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Student Learning

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An Unshakable Focus on Student Learning Since the mid-1990s, many colleges and universities have undergone a “paradigm shift” from traditional methods of instruction, focusing on the teacher’s behavior and the teaching process, to a new learning paradigm that focuses on the learner’s behavior and the learning process. In an environment that is learner centered, it is important to focus on student success. Institutions across the country are in various stages of the transformation, and it can be illustrative to see what other universities are doing as they make the shift. One good source of information is George Kuh’s inspirational Student Success in College. Kuh is the Chancellor’s Professor of Higher Education at Indiana University. His research deals with assessing undergraduate student learning. He also is the director of the Center for Postsecondary Research and he founded the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), a widely used survey to measure what undergraduates gain from their collegiate experience. Student Success in College is based on a NSSE-sponsored study of 20 institutions that have higherthan-predicted rates of graduation and student engagement (as measured by NSSE). The book details the characteristics that are common to these high-performing institutions. Among these characteristics is one that seems to have particular power. Kuh calls it “an unshakable focus on student learning.” This focus is reflected in the learning environment through several complexes of behavior including, “ valuing undergraduate student learning, experimenting with engaging pedagogies . . . and making time for students.”


Some of the high-performing institutions Kuh discusses are small, liberal arts colleges such as Ursinus, Alverno, and Sweet Briar, where a focus on undergraduate learning might be taken for granted. But, he notes, there are also large research universities that demonstrate a significant commitment to undergraduate education. At the University of Kansas, for example, 80% of undergraduate classes have 30 or fewer students. Kansas is able to keep so many classes small by creating several “super size” classes, with as many as 400 students in each. These classes, however, do not look like a typical lecture section; they use active learning strategies and small group assignments to keep students engaged. At the University of Michigan, Miami University of Ohio, and George Mason University, there is sustained emphasis on faculty development, and faculty members are encouraged to spend significant time and effort to become more effective teachers of undergraduates.

Because, as Kuh notes, “teaching does not necessarily lead to learning,” high-performing institutions encourage experimentation with engaging pedagogies, and have shifted from an emphasis on teaching to an emphasis on student learning. In learner-centered pedagogies, students are encouraged to practice what they learn—to solve problems, engage in projects with real-world consequences, work collaboratively with others, and do internships and co-ops. As Kuh himself says, “Maintaining an unwavering focus on student learning is labor-intensive.” At high-performing schools, students and faculty make time for each other, intentionally extending the classroom beyond its temporal and spatial borders. At Longwood University, for example, an administrator told Kuh, “If you were not in your office with the door open, people would ask if something was wrong with you.” A student noted that faculty members take a personal interest in students and he offered as proof an incident in which a faculty member sent him to fetch an absent classmate from his room. Faculty at both Alverno College and Sewanee spend a great deal of time ensuring that students get rich and deep feedback on their work. The Association for General and Liberal Studies (AGLS) has long been active in promoting a focus on student learning and student success. In 2009 it bestowed its “Exemplary Program Award on James Madison University for developing an assessment process that accurately measures students’ scientific learning. In 2007 AGLS honored Portland State for its focus on student learning in its capstone courses. Many institutions have made or are making the transition from a focus on instruction to a focus on student learning. Where do you think BGSU stands? Are we moving? Are we there yet? How far do we have to go? What can you contribute to an unshakable focus on student learning?




