eLearning: 5 Tips to Designing Student-Centered Courses

The eLearning experience is one that instructional designers must carefully consider. In online learning environments the instructional designer must anticipate what will interest and motivate students, what will challenge them but not overwhelm them, and most importantly know where they will have difficulty. Creating courses with a student-centered philosophy, is based on an idea that the learner should be at the heart of the educational experience, not the teacher. This can manifest in many ways and be interpreted differently by practitioners; however, the following is a brief guideline to promote learner-centered instructional design.

1. Engage Students In Authentic Activities. It is usually easier to tell a student what to do rather than give them an assignment that guides them through the process. This is especially true of designing courses that are primarily theoretical in nature. It is very tempting to simply provide the theory, a brief history of its inception, and quiz students on regurgitating the basic facts. A more learner-centered approach would present the theory, offer concrete examples of where the theory could be applied, include an activity where competing theories could be used to explain the situation, and a paper or discussion would allow students to offer opinions of their own.

2. Learning How To Learn. It is easy to forget to teach students how to learn, as it is often assumed they already know how to do it. I have found it does absolute wonders to explicitly point out how to ask questions when you are reading an article or book chapter, how to approach brain storming when one is stuck on what to write for a paper, how to engage in a group discussion, or simply how to monitor one’s own progress. Teaching students metawareness or metacognition allows them to become conscious of their own learning process which helps facilitate success in all aspects of learning.

3. Give Students Control. A student-centered learning experience presents the learner with the steering wheel and an internal locus of control. This is evident in students having choices; either about topics they research, project selection, timing of submissions, or simply how they approach an assignment. Allowing students to have some control improves motivation, self-esteem, and overall investments in the learning experience.

4. Skills, Skills, Skills. Students almost always say, “how will I be able to use this in the future?” Show them through providing concrete skills that tie directly to the domain that is being taught. Teach the skill through current industry use and students intrinsic curiosity will motivate them!

5. Communicate and Collaborate. Student-centered learning experiences provide for group discussions, partnered projects, assignments to ask questions to people outside the classroom, interviews, and brain storming sessions. It also allows for an open dialogue with the instructor through invitations to pose questions, open-ended comments that encourage further discussions, and opportunities for forum discussions or web chats.

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 10 Tips for GRE Success

1) The first 10 questions are the most important! According to Neill Seltzer, the national GRE content director of the Princeton Review, the computerized versions of the test begins by asking questions of average difficulty. If the answers are correct, the computer then progressively generates more difficult questions. Thus, answering the first 10 questions correctly will place you in a higher scoring bracket.
2) Work with a friend. Studying and practicing with a friend will make the process more enjoyable, as well as less stressful. Collaborative preparation can also give you an opportunity to reconcile misconceptions and ask questions.
3) Start studying early. Do not wait until a month before the GRE to start preparing. It is really best to begin six months to two years before the exam. Distributed practice is the best method of studying!
4) The clock is your friend; do not be scared of it. Do not rush through the test, it is better to answer a few questions correctly than simply rush through and answer a lot incorrectly. The answers at the beginning of the test are weighted more heavily than the ones at the end. Seltzer states, “When you sit down to take the test, you’re nervous. You want to do well. There is a clock in front of you that is ticking away, and the first thing that everyone does is go too fast. People are worried that they are not going to have time to get to the end of the test and answer every single question. What they don’t realize is that it doesn’t matter what happens on the tail end of the test.”
5) Revisit concepts you studied in high school. Don’t worry if you look over the GRE preparation tests or books and find that you need to refresh yourself on concepts you studied in high school: it is perfectly normal! Many GRE tutors encourage their students to acquire books such as: Algebra for Dummies or Geometry for Dummies.
6) Vocabulary, Vocabulary, Vocabulary. It is imperative to study your dictionary, GRE word lists, and practice new words on a daily basis. The GRE is heavily weighted on the verbal section and it is extremely important to be well read and have an excellent vocabulary. Plan to spend your undergraduate career learning at least one new word every day!
7) Take a GRE preparation course if you can afford it!
8) Take many, many, many practice tests. There are many online versions of the practice tests are free.
9) If you don’t get the score you want the first time, try again!
10) Take a really difficult English course. The two essays in the analytic section are the first portion of the test and take up more than one third of the time test takers are allowed. Enrolling in difficult English courses throughout your undergraduate work will prepare you to excel!
References
Burnsed, B. (2010, May). Test Prep: 8 Tips for GRE success. U.S. News & World Report. Retrieved from
http://www.usnews.com/education/articles/2010/05/14/test-prep-8-tips-for-gre-success

