Focusing on Student-based Learning and Assessment in Our College Classroom

Manuel Enrique Livingston, Assistant Professor
Allied Health Department

 

We all have our distinct manner of teaching styles that coalesce into reaching our learning goals. Essentially, we believe that our influences, experiences and academic backgrounds lead our classes into understanding the material we have already mastered. While many of us reach these goals with success, some of us may fall short with influencing good cognitive thinking within our students. I have often encountered this dilemma in several of my students each semester and have had to resort to alternative methods of engaging them. This is where I’ve had to adapt newer learning theories to update my teaching repertoire. Several taxonomies have blossomed out of Bloom’s initial work that have made landmark strives in higher education. Heutagogy, the study of self-determined learning, and Andragogy, the method and practice of teaching adult learners, are current trends that major universities are currently using in which the fundamental skills of self-efficacy through motivational guidance have gained much interest.

Now I do not claim to be an educational pundit or self-professed preacher of good teaching habits, but the key element that has helped me as a facilitator of knowledge is to consider the process of learning from a student’s perspective. During my graduate studies in education, we were provided with lessons that were focused more on student-based learning that focused on adult education (Andragogy) instead of the usual teacher-based learning methods most of us have endured in academia (Pedagogy). Andragogy, developed by Malcolm Knowles (1956), is based on the unique learning styles and strengths of adult learners. It integrates student’s self-concept of their goals, past learning experience and motivation to learn. It is in great contrast to Pedagogy as the chart below demonstrates.

Pedagogy Andragogy
Passive training methods, such as lecture and demonstration.

 

Active training methods, such as discussion, learner-generated content (worksheet or test questions, for example), exercises and role plays.

 

Instructor controls timing and pace Learners influence timing and pace.
Success is possible even without major contribution to the class.

 

Participant involvement is vital to success.
Ideas and examples come from the instructor.

 

Ideas and examples come from the participants.
Learners are inexperienced and/or uninformed.

 

Learners have experience to contribute real-life problems relevant to the lesson.

 

 

I began to use Andragogy concepts by starting out my first series of lectures by asking my students the quintessential question “What are your personal goals in obtaining a college education” as well as a follow-up query, “Do I have good study habits to reach my personal goals?”. I make them write down their statements, keep them with their notes and ask them to readdress them after midterms and before finals. This action makes them reflect in their effectiveness of their behavior towards attaining success, plus it sets the tone of accountability in their actions. I often include assignments in which a self-reflective component asks them about their habits and alignment towards their goals and possible interventions if needed.

By additionally engaging my students in Socratic discussions, the development of students’ self-concept and eventually self-efficacy in determining their goals taps into the affective domain of teaching (Wirth 2018). Integrating their foundational knowledge in applications that are relevant to both class and personal goals helps keep the motivation on-going. Even more important is providing specific feedback in their progress. Maryellen Weimer (2018) states that the first implication for teachers involves feedback they provide for students to be accurate on students’ cognition and efficacy. If students are trying, any progress, even very small amounts should be noted. A second implication for teachers involves the difficulty of the task. It needs to be challenging but also can be accomplished by all students. Tasks that are too hard or too easy are equally de-motivating to students. A hybrid of tasks that starts off lite and progress to challenging assignments can be aligned to scaffold the learning experience.

Activities that incorporate collaborative projects, situational analysis, technology and tapping into the various learning styles are concepts that support deep learning and assist the lecturer in reaching their course goals (Weimer 2002). An instructor needs to create an assessment of these materials and variants to ensure that these parameters are being effectively enabled. One must also acknowledge the inherent challenges (student demographics, non-traditional learners) and contextual factors (community and school bureaucratic factors) that can impede in any successful endeavor. We use assessment to refine the course content and adjust any setbacks or issues that may have occurred in the initial process. Classroom assessment is two-fold; summative (high stakes) or formative (low stakes). Besides giving standard exams such as midterms and finals, I find that including an ungraded “diagnostic” assessment throughout the semester gauges the learning styles, conceptualization of the material and experiences that the students bring to the classroom.

