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Irena Marinko, Laura Dermastja, Tjaša Ferfolja, Špela Razpotnik, Anja Solarovič, Saša Vidic, Samir Šabić, Neda Thaler, Zdenka Velikonja: STUDENTS' VOICE ABOUT STUDENT-CENTRED LEARNING

natisni E-pošta

Abstract
This article intends to describe the most important characteristics of the student-centred learning and points out what students think about it. The paper first presents a short survey of relevant authors on student-centred learning and mentions especially its features in the learning process and assessment. It lists the most typical types of the student-centred learning and describes the new role of the teachers in this pedagogical approach. Seven students of the BA International Business describe good practices which they faced during their studies and show that students like this approach.  
Keywords: tertiary education, student-centred learning, students' voice

 

Introduction

This paper presents opinions of several BA students of International Business School Ljubljana about their experiences with the student-centred learning.Numerous scientists have written about considering students' individual needs, experiences, interests and capabilities as the most important elements of student-centred learning. There are also many peer-reviewed articles on the types of student-centred learning such as problem-based learning, project-led education, learning contracts, flexible learning, inquiry learning, just-in-time checking but there are also other forms of personalised learning. A number of researchers discuss the characteristics of teachers who work on the basis of the student-centred learning and the importance of this approach for better relationships between teachers and students. On the other side it is difficult to find investigations of the student’s voice – if students know what student-centred approach is, how they like it and what they expect from schools and teachers in this regard.


Relevant authors about student-centred learning

When schools introduce the student-centred approach they should consider individual learners’ experiences, perspectives, backgrounds, interests, capacities and needs (Harkema and Schout, 2008). Harden and Laidlaw (2013) emphasise that students have individual needs regarding personal capabilities, motivation and what drives their learning goals and career aspirations, achieving mastery of the course learning outcomes on entry to the course, learning styles, the place of learning – on campus or at a distance - and the time of learning. Individualisation can be achieved in many ways: the teaching programme may be arranged so that students can choose to attend a lecture on a subject, view a podcast of the lecture, engage in collaborative problem-based learning with their peers or work independently using an online learning programme. Learning resources or learning opportunities can be adapted or prepared so that the students’ learning experience, as they work through the programme, is personalised to their individual needs. The time allotted for an individual student is not fixed, but is the length of time necessary for the student to master the required skills. Also the curriculum can be designed so that it helps students’ individual requirements e.g. by including experiences in the early year of the course, by encouraging a problem-based approach, by the use of virtual problems related to the subject (Harden and Laidlaw, 2013, 31). Çubukçu (2012) further suggests that teachers should try to attract students' interests, organise content and activities around subjects that are meaningful to the students, determine clear opportunities that let all students develop their own learning, skills and progress to the next level of learning, organise activities that help students understand and improve their own viewpoints, develop global, interdisciplinary, and complementary activities, supporting challenging learning activities that encourage students to work with other students in cooperation. In student-centered learning environments it is essential that students take responsibility for learning and that they are directly involved in the discovery of knowledge, choosing the materials used so that they offer them a chance to activate their background knowledge and ensuring that the planned activities are based on problem solving.

Mclean and Gibbs (2010) claim that the students should be included at all levels of curriculum design, implementation and evaluation. As “clients”, students need to be part of the process of developing a learner-centred curriculum. The school should support student diversity and individual learning needs, the psychological and social aspects of student diversity, develop students’ self-learning skills, allow time for independent learning and pursing areas of interest, regularly review the core curriculum content, recognise that their education continues beyond graduation, provide ample opportunity for student professional development and not pay lip service to learner-centredness.

European Students’ Union (Student-centred learning, 2010) emphasizes that high schools should introduce transparent procedures for students who should be able to give feedback on the quality of the educational process, be consulted on curriculum content, on the teaching and evaluation methods used, be involved in periodic programme quality reviews, be considered as full and equal members in committees, have at disposal procedures to appeal decisions regarding their academic attainment or progression. Students should be consulted when learning outcomes are designed; student needs and the diversity of the relevant student group should be considered when designing learning outcomes, students should be informed on the intended learning outcomes before they start a course or programme component. Representatives of students should be involved as full and equal members in the panels undertaking quality assurance reviews. High schools should acknowledge prior learning also in non-formal learning environments, the process of recognition should be easy, and recognition of prior learning done without significant costs or bureaucracy. There should be special support measures helping students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Learning paths should be flexible enough so as to permit combining work/family life and studies. Group-work should be used in the learning process, the goals of the learning process should be agreed upon between teachers and students, peer and self-assessment should be used as a method in the student assessment process, projects, simulations of tasks and real life situations should be used in the assessment of students. Students should have access to appropriate research and study facilities. High school institutions should contribute to promoting a national/regional culture of student–centred learning, the programmes should use a student-centred learning approach in providing training on the use of innovative teaching methods and student-centred curriculum development.

