Academic journal article Journal of College Reading and Learning

Navigating the Field of Learning Assistance: An Essay Book Review of Access at the Crossroads

Academic journal article Journal of College Reading and Learning

Navigating the Field of Learning Assistance: An Essay Book Review of Access at the Crossroads

Article excerpt

Navigating the Field of Learning Assistance: An Essay Book Review of Access at the Crossroads

The burgeoning field of learning assistance is emerging as a significant feature of postsecondary education, with practitioners, teachers, stakeholders, and administrators increasingly needing clear signposts to inform and guide them as they navigate the ever-changing landscape of the discipline. David Arendale's recent monograph, Access at the Crossroads: Learning Assistance in Higher Education succinctly yet thoroughly discusses the various facets of learning assistance. His prominent metaphor of intersections garners appeal as he examines and emphasizes significant connections and tensions among institutional entities such as enrollment services, academic affairs, and student affairs. Simultaneously, he also introduces readers to the notion that learning assistance has the potential to be the means through which these historic institutional silos can be reconsidered, if not even dismantled. Moreover, Arendale cleverly embeds this metaphor of intersection in his metanarrative, which emphasizes an important relationship between theory and practice. He skillfully avoids situating this particular text as one or the other, theory or practice, but instead provides ample opportunity for readers to explore both.

Arendale's treatment of the origins of the discipline traces important pedagogical and pragmatic movements as well as intersects with theoretical models that have informed the practice of learning assistance across time. Crossroads provides a thorough historical overview that challenges the notion of learning assistance being a fairly recent concept by positioning it deeply within the structures and history of higher education.

The monograph also provides an inclusive overview of consumers of learning assistance services and redefines the population usually aligned with learning assistance programs by moving away from the deficit model wherein learning assistance serves only underprepared students. Arendale presents a consumer model that is increasingly complex and comprehensive by introducing academic needs as a continuum through which students progress as they become participants in learning assistance services. However, a weakness of Crossroads is that Arendale presents an uneven discussion of this inclusive model. At times, he uses more comprehensive language when speaking of the students who utilize services offered through learning assistance. Learning assistance can and should exist for all students, and, at times, this assertion becomes clear. Conversely, at other times, he portrays consumers of learning assistance more traditionally, as novices, underprepared, or positioned on the lower end of the knowledge continuum.

Even so, Crossroads provides insight into an ever-changing field that intersects with vital institutional constituents. Those new to the field will find that this text offers a comprehensive overview that helpfully defines the discipline. Experienced professionals will find the monograph useful in helping them reconsider important issues in the field.

Current Challenges and Controversies for Learning Assistance

When considering challenges and controversies in learning assistance, Arendale introduces three categories to consider: historical, perceptive, and fiscal. He argues that each of these three classifications creates difficulties for learning assistance programs, practitioners, and participants.

The first challenge Arendale discusses is what he calls "historical amnesia," a position wherein professionals, historians, and stakeholders buy into the "myth of transience" (Rose, 1985). This myth critiques a perceived yet fictional "crisis" in education that insists the need for learning assistance is a recent one because of an educational aberration caused by the collapse of academic values, usually blamed on societal downfall such as television, video games, overcrowded schools, or the break-up of the traditional family. …

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