Student Accountability

Responsibility for Learning

One challenge of instructors in higher education today (and perhaps since the dawn of our profession) is instilling in students a sense of responsibility for their own learning. Alongside the rise in active learning and learner-centered instruction in higher education, we have seen a parallel rise in student resistance to learner-centered instructional approaches. Students might roll their eyes when you ask them to get in pairs or form groups of three. Why is this? Often, at the heart of the issue are a few core student concerns:

  1. My peers won’t do the same caliber work as me and I’ll end up doing everything.
  2. I pay tuition, so shouldn’t the teacher just teach me!
  3. It’s just easier if the teacher lectures and gives me the PowerPoint slides in a handout that I can study for the exam. Continue reading

Flipping Your Course

What is a Flipped Course?

A flipped course reverses the lecture/homework paradigm. This traditional paradigm is reflected in a course where new content is presented in the classroom with an attempt at deeper understanding through (home)work taking place outside of class. With emerging and expanding theories of adult learning, active learning, student engagement and the balance of power in the classroom, pedagogical approaches have been evolving to incorporate what we know – learners want to be involved; learning should be engaging; learning requires interaction and buy-in; learning should be relevant, so opportunities for theory-practice connections are critical. Unfortunately, with so much content to ‘cover’, instructors often feel challenged to provide those meaningful learning opportunities. Continue reading

Sharing Power in the Classroom

The Balance of Power

The notion of the balance of power in the classroom is celebrated throughout Learner-Centered Instruction by MaryEllen Weimer (2002). In fact, she has an entire chapter in her book entitled The Balance of Power. The primary focus of this chapter is to bring to light the fact that many students are, in actual fact disempowered. They have little choice in the big decisions that affect their learning experiences in higher education – like assignment choices, classroom policies and assessments. Weimer notes that teacher authority in educational contexts has become the expectation, creating both dependent, unmotivated learners as well as teachers who are unaware of the extent of control they exert in the classroom. Continue reading

Syllabus Design

Purpose of the Syllabus

The syllabus is known to have many purposes. At the most basic level, a syllabus serves to provide a road map for a course – both for the instructor and the students. It lays out the trajectory of topics, readings, assignments, activities and assessments for meeting the course objectives. However, a syllabus is much more complicated than this, and yet many of us rush the syllabus design process and in some cases, blindly adopt the syllabus of prior instructors with minimal adjustments to reflect our personal information and relevant dates. Continue reading

Problem-Based Learning

What is Problem-Based Learning (PBL)?

Problem-Based Learning (PBL) is another approach to learner-centered instruction. The instructor (or tutor in PBL-speak) is a facilitator for the learning process, but the entire execution of the PBL experience is student-led. PBL engages students because the real-world problems are determined by student interest and explored in ways the students suggest.

The situations they are dealing with are complicated and target student’s analytical, critical thinking and problem-solving skills.They are deliberately ambiguous so students have to work hard to arrive at solutions and often they are so multifaceted, that arriving at a solution can present yet another problem to be addressed. Continue reading

Responding to L2 Writers

Who are L2 Students?

Second Language (L2) is a ‘catch all’ descriptor that refers to any language acquired or learned after the native or home language. Non-native English Speakers (NNES) at the University may in fact be speaking English as their third or fourth language. For this reason, you will sometimes here people say English as an Additional Language (EAL) in lieu of English as a Second Language (ESL).

NNES populations at the University comprise a variety of individuals from numerous backgrounds. They may be immigrants, people with refugee experience, children of immigrant populations (see Generation 1.5 Students), and international students. Within these subgroups of NNESs, there are various distinctions. For example, not all international students enter the University through the same program. The entrance requirements of each program is distinct, so be aware that they are not all coming in with the same academic background or English language proficiency – even if they come from the same country. That would seem to go without saying, but this is how stereotypes and misinformed expectations of students come to be. Continue reading

Classroom Civility

Classroom civility is not something to take lightly. Instructors and students alike should be held to a particular standard when it comes to how they interact with one another in the classroom. Instructors and students come from all walks of life and thus differ and diverge along many lines (e.g., political, cultural, spiritual, sexual, educational and socioeconomic). Given these varied backgrounds and the culture of sharing views that many university classrooms embody, there are certain considerations to keep in mind.

As instructors, we should take a few steps to ensure that our classroom supports respectful interactions and discourages exchanges that are emotionally harmful or offensive to others. You may ask, where do we draw the line? With so many conflicting views among a given student body, we certainly can’t curtail all conversations that stir emotions, but we can ensure that students share a commitment to respect one another, acknowledge that it is OK to ‘agree to disagree’ and that by sharing opposing views, we can come to see things from the perspective of another. The Center for Teaching and Learning at UC Santa Cruz notes that prevention is the best strategy for classroom civility. These tips, from their website, are some ways that you can preemptively address incivility. Continue reading

Assessing Student Learning

What do we assess in the first place?

In Course Design, we can never underestimate the relationship between learning objectives and assessment. These two ‘partners in crime’ work together to determine the entire make up of a course. The first step is to create course learning objectives. Based on these learning objectives, what would be the most appropriate assessments to measure students’ attainment of the learning objectives. Once these two components are in place, we flesh out a learning plan – which is to say, we develop lesson plans and create the learning opportunities that will best support our students in reaching the learning objectives. Critical reflection on the learning objectives should lead instructors to an awareness about appropriate, relevant assessments. Read more from the University of Reading on why assessment is important.

Consider, for example, a practicum course in a program designed to prepare teachers of English language learners. If the learning objectives orient student learning toward skills they will need to be successful teachers in the English as a Second Language classroom, how appropriate are multiple choice exams as an assessment tool? On the other hand, in an Abstract Algebra course where students are charged with solving problems through the application of various formulas, how appropriate is a written 5-page reflection paper? Now, this is not to say that mathematicians shouldn’t be writing in their classes or that teachers shouldn’t be tested on content knowledge, but the bottom line is – determine your course learning objectives and align your assessment so that they map to one another favorably and in support of student success! Continue reading

Active Learning

What is Active Learning?

Active learning is embodied in a learning environment where the teachers and students are actively engaged with the content through discussions, problem-solving, critical thinking, debate or a host of other activities that promote interaction among learners, instructors and the material. Active learning is not represented in the teacher-centered classroom where the teacher is an active transmitter of information and the students are passive recipients.

Engaging students in active learning additionally requires that they be involved in higher order thinking at the levels of analysis, evaluation and create (see, Bloom’s Taxonomy). As instructors develop their lesson plans and therein the learning objectives, it is important to consider the situational factors involved, such as the content of the lesson (e.g., theoretical or practical), the learners (e.g., level, age, academic maturity), the context (e.g., classroom or clinical) and the assessments for the lesson (e.g., formative vs. summative; presentation vs. exam). This information will guide the development of learning objectives and help the instructor decide on appropriate verbs to represent the learning activity at various levels – i.e., Analyze: criticize, discern, summarize; Evaluate: debate, prioritize, value; Create: compile, hypothesize, reconstruct).

One of the most comprehensive sites for an overview of Active Learning is that of the University of Minnesota Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL). Instead of re-creating the wheel, we invite you to visit their Active Learning page where you will learn more about: the basic elements of active learning; active learning strategies; addressing student resistance; letting go of control; overcoming the ‘cover the content’ paradigm; incorporating peer review; and more! The site includes ‘dramatization’ videos of scenarios highlighted throughout the Active Learning page as well as a rich list of additional resources. Continue reading