Time for change: Putting students at the centre of their learning experiences

In his chapter, Alexander Pechersky has explored the effectiveness of the Student-Centred Learning (SCL) approach which he had identified through comparing his lived experiences as a student both while studying at a Business School in Vienna where SCL was prominent and at University of Economics in Bratislava which was more teacher centred. He displays a good awareness of student-centred approaches, the skills it evokes such as independent study, critical thinking and communication which is refreshing particularly as he is from the next generation of teachers. Alexander also identified that real-life application of theory through case-studies is essential, which is something I completely agree with, as it helps students put their learning into context, see the point and rationale for what they are being asked to do and clearly aligns to the course of study or employment pathways.

His study is focused on first year students studying Intercultural Leadership and Communication at University of Economics in Bratislava. Alexander describes that the core traits of SCL are student reflection and control over learning, however his main research question was around the control aspect and if different levels of control affect the outcomes of classes. In order to achieve this the students were split into three classes and he designed the pedagogy from three perspectives of student-centredness: Minimal; Moderate; and, High.  The subject, although not specifically relevant as the methods used could be transferred to any discipline, was introduction of intercultural competences and their development.

For me this was a very interesting read and very current to my learning and teaching research interests. At Ulster University in Northern Ireland we are moving towards a holistic approach to student-centred learning though the constructive alignment approach to curriculum design and active learning pedagogies with the aspiration that it will increase attainment, understanding and successful outcomes for our students. Although Alexander’s research study didn’t unearth the panacea for SCL, he has identified areas for improvement and possible reasons for the results which give plenty of credence for follow up studies.

In my experience students aren’t independent learners when they start their higher education journey and they need scaffolded support and guidance on how to learn at this level, then at subsequent levels until they are in their final year. When they are at the end of their Higher Education journey and student experiences, they should be independent learners. Therefore, it may have been too much for the first-year students to adapt to the SCL approach which may have affected the outcomes and I would be interested to see if the results varied for different levels of students, such as second year and final years.

Although the methodology chosen used Likert scales which are a very common way to gather quantitative data, qualitative data might be worth capturing as well in a future study. It would provide opportunities to interrogate the data gathered with sentiment analysis and give a better understanding and insight into the language used by student participants to describe their learning and engagement with TCL and SCL and its hidden positive or indeed negative meaning.

This chapter covers a very current topic, we are told that student-centred learning is the way forward, but we need more evidence to inform our practice and that of our colleagues as pedagogic research and positive student outcomes are the only way to affect change and to become ‘changemakers’. Alexander has made a good start to becoming an academic changemaker.

Richard Beggs, Lecturer in Higher Education Practice, Centre for Higher Education Research and Practice (CHERP), Ulster University, Northern Ireland.

Early Career Academics’ Reflection on Learning to Teach in Central Europe

SEDA is publishing an open access book online, with a chapter released on its website every fortnight.  Each time a chapter is released it will be accompanied by a blog post published on SEDA WordPress. The book is called Early Career Academics’ Reflections on Learning to Teach in Central Europe, edited by Gabriela Pleschová and Agnes Simon. This book contains case studies by participants of a new educational development programme who redesigned their course sessions to apply student-centred approaches, using innovative teaching methods and stimulate good learning.

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