Book by: Edward J. Mastascusa, William J. Snyder, and Brian S. Hoyt
Review by: Nova Schauss
College of Engineering
Oregon State University

As the advising profession moves toward one of proactive and holistic support, advisors are increasingly expected to provide strategies to improve student learning and cognition. Advisors who work with students pursuing STEM majors will find this book particularly helpful in this regard. The authors delve into the educational experience encountered by STEM students related to teaching and learning, and present concrete strategies advisors can reference when working with students. Utilizing research and literature within the field of learning and cognition, this book is a collection of approaches particularly impactful for STEM educators and those who work peripherally with STEM students.

Advisors new to research surrounding learning and cognition will appreciate the pace at which the authors discuss various theories and pedagogical approaches. Readers therefore do not need prior knowledge of these concepts to follow along. However, advisors more experienced with learning theory may find parts of the book somewhat elementary or basic in structure; discussing Bloom’s Taxonomy before transitioning into cognitive strategies, for example. Similarly, some concepts are discussed in great detail when a simple explanation or sample scenario would have sufficed.

The authors make it quite clear that their target audience is instructors of STEM courses. Consequently, STEM-related concepts are used to illustrate learning theory, models, and techniques. This approach may therefore require advisors less familiar with STEM concepts to stretch their current knowledge.

Advisors who supervise academic coaching or tutoring programs, facilitate Supplemental Instruction, train TAs, or teach study skills courses will find this book particularly relevant to their daily work, and likely identify concrete learning strategies that can be easily integrated into their existing practice. The book is also highly applicable to advisors who work with STEM students in negative academic standing, as the authors use basic brain science (i.e. repetition develops stronger neuropathways which leads to greater understanding and long-term memory) to encourage students in the study of challenging STEM concepts.

Throughout the book, readers will find concrete learning strategies that can be introduced to students such as the positive impact of simulating the testing environment during exam preparation to improve retention and retrieval of information (pg. 131). Other concepts, such as problem based learning, will have limited application and primarily benefit advisors who teach technical courses.

Tremendous attention is placed on the value of collaborative or group learning to improve cognition; however, the authors fail to discuss the way in which students with specific learning disabilities, such as autism spectrum, experience this pedagogical approach. The book lacks discussion about how instructors might differentiate learning to meet the needs of unique student populations. Advisors will therefore need to keep these student populations in mind when implementing strategies recommended by the authors.

Advisors seeking to increase their toolkit of STEM learning strategies will find this book to be a compilation of practical approaches that can be implemented in a traditional advising appointment, workshop setting, or classroom environment. This book could also serve as an excellent vehicle by which to connect STEM faculty and professional advisors with one another through a common read event, and create a platform for improving student success on a broad scale. 

Effective Instruction for STEM Disciplines: From Learning Theory to College Teaching. (2011). Book by Edward J. Mastascusa, William J. Snyder, and Brian S. Hoyt. Review by Nova Schauss. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 288 pp., $42.00 (Hardcover). ISBN 978-0-470-47445-7


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