Book Reviews

Book by: Lauren Chism and Janine Graziano (Eds.)
Review by: Joshua D. Adams
Pioneer Center for Student Excellence
Texas Woman's University

 

As institutions of higher education seek to provide purposeful educational initiatives for their students, many determine that the integration of high-impact initiatives can assist with improvements in student retention and persistence. Given limited resources and a diversity of research-driven approaches for student success, the challenge then becomes determining how best to design and implement such practices. Two approaches shown to improve student learning, retention, and persistence are first-year seminars and learning communities. Typically, these programs operate as related, but separate functions. The book, Building Synergy for High Impact Educational Initiatives: First-Year Seminars and Learning Communities offers an integrated approach whereby the formerly separate initiatives are integrated in to a more robust and strengthened approach for engaging students in educationally purposeful activities early in their college career.

The book is formed upon the premise that formerly related, but separate initiatives – first-year seminars and learning communities – are more impactful for the student when integrated. The challenge for the authors, as noted by the editors, is to describe the diversity of approaches and still ensure they are meaningful to the reader and practitioner. The book is separated into two functional parts. The first explores, among other things, how to best develop, implement, and assess an integrated approach. The second provides several case studies for the reader to explore prior to implementation. 

A strength of the book is the discussion of broad, national practices for integration of the initiatives. Throughout the first part, the book switches focus from the structural aspects of developing and implementing integrated initiatives to the pedagogical approaches within both first-year seminars and learning communities.

The case studies featured in the second part of the book are equally valuable for the reader interested in developing or improving an integrated approach for these initiatives. Similar to the discussion of a diversity of approaches toward integration, the case studies represent examples from varied institutional types with different missions, student populations, locations, and approaches toward integration. Reading the case studies allows the reader to better understand the pros and cons of decisions made by others with enough detail to have concrete ideas for application. Several of the case studies read as if you are speaking with a colleague to better understand and learn from their challenges and successes. 

Academic advising, and by extension academic advisors, are highlighted throughout the book as critical elements for the initiatives. Whether it is serving as a resource for the campus community during the development phase or, upon implementation, providing key advisement to enrolled students, the advisor is highlighted as a key individual. By reading this book, academic advisors will better understand the purpose for these initiatives and can more confidently support their institution. Likewise, and depending on the institution, the academic advisor or advising administrator may be the individual or unit responsible for such initiatives. In that case, this book provides a solid foundation for development, implementation, and sustainability of an integrated approach for first-year seminars and learning communities.

The editors of the book sought to create a foundational book for the integrated approach of first-year seminars and learning communities. They have succeeded in their approach. The nationally recognized authors, data-informed writing, and diversity of information culminate in a newly documented approach toward improving the educational outcomes for our students. I would recommend this book, without reservation, to those developing these initiatives.


Building Synergy for High Impact Educational Initiatives: First-Year Seminars and Learning Communities. (2016). Book by Lauren Chism and Janine Graziano (Eds.). Review by Joshua D. Adams. Columbia, SC: National Resource Center. 212 pp., $30.00 (Paperback). ISBN 978-1-889271-98-9 

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