Indiana University Kokomo faculty prepared for a spring semester of excellent teaching and learning Wednesday (January 4) attending a workshop led by Maryellen Weimer, one of the leading advocates for learner-centered teaching.
Weimer, author of “Learner-Centered Teaching: Five Key Changes to Practice,” began looking for more student-oriented ways to teach when she returned to the classroom after serving as associate director of the National Center on Postsecondary Teaching, Learning and Assessment at Penn State University.
“The focus for a long time had been on teaching, as opposed to learning,” Weimer said, adding that the teacher should serve as a coach, giving students the chance to learn through practice. “Coaches aren’t allowed to play the game. In a lot of classrooms, we don’t let the students play the game.”
Weimer wrote the forewords to both of Chancellor Michael Harris’s books that target specific aspects of learner-centered teaching, “Leading the Learner-Centered Campus,” and the soon-to-be-released “Learner-Centered Curriculum: Design and Implementation.”
“Maryellen is a national expert on the topic and has written extensively on teaching and learning,” said Harris. “My colleague, Roxanne Cullen, and I were fortunate to benefit from her expertise during the past seven years as we have written about the learner-centered paradigm.”
Kathy Ross, director of the IU Kokomo Center for Teaching, Learning and Assessment, which presented the workshop along with the Faculty Colloquium on Excellence in Teaching, called Weimer “an accomplished author.” The center has used her books, video presentations, and newsletters for faculty training through the years, and she was excited to have Weimer speak in person on campus.
“We find her approach both personable and practical,” she said, and it gives faculty members new ideas for teaching and renewed enthusiasm entering a new semester. “You want people to share their excitement about their area of teaching. To have a speaker of this caliber gives people a chance to ask questions of people outside their environment.”
She encouraged faculty to teach in ways that make students take more responsibility for what they learn. For example, rather than the teacher providing review materials before an exam, he or she could ask students to prepare the materials, giving guidance as they complete the task.
“They’re learning how to figure out what the most important concepts are,” Weimer said.
She said students want teachers to tell them what they should learn, but by giving students some ownership, teachers are helping students become self-directed, autonomous learners. When they have some ownership, students are more motivated to learn.
“At some point, we need to move students to where they are able to make good decisions about what they need to know,” she said. “They also need to learn to accept the consequence of their choices, and should not be able to sit comfortably in class unprepared.”
Content is still important, she said, but rather than “covering” it, teachers should use it to help students develop a knowledge base and learning skills they can take into other classes and their future professions. They may also develop a lifelong love of the subject if the professor is enthusiastic about his or her area.
“The love affair you have with those disciplines is important. Don’t underestimate the power of the professor to capture the imagination of students,” Weimer said.
Nancy Greenwood, chairperson of sociology, history and political science department, said it is “a big honor” to have a speaker of Weimer’s caliber speaking at IU Kokomo. “She is very well-respected in higher education literature.”
Weimer has numerous publications, including journal articles, book chapters, book reviews and service on the editorial board of journals. She has consulted with more than 450 colleges and universities on instructional issues, and regularly keynotes national meetings and regional conferences.
Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana.