Book Review: Centred on Learning
Centred on Learning: Academic Case Studies on Learning Centre Development Edited by Edward Oyston. Aldershot, Ashgate Publishing, 2003. 266 pages Hardback. ISBN 0-7546-0805-0
The list of 25 contributors at the front of this volume is initially rather disheartening to the new reader: it conjures up memories of past encounters with loose compilations of elderly conference papers, only resuscitated because of their perceived relevance to a currently fashionable topic. This is decidedly not what is on offer here: each of the eight chapters of this book sets out a focused and coherent view of one aspect of the Learning Resource Centre (LRC) phenomenon, based on the distilled experiences of four universities: Aberdeen, Leeds Metropolitan, Lincoln and Sheffield Hallam.
The first chapter is a masterly exposition by Claire Abson of the changing picture of UK higher education, in the context of Follett and of Dearing, and of the need to reconcile 'massification' with the quality agenda. The context having thus been set, the book provides six sets of case studies, each set compiled by a team of four or more of the aforementioned 25 contributors, under the direction of a nominated sub-editor, and each exploring one facet of the LRC experience.
Edward Oyston discusses organisational frameworks, first comparing the rationale (strategic, managerial and operational drivers) for convergence in each of the four universities. He then explains the resulting organisational models, in terms of composition, strategic positioning, management arrangements and service model.
Jo Norry describes the changing staff experience in each institution, and the rise of new roles for staff, along the dimensions of hybridisation, learner support, pedagogic partnership and resource development. This chapter is supported by appendices containing some ten real-world job descriptions and employee specifications.
Midway through the book, and just as central to its argument, is Alison Ward's chapter on the student experience. Changes in student profile and in learning and teaching methods are outlined and the resultant needs of students in terms of resources, skills and working environment are explained. The importance of good communication between the learning centre and the student today is emphasised and the chapter concludes with case studies on the specific needs of distance learners, disabled students, and student researchers.
Kay Moore has contributed an interesting chapter on institutional relations. Changes in teaching and learning, increasing recognition of the centrality of information skills, the impact of ICT and the quality agenda are all shown to have resulted in the development of new expectations, both from academics and students. Case studies from Sheffield Hallam, Aberdeen and Lincoln Universities indicate how such expectations might be addressed.
Whatever future emphasis may be placed on Virtual Learning Environments, Roger Hines argues for the continuing centrality of an appropriate physical environment to the student learning experience, and with the aid of brief case studies, gives practical advice on the planning, design and operation of physical learning spaces in Higher Education.
Alison Hudson follows this up with a broad and helpful overview of emerging new environments for learning and the continuing need to respond to changing user requirements. The book is drawn to a conclusion by a future perspective contributed by Graham Bulpitt, which offers the combination of vision and pragmatism one has come to expect from that source.
This relatively slim volume is not cheap at £45, but you get what you pay for. The content is apposite and well presented and the production values of the physical publication are high. The references at the end of each chapter are well researched and helpful, although perhaps a little dated, the most recent being 2001. It would have been useful in this day and age to include more references to online material where available, and for such references to include confirmation of the Accessed Date. There is a slim but apposite index which this reviewer could not fault.
This is not a handbook on the design, staffing and implementation of Learning Resource Centres, nor does it set out to be. Yet many practitioners in the field will find the experiences and conclusions of their colleagues very helpful as they ponder such problems in their day-to-day jobs. Equally, this is not a textbook, yet many of the chapters and individual case studies may easily find their way onto the reading lists of library and information courses across the UK and beyond.
Foote, S M
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