There are several formative assessment tools we can use in our classroom to obtain students understanding of our material. Formally known as C.A.T.s (Classroom Assessment Techniques), they are generally simple, non-graded, anonymous, in-class activities designed to give you and your students useful feedback on the teaching-learning process as it is happening. The use of these techniques is quite beneficial to the instructor in the following:

  • Gives insight into day-to-day teaching methods and student learning processes. It also can model to students the fact that learning is an ongoing and evolving process that can be modified as needed.
  • Provides students with a means of gauging their own learning styles and then modify study strategies as appropriate.
  • Helps students feel less anonymous in large class settings, since it is concrete evidence that the instructor cares about student learning.
  • Provides “food for thought” for instructors as they reflect on their teaching and on a course at the end of term.

Frequent use of CATs provides regular feedback about student progress and can preempt misconceptions and poor performance on more heavily-weighted tests, quizzes, projects, etc.

(Angelo & Cross 1993). Below are some examples I have found to be effective.

  • The One-Minute Paper: Give students an open-ended question and one to three minutes to write their answers. Good questions: What is the most important thing we discussed today? or What was the most confusing idea presented today? Collect the papers and use for promoting discussion, identifying misconceptions, or confusion. Follow-up on these issues in the following lesson or as a 5-question quiz before your next class.
  • The Muddiest Point: At the end of a lesson students write one thing that they least understood, that is muddy, from what was taught on a 3×5 index card. Teacher collects and reviews the cards to determine what needs to be retaught or clarified the next day.
  • The Background Knowledge Probe: is a short, simple questionnaire given to students at the start of a course, or before the introduction of a new unit, lesson or topic. It is designed to uncover students’ pre-conceptions of a subject and gives the instructor a better understanding of their learners’ knowledge base which in turn can set the pace of the lesson.

A combination of learning strategies, utilizing both teacher-directed and student-directed learning would be the ideal method for teaching adults. This implies that there needs to be a “match” between the learner and the teaching styles used. Barkley (2009) suggested using an engagement technique, such as situation-based problems, that help learners make inferences on the learned principles that nurture a deeper level of understanding.

With this technique, students will not only identify theories, but make connections in how they relate to the main topics associated with your course content which are essential in developing analytical thinking skills (Barkley et.al.). Students can be placed in groups of two to five and given worksheets to complete during class sessions. A reflective question will also be introduced to facilitate or assess independent analysis of the student’s cognition and participation of the presented material in the module. After completing the module, the instructor can hold discussions on the topic and add elements of the studied material as they apply to the problem.

As instructors, we must keep in mind that pedagogy steers students’ mastery of a specific subject content, however it does not necessarily build skills, abilities and attitudes. It holds no measure of a learner’s sequential practice in cognition of dynamics, as well as affective and psychomotor skills needed in our modern world. Applying theories in andragogy can assist the facilitator in developing metacognition (awareness and understanding of one’s own thought processes). This is a key component in developing the learner’s effective and affective ability in their academic progression. While there are various methods involved in andragogy that can be applied in the classroom, the very inherent nature of the adult students’ self-reliance and motivation is the primary barrier that educators face as an obstacle. Weaning students from these external dependencies and providing an environment and experience that supports self-directedness, contributes profoundly to the learner’s success. Adapting current adult educational methods in the classroom has many benefits in cultivating this achievement. It is up to the instructor to nurture the learner’s growth so that a competent and effective college graduate is better prepared for present day practices in their profession, culture and community.

Additional CATs link: http://www.ncicdp.org/documents/Assessment%20Strategies.pdf

 

References:

Abela, J. (2009). Adult learning theories and medical education: a review

Malta Medical Journal Volume 21 Issue 01.

Angelo, T., Cross, K., (1993) Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers 2 edition San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

Barkley, E. (2009). Student Engagement Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty 1st Edition. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Bloom, B. (1956). Taxonomy of Educational Objectives Handbook I: Cognitive Domain. New York: David McKay Inc

Bloom, B. (1972). Taxonomy of Educational Objectives: Cognitive and Affective Domains. New York: David McKay Company

Knowles, M. (1980). The modern practice of adult education: Andragogy versus pedagogy. Rev. and updated ed. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Cambridge Adult Education.

Vygotsky, L. (1997). Educational Psychology (Classics in Soviet Psychology Series) 1st Edition. Delray Beach, Fla.: St. Lucie Press

Weimer, M. (2013). Learner-Centered Teaching: Five Key Changes to Practice 2nd Edition. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Wirth, K. (2018) Learning About Thinking and Thinking About Learning. Teach the Earth: The portal for Earth Education website.

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