5.7 Student Centred Learning

A comment: Some of the students in your class are probably quicker and smarter than you; (I always hope so!)

It is almost a cliché that we would like students to be confident and self-motivated, to ‘take control of their own learning’ or ‘own their own learning’ and to regard academics as one of the most valuable among the many learning resources available to them. This ideal is what we usually mean when we refer to student-centred learning. It is also called ‘Learner autonomy‘ which was the basis of a Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at Sheffield Hallam University [2005-2010].

Every debate I have ever participated in concerning the desirable attributes of a graduate concludes with ‘confidence’. This is confidence in what he does know, confidence in what he doesn’t, confidence to find out, confidence to ask questions and, particularly in engineering, the confidence to fail and to learn from those failures. The question for us is how might we encourage and develop this confidence in our students, and this is where the second aspect of student-centred learning comes in. As well as encouraging the student to take charge of his own learning we have to put the student at the centre of our teaching. I don’t want to sound too pious, but we should consider every aspect of our teaching from the perspective of the student. Try to suppress ‘it would be a chore to mark this lengthy piece of work’ and elevate the thought ‘the student would learn so much more if I gave detailed comments on this assignment which has clearly taken him many hours to prepare’. I understand that the time available is unlikely to be sufficient to do the best job you know how to do, but we have to challenge ourselves at all times (and bear in mind that even in a research-intensive university it is likely that 50% or so of your salary comes from teaching funds!)

In the words of Ivan Moore, the former director of the Hallam Centre for Promoting Learner Autonomy [http://extra.shu.ac.uk/cetl/cpla/index.html], autonomous learners:

  • are well motivated to learn;
  • can identify:

–      their learning goals (what they need to learn)
–      their learning processes (how they will learn it)
–      how they will evaluate and use their learning

  • have well-founded conceptions of learning;
  • have a range of learning approaches and skills;
  • can organize their learning;
  • have good information processing skills.

We can promote learner autonomy in many ways, but underpinning these has to be the expectation by academics that students will take control of their own educational destinies. If this context is clear, then many of the active learning techniques described in this chapter will help to motivate students to learn and will encourage them to take ownership. These techniques include PBL, PjBL, WBL and cooperative learning. The literature makes clear, however, that there is no magic bullet; we are trying to inculcate an attitude to learning, to engineering and to continued and continuous development of the student and then the graduate. Teaching staff must expect these attitudes to develop throughout the student’s programme, starting from the first day of year 1.

Read on …   (but first please add a comment)

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