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Starting a Learning Assistance Center
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Starting a Learning Assistance Center

Review by Jan Norton,
Director Center for Academic Resources
University of Wisconsin Oshkosh

            For anyone new to the learning assistance profession, Starting a Learning Assistance Center is still a solid resource.  True, many of its references are somewhat dated; technology has changed, and it will continue to change and require people to keep up.  There have been advances in education research during the nine years since its initial publication, and student populations in many regions have changed dramatically.  Increasingly scarce budgets and increasing calls for accountability have changed the higher education environment and challenged learning assistance professionals to improve program assessment.  But at its core, Starting a Learning Assistance Center is a wealth of information and experience to draw upon.

            One benefit is the approachable tone of the content.  There is some power to the “conversation” elements, especially with an intended audience of new professionals.  If professional life is a journey, then these authors are our experienced trail guides.  There is plenty of time for scholarly third-person tomes about hiking strategies and esoteric backpacking skills, but if this is my first trail experience, I want a friendly guide that I can talk to without feeling foolish, someone who will give me an arm if I stumble but graciously never mention it.

The book’s key topics – what a learning center is, how to find funding and generate support, serving both students and faculty, considerations about technology, professional development, physical facilities – are still relevant.  Some sections are very brief, but there are additional readings and resources to supplement the information.  Within the question responses are little gems that continue to make the text valuable, such as David Gerkin’s “issue bin” strategy for managing meetings, Frank Christ’s suggestions for networking, Martha Maxwell’s list of learning center program components, and the administrator scenarios presented by Rick Sheets and Karen Smith.

            Finally, it is worth noting that concerns about dated information in the 2000 edition are balanced by priceless contributions from colleagues who are no longer living.  The new monograph to replace Starting a Learning Assistance Center will contain revised and revitalized information about learning centers and their management, written by a wide variety of learning assistance professionals and current mentor leaders, but the original will still be treasured for the irreplaceable wisdom of our experienced colleagues and the historical perspective that their conversations will continue to provide.

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