Book Reviews

Book by Kimberly Buch and Kenneth E. Barron
Review by Terri Baker
College of Engineering Undergraduate Advising Center
Drexel University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania


As the trend of college learning communities grows in popularity, so increases the need to explore the forms that these programs take on campuses nationwide. The authors of “Discipline-Centered Learning Communities: Creating Connections Among Students, Faculty, and Curricula” present a book that is both informative and thought-provoking.  Its relevance to academic advising is evident throughout the text as the field opens up to supporting co-curricular programs such as learning communities.  This book offers great ideas on how to create and enhancing curriculum-based learning communities.   

I can appreciate how this book challenged me to reconsider my definitions of “learning” and “community”.  In my experience, traditional learning community programs emphasize educational experiences centered primarily in the classroom and supplement these with by residential or co-curricular “community” activities, all in the name of “learning”. This book presents programs that take the classroom to new heights with interteaching and peer teaching; showing that learning can take place in different ways within the same classroom.  Likewise, the book challenges traditional definitions of “community” by introducing creative formats like virtual communities.  As a current learning community coordinator, these chapters helped me to explore ways to integrate new formats into my existing community structures: Can a learning community include distance learners?  If community can be created for virtual learners, how can I enhance the programming for non-residential learning communities?  The programs presented pushed me to think of learning communities less as static programs and more structurally malleable.
 
In all of its thorough explanations of different types of communities, one chapter was not clear for me - student-organization based organizations.   It is understandable to find a general correlation given that student organizations, especially honor societies, and learning communities exist to integrate students with peers, faculty and a larger community.  However, such an application could become very blurred when their separate agendas come into conflict.  Instead of clearly outlining how a student organization can become a learning community, this chapter seemed to summarily describe activities within an honor society rather than bridge the gap between these programs.  I would have liked to see a more distinct community with these characteristics.

Academic advisors today are called not only to advise, but to run student programs and teach general studies courses.  Learning communities, while mostly ran by faculty in this book, are often run by academic advisors. This book provides a great framework for the past and future of learning communities and openly recognizes the challenges that come with creating and nurturing learning communities for both program coordinators as well as other stakeholders. Additionally, it speculates the multiple on-campus issues that learning communities are being implemented to overcome.  It also succeeds in steering the focus of the learning community dialogue away from first-year programs, as is most common, and on to other college populations including seniors, student organizations, and online learners. Lastly, this book includes an extensive list of existing learning communities broken down by discipline.  The applications for this book are broad as are the ways in which they chose to define learning communities.  Academic advisors can use the programs presented in conjunction with existing programs to meet new needs or overcome old challenges. Overall, this book is one to keep on the shelf for anyone new to learning communities. 


Discipline-Centered Learning Communities:  Creating Connections Among Students, Faculty, and Curricula:  New Directions for Teaching & Learning Number 132, Winter 2012. (2013). Book by Kimberly Buch and Kenneth E. Barron. Review by Terri Baker. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.  136 pp. $29.  ISBN # 978-1-1185-1863-2
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