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Making the Most of College: Students Speak Their Minds Paperback – March 22, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Despite the author's having interviewed 400 Harvard students and visited more than 90 campuses over 10 years, his report on the findings of the Harvard Assessment Seminars would be more accurately titled "Getting the Most Out of Harvard." Rather than reflecting the experiences of average college students, his findings are more consistent with the experiences of students who arrive at prestigious universities already primed for intellectual inquiry. Yet some useful, if obvious, themes emerge from his decade spent interviewing more than 1,600 undergraduates: in-class and out-of-class experiences are significantly connected; strategies successful in high school don't always work well at college; good advising is crucial; students must ask for help when they need it; "students are enthusiastic when classes are structured to maximize personal engagement" and they enjoy interdisciplinary courses. There are some surprises, too: students Light spoke with demand high writing standards and favor unpredictability in their professors' political opinions. A major portion of the book argues that the benefits of diversity on college campuses have been underestimated and that awkward culture clashes can ultimately provide a positive, if at the time uncomfortable, learning experience. Still, the author's efforts to extrapolate from the experiences of these privileged students to the majority of college students are often unconvincing.
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

Light (Graduate Sch. of Education and the John F. Kennedy Sch. of Government, Harvard) interviewed 1600 Harvard students over a ten-year period to discover how to make the most of the college experience. The result is this valuable and practical book, recipient of the 2001 Virginia and Warren Stone Prize from Harvard University Press for an outstanding publication dealing with education and society. Filled with advice and illuminated by real stories of students' self-doubts, failures, discoveries, and hopes, the book is a blueprint for academic success. Some of the issues examined include collaborative selection of classes, talking productively with advisers, improving writing and study skills, maximizing the value of research assignments, and connecting learning inside the classroom with the rest of life. The students' actual responses are woven throughout, creating a revealing text unlike anything else parents, children, matriculating freshmen, and educators have read. This rich account of college life is recommended for all types of libraries. Samuel T. Huang, Univ. of Arizona Lib., Tuscon
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 242 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (May 30, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 067401359X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674013599
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 4.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (47 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #404,367 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

42 of 44 people found the following review helpful By R. J. O'Hara on March 17, 2001
Format: Hardcover
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.
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39 of 41 people found the following review helpful By C. Burch on June 2, 2003
Format: Hardcover
As a professor, I found the book excellent, both for its many insightful suggestions and as a reminder of the student experience. If I were evaluating this book for faculty, I'd give it five stars.
But the book's title and marketing indicate that this is a how-to book for college students. That's deceptive: It is a summary of findings by Harvard's self-assessment team. Suggestions for students are good when they come, but they're spread between suggestions more useful to college faculty and administration. As an example, one idea is to schedule discussion classes just before dinner, so that students in the class could eat together afterward and possibly continue discussion. That's a great idea for administrators, but students can't make much use of it. The book would be stronger if it were separated for the two potential audiences.
The book also suffers from not being up-front about its origins: It summarizes findings of an assessment project at Harvard, but you won't find it described until you reach the appendix. I realize that fewer copies would be sold if they admitted this in the introduction. But until I reached the appendix, where the project's major questions were finally described, I was left wondering why the book's organization was so lopsided. Particularly, the part on campus diversity was much longer than I expected; it wasn't until I reached the appendix that I learned why. (The appendix was one of the best parts. In fact, I recommend reading it first.)
I'd certainly recommend the book to faculty and administrators from any college. The work is clearly based on extensive, well-done interviews, and the analysis is both well-organized and rich in ideas. Just recognize it for what it is.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Blaine Greenfield on November 23, 2001
Format: Hardcover
SPEAK THEIR MIND by Richard Light . . . this is a book
that is definitely NOT for everybody . . . but if you're a high
school or college student, a parent of either, or a teacher or
administrator at any level of education, then you should
obtain a copy and devour it as soon as possible! . . . Light,
a professor at Harvard's Graduate School of Education,
researched students at that institution for over 10 years . . . but
what he has to say applies to virtually any school at any level.
I've been teaching for some 30 years--can you believe it? (I was
a child prodigy, of course, having started at the tender age of
7. NOT.) . . . Yet even I managed to get several ideas that I plan
to implement just as soon as I can.
I liked the author's use of verbatim quotes from
students . . . in addition, his overall findings made sense to me:
1. Learning outside of classes, especially in residential settings
and extracurricular activities such as the arts, is vital.
2. A large number of students say they learn significantly more
in courses that are highly structured, with relatively many quizzes
and short assignments.
3. Professors increasingly are encouraging students to work
together on homework assignments.
4. Some undergraduates, when asked to identify a particularly
profound or critical experience at college, identify a mentored
internship not done for academic credit.
5. For most students the impact of racial and ethnic diversity on
their college experience is strong.
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