Shifting Phases's Reviews > Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses

Academically Adrift by Richard Arum
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it was amazing

Thoughtful, thorough, and carefully-explained. This isn't a novel or self help book; it's a summary of an academic research project. The complaint by some reviewers that the prose is too complex is an eerie foreshadowing of the study's results.

Main findings:
- undergraduate learning is rarely adequately prioritized
- gains in reading, writing, and critical thinking skills are disturbingly low
- individual learning in higher education is characterized by persistent and/or growing inequality
- there is notable variation both within and across institutions

The results are based on the Collegiate Learning Assessment, which is an unusual kind of standardized test. Participants are given a variety of primary and secondary source documents and required to make a recommendation based on them. The format is an open essay. The authors don't disclose how the essay is graded, but stress that it evaluates reading, writing, and the ability to logically justify a position. The test was administered to incoming university students and to the same cohort two years later. The researchers found no statistically significant increase in scores overall.

Some demographic groups and variables were found to be correlated with increased scores. The authors discuss these points in detail, analyze these results in light of other similar studies that both agree and disagree with their findings, and carefully avoid claiming to have found causes. The tone is measured and avoids inflammatory language.

One interesting finding was that some factors found by other studies to be positively correlated with persistence were negatively correlated with learning. Studying in groups is a notable example.

Main recommendations:
- improve pre-college preparation (1/3 of recent four year college students took at least one remedial course in college)
- improve pre-college development of norms, values, and behaviors conducive to assuming productive lives as responsible adults, as well as ability and interest to focus on academic learning
- balance research funding with "commitments tied to the improvement of undergraduate learning."
- colleges and universities need to take greater responsibility for shaping the developmental trajectories of students
- ensure the course work is appropriately demanding and requires significant reading, writing, and critical thinking.
- rigorous grading standards that encourage students to spend more time studying
- "clearly stating course objectives, providing students with examples of what is expected, creating ample opportunities for students to apply what they have learned and perform their knowledge publicly, and assessing learning frequently and adjusting teaching accordingly." (p. 131)
- Increased study of active/collaborative learning is needed -- how it is used by faculty, how it is used by students,and what effects it has on learning. "Has a adopting active/collaborative learning meant mostly that we have made classrooms more lively and interesting, but not more demanding and challenging? … Perhaps it is not surprising that NSSE measures of engagement do not track strongly were consistently with objective measures of learning." (p. 132)
- break down isolation of teaching
- faculty must engage in the scholarship of teaching
- Consider that some activities that increase retention decrease learning. However, it appears that all activities that increase learning increase retention.

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Reading Progress

August 24, 2011 – Shelved
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August 25, 2011 – Finished Reading

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