“If a child can’t learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn”– Ignazio Estrada
Student-centered learning has been gaining consideration in the past few years, shifting the focus from the teacher to the learners.
In teacher-centered education, which is probably the way the majority of today’s teachers were taught, the most active person in the class- and the one whose brain is processing the most- is the teacher. Students act as passive recipients of information and seldom get the chance to take ownership of their own learning. This has negative consequences for both students’ motivation and personal development.
Student-centered instruction helps students cultivate a “can do” attitude and allows for autonomous and active learning.
It comes as no surprise then that in recent years more and more teachers have started implementing student-centered activities in their own lessons.
But is it possible to integrate some of the best practices of student-centered learning into online education?
The answer is yes!
In online education, as well as in regular classes, the key to success with student-centered learning is to provide students with multiple opportunities for interaction.
In this article, we are going to address some strategies teachers can use for student-centered online learning.
When talking about interaction, it is important to note that for effective student-centered learning, interaction should be intended as student-content interaction, student-student interaction, and student-teacher interaction.
The same applies when talking about student centered online teaching.
In the following lines, we are going to give some tips on how to best implement interaction into an online setting.
For an effective online student-centered approach, we should provide students with opportunities for active learning.
In order to maximize students’ engagement, the content has to reach students both intellectually and emotionally.
If we expect our students to only listen to and understand our lessons, how can we speak of active learning?
And how do we make sure to design activities where the students and not the teacher are the focus?
We can use the Bloom’s Taxonomy!
The educational psychologist Benjamin Bloom developed a framework for categorizing learning goals, from the easiest to the most difficult one: remember, understand, apply, analyze, evaluate, create.
To check if the activities we have designed for our students are challenging enough, we can compare their learning goals to Bloom’s Taxonomy. The easier these activities are (such as remembering or understanding new information), the less student-content interaction there will be – with negative consequences on their engagement.
Furthermore, it is crucial for students to DO something meaningful related to the course content and then to reflect on their learning.
Of course, in online classes, it is more complicated to engage students in meaningful activities than in regular classes. One solution to create opportunities for more in-depth student-content interaction could be the so-called flipped classroom method. Students can prepare for the course by reading lesson contents before attending class (remember & understand from the Bloom’s Taxonomy), so that online class time will be freed up for debates and discussions, where students will have plenty of opportunities to interact with class content on a higher level.
Student-student interaction is what is missing the most in online classes and, at the same time, what is mostly required to create a student-centered environment.
What to do then?
Discussions and debates can be integrated into online lessons, involving the whole class or smaller groups, using breakout rooms. In addition, students can be challenged to solve an exercise or to create an original product.
The most common apps for online classes provide teachers with the possibility to split the class into smaller groups in order to maximize participation and to offer to every student the opportunity to interact with each other. The teacher can dedicate a set amount of time to using the breakout rooms and after that, students will be redirected to the main room. The teacher can access any breakout room to check how the students are interacting and to answer possible questions – just as they would do in class.
Another very effective way to boost student-student interaction which can also be used in online learning is the JIGSAW (puzzle).
We are going to see how to use the Jigsaw method to present a topic to students.
A topic is broken up into several parts and students are divided into so-called home groups of 4 to 5 students. Each student in each group is tasked with researching a different part of the topic. First, students have to read the assigned material alone; in each class, you will have several students preparing the same topic. The next step is to have all the students who have read the same material join in the so-called expert groups and compare what they have learned to decide what they want to share. Towards the end of the lesson, all the students will return to their home groups and share what they have learned with their group mates.
Student-centered learning often includes collaboration to some degree. And of course, this may be the most difficult aspect to implement online.
Jigsaw is a very effective strategy to have students learn how to work autonomously and in a team. Peer learning also plays an important role in two ways: firstly, by having students interact with two different groups in each activity and secondly, by getting to know more classmates in depth.
In the first part of the strategy, students spend some time learning autonomously. The teacher can walk around the class and answer questions or clarify details. At the same time, each student gets the possibility to learn according to his or her learning preference: to read and to repeat, to create a mind map, or to ask for an example etc…
Every student gains confidence by getting the chance to discuss the topic before sharing it. At the same time, one single student from each group is responsible for one part of the topic.
Giving students a sense of control and responsibility is a very effective way of empowering and motivating students to do their best via online learning.
When doing a Jigsaw, students enjoy not having to be seated and receiving information and instead prefer being actively engaged in class.
Moreover, students get the chance to communicate with their classmates and being in class doesn’t feel like being in class anymore!
The Jigsaw can be implemented in online learning as well: students can be divided into home groups and, according to that, receive the part of the topic they have to prepare before class.
Instead of assigning only a text to be read, the teacher can personalize learners’ experience by packaging the same content into multiple formats: videos, graphs, charts, quizzes, activities and so on.
When back in class, the teacher can ask all students who have prepared the same content to join in separate breakout rooms and discuss what they want to share in the last part of class. During this time, the teacher can enter the different breakout rooms to check how students are interacting and to answer possible questions. At the end of this activity, the teacher can form different breakout rooms corresponding to the home groups and have students share the material they are in charge of.
Just as in the previous activity, the teacher will have the chance to enter the breakout rooms to check the students are understanding their task.
At the end of the activity, students come back (or are redirected) to the whole class group and can lead a self-reflection about what worked best and what can be improved in the Jigsaw.
Thanks to the Jigsaw, students get the benefits from both learning on their own and collaborating with their classmates. At the same time, they are taking responsibility for their own learning- a key feature of active and student-centered learning.
Pair and group work do not have to be excluded from online lessons: if you wish to adapt some of your already successful pair and group strategies online you have two options, you could either use them in synchronous online lectures or as when doing assignments.
I believe that student-teacher interaction is what every teacher missed the most as they adapted to a new and remote teaching style, due to the recent global health crisis.
And yet student-teacher interaction is crucial if we want our students, instead of ourselves, to be the focus of the lesson we design.
What to do to maximize student-teacher interaction when it seems impossible, like in online learning?
Calling students by their name, greeting them at the beginning and the end of every class is a simple way of (re)creating a positive environment in class.
The types of activities we propose to our students in online classes can also make sure we interact with them on a higher level than just asking questions. Debates, discussions, using Jigsaw and breakout rooms give us the possibility to maximize not only student-content and student-student interaction, but also student-teacher interaction.
Some useful links:
Student-Centered Remote Teaching: https://er.educause.edu/blogs/2020/4/student-centered-remote-teaching-lessons-learned-from-online-education
Creating a Student-Centered Learning Environment Online: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10691898.2018.1475205
Six Key Ingredients of Learner-centered eLearning Courses: https://www.shiftelearning.com/blog/bid/301962/Six-Key-Ingredients-of-Learner-centered-eLearning-Courses