learner centered teaching
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Building a Pathway for Student Learning: A How-To Guide to Course Design
Date Reviewed: March 14, 2016
There are many important discussions happening in the academy about how to re-envision the student experience in order to provide better learning opportunities. The culture of higher education is undergoing a shift from an instruction-centered model to a learning or student-centered paradigm. These discussions are extremely significant in that they force faculty to re-evaluate and re-envision the traditional models – and ultimately lead to a more thorough and permanent education for the students. However, many of these studies are difficult since ways of applying these new theoretical models is often not immediately obvious. In Building a Pathway for Student Learning, Jones, Noyd, and Sagendorf have compiled a comprehensive and effective workbook addressing this lack.
The workbook represents the results of a faculty development course design retreat that the authors have conducted for the last several years. This is not a book about course design, it is a systematic workbook giving direction for designing a learning-centered course in any discipline. At every stage in the course design process, the reader is reminded that, “our success ultimately comes not from what we as instructors are able to do but from what our students learn as a result of taking our courses” (9). To this end, the following pathway is suggested for effective course design. First, know the students you will teach. Second, identify the course learning goals. Third, build a summative assessment to determine the extent to which students have accomplished the learning goals. Fourth, develop a list of learning proficiencies that are required to successfully accomplish the learning goals, and then sequence them. Fifth, create learning experiences that will allow students to build and develop the central proficiencies, and to accomplish the learning goals. Sixth, construct several formative assessments, and use them to evaluate student progress toward the core proficiencies, which will encourage student improvement.
After going through each of these stages, the authors lead the reader through two synthetic activities: creating a course poster and syllabus. The course poster assembles the learning experiences to be utilized in class, the proficiencies that will be developed, the way these proficiencies will be assessed, and the goal of the class, in order to ensure coherence and alignment within the course, and to transparently display the structure of the course to students. The syllabus is envisioned as a tool to demonstrate the learning-centered design of the course, not just the course policies and assignments. Each of these synthetic steps is aided by the use of the companion website.
The workbook has much to commend. First, each chapter contains a helpful and thorough survey of the more significant research on the topic under consideration. Second, the system suggested to redesign courses is logically ordered, and effective. Third, at several key points the authors suggest proactive ways of finding evaluation of stages in the course design from colleagues. Most importantly, the authors recognize that effective course design has to be a flexible system; they do not claim to have all the answers for how every course can best be structured, rather they provide a series of guiding questions so that individual instructors can think through how to order their classes so that they effectively take students from wherever they begin, to the acquisition of central proficiencies and the accomplishment of learning goals, whatever the discipline. For these reasons, this book should be essential for anyone developing or revising courses towards a learning-centered model.
Assessing and Improving Your Teaching: Strategies and Rubrics for Faculty Growth and Student Learning
Date Reviewed: February 12, 2015
Assessing and Improving Your Teaching by Phyllis Blumberg describes a comprehensive plan for teacher development and offers creative strategies for teachers at all stages of their professional career. Blumberg identifies many ways by which faculty can gain insights and improve the quality of their teaching to foster better student learning. This book is an excellent resource for both beginning instructors and more experienced ones especially in terms of recommended methods and tools for assessing faculty growth and learning outcomes. The book goes beyond well-documented analysis of individual strategies and contributes to the relatively few studies that integrate strategies from a hierarchical approach to improve teaching. For Blumberg, “a hierarchical approach” is one “that places the locus of control with the instructor who wants to improve, rather than with others who need to judge teaching performance,” and “provides a robust teaching enhancement process” (4).
The first part of the book describes Blumberg’s hierarchical approach by initially establishing criteria that define teaching standards. Borrowing a commonly used, learning-centered approach to teaching, Blumberg focuses primarily on what the instructor does to promote student learning and discusses misconceptions about teaching. She then recommends alternative ideas and essential aspects of teaching for “deep and intentional learning.” The second and third parts of the book build on each other by describing a constructive self-assessment model which uses self-assessment rubrics for purposes of improving and assessing teacher effectiveness. Blumberg believes that teaching is composed of many different skills that can be learned. However, she encourages “systematic growth” which results from periodic, critical reflection on one’s teaching along with on-going critical review and the incorporation and documentation of both.
In addition to discussing ways to improve teaching, Blumberg proposes three types of principles for assessing teaching, namely: (1) the context for assessment or what to assess; (2) the assessment methods or how to assess; and (3) the results of this assessment process. She notes that many professors who serve on promotion and tenure committees regularly comment on how little is actually analyzed or documented about the teaching process or teacher effectiveness. Using multiple sources of data about teaching effectiveness, Blumberg shows there is a need throughout the academy to supplement student course evaluation data with other appropriate procedures and tools” (116). Opposed to the older instructor-centered models in which assessment focuses on teaching performance or lecturing skills, she emphasizes other roles and skills such as course alignment, organization of educational experiences, and reflection on instruction. The tools for self-reflection and analysis include rating scales and descriptive rubrics; Blumberg also describes five cases from very different contexts of teaching and faculty members with different levels of experience.
This book is a valuable contribution to literature on the evaluation of teaching in higher education because it contains both assessment forms that others can use to assess teachers as well as tools that instructors can use for self-reflection and analysis.