Teaching for Quality Learning at University. By John B. Biggs and Catherine Tang. New York, N.Y.: McGraw-Hill/Society for Research into Higher Education/Open University Press, 2011. xxii + 389 pages. ISBN 978-0-33-524275-7. $41.00.
Article first published online: 1 JAN 2014
© 2014 John Wiley & Sons Ltd
Teaching Theology & Religion
Volume 17, Issue 1, pages 91–92, January 2014
How to Cite
Alderman, I. M. (2014), Teaching for Quality Learning at University. By John B. Biggs and Catherine Tang. New York, N.Y.: McGraw-Hill/Society for Research into Higher Education/Open University Press, 2011. xxii + 389 pages. ISBN 978-0-33-524275-7. $41.00. Teaching Theology & Religion, 17: 91–92. doi: 10.1111/teth.12173
- Issue published online: 1 JAN 2014
- Article first published online: 1 JAN 2014
This text, in its fourth edition, is both well-known and well-received. It is not a straightforward book, one that adds a new concept to what you already know. It is also not a short read, like some I have read with suggestions for redesigning your courses or possibilities for classroom activities. Rather, this text hopes to change the way you teach courses, and how your department and university approach pedagogy.
The overriding concept of the book is “constructive alignment.” This model is based on the theory of constructivism and aligning aspects of teaching from intended outcomes, to design, implementation, and assessment. Constructivism is a theory in which students “construct knowledge” when, through active engagement, students incorporate new knowledge into their existing schemata. Essentially, the first point is determining the outcomes desired, and then the following steps are all aligned to accomplish that desired outcome.
The book is divided into three approximately equal parts; equal in length, that is, not in the density of content, for most of the work is done in the second part. Unsurprisingly, part one, “Effective Teaching and Learning for Today's University,” is a very important set-up for the rest of the book. The six chapters of part one have two purposes. The first is to serve as a status quaestionis of the topic of current university education, outcomes-based approaches, teaching, and learning. The second purpose is to lay a foundation for the rest of the book. Here we find important discussions of concepts and terms which one needs to proceed, particularly if one is not already familiar with the terms and concepts involved with the study of teaching and learning. These discussions cover concepts and jargon such as OBTL, Bologna Process, phenomenography, SoTL, metacognitive control, SOLO, and so forth.
The second part of the book, “Designing Constructively Aligned Outcomes-based Teaching and Learning,” is dense and heavy on interactives. Charts, worksheets, tables, diagrams, and tasks walk the engaged reader through issues of course revision and design. The focus is on designing outcomes, designing courses and activities to achieve those outcomes, and, finally, methods to assess the success of those activities in achieving the desired outcomes. This is conceived of very broadly, as it can be about designing outcomes for whole programs, not just courses.
Part three, “Constructive Alignment in Action,” tries to demonstrate how one can implement constructive alignment on all the levels of education, from the university to the individual course. This is done largely with the help of case studies.
This ambitious text is designed to help teachers, staff developers, and administrators conceive of teaching outcome-based strategies and align all aspects of teaching, and even administration, with the intended outcomes. If fully engaged, it is more like a workshop than a monograph, and includes many charts, worksheets, tables, diagrams, and tasks designed to work through your teaching, from beginning to end. The purpose of the tasks does not seem to be, necessarily, to revolutionize teaching, but to examine every aspect of one's teaching which may have previously been uncritically accepted. An impressive book, full of research and spectacular bibliographies organized by topics, this text will become increasingly useful as one becomes more familiar with teaching, as long as one is willing to put in the work.