Doug Lemov educator, author

Several years ago, while working as a consultant for troubled K-12 schools, Doug Lemov realized that he did not really know how to explain what it means to be a good teacher. Many people maintain that teachers are “born” not “made,” suggesting that good teaching cannot be taught. As he observed teachers and thought about the problem, however, Lemov noticed that what at first appeared to be an innate capacity for teaching really amounted to a series of deliberate techniques, small choices that made huge differences in the classroom. One teacher told Lemov to “stand still when you’re giving directions.” Lemov tried the technique and found that he no longer needed to repeat himself while giving directions. Lemov then embarked on a quest to see if there were other, similar behavioral changes that teachers could make to improve their teaching. He began to identify a group of “best” teachers (defined as teachers in underperforming schools whose students performed well). He spent the next five years visiting and observing these teachers in their classrooms across the country. He asked an acquaintance who worked as a wedding photographer to join him to record the teachers’ behaviors. The result of Lemov’s quest was a 357-page unpublished work that came to be known as “Lemov’s taxonomy.” The manuscript was later published as Teach Like a Champion: The 49 Techniques That Put Students on the Path to College. The book generated so much buzz among teachers, that the New York Times published a lengthy article on Lemov and his ideas, “Building a Better Teacher” (March 2, 2010)


HOT 5 1 2


Many of Lemov’s 49 techniques deal with K-12 classroom management—getting students to attend so they can learn. For example, early in their academic lives students are introduced to SLANT (sit up, listen, ask and answer questions, nod your head, track the speaker), and it may seem that such techniques are not useful in a college classroom. Some might argue, however, that if students have not learned these “attending” behavioral techniques before they come to college, it might not be a bad idea if they learn them while they are here.

Other Lemov techniques certainly have application in the college classroom. “No opt out” suggests that it is not a good idea to allow a student’s response of “I don’t know” (or “whatever”) to stand. Lemov suggests a variety of methods to wrest an answer from the student, including asking another student, then asking the original student to repeat the answer. This technique sends the message that no student is allowed to remain in a state of not knowing. The technique is employed in a matter-of-fact way and is not condescending or punitive. The Center has a copy of Lemov’s book in its library and is offering discussions throughout the year to consider how Lemov’s ideas might be useful in the college classroom. Doug Lemov is the Founder of School Performance, an organization that provides a variety of consulting services to charter schools. In recent years he has served as a consultant to organizations such as KIPP, New Leaders for New Schools, and Building Excellent Schools. Lemov holds B.A. from Hamilton College, an M.A. from Indiana University, and an M.B.A. from the Harvard Business School. (

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This site explores “the relationship between science and medicine.” Physicians discuss medical missinformation

A language learning site. Free courses in more than 30 languages. Chat with native speakers.

A professional development site for student affairs professionals.

Community bloggers and translators who bring you reports from citizen media everywhere.


Science Based Medicine Great resource dedicated to “Helping educators conquer their technology fears.”

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Global Voices

Did You Know


Learning styles theory implies that different people learn information in various ways. Advocates of this theory claim that diagnosing a student’s individual learning “style” and then catering to that individual’s style optimizes student performance and learning. One would presume that the widespread popularity of the learning style theory would be a corollary to its efficacy. However, when reviewed the evidence seemed to contradict the theory. Studies were conducted to assess a sample of students with specific learning styles. When they were then tested on their achievement, the results were opposite to what the learning style model would predict. Instead of performing better than students with a mismatched modality to their “preferred” learning modality, the students performed worse when their specific learning style was used as a modality for learning. How can these results be explained? While students do in fact differ in their preferred learning styles, it appears that teaching students in that style does not enhance their actual learning. It has been suggested that instructors should focus on the content of the subject and choose a modality that works the best for that subject and not a student’s relative “learning style.”

For example, in a chemistry class, how could an instructor use a verbal description to explain the tertiary structure of glucose for the first time? What would the instructor do for kinesthetic learners? This is one of many examples in which it would be difficult to figure out a way to present a concept in all modalities. This recent research might lead to the conclusion that the learning style model fails as a prescription for how to teach. The modality that fits the content best outweighs the individual learning styles of the students for achievement and performance in the classroom.

Regardless of the efficacy of the learning style theory in the classroom, its widespread popularity has permeated the educational system in the United States and other western countries. It takes time and resources to develop tools to assess students, train instructors, incorporate many different modalities into most class sessions, and adjust administrative policies and there now appears to be some evidence that these expenditures may not bring much value. See Pashler, et. al. (2009). Learning styles: Concepts and evidence. Psychological science in the public interest, 9, 105-119.

