by Dr. Sue Pieper, Coordinator of Assessment
It’s official! During this year, Northern Arizona University will be moving to a new learning management system, Blackboard Learn. As you move your courses to the new system or use the new system for the first time, take advantage of the opportunity to rethink your courses, adjusting them as needed to incorporate a learner-centered approach in line with the university’s values.
Effective learner-centered courses are distinguished by five characteristics outlined by Maryellen Weimer in Learner-Centered Teaching: Five Key Changes to Practice (2002). According to Weimer, who also edits The Teaching Professor, the following course elements change when teaching becomes learner-centered:
- The balance of power
- The function of content
- The role of the teacher
- The responsibility for learning
- The purposes and processes of evaluation
In a learner-centered course power is shared among teachers and students, resulting in a more engaging and motivating course environment. Content in a learner-centered course is used to promote students’ knowledge as well as their learning how to learn. The role of the teacher is to guide and facilitate student learning, with the students assuming the primary responsibility for learning. The purpose of evaluation includes not only grading, but also fostering improved student learning (Weimer, 2002).
Let’s consider some ways you can incorporate learner-centered teaching in your
The Syllabus Quiz
The syllabus is an essential part of every course, providing information about learning outcomes, required textbooks and materials, a course calendar, and student and instructor responsibilities. We ask students to read the syllabus at the beginning of a course. Then we typically spend class time reviewing the syllabus, or we spend time answering multiple questions because students haven’t read the syllabus.
An alternative approach is to require students to pass a syllabus quiz, which can be set up as a brief true/false or multiple-choice online quiz that can be graded automatically by the learning management system. Many instructors have found that using a syllabus quiz as a “gateway” is effective. Students must pass the quiz with an acceptable score in order to gain access to the rest of the course. As a result, responsibility for reading and understanding the syllabus is placed on the students, not the teacher.
Self- and Peer-Evaluation of Group Work
If you want to improve group work in your course, consider involving students in not only completing the group assignments, but also in evaluating how they function as a group. First, teach them about the dynamics of group work and the various roles in a group. Then teach them how to assess their participation in their groups.
Rubrics — documents that describe an instructor’s grading criteria and levels of performance expected from students for each grade possible in an assignment — are very helpful for both instructors and students in assessing group work. An example of a team and leadership skills rubric, which assesses criteria such as group organization and coordination, is available from the e-Learning Center’s website.
When you create a rubric and share it with your students, you enable them to take responsibility for evaluating their own and their group members’ contributions to the group. Consequently, students learn content while also developing an awareness of how they work with others.
Student-Designed Exam Questions
Designing exams has traditionally been the purview of instructors, but what if we ask students to design an exam? Weimer offers examples, including a math instructor’s experience with giving students an end-of-the-course option to develop a final exam. She evaluated the assignment on criteria such as how well the exam questions corresponded with the intended student learning outcomes for the course, the solutions for the problems, and the point values assigned to the problems, taking into account their relative importance in the course content. The students told the instructor that they spent more time designing the exam than they would have spent studying for it.
Involving students in constructing exams and other course evaluations transforms the goal of assessment from just obtaining a grade to promoting student learning and development. Especially in an online environment, where students can sometimes feel isolated, designing exams, particularly as a group, can be an engaging and empowering course assignment.
Assess Your Courses
Are you incorporating learner-centered outcomes, assignments, and assessments? Are students assuming the primary responsibility for learning? Are you taking the role of guide and facilitator? If you think you could make some course improvements in these areas, try one of the ideas described here. For assistance in changing to a learner-centered approach or choosing the best learning management tools to accomplish your goals, contact us at the e-Learning Center. We’re here to help!