(Initial) Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali's blog has now moved to http://blog.mahabali.me

Different approaches to student input and involvement in learning


I just read a recent article by Prensky that highlights the importance of getting student input on how they want to learn, as early as school level (unsure how “early” is, but i assume as soon as kids can articulate themselves clearly enough; before then, i assume we should still watch their reactions and body language). Prensky in the article brings a panel of students to speak at conferences.

I am interested in this idea of student involvement on so many levels: as a parent, as a teacher, as a teacher-educator and as a faculty developer. I think it is important from very early on, but that there are different layers to it.

There is the simplest layer that any good teacher does: watch students’ faces as you teach them and modify your teaching according to that. Some do it more formally using techniques like the “Minute Paper” and other CATS (Classroom Assessment Techniques).

Another step is to explicitly ask their feedback on how to do things better. This is something we do at work where faculty who want to know ask us (the Center for Learning and Teaching), as an impartial external party) to help get student feedback either using a confidential and interactive in-class assessment technique called Small Group Instructional Diagnosis (SGID), or via online mid-semester surveys. These are formative assessment opportunities so the instructor can improve the class for the rest of the semester. Students really seem to appreciate the opportunity to express themselves this way, especially if they feel the instructor will take their feedback into account.

A different, more advanced, step is to involve students much more in choosing how they would like to be assessed. This can start with having them choose the topic they want to e.g. Write/present about, but can go further in allowing them choices of format (e.g. Wiki, video, …) and even further in allowing them as a group to decide on assessment criteria or rubrics rather than have them imposed.

Another step is to involve them in choosing which content they would like to learn, and how they would like to learn it – possibly allowing different students to take different paths towards achieving the same learning outcomes.

And yet another layer would be to have students themselves as content creators – they aggregate and produce their own content for their colleagues to use in current and future courses.

I try also to go beyond this and provide opportunities for students to set and meet their own learning goals regardless of the ones for the course. This might be easier for adult education than earlier courses that are part of very formal degree programs, where some courses are pre-requisites to others, and some formal bodies of knowledge are expected to be taught/learned.

[note: I always have to remind myself that all these approaches might make some students uncomfortable especially if they are unused to getting so much of a say; this means some students’ say is louder and more dominant than others’]

I am not sure what will be done in the three MOOCs I plan to start this January, but I hope to get more creative ideas about democratizing learning, and improving learning by involving the community of students throughout the process (rhizomatic learning, for example, views the learner community as the curriculum, not just participants in it)… And i hope to find multiple ways to use this for different kinds of courses (not necessarily teaching adult learners which is most of what i do) in formal and informal education.

The three MOOCs, in case folks are interested (I will blog about them later) are:
#FutureEd, #Rhizo14 and #flsustain (sustainability, though i am signed up for several other sustainability MOOCs as well)


Author: Maha Bali

Associate professor of practice, American University in Cairo

2 thoughts on “Different approaches to student input and involvement in learning

  1. Pingback: Inspiring teaching philosophies | Reflecting Allowed

  2. Pingback: Why #rhizo14? | Reflecting Allowed

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