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Richard Light on Making the Most of College

RJO’s Reviews on Amazon.com

These brief book reviews have been posted to Amazon.com, and they may be viewed there in their original form either collectively (on my public reviews page) or individually (by following the link at each title below).

Excellent Educational Advice for Students and Faculty Alike

Making the Most of College: Students Speak Their Minds
Richard J. Light
Harvard University Press, 2001

This small volume is an excellent compendium of practical advice for students, faculty, and university administrators on how build strong educational environments. The author, Richard Light, is a professor of education and an educational researcher, and the conclusions he presents are powerful because they are based on more than ten years of detailed interviews with students.

The students were asked to describe their best teachers, the classes that had the greatest impact on their lives, the social experiences on campus that have been most valuable to them, and the things that universities could do to further strengthen the educational environment. What makes a great professor? (It’s not theatricality.) What makes a great class? (It’s not the quality of the PowerPoint slides.) What makes for great advising? (It’s not telling students to get their requirements out of the way.) How can teachers constantly improve their classes? (It’s not by handing out an evaluation form at the end of the term.)

Light places particular emphasis on the social environment that universities provide for their students. This is something that has been woefully neglected for more than a generation on many large campuses, and attention to it by faculty is badly needed. I am an advocate of decentralized residential colleges within large universities, and such colleges can provide precisely the kind of environment that Light recommends: stable, rich, genuinely diverse, and full of opportunity.

One popular topic is notable for its absence: technology. There is no discussion of teaching via the web, nothing about distance learning, nothing about video conferencing, yadda, yadda, yadda. The message is clear: outstanding education comes from personal contact, not remote access.

If you are a college professor, this book may be the only general-purpose “education” book that you will ever need. And if you are a student, or the parent of a student, this straightforward guide will help you “make the most of college.”


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