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communicating for LEARNERS FALL # 2 2010 featured in this issue Learner-Centered Campus Did You Know? Visionary Status Hot 5 Discussions/Workshops The Learner-Centered Campus In 1995 an article by Robert Barr and John Tagg (“From Teaching to Learning: A New Paradigm for Undergraduate Education”) noted that many institutions of higher education focus their attention much more on instruction and the bureaucratic needs of the institution than on student learning. Barr and Tagg, however, advocated a shift to a new paradigm, which they dubbed “learner centered.” Since 1995, many other voices have been added to the call for a transformative change in higher education, including Penn State emeritus professor of teaching and learning Maryellen Weimer, in LearnerCentered Teaching: 5 Key Changes to Practice,(2002), consultant and educator, L. Dee Fink in Creating Significant Learning Experiences (2003), former Harvard President Derek Bok in Our Underachieving Universities (2006), and professor at the University of the Sciences Phyllis Blumberg in Developing Learner-Centered Teaching: A Practical Guide for Faculty (2008). Today nearly everyone in higher education is familiar with the idea of learner-centered instruction. In a recent article in New Directions for Teaching and Learning, however, Tagg notes that few institutions have actually made the shift from an instruction-centered to a learner-centered paradigm. He makes a distinction between espoused theories (what people say they believe) and theories-in-use (what actually governs people’s behavior) and says that “The learning paradigm is very close to the espoused theories of most educators—we see it reflected in presidential addresses and college catalogues. But the instruction paradigm is much closer to the theory-in-use of most colleges.” Why? Because most institutions hold this truth to be self-evident—that “the curriculum is what teachers cover.” Because of that fundamental belief (which Tagg calls a “governing value”), when the outcome is undesirable (“poor retention of learning, poor transfer of skills from course to course”), the solution is to tinker with the curriculum by changing content and increasing “bureaucratic oversight.” 1 Tagg proposes a different conception of the curriculum. If we define the curriculum as what students learn rather than as what teachers cover, then curriculum development will necessarily focus not on content but on “learning objectives and assessment.” When this happens, colleges become institutions that produce learning rather than institutions that provide instruction. Tagg goes on to note that the major barrier to implementing this kind of institutional change is “the dearth of information on most campuses about either teaching or learning.” He says that while most institutions know how many students they have, what courses they are taking, and their grades, “no one can tell us whether those same students have worked collaboratively with other students, what kinds of assignments they have done, what kind of tests they have taken, how many books they have read, and what they have learned in the course of their studies.” Without the ability to assess student learning directly, institutions cannot make “transformative rather than cosmetic change.” Because of a variety of pressures from external agencies, such as regional accrediting bodies, institutions have become adept at assessing for accountability. Most do not assess for improvement, however, and it is that kind of assessment that will lead to transformative change. It is important to note that Tagg does not advocate abandoning accountability. In fact, he emphasizes that “the process of assessment for improvement can, if properly structured, satisfy the call for accountability.” Tagg adds that assessment for improvement is greatly assisted by advances in technology. “Digital portfolios allow institutions to preserve the products of student learning, and if linked to a systematic set of learning outcomes and rubrics such portfolios and outcome ‘transcripts,’ can provide an alternative to the lists of courses that pass for a curriculum at most institutions.” He concludes that today is a “teachable moment” for colleges and universities. Not only do we have technology that can help us measure learning, current research on how students learn underscores the importance of learner-centered, active strategies. While many educators have in fact changed how they teach, the time is now, Tagg suggests, for institutions to change how they think about their very raison d’etre. BGSU’s Center for Teaching and Learning daily rises to Tagg’s challenge. We are always ready to collaborate with faculty and administrators to bring learner-centered strategies to the fore and, through workshops and consultations, are always ready to advance the adoption of learner-centered strategies at BGSU. Tagg, John. “The Learning Paradigm Campus: From Single- to Double-Loop Learning, New Directions for Teaching and Learning, no. 123, Fall 2010, 51-61.

Fall 2010 Newsletter #2

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