A Handbook for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education: Enhancing Academic Practice, 2nd Edition

Editor(s) Fry, Heather; Ketteridge, Steve and Marshall, Stephanie
Publisher Kogan Page: London and Sterling
Published 2003
Pages 450
ISBN 0749437995
Reviewed by Judy Durrant
Canterbury Christ Church University College
Review published 1 December 2004

This book is intended primarily for those in higher education who are relatively inexperienced teachers, but I would suggest that it is extremely valuable for all those working in higher education and supporting adult learners. It is a guide to best practice and process and the most recent developments in teaching, learning and assessment, drawing on a large number of expert authors for chapters and case study materials.

The core chapter focuses on 'Understanding student learning' and is recommended as initial reading. Beyond this, maintaining a strong learning focus, there are chapters on generic themes and issues (including student motivation; assessment; lecturing for learning; supervision; virtual learning environments; assuring quality and standards; reflective practice) and chapters focussing on subject areas. Chapters can be read independently of each other but form an absorbing whole. There is a succinct and helpful guide to the sections and a substantial glossary assists both with definitions and with acronyms, essential for those new to the field. The writing is fresh and jargon-free, approaching topics with depth and clarity in chapters of manageable length, and the format is attractive and immediately accessible. It is easy to appraise the content and main points of each chapter using the headings, emboldened key words and helpful overviews, but this then invites a more detailed read.

The book addresses rapid changes in higher education and the challenges, pressures and implications arising from these. It has a scholarly basis, with richly referenced chapters, case studies and findings from research supplemented by recommended further reading and relevant websites. The authors are not averse to presenting the results of their own experimental enquiries, for example Stephen Newstead and Sherria Hoskins in the chapter on 'Encouraging student motivation' write that: "…we devised a very quick and simple (but totally unvalidated) measure: we simply asked students to indicate what was the single main reason why they were studying at university…". The results, commentary and comparison with other research are, of course, fascinating and the confidence with which such items are included provides encouragement to those wishing to take an investigative approach to their practice without necessarily embarking upon a major research project. The authors have answered our questions, or sometimes questions we may not dare to ask: What happens when a number of experienced examiners mark the same set of texts using the same criteria? What are students' views of helpful lecturing styles? What are the requirements of an institutional audit? What are the pros and cons of different ways of creating a new topic in a virtual learning environment? The suggestions and findings presented are clearly drawn from practical experience and thorough knowledge of the issues as well as from research. Case studies are used to exemplify good practice and report research, provoking comparison and stimulating reflection.

Throughout the book are frequent questions and exercises entitled "Interrogating practice", many of which not only prompt immediate individual reflection but are substantial enough to provide a focus for group discussion, departmental review or further research. As these questions are made explicit, this book becomes not simply a valuable reference tool but a textbook for those wanting to develop a more reflective approach and support their own professional learning, challenging both individual and institutional practice.

My concern is that in the increasingly busy, pressurised and rapidly changing world of higher education, there is limited time and opportunity to put the book to proper use. There is clearly an individual responsibility to keep up to date with developments in teaching, learning and assessment in higher education and to foster one's professional learning. It also falls to those working as mentors, leading teams and managing the professional development of higher education teachers and support staff, to provide frameworks and opportunities for collaborative working to enhance academic practice. In both respects, this handbook is an essential resource.