Vitae Bookshelf: James M. Lang

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Image: Bookshelves, by Giuseppe Maria Crespi, 1725 (Web Gallery of Art)

In a new series, Vitae asks academics, administrators, and Ph.D.'s in the nonacademic world to pick the five books that most influenced them in some aspect of their work, professional life, and career — and why. Next up: James M. Lang, a professor of English at Assumption College and a monthly columnist for The Chronicle on pedagogy, picks his five favorite books on teaching and learning.

In almost every talk or workshop I give on teaching and learning in academe, five books will make a cameo at some point. All five stem from excellent research into college teaching or the learning sciences. But they’re also distinguished by writing that stands above the passive-voiced, turgid prose of so much educational research. These books are suggestive and directive enough to keep you thinking, but do not overwhelm you with detailed prescriptions. Taken together, they offer a comprehensive overview of what we know about learning and teaching in higher education.

What Best College Teachers DoWhat the Best College Teachers Do
By Ken Bain

This 2004 book remains the gold standard for excellence in writing on higher education. Bain distills the lessons he learned from a 15-year study of the most effective, life-changing college professors he could find. The results are thought-provoking and the prose sings. Both illuminating and a pleasure to read.

Science of Successful LearningMake It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning
By Peter C. Brown, Henry L. Roediger III, and Mark A. McDaniel

Although this 2014 book does not focus exclusively on higher education, it has become for me the best summary of the current state of research on learning. Two cognitive psychologists teamed up with a novelist to create a book that uses engaging stories and examples to provide a thorough grounding in the science of learning, and its implications for both students and teachers.

How Learning WorksHow Learning Works: Seven Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching
By Susan A. Ambrose, Michael W. Bridges, Michele DiPietro, Marsha C. Lovett, and Marie K. Norman

The title pretty much says it all. The principles covered here include: how to account for and respond to students' prior learning, how to foster their motivation, how to help them practice and give them feedback, and how to create self-directed learning. This is a book filled with excellent research and practical suggestions for college faculty.

Discussion in the College ClassroomDiscussion in the College Classroom: Getting Your Students Engaged and Participating in Person and Online
By Jay R. Howard

The title is a mouthful but the author makes the very convincing case that a classroom (or an online course) is a social space in which behavioral norms help determine whether or not students participate. Drawing upon his many years of sociological research on this topic, he provides terrific suggestions for how faculty members can reshape existing norms or create new ones that foster active student participation.

Minds OnlineMinds Online: Teaching Effectively with Technology
By Michelle D. Miller

Her 2014 book covers not only how to design successful online learning experiences for students, but also how to ensure that any technology you bring into the classroom (including presentation slides) will help your students learn. This book should be required reading for anyone who teaches with technology in any format.

Got a booklist to share? Send it to editorial_at_chroniclevitae_dot_com. List your 5 favorite books in your field or in some other category — and tell us in a few sentences why you would recommend them — and we will consider your booklist for publication.

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