Understanding learner needs is essential for providing quality education. One approach to understand learner needs is through the use of student evaluation questionnaires which allow us to collate student feedback or suggestions. A common argument against the use of student evaluations is that students do not know their own needs. However, many studies have shown student feedback/suggestions to be reliable and valid. If we do not even attempt to understand their needs, we may fail to recognize the support they require to be successful.
HIGHER ED TEACHING STRATEGIES FROM MAGNA PUBLICATIONS
Student engagement is another of those buzz phrases popular in higher education. As with many regularly used terms, everyone assumes we are talking about the same thing; but when asked for definitions, either we are hard pressed to come up one or what’s offered is a decidedly different collection of definitions. Here’s an article that includes clear definitions and, based on a creative synthesis of research, offers 10 ways to promote student engagement.
“Learning is not a spectator sport. Students do not learn much just by sitting in class listening to teachers, memorizing prepackaged assignments, and spitting out answers. They must talk about what they are learning, write about it, relate it to past experiences, apply it to their daily lives. They must make what they learn part of themselves.”
– A. Chickering and Z.F. Gamson, “Seven principles for good practice,” AAHE Bulletin 39 (March 1987), 3-7.
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?
For faculty looking to create a more learner-centered environment there are always a few bumps in the road. First they need to get used to
Most of the time research evidence grows by bits and pieces—not all at once, and the evidence documenting the effectiveness of learner-centered approaches is no exception. It continues to accumulate, as illustrated by this study. It occurred in a third-year pharmacotherapy course in a doctor of pharmacy program. The students were randomly assigned to five- and six-member groups, with each group being assigned a patient case with multiple drug-related problems.
At one point, a General Chemistry course at Penn State Berks had a success rate of about 50 percent, giving the multi-section course the dubious distinction of having one of the lowest GPAs on campus. After a thorough redesign, the course now consistently achieves a success rate of well over 70 percent, while the student ratings of the course and the instructors have never been higher. The key element in this chemistry course’s redesign? Clickers.
The prospect of teaching topics outside one’s area of expertise can be unsettling for even the most confident faculty member. Nevertheless, due to factors such as budget cuts and curricular changes, faculty are increasingly being asked to teach in unfamiliar territory.
Would you let your students decide when you hold office hours?
How about whether projects are worth more points than exams, or vice versa?
Would you let your students decide some of the topics that will be covered in the course?
In an editorial published in the Journal of Geoscience Education, a geography faculty member offers a testimonial in favor of learner-centered teaching. “Through my 15 years of teaching Earth System Science, I have explored various ways of teaching it and have become convinced that the Learner-Centered Environment, that builds upon constructivist theory principles and fosters teaching practices that recognize the active roles students must play in their learning, is particularly suitable for Earth system science education.” (p. 208)