Book Reviews

Book by Johnson McPhail, Christine, Ed
Review by William S. Altman
Psychology and Human Services Department
Broome Community College


In Establishing & Sustaining Learning-Centered Community Colleges, Christine Johnson McPhail and her colleagues provide a good overview of the recent impetus within community colleges to recreate themselves as learning-centered environments. Authors provide practical rationales and advocate excellent strategies for achieving this transformation, offering concrete examples of existing programs. Consideration of successes and obstacles is straightforward and helpful. This is especially true when the authors enumerate institutional, personal, and community barriers to implementing a learning-centered environment.

Perhaps the most important messages within this book are that every stakeholder must understand and accept the principles of the learning-centered environment, and that they must collaborate in its creation. Not only must this include the college administration and faculty, but also student affairs professionals, students, trustees, local employers, accrediting agencies, and hosts of others. The administrative, teaching, and professional infrastructure must be rethought. Robert B. Barr and Frank A. Fear point out in chapter two that an entire paradigm shift is required, not just the slow adaptation of particular programs or approaches.

As Barr and Fear also note, “...becoming a learning college requires, first and foremost, becoming a student of learning,” (p. 26). This entails starting with an honest analysis of desired outcomes, the widest possible array of methods for achieving those outcomes, and the processes by which success will be measured. These basic ideals and approaches are not new. Although many ideas in this book are presented as revolutionary, most have deep roots in educational psychology and assessment. Most notably, we see echoes of Jerome Bruner’s Discovery Learning and the work of John Dewey, A.S. Neill, and Jean Piaget. Also, discussions about evaluation draw upon the methodology of Robert Mager in objective testing and Benjamin Bloom’s work on educational objectives.

Chapter seven deeply explores the role of student development professionals in collaborating on the overall model of the learning-centered environment and in the development of appropriate outcomes and measures. Evelyn Clements, Alicia B. Harvey-Smith, and Ted James also recommend several important enhancements and improvements for student services divisions.

Renate Krakauer provides an extremely helpful strategy for conducting assessment at all organizational levels and Cynthia Wilson offers excellent examples of assessment in action at several community colleges. The emphasis is on evidence: the collection and analysis of real data. This should be the basis of all decision making as a community college transforms into a learning centered college.

Each chapter is written to stand on its own, therefore the reader can jump directly into any topic covered. Unfortunately, as a result many chapters include a lot of the same introductory material which readers may find a bit wearing. However authors are committed and excited as they call for those involved in community college education to rethink and transform their institutions. This can be a valuable book for professionals who want to start this conversation on their campus; it may help with their first steps to transformation.


Establishing & Sustaining Learning-Centered Community Colleges. (2005) Book by Johnson McPhail, Christine, Ed. Review by William S. Altman. Washington, D.C: Community College Press, 232 pp. $50.00. ISBN # 0-87117-366-2
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