Book Reviews

I wanted to share a couple of reviews my book, Teaching with Classroom Response Systems, has received in the year since it’s been available.  There may be other reviews, but these are the two that I’ve seen.

In the Winter 2010 issue of The Review of Higher Education, Jane Freed of Central College and co-author of Learned-Centered Assessment on College Campuses, reviewed the book.  Here’s a brief excerpt:

Bruff convinces me that there are several advantages in using this technology… If the focus of classroom response systems remains on creating active learning environments, then Derek Bruff’s book adds to the on-going conversation about engaging students in their own learning.

Freed also raises an interesting concern: Does teaching with clickers place too much focus on finding the right answers and not enough on focus on helping students learn to ask useful questions?  She writes, “Learning how to navigate successfully through life is often based on knowing what questions to ask.”

This is a valid concern.  In most instances of teaching with clickers, the instructor is the one posing the questions, not the students.  Although, as I mentioned last week, some instructors ask their students to write clicker questions.  Freed’s concern reminds me of a limitation of teaching with clickers I’ve noted before, that they don’t allow instructors to target the “create” category in Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives.

My response to both concerns is that often a clicker question isn’t the end of a learning activity, it is the beginning.  After you ask a challenging clicker question and have students think about and submit their answers, you’ve set the stage for a very productive classwide discussion of that question, a discussion that can surface reasons for and against the various answer choices as well as provide students a forum for asking their own questions about the topic at hand.  This works particularly well when the clicker question has multiple defensible answers, but this kind of exploration and question-asking can occur even when the question at hand has a single correct answer.  It’s important for instructors to remember to engage students in this kind of conversation at least some of the time when asking clicker questions.

In the most recent issue of the journal of the National Academic Advising Association (NACADA), Mark Rohland of Temple University reviewed my book.  Rohland had nice things to say about the book:

This book convincingly demonstrates that clicker technology allows teachers and students to adapt quickly to emerging learning needs…  Bruff’s work is an enthusiastic, accessible, and detailed introduction for all educators interested in this popular educational technology tool.

Since this review appeared in a journal for academic advisers, Rohland points out some potential uses of clickers in group advising sessions, “such as getting student feedback about satisfaction with majors, confidence in understanding curriculum, and perceived need for advising.”  He notes that the anonymity that clickers provide students is likely to yield more honest responses from students about advising issues.

Rohland’s one criticism of my book is that many of my examples of clicker use by faculty members I interviewed illustrate very similar points and that this repetition can be distracting to the reader.  I think this is a fair criticism, particularly if one is reading the book straight through, cover-to-cover.  When I read books on teaching, particularly ones I’ve checked out from a library and not purchased, I often skim through the books, looking for passages relevant to my teaching needs at the time.  When I wrote my book, I wanted to make it helpful for someone who was just skimming it in that fashion, which meant that a little redundancy was acceptable.  I’m also aware that many instructors look for examples from their own discipline, so having a few examples from different disciplines to illustrate the same point helps make the book relevant to more readers.

To that last point, I had intended the book to have a discipline index in addition to a regular index.  When I get some time, I’m hoping to compile such a discipline index and post it here on the blog.  Let me know if that would be useful.

Writing this book, my first one but hopefully not my last one, has been a bit of an adventure.  It’s very satisfying to see positive reviews of my book such as these two.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *