Summer Book Reviews
Bulletin readers offer their suggestions for you higher education reading list

From the June 2001 AAHE Bulletin

To purchase any of these books, please visit  your local or online bookstore.


Completing Your Thesis or Dissertation: Professors Share Their Techniques and Strategies
By Fred Pyrczak (2000). Pyrczak Publishing, Los Angeles; 106 pages; $20.95.

Reviewed by Crystal Lee, director of library services, River Parishes Community College, and an educational leadership, research, and counseling doctoral candidate, Louisiana State University; crystaldeerlee@rpcc.cc.la.us.

The best advice is often found in the voice of experience. Fred Pyrczak gathers personal experiences, suggested strategies, and words of wisdom from professors who have completed a thesis and/or dissertation and compiles these 71 contributions into a compact and very useful handbook.

This is not a “how-to” book in the traditional sense because it does not follow a consecutive pattern of step one, step two, step three, etc. Rather, positive and negative experiences are shared, some in candid and anonymous entries. Most of the contributions are personal stories, words of caution, suggestions, and personal testimonials of what worked well and what did not for these professors when they were graduate students.

Some of the suggested best practices include establishing a topic at the beginning of the graduate program, setting manageable and achievable goals, getting to know and communicating regularly with committee members, annotating and saving all information, balancing and attending to life’s responsibilities, establishing and relying on a support system of cohorts, attending another student’s defense, and scheduling dissertation writing time and sticking to it. The professors also give some warnings: avoid negative thoughts, extreme perfectionism, and procrastination.

This book provides the reader several approaches for success in completing the thesis or dissertation, and professors give several strategies that should accommodate various learning styles and schedules. A common theme throughout is to clearly define goals and work steadily toward achieving them.

The book is filled with light-hearted humor and is enjoyable to read. Graduate students will find the advice of these contributors immediately relevant to their coursework. This book is an excellent addition to recommended reading lists and suggested references for students seeking insight into the thesis or dissertation process.


Sisters of the Academy: Emergent Black Women Scholars in Higher Education
Edited by Reitumetse Obakeng Mabokela and Anna L. Green (2001). Stylus Publishing, Sterling, Virginia; 256 pages; $59.95 ($24.95 paperback).

Reviewed by Yolanda Robinson, assistant professor of education, Pepperdine University Graduate School of Education; yolanda.robinson@pepperdine.edu.

In Sisters of the Academy, a group of remarkable women share their journeys as students and faculty members in the Academy and report how they have sought to garner support for their scholarship and reclaim their voices from forced and self-imposed marginalization. Yet the reader does not hear bitterness. Only the voice of intelligent determination to move beyond the boundaries of racism and ignorance encountered in higher education emerges.

Beginning with the first chapter, we are freed “From Fear of Misconception,” shown ways of “Breaking the Silence,” and finally, we emerge in the last chapter as women who are “Not An Honorary White: Conducting Research During the Days of Apartheid.” These scholars are connected in contemporary purposes and unique visions, worthy of voice, visibility, and inclusion in the academy.

Becoming sensitive to the experiences, tremendous burdens, and excruciating pains black women deal with in higher education requires understanding. It can begin with reading this book. Each and every “sister” who walks through the portals of these institutions should read it to become armed with a better understanding of the challenges they face and must overcome to emerge victorious. After reading the last page of this book, university leaders, department chairs, provosts, presidents, faculty members, students, and staff are compelled to examine their institutional roles that have contributed to or against black scholars’ successes.

Sisters is a must-read work for all followers and leaders in the community we call higher education. In this way we can begin to dialogue and more fully work together ensuring that we embrace these “sisters” as our own.


Assessment Essentials: Planning, Implementing and Improving Assessment in Higher Education
By Catherine A. Palomba and Trudy W. Banta (1999). Jossey-Bass, Inc., San Francisco; 405 pages, $32.95.

Reviewed by Rolanda S. Burris, director of academic support services, Barat College of DePaul University; burris@barat.depaul.edu.

Thank you, Palomba and Banta, for assisting the academic world by providing the Assessment Essentials needed within the field of higher education, and for writing a book that is clear to understand. If someone is frightened over the thought of having to do an assessment at their institution, this book will definitely assist in taking away some of that fear and provide the sense of calm that comes with understanding.

