Transformations: Approaches to College Science Teaching.
Article Type: Book review
Subject: Books (Book reviews)
Author: Dewar, Eric W.
Pub Date: 11/01/2012
Publication: Name: The American Biology Teacher Publisher: National Association of Biology Teachers Audience: Academic; Professional Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Biological sciences; Education Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2012 National Association of Biology Teachers ISSN: 0002-7685
Issue: Date: Nov-Dec, 2012 Source Volume: 74 Source Issue: 9
Topic: NamedWork: Transformations: Approaches to College Science Teaching (Nonfiction work)
Persons: Reviewee: Allen, Deborah; Tanner, Kimberly D.
Accession Number: 308743625
Full Text: Transformations: Approaches to College Science Teaching. By Deborah Allen and Kimberly D. Tanner. 2009. W.H. Freeman. (ISBN 9781429253352). 284 pp. Cloth. $21.95.

Can we model scientific practice better through conscientious course design and lecture strategies? Transformations is an up-to-date source book that addresses this question with teaching ideas drawn from the primary literature of the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) and accumulated teacher lore in biology. This book starts from the uncontroversial premise that more active-learning approaches will promote learning in biology courses, but extends this premise toward course engagement and self-reflection about how we interact with our students.

The authors have reprinted a series of features they published in CBE--Life Sciences Education. These features, arranged thematically, are intended to be used as independent segments for faculty who want to tool up on particular topics or practices. The volume opens with seven techniques for boosting active learning in lectures, briefly introduced in order of increasing prep time for the instructor. Several of these techniques--especially problem-based learning (PBL), peer-teaching, and cooperative learning--are elaborated upon in later chapters. The second group of chapters outlines ideas about course design, assessment, and content standards, and the reader is directed to more in-depth sources on those topics.

For me, some of the most interesting ideas were from the section about student engagement, particularly the chapters about developing cultural competence as well as the practice of framing scientific content with historical or cultural perspectives in order to engage students. Their discussion of cultural competency offered starting points for faculty to self-reflect about our attitudes when working with students whose backgrounds differ from our own. Some of the practices introduced there may stop students from underrepresented groups from switching away from science because they don't see themselves as belonging to the scientific culture.

The final chapters emphasize teaching scientists' ongoing development in scientific education. Many of these ideas are attainable by a single faculty member, such as exploring the literature of SoTL or developing partnerships with teachers in P-12 settings. Some chapters are more polemical in nature, particularly in regard to developing the teaching skills of biology graduate students as a systematic element of their training. Surprisingly, offices of teaching and learning that are dedicated to faculty development get no mention in this section.

Even with the authors' stated goal of producing stand-alone chapters, I would have preferred more integration across the volume. For example, three fine short chapters about questions in class, student talk, and evaluating answers could have been integrated into a single cohesive unit. The citations also reflect this lack of integration--features the authors had written (often summaries of the primary literature of SoTL) are cited as standalone publications in this book, despite also appearing as chapters in the volume. Sometimes the references are even contradictory: for example, student-group projects are introduced offhandedly in chapter 1 as a way to promote active learning, but in an expanded treatment in chapter 13 this model is revealed to be quite intensive in terms of preclass planning and ongoing coordination by faculty.

Some practices and resources get very short shrift. The authors basically do not stray into the laboratory at all. I think that the proliferation of worksheet-based laboratory manuals has dulled the discovery aspect of doing science, particularly in the first-year or nonmajor experience. The inquiry-based practices of PBL or cooperative learning appear in several chapters, but they aren't applied to the activities in the laboratory or the field. Some classroom-response systems are mentioned, but there is little coverage of other classroom technology.

As a teaching scientist, I know that I am responsible for setting the tone and the level of the learning experience of my students. However, something crystallized for me in this book when I read about how "students experience learning (p. 157)." Do students experience learning or do they learn? I believe that we should strive to guide students toward more scientific sophistication, but throughout the text the authors seem to attribute very little agency to students for their own learning. Overall, the strategies the authors present for modeling how science is done are quite good, but these feature articles and others are already available as a collection on the journal's open-access website. More time spent to integrate these ideas for the reader would have made this volume an even stronger contribution in its own right.

DOI: 10.1525/abt.2012.74.9.11

Eric W. Dewar

Associate Professor of Biology

Suffolk University

Boston, MA 02108
Gale Copyright: Copyright 2012 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.