Among the most often used types of student-centred learning are problem-based learning, project-led education, learning contracts, flexible learning, inquiry learning, just-in-time checking and personalised learning. Before students start with problem-based learning, the teachers acquaint them with a problem and then students have to learn some new knowledge about the topic in order to solve the problem. Students receive information about PBL process, rules of working in cooperative groups, the objectives, the requirements roles, and the assessment strategies (Tarhan and Acar-Sesen, 2013). Project-led education is a model that organizes learning aroung projects – complex tasks that require solving of complex questions or problems and include students in formation, problem-solving, decision-making, research etc. (Thomas, 2000). The learning contract ensures that students plan their learning experiences together with the academic staff (Bone, 2014). The main advantages of the learning contract are that learning is of interest to the learner, it motivates him, the learner is free to choose the area of learning, learners can learn at their own pace, the learning contract respects differences in individuals and that it increases confidence and excitement in learning. Within flexible learning (Guest, 2005, 287) students may negotiate with their instructors on matters such as choice of topic areas, use of support materials such as textbook and web resources, timetable and venues for meetings with their instructors and the nature and weighting of individual assessment tasks. Students have some autonomy over how, when, where and what to learn. Silen and Uhlin (2008) pay special attention to self-directed learning as an essential part of problem-based learning, and, in a broader sense student-centred learning. Self-directed learning means that students should study from corresponding literature sources and develop skills/competences of information literacy. Inquiry learning uses active learning (Plush, 2014) to develop experimental and analytical skills rather than fundamental knowledge. Just-in-time teaching involves the use of online activities in the form of short-answer and multiple-choice questions that students are required to complete just prior to attending a lecture (Plush, 2014).

The term personalised learning was first used by British politicians who stressed that personalised learning means that teachers should really know the strengths and weaknesses of individual students, and develop the competence and confidence of each learner through teaching and learning that builds on individual needs. Every student should enjoy the study choice, that it requires a new school organisation, and that the state should support schools in this progress (Johnson, 2004).

Some of these models have been popular and in use for years (problem-based learning, project-led education) while others seem to have lost in importance, e.g. (learning contracts). On the other hand, a lot has been written about personalised learning and it seems that this strategy might develop further in the future.

Assessment has always been one of the most important points of the student-centred approach and there have been numerous suggestions on how to introduce reforms in this area (Randall, Zundel, 2012). Papinczak et al. (2012) claim that teachers following a student-centred curriculum should make students active participants in the assessment process, engage them in tasks such as reflecting on learning, self-assessing and providing feedback to other students, to assess together with the teachers. The teachers should provide that students would create their own examination questions and determine the assessment criteria.

Even if the teacher in this new teaching and learning paradigm has become facilitator, the teacher’s role is not diminished (Empowering teachers for a student-centred approach, 2016). The teacher has to participate in international mobility programs, look for innovative teaching and learning methods to organise studies and make students active participants. Student-centred teaching requires particular personal attitudes from the facilitator and (at least a certain degree of) openness from the side of the curriculum as well as the students. This pedagogical approach requires development of social skills and techniques such as moderation. A certain level of the didactic knowledge has to be demonstrated by teachers when shifting to the student-centred learning; teacher – stakeholder teamwork and involvement of the international partners as well as appropriate organisational culture are needed to support this transformation process. One more important criterion to pay attention to is psycho sociological aspects which are important both for the teacher’s scientific activities as well as study quality and the relation between higher education institutions and society. When changing their roles, it is very important that teachers are able to take care of their personal development, to use and create innovative teaching methods and support development of students' competences. The teacher who accepts student-centred learning must work much more than before to develop knowledge and personal characteristics necessary for the student-centred approach.

Blackie, Case, and Jawitz claim that student-centred learning creates a link that can have a positive influence on students and teachers. This approach requires that the teachers really understand and pay attention to the students and their learning (Blackie et al, 2010, 638), that teachers use Rogers' optimistic view of the potential of any human being, to tend towards psychological health and maturity, that teachers should have congruence, unconditional positive regard and empathy and thus help to develop a deeply human relationship between student and teacher. The authors suggest an academic staff development programme that will introduce the idea of student-centredness in higher education. Teachers and lecturers should work on increasing their own and their students’ sense of value and self-esteem and begin to believe that it is possible to change (Blackie et al, 2010, 645).