The very first thing the authors do is provide an explanation of the word “assessment,” and the readers are prepared to read from that point on. The term “assess” is defined as “to examine carefully” while “assessment” is the “process that focuses on student learning; a process that involves reviewing and reflecting on practice as academics have always done, but in a more planned and careful way.”

The first chapter gives a thorough breakdown of the assessment essentials, which include the following:

  • Agree on goals and objectives for learning.

  • Design and implement a thoughtful approach to assessment planning.

  • Involve individuals from on and off campus.

  • Select or design and implement data collection approaches.

  • Examine, share, and act on assessment findings.

  • Regularly reexamine the assessment process.

People in higher education who assess various areas within their institutions will find that this book is definitely one they would want to refer to often. It will help ease what could be a rather stressful process.


Reinventing Ourselves: Interdisciplinary Education, Collaborative Learning, and Experimentation in Higher Education
Edited by Barbara Leigh Smith and John McCann (2001). Anker Publishing, Bolton, Massachusetts; 474 pages; $49.95.

Reviewed by Lee Bash, dean, Division of Lifelong Learning, Baldwin-Wallace College; lbash@bw.edu.

This book contains a surfeit of ideas and information to support innovative initiatives on the campus, regardless of your orientation — allowing me to generalize much of it for my own specific needs.

Reinventing Ourselves is built upon three main sections that frame the topics chronologically while highlighting the best practices and models. Section I examines the historical perspectives and institutional examples, starting with a look at innovations in the 1920s and 1930s. Perhaps the most important feature of this segment is the discussion of sustaining innovative practice over a long span of time — probably the greatest challenge facing creative projects.

The second section, “Powerful Pedagogies,” addresses learning communities and rethinking teaching and learning. Although higher education still hasn’t reached consensus on the topic of learning communities — therefore, clearly warranting our attention — I find the authors’ discussion of teaching and learning even more appealing.

The final section relates to assessment and vision. If you want to better understand alternative, interdisciplinary programs, or if you wish to speculate about their role in the future, you will want to read this segment. But it’s the all-encompassing fit of these three sections — providing holistic insights and overviews — that truly enriches this book.

At a time when we are all probably facing the most dynamic and dramatic changes to ever take place in the academy, Reinventing Ourselves serves as a wonderful starting point from which to explore how you might want to transform your own classroom and your approach to learning. As such, this book is provocative, informative, and stimulating. Perhaps most appealing is, in the true sense of a learning-centered environment, Reinventing Ourselves doesn’t suggest that it is offering the final definitive answer to everyone. It does, however, convey a strong sense of urgency to begin thinking more innovatively when it comes to your classroom and students.


Web Teaching Guide: A Practical Approach to Creating Course Web Sites
By Sarah Horton (2000). Yale University Press, New Haven, Connecticut; 241 pages; $15.95.

Reviewed by Susan M. Winchip, associate professor of family and consumer science, Illinois State University; swinchip@ilstu.edu.

Written by a multimedia specialist at Dartmouth College, this book is for educators who are interested in using the Web as a supplement to classroom learning but have little or no experience with website authoring.

The chapter devoted to planning a website contains excellent material relative to identifying institutional support, time commitment, site structure, links, guides, and prioritizing and classifying content. The author emphasizes the importance of connecting with colleagues when starting and implementing a course website.

The developing content chapter describes Web-based content and how to deliver the information. The author’s emphasis on developing content expressly for a website and how readers use a site are important issues. The chapter also includes how to locate Web resources for courses, interactivity, multimedia, and copyright/intellectual property.

The chapter “Creating the Site” includes guidance for arranging Web pages and integrating text, images, and multimedia. The author does a commendable job providing good strategies for planning the site. In particular, the author consistently emphasizes how important it is to view a site on different monitors and computers and using different browsers. The author’s advice on page appearance and usability is excellent. However, it appears that it might be easier to understand the image and multimedia content if the reader already has experience with the processes.

Other chapters include advice on how to encourage student participation, how to prepare a Web-based presentation, and how to evaluate a site for its usability. The author mentions the importance of assessing the site as an effective teaching tool, but very little of the chapter is devoted to this issue.

