responsibility for learning
Yesterday I got an email from a faculty member who had just received her spring semester student ratings (yes, in August, but that’s a topic for another post). She’d gotten one of those blistering student comments. “This teacher should not be paid. We had to teach ourselves in this course.” I remember another faculty member telling me about similar feedback, which was followed later with a comment about how the course “really made me think.”
Earlier this year, a couple of contributions to The Teaching Professor (Haave 2014) and Faculty Focus (Weimer 2014) discussed the place of learning philosophies in our teaching. The online comments to Weimer’s blog post (2014) made me think more about how we as instructors need to be careful to bridge instructivist and constructivist teaching approaches for students not yet familiar with taking responsibility for their own learning (Venkatesh et al 2013).
Online instructors face the challenges of keeping a course up to date, engaging students, and maintaining integrity. Having students generate some of the course content can address all three of these challenges.
The Internet flipped learning before instructors did. Want to find out something? Google it. Wikipedia it. Use your laptop or smartphone or iPad. That’s where the “answers” are. Some of us initially reacted to this cyber-democratization of information asserting, “This isn’t right! The Internet is full of incomplete and simply wrong information.” But the challenge to the classroom was more profound. It has raised questions among students and even administrators about the need for face-to-face classrooms at all, as if correct information and unchallenged “opinions” were all that was needed.
It’s probably the question I’m most asked in workshops on learner-centered teaching. “What are some good places to start? My students aren’t used to learner-centered approaches.” Sometimes the questioner is honest enough to add, “and I haven’t used many previously.” Before the specifics, here’s some general recommendations: start slowly (for example, don’t add 14 learner-centered strategies to a mostly lecture course); try simple, reasonably straightforward activities first; and define success before implementing the activity. As for those “good places” to begin infusing your teaching with learner-centered strategies, here are some approaches to try.
Student entitlement can be defined academically: “a self-centered disposition characterized by a general disregard for traditional faculty relationship boundaries and authority” (p. 198), or it can be described more functionally: “a sense that they [students] deserve what they want because they want it and want it now.” (p. 197)
This week I’ve been reading up on a variety of group structures now being used, mainly in the sciences, to get students working together on understanding and mastering course material. As I read about these interesting models, I keep hearing faculty respond: “Great, but I teach content that must be covered in this course.” And that excuse prevents them from considering any strategy that diminishes the amount of content they can get through in a class period, even though most are wise enough to know that just because it’s been covered doesn’t mean it’s been learned.