A Handbook for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education: Enhancing Academic Practice

Editor(s) Heather Fry, Steve Ketteridge, Stephanie Marshall
Publisher Routledge
Published 2008
Pages 544
Price £24.99
ISBN 9780415434645
Reviewed by Dr Deborah Lee
Nottingham Trent University
Review published 17 November 2008

An earlier edition of 'A Handbook for Teaching & Learning in Higher Education' was the key text when I studied for my postgraduate certificate in learning and teaching in higher education nearly a decade ago. At that time, I found it helpful and referred to it regularly. I was keen to read the newest (third) edition to see both how it had been developed for present-day inexperienced lecturers and what it might offer to experienced practitioners. While the book is aimed mainly at newly-appointed graduate teaching assistants and lecturers, the editors also say at the outset that it will be useful to a wide range of staff - such as, librarians, technical staff and established academics.

The book is organised into three sections. In part 1, ‘Teaching, supervising and learning in higher education’, chapters are concerned with: understanding student learning, encouraging student motivation, planning teaching and learning, lecturing to large groups, facilitating small groups, e-learning, employability, supporting student learning, assessment, supervising undergraduates and postgraduates, quality and standards and evaluation. Part 2 offers chapters on ‘Teaching in the disciplines’: experimental sciences, mathematics and statistics, engineering, computing science, arts, humanities and social sciences, languages, visual arts, legal education, accounting, business and management, economics, medicine and dentistry and nursing and midwifery. Two final chapters, which comprise part 3, focus upon ‘Enhancing personal practice’.

The content of the text is, then, extremely comprehensive, relevant to a wide range of disciplines and reflective of current issues in the academy - such as the massification of higher education, the diversity of the student body, technological advances available to educators and the presence of performance indicators. The up-to-the-minute nature of the text means that it will be relevant not just for the newly-appointed, but also for established lecturers reflecting upon their current circumstances at work.

Readers can dip into chapters which relate to their particular interests at particular times, although there is strong encouragement from the editors to read Chapter 2 (Understanding student learning). Contributors write in an accessible as well as academic and research-informed way; and chapters include short, user-friendly case studies and pertinent questions to guide personal reflections.

Student motivation is a topical concern. New and established lecturers would do well to note Hoskins and Newstead’s comments in Chapter 3, that while they have: ‘no ready panacea for solving the problems of student motivation...it seems reasonable to suggest that the learning context and specifically the provision of high-quality feedback and the adoption of appropriate assessment systems are at least part of the answer’ (p.37).

Aspects of the chapter by Morton (Chapter 5: Lecturing to large groups), though, need to be approached with more caution. Morton seeks to deal with ‘managing disruptive behaviour’ in a page and a half. She states that although books have been written about disruptive behaviour in schools and colleges: ‘much of the material is not relevant to higher education because we [higher education staff] do not see the extremes of behaviour prevalent in other areas of education’ (p.67). Having researched university student behaviour myself (Lee, 2006), I disagree entirely, and am dismayed by the advice Morton dispenses based upon her misinformation. For instance, she says that: ‘in extreme cases it might be necessary to ask troublesome students to leave the class’ (p.68). She does not seem aware of what might follow if troublesome students refuse to leave the class. Morton also advises that: ‘new lecturers may want to discuss the problems they are having with a more experienced member of staff who can often give them advice and support’ (p.68). As I have argued elsewhere, responding to ‘troublesome students’ is, in fact, a matter for effective higher education leadership, rather than the individual problem of a particular member of staff (Lee, 2006).

Overall, the third edition of 'A Handbook for Teaching & Learning in Higher Education' is a very welcome contribution to the literature on learning and teaching in higher education. It is wide-ranging and up-to-the-minute; it remains perhaps the most relevant text for those taking postgraduate certificates in learning and teaching in higher education. One aspect of academia which I felt might have been more clearly highlighted is its highly problematic nature. The newly-appointed should, in my opinion, be encouraged to be critical interrogators of the professions they have joined; they should also be made fully aware of institutional stress, bullying and harassment.

Reference:

Lee, Deborah (2006) University Students Behaving Badly. Stoke on Trent: Trentham Books.