The numerous summaries provided in each chapter, which include questions educators should answer, are very helpful. This format is especially useful in chapters containing technical information. The book’s companion website (www.webteachingguide.com) is an excellent complement to the text.

The bibliography divided by topics is very useful for additional reading. The readability of each chapter would have increased if case studies had been placed at the end of each chapter or in a separate chapter. A glossary at the end of each chapter or at the end of the text would also have been useful.

Although the text only briefly addresses theoretical aspects related to Web teaching, the book is well written and contains pertinent information for educators who are considering adding a Web component to their classroom teaching.


Making the Most of College: Students Speak their Minds
By Richard J. Light (2001). Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts; 242 pages; $24.95.

Reviewed by Ned Scott Laff, associate vice president, Barat College of DePaul University; nlaff@barat.depaul.edu.

Why do some undergraduates feel they are making the most of their years at college, while other are far less positive?” Too often when we ask this question, we try to find the answer from the perspective of those working within the college environment.

Richard Light took a different approach. He and his colleagues talked with students, and in doing so they have given legitimate voice to those who interact daily with campus learning environments. Few of us experience our campuses the way students do, and Light’s suggestion is that by genuinely listening to students, we can inform and modify our campus policies in ways that legitimately improve student engagement.

What we learn is that from a student’s perspective, learning in the classroom is intimately linked to personal development, campus experiences, and learning from other students. Light summarizes a few of these ideas:

  • Students learn better when faculty members help them make connections between “serious curriculum” and their personal lives, values, and experiences.

  • Classroom discussion is enhanced by incorporating the diverse backgrounds of different students.

  • Homework and study is best done collaboratively.

  • Advising is the single most underestimated experience.

Light’s text provides us with the suggestions and directions for how we can begin to set the tone on our campuses, think about curriculum and course development, reconsider learning outcomes, consider the co-curricular possibilities, think about how to improve the ways students interact with our campus environment, and ways we can help them succeed.


Poetics/Politics: Radical Aesthetics for the Classroom
Edited by Amitava Kumar (1999). St. Martin’s Press, New York; 280 pages; $55 ($18.95 paperback).

Reviewed by Ned Scott Laff, associate vice president, Barat College of DePaul University; nlaff@barat.depaul.edu.

From the Virgilian ethos of “to teach and delight” to H.G. Wells’s argument that art is a means to effect a radically revised civilization, the role of the arts and aesthetics as a reflection of, a critique of, and vision for society and culture has been argued continually. This is no less true for Kumar’s Poetics/Politics. Kumar brings together an interdisciplinary group of writers — cultural critics, literary critics, political scientists, artists, and others — to argue for the role of a “politicized aesthetics” as part of a radical or transformational pedagogy. It is not that Kumar offers us anything that has not been argued before, but what his text does is place this argument within a postmodern context.

The intentions underlying this volume are best outlined in a piece by Sean McCann, “The Ambiguous Politics of Politicizing, or De-Politicizing, the Aesthetic.” McCann provides an outline from which the other essays take on contextual weight. He grounds the postmodern claims for a “political aesthetics” in a historical and cultural perspective that ranges from Mathew Arnold, through Freidrich Schiller and Kant, to Nietzsche and modernity.

This sets the stage for the rest of the book. Readers can begin to appreciate Grant Kester’s argument that through the aesthetic we learn to experience our sense of self and reflect on how aesthetic forms pattern our experience of the world around us.

Like most texts written from the postmodern perspective, many times Poetics/Politics can be a difficult read. At times the reader will struggle with vocabulary and the logic of the syntax. And as is common among postmodern critics, each of the contributors to this volume critiques the political hegemony of late capitalism; the cultural imperialism of a global economy that levels multicultural creativity; commodity logic, and more. But each contributor also undoubtedly writes from a position that claims there is something in an aesthetic pedagogy that can remind us of who we are and who we can be. Much to Kumar’s credit, he has edited a volume that lets the reader appreciate the postmodern project. More importantly, Kumar’s volume gives us something we can use in the classroom.


Making Their Own Way: Narratives for Transforming Higher Education to Promote Self-Development 
By Marcia B. Baxter Magolda (2001). Stylus Publishing, Sterling, Virginia; 384 pages; $33.

