learner-centered teaching February 14

Is My Teaching Learner-Centered?

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It’s hard to say—we have no definitive measures of learner-centeredness or even mutually agreed upon definitions. And yet, when we talk about it, there’s an assumption that we all understand the reference.

Teaching Professor Blog My friend Linda recently gave me a beautifully illustrated children’s book that contains nothing but questions. It reminded me how good questions, like beams of light, cut through the fog and illuminate what was once obscured. And so, to help us further explore and understand what it means to be learner-centered, I’ve generated a set of questions. For the record, these questions were not empirically developed, and they haven’t been validated in any systematic way. However, they do reflect the characteristics regularly associated with learner-centered teaching.


December 5, 2017

The Success of Four Activities Designed to Engage Students

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How can we engage students who are enrolled in large courses so they become active learners? I used four activities designed to get students involved, support their efforts to learn, and personalize the material in an introductory psychology course. How well did they work? For analysis, I divided the 52 students in my course into four groups, or quadrants, using their final overall course scores to place them in high- to low-performance groups. Final course scores were computed as points on a scale of 1 to 100, which were then reported as letter grades. Then I looked at how involved students in each group were in the engagement activities. I’ll start with a description of each of the engagement activities and then provide a summary of how well each of these approaches engaged students in learning the course content..

Optional retake exams. There were three in-class exams (each worth 20 percent) and a final exam. Each exam included short-answer and essay questions. Students could opt to retake any or all of the three in-class exams. The retakes, administered electronically, were personalized. For questions that students missed on the exam, new versions of the questions appeared on their individually constructed retake exam. Retakes were therefore a mastery system that encouraged students to focus on those concepts they did not understand. Based on the retake scores, points were added, not subtracted.

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making choices - door 1, 2 or 3 November 29, 2017

Benefits of Giving Students Choices

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We already do give students some choices. We let them choose paper topics, decide what to do for group projects, select subjects for artwork—and we’ve seen them struggle to make those choices. Most students don’t see selecting content as an opportunity to explore an area of interest, but rather an added burden of now trying to figure out what the teacher wants.


Curiosity - who, what, when, where and why October 16, 2017

Where’s the Curiosity?

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When I walk into a college classroom these days it is as quiet as libraries used to be. Every head is bowed and every thumb is scrolling away on a screen. There are few, if any, conversations between students. No one looks up until I take attendance. When the class is over the students depart as silently as they came. Even if they are drifting in the same direction, they rarely talk to one another. It’s almost impossible to catch the eye of a student walking toward me and, if I break the spell with a cheery “Hello!”, there is a startle reflex that reveals the depth of the self-isolation.


Student smiling and showing friend smartphone in lecture hall September 11, 2017

Helping Students Make the Right Call on Cell Phones

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Much has been written, both in Faculty Focus and elsewhere, about cell phones in the classroom. Such pieces typically break into two categories: whether to ban or not to ban, and techniques for using devices productively for educational purposes.

As helpful as those discussions are, conspicuously absent most of the time are students’ views. Do they even want their phones available in class, or are the devices simply attractive nuisances? Is a classroom without cell phones desirable from their standpoint—and if so, what would it take to achieve such an environment? Last spring, I decided to find out.


studying in the library August 28, 2017

Questioning the Two-Hour Rule for Studying

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Faculty often tell students to study two hours for every credit hour. Where and when did this rule of thumb originate? I’ve been unable to track down its genesis. I suspect it started around 1909, when the Carnegie Unit (CU) was accepted as the standard measure of class time. [See Heffernan (1973) and Shedd (2003) for thorough histories of the credit hour.] The U.S. Department of Education defines the credit hour as “One hour of classroom or direct faculty instruction and a minimum of two hours of out of class student work each week for approximately fifteen weeks for one semester…” The expectation was the norm when I was in college in the 1980s and more seasoned professors indicate it was expected in the 1970s too.



Male college student. Learning over grades. April 12, 2017

Five Ways to Get Students Thinking about Learning, Not Grades

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The past several decades have seen an interest in learning surge. It’s always been part of our educational endeavors, but the recent focus on it has been intense—that is, for teachers. Our interest is not shared by most of our students. They are still pretty much all about grades, preferably those acquired easily. They will work for points, but not very enthusiastically, if at all, without them.


studying in the library January 12, 2017

When Saying ‘No’ to a Student Might Be Saying ‘Yes’ to Learning!

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Last summer, I reached the point of eligibility for early retirement. I thought about taking the leap but did not. I decided to keep teaching, asking myself, how hard could it be to teach for another few years? Harder than I imagined, as it turned out.

For most of my career teaching composition in community colleges, my students have tended to be adults, older and more mature than the typical high school graduate. Increasingly, however, my students are young, immature, and not particularly well attuned to the expectations of college teachers. A recent incident with one such student taught me something about the value of saying “no” to students.

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artistic laptop November 25, 2016

Six Steps to an Effective Flex Learning Environment

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Flexible learning, also known as modular learning, gives students some choice in their learning format. They get to decide whether they want to approach lessons or even entire courses in face-to-face, online, or blended classrooms. And they can switch back and forth between the formats without penalty or disadvantage.

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