Learner-centered teaching and resistance to change

One of the things that impacted me the most about “The role of the teacher” chapter in Maryellen Weimer’s book was how faculty reported to be devoting 83% of their class time to lecture. This is very disturbing for me because in my experience I know in business and engineering schools the number can be worst. I think discussions about what needs to change in our role as instructors are more necessary.

For example, we are in a class about effective pedagogical strategies and I would say everyone in the classroom is there because they want to be better teachers (it may not be true but I’m an optimist), I will assume everyone want to improve they way they teach, improve the way they develop learning environments, and improve the way they connect with their students. Yet, sometimes a feel a lot of resistance in our discussions about the implementation of new strategies. I feel like even in a space created for talking about change of the traditional educational model, there is a lot of resistance and justification about the few effective things that the old model have.

I can totally understand some concerns about changing the system too much and providing too much power to students in their process that can impede obtaining the learning theoretical outcomes required to success in their professions. However, I think if we are effective creating an attractive learning environment the students will be able to understand what they need to learn and motivate themselves to learn it.

I think motivation is a key word in this situation. All the metaphors  presented in the chapter about how to become a learner-centered teacher relate at some point to motivation. When we are able to motivate students to engage in their learning we may change the system enough and still obtain the desired learning outcomes. I’m not saying is an easy task but I believe it can be possible.

Just to give an example, one of the faculty members of my department spent some time working as a post-doc in Australia. In the University he was working faculty members are really into learner-center strategies and innovative pedagogies. They decided to do an experiment. They gave a project to senior civil engineering students and the same project was provided to freshman civil engineering students. The project consisted of a solution very much needed for the public transportation system in the city. Students were trying to solve a real problem and the best projects were going to be presented to the city council to be implemented. The difference was that senior students had a lot of guidance and specific instructions as part of their capstone design experience, freshman participated in the project with a Problem-based learning approach. They received almost none instruction or guidelines, they only had some faculty members available for answering questions, and usually the answers they received were more questions.

Long history short, the best projects were presented by freshman, faculty members were amazed by the level of technical detail presented in those projects considering they hadn’t taken any technical class at that point. Furthermore, they learnt a lot of theories required in civil engineering on their own. I don’t know what their motivation was but for sure they decided to be the owners of their own learning and demonstrated the ability to accomplish a complex technical project.

With all this I’m not saying that technical courses are not necessary, or that we should drastically change the higher education system and implement PBL everywhere. I’m just saying is possible to motivate students enough to learn the desired learning outcomes in the way they find more effective just with the correct guidance.

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1 Response to Learner-centered teaching and resistance to change

  1. Miko says:

    Homero,
    I agree with you. Motivation is key for students. This is quite challenging, since motivation is not standard. That is why I believe it is positive to include in the classroom as many pedagogical styles as the curriculum allows – i.e. project-based learning, game-based learning, constructivism, etc.

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