Book Reviews

Review of 'Learner-centred Pedagogy: Principles and Practice' by Kevin Michael Klipfel & Dani Brecher Cook.

Facet Publishing, 2017

Review by Anne Lawrence


Librarians have always been teachers in one way or another, but having an understanding of pedagogy and designing teaching has not always been standard, with most instruction by librarians being delivered in a ‘hit and run’ style (time limited, one off sessions, tell the students what they need to know, expect follow up enquiries after). The book by Klipfel and Cook aims to address the concept of ‘learner-centred pedagogy’ and how it can be used by librarians as a method of making learning more meaningful and lifelong when they are delivering a variety of sessions; ranging from one-to-one enquiry desk based work to teaching lectures.

The book starts by summarising where things stand currently in the profession (from an American perspective) and what this book aims to do; and explains the need to teach why something is done as well as how it is done. It covers the theoretical background that help support ideas such as active learning, and the work of professional experts such as Terry Doyle and humanist Carl Rogers. In addition, it goes into detail regarding the key concepts surrounding what learning is, how significant learning occurs and how the mind retains and transfers learning to long-term memory. The authors also discuss what they call ‘authentic learning’ – adding context and meaning to students’ learning and exploring the role that motivation plays. The authors present the idea that education is currently all about following rules and nothing about individuality, which stifles learning. This is something that is difficult for librarians as they spend little time with their students and very rarely get to know them as individuals, but the book does detail the typical interactions that librarians have with students and how these situations can lead to librarians understanding their students better and employing learner-centred techniques in order to support deeper learning. It highlights throughout that ‘who we are as people matters’ – that each individual will learn, respond and retain information differently, and how we cement that learning into long term memory will differ for everyone.

The layout and structure of the book is very easy to follow. The language is not over complicated, the theory is not overstated and the book flows well. Each chapter has a clear summary at the start, is broken down into comprehensible sections, and has its own references and additional materials section. The possibility of downloading useful lesson templates and guides is appealing, especially as the book itself is quite practical, with lots of useful tips and guidance for the reader to use in practice, rather than just thinking hypothetically. Chapter 3 is especially interesting where it details six cognitive principles for designing information literacy sessions. It starts with an imaginary last minute email from an academic asking for a library session (which is something most of us have experienced) and follows through the planning and delivery of that session, using the principles, and it makes a lot of sense due to the realistic contextualisation and examples given by the authors. Quite often, similar books lack the practical implementation stage, leaving the reader thinking ‘how could I do this in practice?’ However, this follows through and discusses the practical elements of this theory, and how it can be accommodated and utilised in reality.

As with any theory and methodology like this, it always has the potential to be difficult to implement and garner success in reality. Time and staffing are always at a premium, so trying to change your practice to accommodate new skills and techniques can be challenging. However, this book does break things down into small stages that are easy to instigate; for example, slight changes in language when talking to students, or getting the student to do searches themselves when at an enquiry desk rather than just demonstrating search technique to them. Even these small changes can reap satisfying results, with the student learning lifelong information literacy skills.

Overall, I enjoyed the book and would recommend it to librarians who are looking for ideas on how to put the student at the heart of their teaching.

How to be an Academic Superhero: Establishing and Sustaining a Successful Career in the Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities by Iain Haye.

Edward Elgar, 2017

Review by James Derounian


Who could argue with the aspiration and intent of ‘Establishing and Sustaining a Successful Career’ as an academic, which is the sub-title of this 2017 book, penned by Iain Hay, professor at an Australian University? And its goal is laudable, ‘to go some way to minimize anxieties felt by early-career, as well as more senior scholars’. I applaud the content around ‘keeping refreshed and staying happy and healthy’. But the superhero emphasis I find disturbing in that ‘challenges in this book need to be addressed continuously and sometimes simultaneously across a career’ (p. 7). This has the whiff of perpetual motion and pressure to perform.

I must also declare an interest – or rather declare my MPhil. On page 13, Hay asserts that ‘an academic superhero in the humanities…will almost certainly need a research doctorate (e.g. PhD, DPhil).’ I don’t doubt this in 21st century academe, but what a sad indictment of our profession, in which I would have rather hoped the importance of a teaching qualification might have been raised and elevated; or the role and value of professionals who also turn their hand to higher education inputs. But no. Furthermore, the author goes on: ‘unjustified as it may seem, a degree from Oxford or Harvard will almost assuredly be regarded better than one from a newer, smaller, or provincial university and position you better in the academic job market’. Wherefore TEF (Teaching Excellence Framework), wherefore a moral duty to serve those paying around £9,000 per year for the privilege of our teaching?