There is evidence to suggest that different subject specialists find student-centred learning easier to adopt, more appropriate for their teaching context and more successful than others. Barraket (2005) suggests that a re-orientation of the curriculum to student-centred learning can, in specific cases, have a positive effect on student performance. Prince (2004) found there was a year on year increase in enrolment and curricular retention in courses that practiced active learning compared to the same courses where students were subject to traditional lecturing. Also The Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education (SCOPE) found out that four schools achieved positive outcomes and found they were engaging and developing high levels of proficiency for students of colour, English learners, and low-income students at levels that far exceeded traditional schools serving similar students (Friedlaender, 2014).


Students about the student-centred approach

In the literature there are just a couple of cases when students speak about student-centred learning. Lea, Stephenson and Troy (2003) describe research which investigated the students’ opinions and knowledge about student-centred learning. Although the students who participated in the research claimed that they were unfamiliar with the term, they came up with various ideas about what student-centred approach might mean. Students expected that student-centred teaching activities would be active, interactive, contain group work, creative in nature, offer flexibility in the choice of modules, ensure continuous qualitative feedback, that students should have a say in learning outcomes, there should be respect for students, that students would be treated as adults and be given greater responsibility, that it would be an empowering process, more motivating and include constructive feedback. Students expected that their learning might be easier if they had a better timetable, more personal motivation, less anxiety before examinations, more guidance from lecturers, if lecturers were not so unapproachable, if there was more flexibility in module selection, more flexibility in relation to students’ work, and improved access to resources etc.

The students of IBS International Business School Ljubljana expressed the following opinions about their experiences with the student-centred learning:

Neda:

We live in time and place when our whole life is most market-oriented which too often leads into relationships without affection on all the levels of our work and existence. It is a pity that everything we do is measured in material goods. Also in business everything is profit-oriented. There comes a moment when we must stop and ask how much is enough that we can keep integrity and dignity. I do not wish that my words sound as a critique of the contemporary society but just emphasize that there are also things that bring something different. Some time ago I decided to start studying and was pleasantly surprised because of the individual treatment of each student. Now I have been finishing my studies and I am happy to say that my classmates as well as I do not feel as numbers because all the lecturers treat us individually. I would also like to expose teachers whose lectures were held so that each of the students was a part of a story in the classroom: students had to show that they understood the topic by practical exercises and/or tasks which they presented to the lecturer and to their classmates. I like this because it ensures participation of everybody. Lecturers have individual approach to students, they all discuss different themes, ask questions and explain their opinions. I also like the practice that the school enables individual examination terms when I cannot come to regular examinations . In this way it is easier to fufill study requirements and duties that I have on my workplace and at home.

Samir

Allprofessors want to teach their students as much as they can. In some cases they are successful and in others not. Students acquire more knowledge if their lecturers make them speak and organize discussions. This is my story: I was pleased with a teacher who wanted us all to participate in debates. We had to express our opinions. In this way the teacher got full attention of his students and we learned a lot about the theme we discussed. Our discussions were really interesting and many students did not leave the classroom when lectures finished. We were just sitting there and speaking also for an hour after the end of the lesson. Many times we were speaking about things that matter in life. I liked not just his way of teaching but also exams. That is funny because probably no one likes exams but he had good way to evaluate our knowledge. Of course we had to prepare for the exams but we did it without resistance. He also wanted to connect us beyond school. So we had to make presentations in groups of four or five students. After school we went somewhere together and prepared our presentation. First we chose the leader of the group and he decided what every one of us would do. Every one had his own work. At the end we put all together and then we learned all at home. Everybody also had his part of text to present. I liked the teaching method of that professor and I will remember him forever.

Saša

Learning should be something that all students would like to do and not something that causes dislike in the very moment of thinking about it. This in front of all depends upon the teacher and his/her way of lecturing. I would like to describe a real case when the lecturer presented the topic in an interesting, dynamic and picturesque way although I thought that it was almost impossible to find anything interesting and useful. He first explained some basic facts and then introduced real and instructive cases from practice. We continued with workshops in which we all participated and then performed role playing. It was interesting, amusing and we learned a lot. I still remember everything even though I do not work in this area.

