Keith S Taber reviews this text aimed at higher education teachers

Scientific teaching
Jo Handelsman et al
New York: Macmillan Science 2011 | Pp208 | £20.99 (PB) | ISBN 978 142 920 188 9

Cover of Scientific teaching

Scientific teaching is aimed at science teachers at higher education (HE) level, and is intended as a ‘guide to improving undergraduate education in the STEM disciplines’.

The book appears to be based on the assumption that university and college teachers may be subject experts, but generally lack any sophisticated knowledge of pedagogy. They should therefore be invited to ‘bring to teaching the critical thinking, rigor, creativity, and spirit of experimentation that defines research’. In other words, to think about scientific teaching in the sense of teaching scientifically as well as teaching of science.

In the UK, various publications and conferences have long offered university chemistry teachers opportunities to learn about effective pedagogy. Similarly, in the US there are active communities debating teaching and learning in the different STEM disciplines. For many university teachers, then, much in this book may seem to cover old ground.

Yet for those new to teaching in HE, or who have previously not engaged with issues of pedagogy, this book offers a very valuable and readable introduction. It covers a range of key themes such as student motivation, effective modes of assessment that support teaching and learning, and possible alternative approaches to the traditional one-way lecture. The book also puts emphasis on student diversity - which is important when we can too readily assume all our students think and learn as we do.

The book cites relevant research, although it is strangely selective in drawing upon the vast science education literature on teaching and learning. Despite that limitation, the book offers an informative outline to how teaching can be informed by research evidence to improve life for students and teachers alike.

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