Book by: Mimi Benjamin (Ed.)
Review by: Ana Fernandez
Academic Advising Center
College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics
California State University, Long Beach
Learning communities are a valuable asset in terms of supporting students, and the popularity and growth of these programs will continue to expand. In fact, authors Ann Gansemer-Topf and Kari Tiejen note in this volume that learning communities “have become a symbol of an institution’s commitment to success” (p. 79). Many of the students advisors work with will be active participants in such support programs, so a working knowledge of learning communities is essential. Additionally, professional roles and development within academic advising may include more active participation within these programs in the form of programming committee leadership, presentations within linked courses, or teaching a college support class for a particular learning community. Whatever role the advisor takes, this book provides a brief historical background, theoretical grounding, as well as chapters on the various components of developing, assessing, and sustaining an effective and inclusive learning community from ‘start to finish’.
The amount of research and programming needed to build a cohesive learning community program can be overwhelming. This volume organizes each chapter into separate and concisely presented topics, which allows the reader to quickly access information pertaining to the unique needs of his or her campus. Included in this volume are chapters on creating inclusive programs for underserved populations, inclusion of transfer students, building and sustaining online learning communities, incorporating peer mentorship aspects, and effectively assessing an established learning community program.
A notable strength of this book is not only the history and theoretical framework it provides, but the specific learning community programs that authors have selected to highlight as examples within the volume. Showcasing learning communities and their components at varied institutions nationwide allows the reader to visualize how such programs can work at their home institution. Another strength of the volume is the research base it provides. In addition to the seminal works found in student affairs by researchers such as Chickering, Tinto, Astin, Bandura, etc., the authors of each chapter also fold in recent literature, creating well rounded overviews of each topic. Another helpful feature of this volume is the inclusion of an annotated bibliography (p. 91-100) on additional literature regarding learning communities not formally found in the chapters. This inclusion provides an additional resources list for readers to continue their exploration.
While this volume delivers a great base of knowledge, a chapter on learning communities at a two-year community college would have enhanced the breadth. Community colleges are briefly mentioned in some chapters. For example, in chapter six (Peer Mentors), the authors include an example of how peer mentors are utilized at a community college in Paradise Valley. These types of programs do exist, and understanding how successful learning communities operate at these institutions can be helpful for advisors working in these institutions or looking to collaborate with advisors at these institutions.
Considering the various roles and responsibilities that demand time of the advisor, this book makes professional development possible for advisors looking to increase their knowledge on Learning Communities. Additionally, the authors also weave in established research and provide avenues for advisors to continue their own research into learning communities as guided by the unique needs of their institution and targeted student population. This book can be used by advisors just beginning their research on these support programs, as well as those who might be exploring ways to enhance an established program.
Learning Communities from Start to Finish. (2015). Book by Mimi Benjamin Ed.. Review by Ana Fernandez. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. 105pp., $0.00, (Paperback) ISBN 978-1-1190-6511-1