And we’re almost into a eugenics programme with the - entirely correct I’m sure – observation that the average age at which a North American postgraduate gains a PhD is 33… which coincides with the time period in which many choose to have a baby! The subtext seems to be, have a child young and forget academic promotion. ‘Find a good adviser’ is the Chapter 3 title which begins part-way through the individual’s career ... as a postgraduate researcher; what about finding a good adviser, mentor and dissertation supervisor, as an undergraduate!? Furthermore, selecting a good doctoral research adviser doesn’t explicitly highlight the importance of locating someone who is, apart from the technical capabilities listed, kind, constructive and humane.

Then there is the whole business of superheroes – individuals who are supernatural or super-human; like Thor, Loki or Iron Man. Academics meanwhile are all too human – like the rest of humanity! Superhumanity is perhaps asking too much, seeking a narrow and stressful path towards an early grave. ‘Get mentors: get advice’ is the exhortation in Chapter 4. Absolutely right. But again, the humanity is missing … for the mentee building ‘professional and collaborative networks’ (Box 4.1) will undoubtedly be valuable and important; but what about building (professionally-supportive) friendships?

Source: NaturalNews

[Source: NaturalNews]

What I do appreciate from Iain Hay is his willingness to share his own experiences and failings, such as (p.36) labouring ‘without clear direction, following my heart and seizing, more or less ad hoc, attractive academic opportunities as they presented themselves.’ And I wholeheartedly agree with the rallying cry to connect to ‘good colleagues; be a good colleague’ (p. 44). Hay’s book is a methodical and very practical DIY manual for academics in 2018, for example covering ‘How to say ‘no’: tactful ways of declining requests…’ (Table 17.3). Similarly, ‘Sustain collegiality’ is an important message – to ‘the best of your abilities, try to help out … The web of obligations is two-sided and you will receive reciprocal favors over time’ (citing Gray and Drew, 2012: 117). Good advice too about staying happy and healthy (Ch.34); emphasising the importance of saying ‘thank you’; forgiving others their foibles; being optimistic and mindful – staying in the present, and not getting dragged into jealousies and grudges that can damage the individual and those around them.

Chapter 18 ‘Publish papers’ does have an equivalent ‘Teach well’! But the time commitment to gain a teaching qualification is devalued, since it ‘can reduce opportunities available for research’!

Underlying this version of the academic superhero is the stone base on which the academic world stands, that comprises research-driven inertia, and the mentality that the roneo-researcher wins all, churning out ‘high impact’ articles in academic journals, read by few, and published long after the event. There is also a lack of mention of work with and for undergraduate students. The Index, for example lists ‘making known your professional identity to’ students ... using them as data gatherers for your research, and using student work to keep up-to-date. Note the word ‘using’. This distresses me in a world where, broadly speaking, without first degree students we as individual academics and collectively as employing Higher Education Institutions, would cease to exist. As the bible says, ‘Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.’ In other words, an active research life is only half the story of a whole and wholesome academic; teaching and learning are the other half. An addition to the ‘Sermon on the Mount’ might be: Blessed are the teachers for they may bring light to the darkness, and bask in the glow of a life well lived.

On a lighter note! I asked fellow UK National Teaching Fellows (NTFs) what superpowers they sought to facilitate life as a lecturer. And here are their answers…

‘the power to bend time so that I could cope with a hundred tasks simultaneously’

‘The power of cloning...A clone to teach, a clone to mark, a clone to read, a clone to research, a clone to write bids….’

‘The ability to infuse common sense’ into an academic manager

‘an academic who is just content with what she/he can do and can’t do?’ And has time to spare

‘the superpowers of humility and common sense’

‘the power to fall about laughing helplessly when everything seems grim…as well as the capacity then to stop and choose (then enact) three quick actions to do something positive about it all’



Centre for Learning Excellence
University of Bedfordshire
University Square
Luton, Bedfordshire


Our Tweets: @bedsCLE