student centered learning
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For the past twelve months, I have made several pivots in my teaching to meet what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. identified in his 1967 speech on the war in Vietnam at The Riverside Church in New York City as “the fierce urgency of now.” Dr. King began by affirming the ...
During the past year, two of my favorite Brazilian writers and educators, Luiz Antonio Simas and Luiz Rufino collaborated on yet another book: Encantamento: Sobre a Política da Vida (Incantation: On the Politics of Life). One of the central affirmations of their work (which follows their previous co-authored publications: ...
The New Education: How to Revolutionize the University to Prepare Students for a World In Flux
Date Reviewed: August 7, 2018
Cathy N. Davidson’s The New Education: How to Revolutionize the University to Prepare Students for a World in Flux is an engaging, enlightening, and empowering call to action. Though its focus is on why and how to transform higher education to meet the needs of today’s students and society, it offers commentary on innovative and effective pedagogy that will be of special interest to Wabash Center readers.
If you only have time for a condensed version of Davidson’s recommendations for improving college teaching, read the “Ten Tips for Transforming Any Classroom for Active Student-Centered Learning” (263-67). Davidson lauds 10 techniques: Think-Pair-Share, Question Stacking, Everybody Raise Your Hand, Interview, Class Constitution, Collective Syllabus Design, Collaborative Note Taking, Collaborative Projects with Peer Assessment, Exit Tickets, and Public Contribution to Knowledge. In keeping with Davidson’s central thesis, these techniques serve to invigorate learning in college courses, but their ultimate value is that they best prepare students for life beyond the college gates.
Indeed, it is the demands of modern life that prompts Davidson to argue for radically revising the university. America’s system of higher education has reified, she argues, the vision of Charles Eliot, president of Harvard in the late 1800s. Eliot sought (most notably in his essay entitled “The New Education” from which Davidson takes her title) to transform America’s colleges from seminary systems to institutions designed “to train farmers and shopkeepers to be factory workers and office managers” (3). In pursuit of this goal, Eliot, and fellow educational reformers, established the university as we know it:
- majors, minors, divisions (humanities, social sciences, natural and biological sciences), credit hours, degree requirements, grades, the bell curve . . . class rankings, certification, general education, upper-division electives, . . . professionalization (credentials, accreditation), graduate schools . . . financial aid, college entrance exams . . . tenure . . . school rankings . . . (35-36)
and more. By 1925, Eliot’s vision (shaped by his study of German and French models) dominated the landscape of American higher education.
Not much has changed, Davidson laments. These features continue to define the college experience for most Americans. But now, they come with anemic “teaching to the test” at all levels of education, crushing student debt, and graduates narrowly trained for specialties that are fast disappearing in the technology-laden world in which we live.
Against the current state of affairs, Davidson argues for pedagogy and universities to center on students and aim at preparation for life, not just careers. Davidson documents how the shift from the Industrial Age to our current age (which she dates at 1993 with the dawn of the Internet) has yet to be taken seriously by academics. Doing so, she insists, demands radical rethinking of the college experience.
To illustrate the types of changes she advocates as proper responses to the technological age, Davidson points to community colleges and initiatives at universities. LaGuardia Community College in NYC, Arizona State University, and The Red House at Georgetown University receive the lion’s share of her attention. And for good reason. Education at these schools is being rethought and retooled to serve the student and his/her future needs. Actually, as Davidson notes, community colleges have been doing this all along. Founded to serve non-elite students, community colleges succeed by proceeding “from a pedagogy of acceptance. Any growth constitutes success. The student is at the center” (57).
Although active learning and student-centered pedagogy benefit students, it is not risk-free. Fear of “losing status” causes many professors and institutions to shy away from adopting the mindset and support systems community colleges embrace. To illustrate the risks, Davidson recounts the story of Alexander Coward, formerly of Berkeley . . . formerly because allegedly his student-centered pedagogy did not sit well with his colleagues (208-210).
In addition to the aforementioned “Ten Tips,” those primarily interested in pedagogical issues should read Chapter 3, “Against Technophobia,” and Chapter 4, “Against Technophilia.” Within these two chapters, Davidson offers many, many helpful hints for how to use technology imaginatively and effectively in the classroom.
