Review by: Jennifer Kay Leach
Oregon State University
[email protected] 

Finding the Why seeks to address a concern that many in the higher education profession often consider: how to we make learning meaningful for our students? In the foreword, John Gardner offers that higher education institutions put a substantial amount of attention toward retention and degree completion, but to what end? This book proceeds to offer suggestions related to how learning can be transformative (i.e., help students find the why behind their pursuit of higher education).

Many of the authors, as well as the editor, call for higher education reform, suggesting that staff and faculty intentionally ask students what they are hoping to gain from their college experience. A key theme in this book is that students and the institution should work together to create programs (academic and practical) that will match with students’ needs, wants, and interests. Several of the chapters focus on the importance of experiential learning, specifically highlighting that through thoughtful reflection students are able to make meaning from these experiences. Attention is placed primarily on the experiences of first-year students. Many of the programs address developing skills, such as critical thinking and problem solving, in our increasingly diverse and global society. The experiential learning programs vary in length, modality, and context. One author emphasizes using online or blended-model courses to allow for students to create community and collaborate while allowing institutions to manage resources (e.g. costs and faculty class time). However, another author discusses the importance of community building through face to face interaction in a residential learning community. It is important to note that there are authors who speak to the role of community colleges in helping students identify their path. The multiple perspectives offered here allows for any higher education professional to make a connection with the most personally relevant material. Overall, this book provides an insightful look into how we can provide a true student-centered approach to higher education by taking into account students goals. While the intention is to address how students find the why behind their learning, an unanswered question is: what about students who are not engaged to even consider their why? A few authors mention the developmental challenges students often face when they transition from high school to college; however, there is no answer for how to address the lack of investment we sometimes see in students.

Faculty and administrators can benefit from recommendations regarding course structure and curriculum management. The academic advising community can gather a number of takeaways from this reading. Namely, advisors can use this book as resource when helping a student make connections between their academic coursework and co-curricular activities. Many of the student scenarios presented in this text are likely those students have presented during an advising appointment. This book can help advisors craft thoughtful questions related to student’s experiences in and out of the classroom. Advisors can benefit from the theory and suggestions offered to help students find their why.

Finding the Why: Personalizing Learning in Higher Education. (2016). Review by Jennifer kay Leach. Book by margit misangyi watts (ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. 112 pp. $29.00, (Paperback), ISBN #978-1-1192-5418-8, http://www.wiley.com/WileyCDA/WileyTitle/productCd1119254183.html. 

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