student at white board July 29

A Learner-Centered Syllabus Helps Set the Tone for Learning


At its most basic level, the syllabus is used to communicate information about the course, the instructor, learning objectives, assignments, grading policies, due dates, the university’s academic integrity statement, and, in some cases, an increasingly long list of strongly worded admonitions on what is and isn’t acceptable behavior in the college classroom.

Student in lecture hall June 3

More Evidence That Active Learning Trumps Lecturing


The June-July issue of The Teaching Professor newsletter highlights a study you don’t want to miss. It’s a meta-analysis of 225 studies that compare STEM classes taught using various active learning approaches with classes taught via lecture. “The results indicate that average examination scores improved by about 6% in active learning sessions, and that students in classes with traditional lecturing were 1.5 times more likely to fail than were students in classes with active learning.” (p. 8410) Carl Wieman, a Nobel-winning physicist who now does research on teaching and learning, describes the work as a “massive effort” that provides “a much more extensive quantitative analysis of the research on active learning in college and university STEM courses than previously existed.” (p. 8319) And what does he make of these results? “The implications of these meta-analysis results for instruction are profound, assuming they are indicative of what could be obtained if active learning methods replaced the lecture instruction that dominates U.S. postsecondary STEM instruction.” (pp. 8319-8320) That’s a long way from the guarded language usually found in commentaries on scientific results.

Head Shot.Ken Parker February 23

Learner-Centered Pedagogy and the Fear of Losing Control


In the spring of 1991, I returned to teaching after more than five years as a Benedictine monk. The monastery had been founded in China in the 1920s, and when exiled after the Chinese Revolution, the community had relocated to the Mojave Desert in California. During my novitiate, I had taken up a private study of modern Chinese history, even though my research and academic formation at Cambridge University had been in early modern English puritan studies. When my community sent me to study theology at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland, I also studied the history of missiology and continued to read about the modern emergence of Christianity in China. So when the history department of a small liberal arts college in Santa Barbara asked me to teach a non-Western course after I left monastic life, I suggested Modern Chinese History.

ff-tp-blog October 29, 2014

A Few Concerns about the Rush to Flip


I have some concerns about flipping courses. Maybe I’m just hung up on the name—flipping is what we do with pancakes. It’s a quick, fluid motion and looks easy to those of us waiting at the breakfast table. I’m not sure those connotations are good when associated with courses and that leads to what centers my concerns. I keep hearing what sounds to me like “flippant” attitudes about what’s involved.

ff-tp-blog September 24, 2014

Diversifying the Role Course Content Plays


Peter Burkholder’s recently published piece in The History Teacher (highlighted in the October issue of The Teaching Professor) is another reminder of how much we need a different way of thinking about course content.

We all pretty much agree that we try to cover too much material in our courses, programs, and majors, but the thought of leaving things out often causes personal and profession anguish. We argue with ourselves that a certain piece of content is too important to cut, and our students need to know the information to pass certifying exams and to get jobs. Then there are departmental expectations. Most courses establish knowledge bases for subsequent courses. Our colleagues are depending on us. We further complicate matters by making course and instructor reputations a function of content quantity. A decrease in the amount covered means lower standards and a dilution of the intellectual currency of the course. Bottom line: We know we’ve got a problem, but these realities and our thinking have us backed into a corner.

grpwork.120917 July 9, 2014

Three Active Learning Strategies That Push Students Beyond Memorization


Those who teach in the health disciplines expect their students to retain and apply every iota of learned material. However, many students come to us having achieved academic success by memorizing the content, regurgitating that information onto an exam, and promptly forgetting a good portion of it. In health, as well as other disciplines where new material builds upon the material from the previous semesters, it is critical for students to retain what they learn throughout their coursework and as they begin their careers as a nurse, engineer, elementary teacher, etc.

ff-tp-blog February 12, 2014

The Teaching-Learning Synergy


This weekend I saw a diagram with visual representations of teacher-centered instruction juxtaposed to graphics illustrating learner-centered approaches. I heard myself telling someone that I used to think of them as separate, and I still see value in understanding the differences between them. But thinking about them dichotomously is not how I think about them now—thanks to a re-read of some of Parker Palmer’s work and a great article written for the newsletter by colleagues Ricky Cox and Dave Yearwood (January, 2013).

wp-flipped-approach-2013 January 31, 2014

Expanding the Definition of a Flipped Learning Environment


The term flipped classroom has become a hot topic in higher education. Ideas about and opinions about flipped learning environments vary. Some consider it simply another way of talking about student-centered learning. Others view flipped classrooms as the most cutting-edge approach to learning. Still others see flipping as just another fad that will eventually run its course.

studentgroupwork September 19, 2013

Giving Students a Choice in Assignments Can Boost Creativity and Motivation


Teaching to students’ strengths and interests can promote creative and critical thinking. But requesting creative responses often engenders the exact opposite of creativity. “Just tell me what you want me to do and I’ll do it.” “How many words does it need to be?” “What should I write about to get a good grade?” “I’m not creative.” Often these comments are accompanied with sighs, groans, or no responses at all (in the case of online students), indicating just how much students resist when asked to be creative. And these responses are even more prevalent in required and prerequisite courses. So how do we overcome the resistance and encourage creative ideas and thinking from our students?