Lessons from learner-center syllabus and thinking about critical pedagogy

Last session in GEDI class we talked about learner-centered syllabus. I have been teaching a large class this semester and from the beginning of semester I think about learning process and how I can stimulate learning environment in class.  The problem in a large and heavily lectured class is most of the evaluating process determines by tests. In a class such as principle of microeconomics  where more than 100 students sit in a class and there is no final project, assignments and exams are only the available tools for evaluation, learning will immolate and the mindset of students become all to get good score rather than learn stuff. It makes sense and it is a rational decision for student to get the good score which means to be good in tests in this situation. I think writing a syllabus using learner-centered is not enough in this situation. The problem is even you emphasize on learning and try to give some roles to students as the learner of the class, at the end of the day students will evaluate based on their scores on tests and everyone knows this game and as a result the rational decision asserts that students just focus on materials which tend to be part of the tests rather than learning in a general way. From the early of the semester I have this challenge and I could not solve this problem yet. For me, learning is more important than the grade. I think my responsibility is to teach in a way to construct knowledge of microeconomics theory and give a chance to my student to think critically about what I teach to them. As Freire said in critical pedagogy “To teach is not to transfer knowledge but to create the possibilities for the production or construction of knowledge.” however, in a large class, teaching in a way to construct knowledge rather than transferring that is always challenging.

However, even I emphasize on learning and not memorizing a lot, students know the rule of game and the rule of game pushes them to get the best point as much as they can. For some students the shortcut to getting good points come from memorizing the materials and this strategy unfortunately works partially. I try to solve this challenge both in class and mostly during my office hour to bring examples from every day life. I also refer students to their intuitions as they ask me questions. Although these strategies  work, the challenge  still remains and in a heavy lecture based large class with having tests and assignment as only tools for evaluation, preparing learning community environment in class becomes a great deal.

 

7 Comments

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7 Responses to Lessons from learner-center syllabus and thinking about critical pedagogy

  1. Why not change the format of the class and have some sort of a Project-based learning environment i.e. have a final project/report instead of just assignments and exams? This way the students will learn to apply their knowledge to a practical problem.

  2. Great post. I appreciate that you are struggling with ways to change the “game” as you call it. Struggle leads to growth! In your post, you say that one of the ways you try to solve this challenge is by bringing real world, every-day examples into the class room. Have you considered having your students bring in or provide the real world, every-day examples? By having students draw connections between macroeconomics and their personal experiences they are able to demonstrate understanding of the material beyond route memorization.

    I’m also a huge fan of arts integration, especially in fields that on the surface don’t have a direct artistic connection. I’m a firm believer that arts and design are intrinsic to every discipline including macroeconomics. Could one of your assignments be targeted towards a creative output such as data visualization or creative writing? This moves assignments outside of the realm where there is a “correct” answer and forces them to apply critical thinking and creativity to demonstrate understanding.

    • Thanks Willie for your comment.

      I think I should consider your suggestion and ask my students to bring their own examples into class. Thanks for your idea!

      About doing artistic assignment I am not quite sure that what do you mean. my course is microecnomics and it is full of theories related to decision making process of firms and household. There is not a lot of data or something like this and I am not sure what specific artistic assignment I can give to my students.

  3. Great points Atiyeh! I definitely agree with you on the fact that students tent to study for exams and that large classes are harder for designing learner centered activities, etc. However I think that we should reduce the weight of the exams by adding group projects (in large classes we can have larger groups), assignments, in class quizzes/assignments where students can grade their own quiz (assignment) at the end of the class, etc… I think that breaking down the final course grade between various activities will also work for large classes and will keep the students engaged. This will make the class fun and exiting and lead to a learner centered environment… What do you think?

  4. Thanks Yasaman for your comment and I really appreciate that. Your suggestions are great and applicable in general. My problem is I don’t have enough freedom to make project assignments for students. The other thing is unlike the experiences I had in Iran, here students do not like to participate in class activity too much. For instance, I design a game in class to give some intuition to students to learn better supply and demand and market procedure. I need several volunteers to come ahead and play the game because for a large class it is unfeasible to ask all of people to play game, so I need some volunteers and then most of students are reluctant to come and play the game. It is weird for me because if it were in Iran, I guess there would be lots of volunteers, but here only few people came and I begged other students to come!!!

    For me, stimulating students to be active in class and not sitting and listening is very challenging. Although I put some incentives and extra credits for class participation and I always appreciate those who ask question, answer questions and participate in class discussion, but overall I think I am not successful enough and those policies do not work effectively.

  5. Thanks Willie for your comment.

    I think I should consider your suggestion and ask my students to bring their own examples into class. Thanks for your idea!

    About doing artistic assignment I am not quite sure that what do you mean. my course is microecnomics and it is full of theories related to decision making process of firms and household. There is not a lot of data or something like this and I am not sure what specific artistic assignment I can give to my students.

  6. Hi Siddharth,

    Thanks for your comment. There are several problems that prevent to change the format of the class:

    1) Econ 2005 is a core introductory course that covers main concepts and theories of microeconomics and as a result the nature of the course is in a way that we need to test students through hw/exams to become sure that students understand most of theories and concepts. Having a final project will give a chance for each student or group of students to focus only on narrow issues with use of several theories they have learned through the course so even if I can do that, the weight of the project could not be above 10-15% of the whole grade and as a result I think the challenge is still there.

    2) As a graduate student, I don’t have freedom to change the format of the course. The course format is determined by Econ department and there are several sections of econ2005 in every semester. I have some freedom to change the weight of tests/hw or add a small project but I don’t have freedom to put for instance 40% of the whole grade for a final project.

    3) Most of my students are either freshmen or sophomores and for them it is also very hard to do a project for a course such as principle of microeconomics.

    4) In addition, I myself found doing project for elective course so useful and helpful for learning but not for core/theoretical course and I think having evaluation based on hw/exams work better for a course like econ2005. The challenge in my mind is to find a way to stimulate learning environment with current format.

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