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Teaching What You Don't Know Hardcover – September 30, 2009

ISBN-13: 978-0674035805 ISBN-10: 0674035801 Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; 1 edition (September 30, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674035801
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674035805
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 5.8 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,041,059 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

This is one of the best books I've read on university teaching and learning in a long time. It addresses an issue that's seldom discussed, in a book that's both carefully researched and wonderfully sparkling in style. The author makes a strong case that teaching outside your area of expertise is a serious and extensive problem, and she offers some highly practical advice about how to meet the challenges. I would make this book a standard text for both our new faculty program and teaching fellows program, and I suspect that many other programs will want to do the same. (Ken Bain, author of What the Best College Teachers Do)

Moving behind the reassuring public image of professorial expertise, Huston exposes a growing but still largely hidden academic reality: university teachers--sometimes even full professors--teaching outside of their field. Interviews with dozens of university faculty convincingly establish the prevalence of the practice and clarify the institutional reasons that it will likely increase in the years ahead. But many readers will quickly move past the analysis of why university faculty must teach outside their specialty to consider the helpful advice on how to do such teaching well...It may surprise librarians how many teachers and administrators seek out this book. (Bryce Christensen Booklist 2009-08-01)

As [Huston] demonstrates, teaching outside your area of competence is almost the norm in the U.S. academy...The hints and tips provided here will be valuable perhaps everywhere that there is a higher education system...Teaching What You Don't Know will find a good audience as a rescue manual for the young, as it assuages the anxieties facing the postgraduate or the postdoctoral teacher. The book, which clearly draws on a wide range of teaching experience on the U.S. scene, offers good advice and outlines some useful strategies. Huston does, moreover, dig up issues that have become ever more pressing over the past few years. (Leslie Gofton Times Higher Education 2009-09-10)

Sometimes teachers might find themselves filling in, and Teaching What You Don't Know is a handy book to help them deal with unexpected situations. (Bookseller and Publisher 2009-10-01)

When top-down support and open communication become the norm, teaching outside one's expertise can cease to be the nightmarish experience many feel it to be and become the illuminating and rewarding experience that Huston describes. While this is undoubtedly important, Huston's consistently optimistic treatment of this subject and her clear suggestions for struggling teachers remain the book's greatest strengths. Teaching What You Don't Know is a pleasure to read and should be required reading in graduate pedagogy classes across disciplines. (Adam Pacton Pedagogy 2012-02-01)

Have you ever been asked to deliver a lecture at short notice on a topic that is outside your comfort zone? ...If so, read this book. In fact, ever found yourself wondering how you could improve your teaching, even of topics well within your expertise? Again, if so, read this book. (Celia Popovic Innovations in Education and Teaching International)

About the Author

Therese Huston is Founding Director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at Seattle University.

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Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
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Lang's book made me want to go back and re-read Huston's book to re-energize.
Sarah
I purchased this book as I was assigned to teach some classes that although in my field fell outside of my areas of experience.
Peter Huston
This one of very few academic books that wasn't written so turgidly that I had to reread passages to understand them.
Linda B. Nilson

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
What a pleasure it is to read Huston's work. Besides the accessible writing style and funny wit, I'm pleasantly shocked to learn my ignorance can actually help my students, as I can share "the fervor of the uninformed." But then there are concrete ways to compensate, like scheduling the syllabus to let me start from my strengths. It's also packed with concrete classroom methods like the three-way interview, where students make connections between content and their personal experience. But even more important, the whole book is undergirded by solid research and principles. Like how most students learn not by hearing first about theory, but by first experiencing some dramatic encounter--whether with facts, visuals or a "live" experience. From there, you weave in technical terms and theories and give them practice at using them in life. I'm recommending this book not only to all new faculty, but to anyone concerned about midcareer brownout or late career rustout. It's bound to prompt change--and joy!
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Linda B. Nilson on September 21, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This one of very few academic books that wasn't written so turgidly that I had to reread passages to understand them. In fact, the book is hard to put down. Huston has a delightful writing style. Take special note of Chapter 6, in which Huston describes the Millennial Generation in a balanced way and (gently) drives home the point that we academics are the oddballs, not our students. If you are teaching outside of your specialized areas, this book will calm your anxieties--Huston will point out the pedagogical advantages you hold over the seasoned expert--and give you intelligent strategies for tackling the task ahead.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Sarah on May 6, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Loved this book! I will be a new professor in the Fall, and I credit this book for calming my nerves and making me feel more confident about teaching. I now understand that I am not alone in my fears of teaching topics that are at the periphery of my expertise.

New professors, tenured professors, and department chairs should read this book.

It is a fast and fun read, and my copy is full of bookmarks for future reference!

I also just finished reading James Lang's book "On Course: A Week-by-Week Guide to Your First Semester of College Teaching", and of the two I really gained the most from reading Huston's book. Her book energized me. Lang's book made me want to go back and re-read Huston's book to re-energize. I think that this is because Huston seems truly sincere in writing the book to knock down walls and assuage the fears of almost every professor out there. GREAT BOOK!!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By wiredweird HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on March 10, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
There's someone in every classroom who's read one more chapter and one more book than anyone else. Do you know what that person is called?

"Professor."

That started with my first teaching experience, a grad-level computer science course where I was given half a curriculum, and implicitly invited to develop the other half. It continued when I was called on to teach a signal processing course, something way out of my usual orbit, a competency I had to develop on the fly. The good news is that I was an emergency lecturer and, having seen the original instructor at work, I really couldn't do much worse. Naively, though, I thought those were exceptional circumstances, or an oddity of seminar courses on emerging topics.

As Huston points out, though, teaching outside of the comfort zone is more the rule than the exception. Oh, there are degrees of unfamiliarity, ranging from "I'd better go over my notes again" to "But I don't know anything about that!" There are also variations in frequency of teaching unfamiliar material, from occasional fine points in fast-changing fields to entire academic careers. It's a fact of life: only the stodgiest instructors in the most moribund fields deny that they have to deal with it.

After diagnosing the condition in its varying degrees of severity, Huston offers a hopeful prescription. First, she notes that just about anyone teaching college level has already spent years of their adult lives learning new material, so we have some ability to dive in and get the job done. Then, she offers a range of approaches to preparing material, handling questions, and presenting in honest and approachable ways.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A. J. Sutter on February 24, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I'm not currently a university professor, but am preparing a module for a week-long management training seminar for a corporate client. All the topics in the module are outside the usual MBA curriculum; no ready-made cases exist for any of them. I'd planned some 1- to 2-hour exercises for each class, but I was terrified that I'd wind up spending the remaining 4-6 hours a day lecturing. Terrified because not only would it be physical torture for me and a mental snore-fest for the participants, but because my own enthusiasm for the theorethcal aspects of the material would make über-lecturing an easy temptation. This book showed me at least a dozen different techniques for breaking up what would have been solid pedantry with short (5-20 minutes) exercises to engage students with the challenging material in the syllabus. It's far more readable than the usual book from a scholarly press, and far more substantive than the usual book in the "how-to" genre (or, for that matter, the usual book from sibling outlet Harvard Business Press). Much of the information is conveyed in exactly the sorts of anecdotes one would want to hear if asking a colleague for advice, but the author does also cite to a number of controlled experiments on teaching techniques, for the benefit of those who only believe statistics. (However, it would have been nice if HUP had allowed her to include a complete reference list, instead of forcing the reader to back-track through the footnotes to find a source.) A real confidence-builder, even if you're worried about presenting too much, rather than too little, to your class. -- PS (2011/07): I gave the seminar, using many tricks I learned from this book; it was very well-received. I'll be referring to it again when I start a university position next year.
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