Book by Ned Scott Laff
Review by Jennifer L. McCaul
School of Criminal Justice
Grand Valley State University

Proponents of the liberal learning tradition have long held that students taught within the tradition not only have a better understanding of themselves, others and how they fit into the larger context of society, but have a penchant for lifelong learning (p. 8). However, Laff indicates “…we cannot say for certain that there is a relationship between what we perceive in what we teach and the lives our students lead (p. 8).

This publication takes an interesting leap as it seeks to demonstrate that there is a connection between the inherent skills gained from liberal learning and the personal growth described within student development theory. This intersection provides an excellent opportunity for collaboration between faculty in the liberal arts disciplines and student development staff members to provide opportunities for transformative experiences on campus.

The book is arranged to help readers understand the initial connection between the historical ideals of the liberal arts tradition and the state of student development theory. Authors apply selected development theories to the classroom in chapters that address assignment design, civic responsibility, the role of the sciences, service learning opportunities, and residential learning communities. Here contributors delve more deeply into how faculty can use student development theory to develop their curriculum and pedagogical approaches. Each chapter provides multiple case examples that help illustrate the points made by the contributors.

This is a good resource for faculty unfamiliar with student development theory; case examples are especially useful for those who seek to improve their teaching methods. However, for faculty who want to learn more about student development theory, I would suggest Student Development in College (Evans, Forney, Guido-DiBrito, 1998) or a similar text that delves deeper into the theory.  

Advising professionals or others in student affairs will find that while this text provides nice summaries for reference, it falls well short of the possibilities outlined in the first chapter. There is little mention of collaboration within the book. Although authors of the final chapter about living learning communities discuss the differences between the structures of academic affairs and student affairs, this discourse does little to help bridge that divide. I would like to have seen more emphasis on collaborative opportunities for faculty and student affairs professionals addressed throughout the book using the liberal arts and student development theories as guides.

Collaboration is a current buzzword on many campuses. This book was the perfect venue to demonstrate how faculty and student affairs can work together using the principles of liberal learning and student development. However, this volume did not meet that challenge. This text would be good for the individual interested in theoretical foundations, faculty interested in applying student development in the classroom, and perhaps for those with a general interest in liberal education. However, this is not a practical guide for collaboration; advisors and other student affairs professionals would be better served using another resource to make the connection with faculty.

Source Cited:

Evans, N.J., Forney, D. S., & Guido-DiBrito, F. (1998). Student development in college: Theory, research, and practice. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Identity, Learning, and the Liberal Arts. (2005). Book by Ned Scott Laff (Ed.). Review by Jennifer L. McCaul. San Francisco: Jossey Bass, 88 pp. ISBN # 0-7879-8333-0
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