Finding the Why: Personalizing Learning in Higher Education (New Directions for Teaching and Learning, Number 145)
Date Reviewed: November 30, -0001
Whenever I’m asked, “How are your classes going?” my answer traditionally has been, “Ask the students.” As more faculty members shift their pedagogy to a student-centered learning, their focus must include not only delivering the content but also inviting students to explore the why of education. The articles in Finding the Why: Personalizing Learning in Higher Education edited by margit misangyi watts (sic), identify key ways to encourage students to discover the purpose of higher education as more than training for a career. While many of the articles describe institutional changes that have been developed to address the student success beyond the university, the principles behind such designs can be incorporated by individual faculty members in approaching how to present their courses’ content.
One of the key principles is to encourage students to identify the applicability of a liberal-arts education to professional courses. One means by which this can be accomplished is described in “Integrative Learning: Making Liberal Education Purposeful, Personal, and Practical.” Ann Ferren and Chad Anderson describe several examples from various colleges that integrate learning across curricula and are adaptable even for larger institutions, such as designing opportunities for students to integrate curricula using collaborative projects, partnerships with the local community for service-learning, and making connections among disciplines. Furthermore, in “Project-Based Learning in Colleges of Business: Is It Enough to Develop Educated Graduates?” Penny Smith and Lindsey Gibbon note that business leaders are seeking qualities such as critical thinking skills, identifying and using creative problem solving, and communicating effectively. They note that “for business schools to graduate ‘well-educated’ students, they must forge and engage entire academic villages” (43) in preparing business students for their careers.
Another important component of finding the why requires understanding the challenges in culture that affect the attitudes impacting student-centered education. Several of the chapters incorporate strategies to change the culture at institutions themselves to meet the ongoing challenges to student success. Among such recommendations are faculty “talking to students in a way that is supportive and encouraging” (29) or engaging in the six “P’s” of place, preparation, pathways, plan, purpose, and personal connection as explained by Sanford Shugart in “Why Higher Education: Lessons Learned in a Learner-Centered College.”
While many of the articles describe specific activities involving changes within the entire institution, such as integrative classes or designing a community college’s plan from its inception, the authors do challenge individual faculty to incorporate helping students find the why within their particular courses. The key to student success in many of the articles involves engaging students individually, not just collectively. Therefore, some of the strategies discussed can be applied by individual faculty on a smaller scale. While my answer to “How are your classes going?” may be the same, my intentionality within my course itself should have students answering in the positive.
Teach Students How to Learn: Strategies You Can Incorporate Into Any Course to Improve Student Metacognition, Study Skills, and Motivation
Date Reviewed: November 30, -0001
It shouldn’t be surprising that a volume intent on teaching students how to learn is just as intent on teaching the reader how to do just that, but it is still refreshing to read a book that lays out its goals, sticks to the promises it makes, and even creates its own study guide based on how much time the reader has to give to the text. Well-structured and clear, Saundra Yancy McGuire’s Teach Students How to Learn is as thoughtful about itself as it is about the content it presents. McGuire has composed this book to reflect her own response to and engagement with a pressing problem in higher education: namely, that many students, even those who qualify for admission at prestigious institutions, arrive without ever having been taught to learn by anything but rote memorization. Faced with college’s demands of skills higher in Bloom’s Taxonomy, they find themselves struggling and even failing.
With this book McGuire gives teachers the tools they need to move their students past the high school model of retention until regurgitation, helping them instead to internalize a more nuanced, flexible understanding of learning. To convey this understanding, McGuire focuses on student mindset, encouraging educators to bring in everything from neurobiological models to fellow student success stories in order to help learners see that they are not stuck being “bad” at something – that change is not only possible, but already well within reach.
One potentially significant drawback, depending on one’s perspective, is how the techniques are not out-of-the-box geared to address the concerns of humanities classes. Despite the fact that most of her experience comes from teaching chemistry – and how, relatedly, most of the examples in this book are from students of the sciences – McGuire insists that the techniques here are useful outside of STEM fields. While I have no difficulty believing that claim, it is clear that most of the methods in the book are geared toward content-focused disciplines. Fortunately, McGuire’s significant focus on critical and creative thinking on top of factual learning makes these strategies flexible and worth adapting.
Most of all, McGuire is a fun writer. Personal and plainspoken, her style makes the pages fly by. (Any worries that this book might drown the reader in jargon should be alleviated by the appearance of the words “metacognition, schmetacognition” .) While perhaps not the most sophisticated text on the subject, Teaching Students How to Learn has hints and information appropriate to instructors at all levels of familiarity with metacognitive concepts, including none at all. I would recommend this book in particular to educators working with students from underserved communities, as giving students access to these techniques will help ensure their success far beyond the boundaries of a single classroom.