Selling Student-Centered Instruction
By Peter Connor
Overcoming the resistance—even outright hostility—triggered when students first discover that certain teaching responsibilities have been shifted from the instructor's shoulders to their own is a primary issue when implementing Student-Centered Instruction.
Inevitably, some students find the transition more difficult than others. At bottom is the basic and all too common fear of the unknown: the perception we all experience from time to time—real or unreal—of danger lurking around the next bend. One of the common fears experienced by students new to SCI is the impact on their grade and cumulative GPA when they hear that they will be tested on material that isn't going to be gone over in an instructor-led classroom lecture; that they will be responsible for accessing and learning certain materials on their own.
For some first-time SCI students, being asked to step outside their academic comfort-zone and take some ownership in their own education represents a quantum leap. The challenge, if the intended learning outcome is to be achieved, is in converting reliance to self-reliance—weaning reluctant students from the habit of relying on instructors spoon-feeding them from the lectern to a new habit of relying on themselves—a shift demanded when you change the instructional paradigm (Felder & Brent, 1996).
So, how good are your sales skills? Getting "buy-in" from those students not so well adjusted or equipped to handle the challenge as others is key. And it must happen early in the semester. You'll need a "pitch." Skilled sales people begin by showcasing the benefits of their product. In this case, Student-Centered Instruction is the product and some of the main benefits Felder & Brent (1996) suggest pitching—and re-pitching—throughout the semester are:
An early grasp of material: SCI methods introduce course material, concepts and ideas earlier in the semester allowing students to receive, process, and retain greater amounts of information and material by the end of the semester.
An early jump on homework: More information and an early grasp of material sets the motivational table for students to begin and complete homework assignments earlier, thus avoiding the dreaded deadline crunch brought about by procrastination.
FUN! Learning doesn't have to be monotonous. The more actively engaged students become, the more fun they will have; the more fun they have, the more interested and motivated they will be; the more motivated, the more they will increase their involvement in the learning process.
A chance to learn by teaching: Many SCI activities involve students teaching other students. After assuming the teaching role, students often find their grasp of material is stronger and more firmly embedded in their own knowledge base—they'll be more comfortable, more confident, in what they know.
Developing critical workforce skills: All real-world jobs require active engagement, immersion, and personal responsibility. SCI presents students preparing to enter the workforce with a real-life opportunity to experience, practice and become adept at skills they will be called upon to use throughout their professional careers.
Felder, R.M, Brent, R. (1996). Navigating the bumpy road to student-centered instruction. College Teaching, 44(2), 43-47. Retrieved December 7, 2007, from EBSCO database.