Špela

Learning is a part of our everyday life. We learn new things, develop our abilities and acquire new experiences through our whole life. Learning helps to achieve appropriate skills and contributes to our better understanding of ourselves and of the world around us. In this was way it is easier to function in life. The learning process enables students to face new information every day. Each lecture offers lots of new data. How much knowledge we will really retain according to my experiences depends upon our own motivation, interesting lectures and approach of the lecturer. I prefer to come to lectures that require our active participation than to lessons during which we have to listen to theoretical explanations. I would like to describe a lecturer who made a deep impression on me. The teacher made a pleasant impression already at the beginning of her first lesson. She was relaxed, positive and it was obvious that she liked her job. During lectures students had the opportunity to express their opinions about the problems. In this way we were motivated to think critically, to share our opinions with other students and to discuss solutions of the problems. Such discussions made lectures interesting, students actively thought about the topic and retained the new information more easily. Beside discussions we solved individual tasks that contributed to the final mark (beside the written exam). The first individual work included analysis of an article – each student got an article (e.g. on sustainable development and healthy environment) on the basis of which he/she made a discussion on the theme. The next task required that each student chose a problematic theme and discussed the ethics of decision-making in the form of an essay (e.g. about vivisection). Then we had to create a scenario for a promotional video (e.g. on the theme of globalization). These lectures were much more interesting than listening to theoretical explanations. We worked on practical examples and this also contributed to better understanding of the topic. I think that all students like to participate in such lectures and that we also remember things more easily.

Tjaša

I like studying in the school that enables teamwork, individual examination terms, and has a library with rich literature. I also like that the teachers are from foreign countries and that they present their ways of business management. Several lectures are in English so that students have the opportunity to improve also their knowledge of English. These lectures are very interesting also because they contain a lot of adventures and experiences of the teachers. I like that teachers include students in discussions, that they like to listen to us, comment and encourage our ideas, wishes and thoughts. We can contact them by phone or e-mail and they answer very quickly. Many courses contain seminary work with presentation which contributes to additional knowledge. Students are motivated to perform presentations with self-confidence and to improve their communication. They have the chance to present their own thoughts and comments. The teachers encourage students to speak and write and help if we do not understand the topic – they give additional explanations and tasks. I have have most positive experience with Spanish lessons. Before I started I was convinced that I will not learn anything and that I simply do not have talent for languages. After the first lesson I was enthusiastic because the teacher really did her best with all the students who learned Spanish for the first time. She encouraged us to speak without thinking about mistakes. Her lectures, themes and study materials were interesting and attractive. She presented us Spanish as very simple to learn.

Zdenka

I liked the examinations within one of the courses because students had to show knowledge from previous presentations of papers and cooperation during the exam. One of the electives was performed in a small group of students each of whom prepared their own paper and/or piece of research dealing with previously published themes. The teacher enabled that each student presented his/her theme as continuation of the teacher’s lecture. After the student’s presentation there was discussion and students had to remember five key words describing the theme. This helped to remember the most important facts. During examinations the teacher offered an emergency call : from among the examination questions each student could choose one that he/she could not answer or was not convinced if his opinion was correct. At the end of the examination each student told which question he did not answer and the student who previously presented the theme could help with either a) key words or b) concrete answer. Each of the options received different scores (depending on the knowledge of the theme). In this way the teacher created team work among students, mutual trust and cooperation. On the other side this way of examinations helped students to remember key points of individual themes that were not presented by the teacher.

Laura

I like my school because the teachers have an extraordinary relationship toward students, because they answer each question that I have, try to solve problems and help in the best possible way. During my first year I had problems with my health and did not pass examinations as I should have. The teachers helped me that I could sit for examinations individually. I also like the lectures because I always learn something new and interesting and because teachers describe everyday life. I like discussions during which everybody can tell his/her own opinion. I also like the atmosphere among students : we help each other, we make notes and questions together. I think that students in our school are more connected than in any other school.


Conclusions

If we compare the short description of the student-centred learning which is presented in the beginning of this paper and the essays of students, we can see that the students appreciate the practices that include students in active learning, that they like being treated individually, discussing different themes, asking questions and explaining their opinions. The discussions are popular with all students, some emphasize also group work and group presentations, workshops, cases from practice, role playing, active participation, integrated tasks, foreign teachers, and dynamic, relaxed, positive, encouraging atmosphere. Several students also say that they like the feeling that the students are not just numbers and that they are treated like valuable human beings. If students like the teaching methods they seem to enjoy even examinations. Let us finish with the thought of one of the students: »Learning should be something that all students would like to do and not something that makes students unhappy » and let’s hope that there will be more and more high schools that will decide for the student-centred approach.


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