Discussions and Workshops Service Learning Community Partnership Series United Way AmeriCorps - Reaching out to the Community Wednesday, October 6, 9:30am-10:30am A Call to Advocacy from the YWCA H.O.P.E. Center and Battered Women’s Shelter Wednesday, November 3, 9:30am-10:30am

Falcon Focus Series Voices Against Domestic Violence: Partnerships for Public Engagement in a General Studies Writing Class Tuesday, October 19, 9:30am-10:30am Service-Learning in Leisure Service for Older Adults Tuesday, October 26, 9:30am-10:30am Service-Learning and Pre-Professional Education Tuesday, November 9, 9:30am-10:30am

Strategies for Teaching and Learning Socratic Circles

Facilitator: Karen Meyers

Friday, October 8, 11:00am-12:00pm Wednesday, November 10, 9:00am-10:00am Thursday, December 2, 9:30am-10:30am Pragmatic Practices for Teaching Assistants Facilitator: Anastasia Widmer


Wednesday, September 29, 3:00pm-4:00pm Thursday, October 14, 9:30am-10:30am

Active Learning and Problem-based Learning Strategies Facilitator: Bonnie Fink

F riday, October 8, 1:00pm-2:00pm Tuesday, October 26,1:00pm-2:00pm Effective Public Speaking in Academic Settings Facilitator: Anastasia Widmer

Monday, October 4, 11:00am-12:30pm Thursday, October 28, 9:00am-10:30am Wednesday, November 17, 1:00pm-2:30pm

Discussions and Workshops Strategies for Teaching and Learning (Cont.) The Ethics of Teaching

Deep Learning: Can You Make It Happen?

Facilitator: Karen Meyers

Facilitator: Karen Meyers

Monday, November 1, 3:00pm-4:00pm Wednesday, November 17, 10:30am-11:30am The Joy of Teaching large Lecture Hall Classes Facilitator: Paul Cesarini

Foster Significant Learning using Integrated Course Design

Monday, September 27, 1:00pm-2:00pm

Facilitator: Steve Langendorfer

Championship Teaching: Lessons From Lemov Facilitator: Karen Meyers

Wednesday, September 29, 9:30am-10:30am Monday, November 8, 2:30pm-3:30pm

Wednesday, October 13, 2:30pm-3:30pm Thursday, November 4, 9:00am-10:00am

CLA in the Classroom: Developing Critical Thinking and Analytic Writing Skill Using Performance Tasks

Integrating Your Courses with BGSU Learning Outcomes & Core Values

Facilitator: Steven Langendorfer

Facilitator: Bonnie Fink

Thursday, September 30, 2:00pm-3:30pm Wednesday, October 20, 9:00am-10:30am Friday, November 5, 3:00pm-4:30pm Tuesday, November 23, 9:30am-11:00am

Wednesday, October 27, 1:00pm-2:00pm Tuesday, November 2, 1:30pm-2:30pm Monday, November 22, 9:30am-10:30am

Wednesday, October 20, 3:00pm-4:00pm Tuesday, November 9, 11:00am-12:00pm

Technology to Support Student Learning RefWorks: Bibliographic Management Software Facilitators: Linda Rich and Ed Weilant

Electronic Reading Room 142 Jerome Library Thursday, September 30, 1:30pm-2:45pm Friday, October 1, 2:30pm-3:45pm

Assessment Evaluating Student Learning Using Assessment Rubrics Facilitator: Steve Langendorfer

Monday, October 25, 9:30am-10:30am Tuesday, November 16, 3:00pm-4:00pm

For more information on our workshops or to register, contact the Center at:, 419.372.6898, or


This newsletter is a publication of the Center for Teaching and Learning. Visit us online at or in 201 University Hall.


eaching earning

Fall 2010 Newsletter #1