Reviewed by Kathryn Mary Johnson, Department of Sociology, Barat College of DePaul University; kjohnson@barat.depaul.edu.

Making Their Own Way provides readers with long-awaited answers to critical questions regarding how college impacts students’ lives. Through the use of an accomplished interview technique, the author provides us with an inside tour of the lives and minds of hundreds of college graduates. The longitudinal design allows us to comprehend more fully the lifelong impact of higher education.

The stories told by the interviewees allow us to take the full measure of higher education within the current occupational, social, and personal milieu. All college educators, along with all college students, should place this book high on their required reading lists.

The strength of this work lies not in the stories themselves, however. Rather, the merit lies in the way the author weaves these stories into a highly usable and sensible framework for educational improvement. Her concrete suggestions help the reader transform insights gained from the interviews into current college curricular and co-curricular practices.

Her core assumptions (knowledge is complex, ambiguous, and socially constructed in context; an internal sense of self is central to effective participation in the social construction of knowledge; and expertise or authority is shared among learners and teachers as they mutually construct knowledge) are no doubt widely accepted within the modern academic community. Clearly, college as a place to memorize facts and spit them back on a multiple-choice exam is no longer recognized as sound pedagogy. The author goes beyond recognizing that fact by providing us with concrete educational practices aimed at fostering the development of these core assumptions.

Baxter Magolda also recognizes that a college education is more than the classroom experience. Although there is a strong focus on disciplinary education, her inclusion of chapters on work settings and co-curricular learning remind us of the holistic nature of higher education. Again, practical suggestions for using these additional learning opportunities to promote what the author calls “self-authorship” are extremely useful and thought provoking.

This book will be immediately useful for anyone connected to the college experience. It also makes for interesting reading for anyone who attended college years ago and is interested in reflecting on his or her own “self-authorship” since graduation.


The Feel-Good Curriculum: The Dumbing Down of America’s Kids in the Name of Self-Esteem
By Maureen Stout (2000). Perseus Publishing, Cambridge, Massachusetts; 313 pages; $16.

Reviewed by Theodore L. Kassier, dean, College of Arts and Sciences, University of Alaska Anchorage; aftlk@uaa.alaska.edu.

Maureen Stout has written an indictment of the focus on “self-esteem” in our public schools and its destructive effects on the integrity of U.S. education. Her volume focuses on primary and secondary schools but also inevitably criticizes teacher preparation at the university level.

The self-esteem movement presumes that building feelings of self-worth in children is simultaneously both education’s underlying goal and principal mechanism. The error is that this sense of self-worth is to be built by never requiring mastery of material, focusing on feelings rather than critical thinking and reason, and never challenging students, leading to social promotion regardless of achievement. Teachers are turned into therapists rather than the respected, limit-setting authorities they are meant to be. The movement peaked several years ago but many in the education establishment remain committed to it, and it still suffuses public education.

This volume provides a historical account of the rise of these attitudes in our schools and society to constitute a movement that perhaps reached its most public expression with a 1986 California Task Force on Self-Esteem. This group sought to establish low self-esteem as the cause of virtually all social ills. The irony of their work — and demonstration of the invalidity of self-esteem as a key factor in social and educational theory and practice — was that the research presented in the task force’s resulting publication, The Social Importance of Self-Esteem, did not support the group’s hypotheses.

This book, while useful, would have benefited from a more balanced approach to the subject matter. The author offers no information on any of the merits of the self-esteem movement. More discussion of the complexity of today’s society relative to the Happy Days evoked in Chapter 4 might help us understand the context in which the self-esteem movement has become widely adopted, and some of its valid points.

Also, the author’s anger appears to lead her into insulting language with regard to the “evil” she seeks to demolish. Thus the self-esteem movement is “absurd,” “navel gazing,” and finds support among university professors who are “barflies.” Although critical of a lack of civility today (a defect attributed to the self-esteem movement), the author might have shown a bit more herself.


Thinking About Teaching and Learning: Developing Habits of Learning With First Year College and University Students
By Robert Leamnson (1999). Stylus Publishing, Sterling, Virginia; 169 pp., $22.50 (paperback).

