilbert J. McKeachie’s Teaching Tips: Strategies, Research, and Theory for College and University Teachers (every edition is good!). I jumped at the opportunity to review A Handbook for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education: Enhancing Academic Practice, hoping there might be some gems in this giant 500 page book.
A Handbook for Teaching and Learning… is a book from the UK, and although most of the data and ideas presented are universal, parts of it feel somewhat irrelevant to this American reader. The basic chapters and topics are there, just as in Krantz, McKeachie, and most books about teaching: student learning, student motivation, how to lecture to large groups, small group learning, evaluating your own teaching, etc. Part 2 of the Handbook, which comprises the bulk of the text, is “Teaching in the disciplines” and has twelve chapters each titled “Key aspects of teaching and learning in (insert discipline here)” with disciplines ranging from engineering to nursing and midwifery. Each of these chapters is written by authors with university-level experience in their discipline, giving a first-hand perspective for new teachers in that discipline.
Chapter 17 is “Key aspects of teaching and learning in mathematics and statistics”, and specifically tries to avoid “immediately consumable classroom resources” (p. 247), focusing instead on general good practice. The chapter treats issues particular to pure mathematics (including proofs and notation), applied mathematics (including a discussion of assessment and student communication), and statistics (emphasizing the need for data-driven instruction). It is not about service and low-level mathematics courses, or the teaching of these courses. Alas, these are the types of courses that are most commonly taught by graduate teaching assistants, and they form a large part of the teaching load of many American mathematicians. Having a math-specific chapter and the multitude of resources listed at the end is an advantage of this book over McKeachie’s “Teaching Tips,” but 18 pages doesn’t compare in any way to Krantz’s math-specific text.
I was excited to see “case studies” throughout the Handbook, but confused at what the authors actually mean by this. I was expecting case studies for teaching much like those in Teaching Mathematics in Colleges and Universities: Case Studies for Today’s Classroom, where a teaching scenario is presented and the reader is asked to imagine themselves in that situation and consider their response. In the Handbook, “case studies” are instead detailed information on a specific idea or teaching technique or tool. For example, in Chapter 17, one case study is a description of STACK, a computer algebra system.
Throughout the book are grey boxes titled “Interrogating Practice,” which contain questions for reflection. There are two or three of these in each chapter, providing a way to encourage reflective reading and teaching or to stimulate discussion.
I just don’t see the need to add the Handbook to my repertoire of resources for working with GTAs. It doesn’t expand upon or bring new perspective to the basics of university teaching, and I didn’t find the format or style of A Handbook for Teaching and Learning… as inviting or interesting as my stand-by resources.
Christine Latulippe is an Assistant Professor of Mathematics Education at Cal Poly Pomona. She enjoys working with Graduate Teaching Assistants as they navigate teaching for the first time, and watching their perspectives on teaching and learning change with experience. Whether it’s a GTA in your department or faculty member, take a moment this week to ask someone how their teaching is going. You might be surprised by the discussion that follows.
Part I. Teaching, supervising and learning in higher education
1. A user’s guide, Heather Fry, Steve Ketteridge and Stephanie Marshall
2. Understanding student learning, Heather Fry, Steve Ketteridge and Stephanie Marshall
3. Encouraging student motivation, Sherria L. Hoskins and Stephen E Newstead
4. Planning teaching and learning: curriculum design and development, Lorraine Stefani
5. Lecturing to large groups, Ann Morton
6. Teaching and learning in small groups, Sandra Griffiths
7. E-learning – an introduction, Sam Brenton
8. Teaching and learning for employability: knowledge is not the only outcome, Pauline Kneale
9. Supporting student learning, David Gosling
10. Assessing student learning, Lin Norton
11. Supervising projects and dissertations, Stephanie Marshall
12. Supervising research students, Steve Ketteridge and Morag Shiach
13. Teaching quality, standards and enhancement, Judy McKimm
14. Evaluating courses and teaching, Dai Hounsell
Part II Teaching in the disciplines
15. Teaching in the disciplines, Denis Berthiaume
16. Key aspects of learning and teaching in experimental sciences, Ian Hughes and Tina Overton
17. Key aspects of teaching and learning in mathematics and statistics, Joe Kyle and Peter Kahn
18. Key aspects of teaching and learning in engineering, John Dickens and Carol Arlett
19. Key aspects of teaching and learning in computing science, Gerry McAllister and Sylvia Alexander
20. Key aspects of teaching and learning in arts, humanities and social sciences, Phillip W Martin
21. Key aspects of teaching and learning in languages, Carol Gray and John Klapper
22. Key aspects of teaching and learning in the visual arts, Alison Shreeve, Shân Waring and Linda Drew
23. Key aspects of teaching and learning: enhancing learning in legal education, Tracey Varnava and Julian Webb
24. Key aspects of teaching and learning in accounting, business and management, Ursula Lucas and Peter Milford
25. Key aspects of teaching and learning in economics, Liz Barnett
26. Key aspects of teaching and learning in medicine and dentistry, Adam Feather and Heather Fry
27. Key aspects of teaching and learning in nursing and midwifery, Pam Parker and Della Freeth
Part 3 Enhancing personal practice
28. Enhancing personal practice: establishing teaching and learning credentials, Heather Fry and Steve Ketteridge
29. Teaching excellence as a vehicle for career progression, Stephanie Marshall and Gus Pennington