college students in class February 23, 2015

Learner-Centered Pedagogy and the Fear of Losing Control

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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.


November 7, 2014

Threshold Concepts: Portals to New Ways of Thinking

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“A threshold concept is discipline-specific, focuses on understanding of the subject and … has the ability to transform learners’ views of the content.” (Zepke, p. 98) It’s not the same as a core concept, although that’s a useful place to first put the idea. “A core concept is a conceptual ‘building block’ that progresses understanding of the subject; it has to be understood, but it does not necessarily lead to a qualitative different view of the subject matter.” (Meyer and Land, p. 4)


August 2, 2012

Are We Preaching to the Choir about Student-Centered Learning Practices?

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I’d like to report on a nonscientific study I have been conducting, without human-subjects approval or even a clear research plan. This won’t make it into the research journals, but the results are still compelling.

My “study” has been continuous for over two years. During that time, I have made numerous trips, at random times, from my administrative office to a building on the opposite corner of campus. For nearly three months, I made the round trip twice a day or more. Every time, I have walked through the ground floor of our main general classroom building, which has about 14 classrooms, mostly 30- to 50-person rooms, but also with one 120-person tiered lecture hall. The classrooms are assigned to courses covering a wide range of disciplines, mostly first- or second-year classes.


February 7, 2012

Long-Term Benefits of Learner-Centered Instruction

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Often these questions are raised about courses using learner-centered approaches: What if this is the only learner-centered course taken by the student? Is one course enough to make a difference?

There is growing evidence that courses with learner-centered approaches—those approaches that use active learning strategies to engage students directly in learning processes—enhance academic achievement and promote the development of important learning skills, such as critical thinking, problem solving, and the ability to cooperatively work with others. But does the experience of being made responsible for learning transcend that individual course?