From SCI Shock to Acceptance: 8 Steps to Student Buy-In

By Peter Connor

Regardless of much touted increased learning outcomes, successfully implementing student-centered instruction is not a slam-dunk. As you begin, count on some resistance, particularly from students who are new to the concept of self-directed learning. Their reactions may even make you feel like a target from time-to-time—but that’s not really the case—deeper conflicts are in play.

Students entering the SCI environment for the first time are on unfamiliar ground. Not knowing what to do, or how to respond, they react against. What you witness will, quite often, be rooted in the very common and human fear of the unknown.

Being prepared for this in advance will help you ease their transition from traditional, lecture-based instruction to the SCI paradigm. Knowing what to expect, understanding what they are going through, and why they’re reacting the way they are, is key to the preparation.

Woods (1994) outlined some the most typical reactions and drew a parallel between them and the stages people commonly go through while processing and dealing with trauma and grief (as cited by Felder & Brent, 1996, para. 5):

Shock: "I don't believe it—we have to do homework in groups and she isn't going to lecture on the chapter before the problems are due?"

Denial: "She can't be serious about this—if I ignore it, it will go away."

Strong emotion: "I can't do it—I'd better drop the course and take it next semester" or "She can't do this to me-I'm going to complain to the department head!"

Resistance and withdrawal: "I'm not going to play her dumb games—I don't care if she fails me."

Surrender and acceptance: "OK, I think it's stupid but I'm stuck with it and I might as well give it a shot."

Struggle and exploration: "Everybody else seems to be getting this—maybe I need to try harder or do things differently to get it to work for me."

Return of confidence: "Hey, I may be able to pull this off after all—I think it's starting to work."

Integration and success: "YES! This stuff is all right—I don't understand why I had so much trouble with it before."

Getting to the place where one stands on one's own intellectual feet is a journey. For those who have relied on the instructor-dependency crutch prior to encountering SCI, the journey may be more difficult. The ensuing gnawing and gnashing of teeth should therefore, under the circumstances, be perfectly understandable—that being the crutch snatched away at the classroom door.

Be on the lookout for these reactions—especially shock and denial—early in the semester. They indicate which students are struggling with the new learning paradigm and which are going to need encouragement and guidance as the semester progresses.

To learn more about what you can do for such students, see our Selling Student-Centered Instruction tip.


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.

Woods, D.R. (1994). Problem-based learning: How to gain the most from PBL. Waterdown, Ontario: Donald R. Woods.