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The Art of Instruction

“The whole art of teaching is only the art of awakening the natural curiosity of the mind for the purpose of satisfying it afterwards.”
― Anatole France

The Art of Teaching

Passion and the ability to inspire others is the cornerstone of the art of instruction. How do you cultivate passion, curiosity, and inspiration? There are three basic human qualities that many teachers have forgotten and truthfully academia as a whole often rebukes: humility, empathy, and love. Great teachers must know the material with brilliant clarity, must challenge their students to consistently improve, and must inspire a dedication to actually care about the material being presented. Forcing students, intimidating students, or controlling students simply…..does not work as effectively as utilizing more positive approaches. Just as research shows us that positive reinforcement consistently changes behavior in animals and people more effectively than punishment; the use of humility, empathy, and love consistently work better in helping students learn than arrogance, a
“my way or the highway” perspective, and control/domination. This does not; however, mean that teachers should be easy or a “push-over.” Students need to be challenged, presented with difficult material, and held accountable for their actions. The best way to encourage people to approach difficult challenges and be accountable for their failures is to approach them with humility, empathy, and love. This way they can approach how to improve without a defensive block and an urge to quit learning or trying.

1) HUMILITY

“I’m not a teacher: only a fellow traveler of whom you asked the way. I pointed ahead – ahead of myself as well as you.”
― George Bernard Shaw

Many teachers, especially professors in higher education, feel it is their duty to cloak themselves in an air of other-wordly superiority. It is the common belief of many professors that respect is only elicited from students through an air of superiority and that an attitude of arrogance will solidify command in the classroom. This teaching style is pervasive and results in students feeling they are not respected and have little room to actively engage in the process of their education. Typically, this type of teacher creates an environment where students rotely learn material for the purpose of regurgitation on a test without ever finding any relevant meaning or purpose in what they are being asked to learn. Inspiration, curiosity, and passion all require meaning to grow and guide the mind and spirit of the student. Additionally, this lack of humility often translates into students not feeling they can ask questions without the fear of ridicule or embarrassment. Clearly, a humble teacher invites students to ask questions because they too delight in the adventure of finding an answer.

2) EMPATHY

“Teaching is the highest form of understanding.”
― 
-Aristotle

Great teachers must not only understand the material but must also understand the students, and….themselves. The ability to empathize with what another is struggling with is the window into how to help them to cease struggling. Often students have every capability of comprehending the material but are prevented from performing to their fullest potential from frustration, anxiety, self-doubt, or previous failures. The ability to see why a student does not understand the material comes from the ability to know how you yourself has struggled. One who has never taken the time to understand him/her self will not have the insight to understand others. Empathy derives from humility; once one has realized advanced degrees, high IQ, and lofty positions and titles make one no better than anyone else one has the ability to see others clearly. Seeing others clearly, truly understanding them, allows the teaching to come from the heart and can dissolve even the most stubborn of learning difficulties.

3) LOVE

“One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feelings. The curriculum is so much necessary raw material, but warmth is the vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child.”
— Carl Jung

Carl Jung, says it all. Love is what really allows learning to occur, facilitates the memory of what was learned, and fosters the desire to continue the learning by sharing it with someone else. Education is a holistic experience; the heart and soul must be engaged along with the mind in order for true learning to occur. There is a sense of magic and wonder that is almost palpable when we experience someone truly caring about us. This is the ideal classroom environment. A teacher who is humble, has learned to understand themselves and empathize with the world, naturally expresses love.

The art of instruction is the art of awakening to something larger than ourselves.

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