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.

Yes, it’s possible that all of these are true, but as Weimer (2002) notes, “they must accept the responsibility for learning. This involves developing the intellectual maturity, learning skills, and awareness necessary to function as independent, autonomous learners” (p. 95). With the rise of PowerPoint and the use of online learning management systems (e.g., Blackboard, CANVAS) students have become very enabled and dependent on the teacher to supply all necessary information for the good grade that will (they believe) lead seamlessly to the good career. It is time to shift the paradigm so that students are happily engaged in the learning process and find interactions with their peers to be academically, professionally, socially, and perhaps even emotionally rewarding.

One way to encourage students to take responsibility for their learning is to give them some power in the decision making about their course (see, Sharing Power in the Classroom). When given more options, they will better understand the process that goes into the decisions made about text selection, assignment design, assessment and in-class activities. Often times, if students are simply given a rationale for an instructor’s decision-making, they will be more likely to at least attempt to embrace it! If you plan to promote student engagement and collaborative learning in your class, then let them know why (see, Adult Learning Theory) and let them know on Day One.

Fostering Autonomous, Academically Mature Learners

In order to foster learner development that embraces self-direction and a vested interest in the learning process, instructors have to create a climate that is conducive for such growth. Students coming into the higher education context are often coming from educational settings (i.e., high school) where they had little control over their learning and much of their studies were directed and led by the teachers. So, beyond teaching our students the material, we are also responsible for teaching them how to learn. Here are some suggestions compiled from a few resources (Weimer, 2002; Davis, 2009) that will help promote autonomous, academically mature (and engaged) learners!

  1. Be clear about expectations – for both ourselves as instructors and the students as members of a learning community. What expectations do we have of the students? What is their responsibility for the learning process? What is our responsibility for the learning process? Involve them in a discussion about the classroom climate on day one (see, Sharing the Power in the Classroom).
  2. Make the learning meaningful, relevant, engaging (see, Adult Learning Theory, Active Learning). Hook them and strive to keep them interested from the beginning.
  3. Aim to be consistent with policies and procedures. If you say ‘no late work’, don’t accept it. If you say ‘students are expected to participate’, don’t run a teacher-centered classroom with no opportunity for student interaction.
  4. Take time during the course to get feedback from students. How well are the vision and reality of the course aligning at various points in the semester/year? Target issues related to classroom environment, content relevance, instructional practices, opportunities for student interaction, assignments and assessments, etc.

Accountability within Lessons

On my page about Active Learning, we have suggested a number of strategies for promoting learner-centered instruction and student engagement. For many of those activities, there is the risk of students ‘checking out’ or letting others do the work due to their structure. However, when that risk is present you can try some of these approaches to ensure that students stay on task and remain responsible for the learning. (*Note: Some approaches are linked out to other pages for more details.)

  1. One-Minute Paper – A nice tool for lesson or activity wrap up, quick warm-ups prior to presenting new content or a quick assessment.
  2. Synthesis Paper – Let students know that at the end of the activity, presentation, project, etc. they will be responsible for writing a synthesis paper to integrate the concepts explored in class that day, week, semester.
  3. Online Discussion Posts – Require students to follow up on in-class discussions or presentations through online discussion forums. Provide some guidelines for their contribution (length, topic, etc.) to increase the likelihood that their responses will be significant.
  4. Summative Assessment (e.g., quizzes, tests, exams) – These are periodic ‘check-in’ assessments that are conducted after the learning activity to gauge how much students have learned, understood and retained. Summative Assessment is best balanced with Formative Assessment throughout the semester or academic year.
  5. Peer Feedback (e.g., rate peers’ contribution, complete rubric on peer’s presentation/project)