Reviewed by Denise Y. Young, assistant director for strategic planning and analysis, University of Texas at Dallas, and an instructor at Dallas Baptist University and LeTourneau University; youngd@utdallas.edu.

Leamnson writes that he has noticed a decline in the ability of first-year students to cope with the culture of the university, and this book uses critical inquiry to give credence to the difficulties of teaching these challenging students.

The author believes that there are a number of practices professors can employ to help students get into the learning mode in higher education. He begins with a discussion on the philosophy of teaching and how a professor’s philosophical approach serves as an anchor and influences pedagogy. For example, the author states that many of his ideas on pedagogy are based on his belief that the habit of thinking is dependent on language proficiency. The inadequacy of the language skills of beginning college students is a recurrent theme.

The author’s teaching experiences lead him to the conclusion that most first-year students are not prepared to meet the expectations of the average professor. Beginning college students struggle to put their thoughts into words or to extract the meaning from someone else’s words. He attributes the lack of language facility to pre-college culture and experiences where learning that something is true is emphasized over learning how and why something is true

Viewing students as “works in progress” rather than “flawed vessels,” the author presents a number of teaching and classroom strategies for bringing about cognitive change in first-year students. An invitation to an intellectual life must be modeled to students, and professors should strive for an environment where they inspire students to struggle with the discipline both within and outside the classroom. Discussions and assignments should be activities that require reflective thought. If students can be convinced that “notes are something they make, not something they take,” they will be able to develop their own understanding of the topic.

This well-written and easy-to-read book offers practical suggestions and insight into teaching first-year college students. Some academicians may disagree with the author’s stance that part of teaching is getting students ready to learn. Teaching would be much easier if students arrived on the college campus with the learning skills necessary to cope with academic rigor, but that is not the reality experienced by many of us who have taught first-year students. While the author places the responsibility on the professor for providing activities that have the intention or potential for facilitating learning (i.e., teaching), he places the burden for making mental changes (i.e., learning) on the student.


Managing Technological Change: Strategies for College and University Leaders 
By A.W. Bates (2000). Jossey-Bass, San Francisco; 235 pages. $34.95.

Reviewed by Donald Tucker, dean of academic assessment and innovation, Valley Forge Christian College; dltucker@vfcc.edu.

At first glance, this book may look like just another handbook for using and implementing technology in education. Don’t be deceived by this reflection. This book is not so much about technology as it is about rethinking our educational methods, institutional purpose, learning goals, core values, and priorities. Bates urges institutions to ask hard questions about how quality teaching at the highest levels of learning (analysis, synthesis, problem solving, and decision making) takes place.

Managing Technological Change offers administrators, faculty members, and support staff a primer for viewing technology as a part of a wider strategy for improvement of teaching and learning. It reiterates the need for careful and deliberate strategic planning and vision-casting. It wrestles with a number of important and often overlooked questions.

Bates begins with a quick look at what is driving the adoption of new technologies, particularly the need for highly skilled and technologically proficient workers. He quickly moves beyond this to the bulk of the book, devoted to strategies for supporting effective use of technology and a vision for improving the quality of teaching and learning. He outlines the positive and negative aspects of currently used models for planning and managing courses and programs, asks numerous questions assessing the adequacy of current and future technology infrastructures (both physical and human), and suggests ways to analyze cost- effectiveness and secure appropriate funding for educational technology initiatives.

Although not designed for technology experts or specialized technical staff, technicians will benefit by reflection on the philosophical underpinnings and challenging questions posited by Bates. But the need for careful, deliberate, well thought-out comprehensive strategies for implementation of technology into teaching and learning is a beneficial exercise for all and essential for policy development and institutional planning.

One caveat: Not all of the suggestions will fit each institution. Examples and recommendations for expenditures and cost analyses utilize large university models and are not necessarily directly applicable to smaller-scale institutions. The implications of adopting Bates’s views may not appeal to some administrators. He warns, “the changes proposed in this book may be too rich, too drastic, or too threatening to the core values of many institutions.” The commitment of an institution to the cultural change necessary to implement Bates ideas cannot be underestimated.


If you would like to review a book for the Bulletin, send your name and contact information to bulletin@aahe.org. The Bulletin will run another book review section in winter 2001.



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