Student-Centered Learning

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What is Student-Centered Learning?

Written and Contributed by Joel Schildbach, PULSE Fellow and Professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies, Biology, Johns Hopkins University

Watch this news clip,  titled Colleges Innovate to Fill Science Job Surplus , to see how one institution, Johns Hopkins University, is making their science courses more student-center.

One of the explicit goals described in the Vision and Change document A Call to Action is to rework undergraduate biology curricula so they emphasize student-centered learning. The phrase “student-centered learning,” however, can confuse faculty. If the education isn’t already centered around the people we’re lecturing to and testing, who is it centered around?

 Consider the large lecture halls that so many introductory biology courses are held in. Rows of seats arranged in arcs all facing the screen onto which the slides containing the informational content of the course is projected. The size and organization of the room is better suited to a one-way transfer of information (or, for some students, web surfing or napping) than an exchange of ideas. The room almost certainly has been outfitted with a computer and projector, and the ubiquity of this equipment and presentation software has led publishers to routinely provide faculty with textbook figures in suitable electronic formats. As a result, lectures can resemble a guided tour through the textbook, featuring massive projections of the same images and figures that the students will stare at back in their dorm rooms while preparing for exams.

 Learning biology under these circumstances isn’t impossible --- indeed, many of us did very well in courses just like these, and many lecturers thrive and deliver polished and engaging lectures under these conditions. But this is hardly the best way for anyone to learn biology, and for some learners it’s the least effective way. Furthermore, the traditional lecture is a difficult forum in which to introduce how scientists came to know the facts presented in these courses.

 Student-centered approaches, however, don't require redesigning lecture or lab spaces, or abandoning technology or lectures. The transition to student-centered learning can begin with little more than an instructor's investment of time and willingness to experiment.

Click on the hyperlinked articles below to learn how students benefit when the learning is student-centered.

Active Learning and Student-centered Pedagogy Improve Student Attitudes and Performance in Introductory Biology by Peter Armbruster, Maya Patel, Erika Johnson, and Martha Weiss CBE Life Sci Educ vol. 8 no. 3 203-213

Learner-Centered Inquiry in Undergraduate Biology: Positive Relationships with Long-Term Student Achievement by Terry L. Derting and Diane Ebert-May, CBE Life Sci Educ. 2010 Winter; 9(4): 462–472.

* Active-Learning in a Non-majors Classroom: Lessons Learned by Elaine B. McClanahan and Lon L. McClanahan 

NEXT: Nine Characteristics of Student-Centered Learning

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