What is Learner-Centredness?

OK, I have to admit that I am guilty.  I work for an institution that describes itself as learner-centred, and I teach a course on University Teaching in which I aspire to create a learner-centred environment.  Until this point, I don’t think I have taken the time to ACTUALLY articulated (yes, I would say that I have reflected upon it!) what I truly mean by this term that seems to be used so elusively in higher education today.  So, here goes…and as a disclaimer, I truly hope that this personal exploration continues to evolve!!

A learner-centreded approach clearly places the learner at the centre of their education, by supporting student development & autonomy, and creating a shared-climate for learning (Newmaster et al., 2006; Weimer, 2002).  Learner-centredness puts a clear focus on the outcomes of learning, and recognizes that, “students must be active discoverers and constructors of their own knowledge” (Barr and Tagg, 1995, p.21).  Learners are guided by a philosophy of self-efficacy and autonomy, where they develop the knowledge and abilities necessary to embrace learning challenges, to succeed, and to continuously improve.  Learner-centred environments facilitate active, enduring, integrated and authentic experiences that, “…enabl[e] the learner to remodel and revise ongoing theories in a manner that makes sense to them” (Newmaster et al., 2006, p. 108).  Simply stated, learner-centred environments provide students with an opportunity to actively engage with and to take ownership of their own learning.

Weimer’s (2002) 5 Key Changes to Promote Learner-Centredness (LC) provide an effective framework upon which to articulate a LC approach to higher education:

  1. The Balance of Power: Key decisions about learning are shared between the instructor and student (e.g. course activities, assignments, setting a climate for learning)
  2. The Function of Content:— Content is used to develop learning skills, to promote self-awareness, and to develop a sense of self-efficacy in their ability to solve learning task
  3. The Role of the Teacher:—  To guide and facilitate the process of learning; and to create and maintain conditions that promote student development, autonomy, and a shared-climate for learning
  4. The Responsibility for Learning: Students take responsibility for their own learning and are motivated to succeed; students do the discovering. Activities and assignments become the vehicles for learning.
  5. Evaluation Purpose and Process:—  Generate grades AND promote learning (what I like to refer to as “active assessment”). Aside comment: As there has been a fundamental shift in higher education from passive to active learning, I think there is an evolving shift from active learning to active assessment currently occurring in higher education.  As we all know, assessment has an incredible impact on What, When and How students learn!!

Perhaps even more concisely stated, Paris and Combs (2006, p. 576) simple meanings of learner-centredness resonate clearly with me:

  1. The student is the starting point for curriculum making
  2. The instructor and students are co-participants in the learning process
  3. The instructor strives toward intense student engagement with the curriculum

Like I said at the beginning,  I am quite certain that my personal reflections regarding learner-centredness will continue to evolve!


Barr, R.B. and Tagg, J. 1995.  From Teaching to Learning – A New Paradigm for Undergraduate Education.  Change.  Nov/Dec: 13-25.

Newmaster, S., Lacroix, C.A., and Roosenboom, C. 2006.  Authentic learning as a mechanism for learner centredness.  International Journal of Learning 13(6): 103-112.

Paris, C. and Combs, B. 2006.  Lived meanings: what teachers mean when they say they are learner-centered.  Teachers and Teaching: Theory and Practice 12:571-592.

Weimer, M. 2002. Learner-Centered Teaching. Jossey-Bass, San Francisco.

On Critical Reflection


Source: @giuliaforsythe http://www.flickr.com/photos/gforsythe/7132198243/sizes/z/in/photostream/

I recently had the pleasure of seeing Dr. Stephen Brookfield present at the University of Guelph’s Teaching and Learning Innovations Conference. Dr. Brookfield’s presentation modeled the way.  He reminded us of the importance of silence in the classroom:

 silence is an endemic, essential part of the rhythm of the learning process.


We were also reminded of how important it was to reflect critically on our own experiences as learners, as we, ourselves grow as teachers.

How we study our own autobiographies as learners is essential to our development as teachers.

I was left most inspired by Brookfield’s humble and real reflections on the feelings we all face in our teaching practice, and how difficult it is to look beyond our assumed ‘faults’ and ‘vulnerabilities’ as we teach – no matter how experienced we are in the classroom.

So what is critical reflection anyways?

Critical reflection occurs when we analyze and challenge the validity of our presuppositions and assess the appropriateness of our knowledge, understanding and beliefs given our present contexts (Mezirow, 1990).  Brookfield (1990) explains that critical reflection involves three phases:

  1. Identifying the assumptions (“those taken-for-granted ideas, commonsense beliefs, and self-evident rules of thumb” (pg. 177)) that underlie our thoughts and actions;
  2. Assessing and scrutinizing the validity of these assumptions in terms of how they relate to our ‘real-life’ experiences and our present context(s);
  3. Transforming these assumptions to become more inclusive and integrative, and using this newly-formed knowledge to more appropriately inform our future actions and practices.

Becoming a critically reflective thinker and practitioner can be challenging. The process of critical reflection may be conceptualized through the descriptions and questions contained in the following two figures (adapted from Brookfield 1990, 1995; Mezirow, 1990).





Brookfield, S.D. 1995. Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher.  Jossey-Bass, CA.

Brookfield, S.D. 1990. Using critical incidents to explore learners’ assumptions. In pages 177-193 of J. Mezirow (Ed). Fostering Critical Reflection in Adulthood. Jossey-Bass Publishers, San Fransisco.

Mezirow, J. 1990.  How critical reflection triggers transformative learning.  In pages 1-20 of J. Mezirow (Ed). Fostering Critical Reflection in Adulthood. Jossey-Bass Publishers, San Fransisco.

Let’s not take the constructive out of constructive alignment


Graphic courtesy of Doug Schaefer

Constructive Alignment is an approach to course design which begins with the end in mind (i.e. what should students know and be able to demonstrate at the end of the course).  It assumes that when learning objectives, assessment methods, and teaching and learning activities are intentionally aligned, that the outcomes of learning are improved substantially (Blumberg, 2009). The process of constructive alignment emphasizes that students are central to the creation of meaning, and must be provided with opportunities to actively select, and cumulatively construct their own knowledge (Biggs, 1996).  Meyers and Nulty (2009, p.567) provide 5 curriculum design recommendations to designing a course based upon Biggs’ approach to constructive alignment.

To maximise the quality of learning outcomes, we, as academics, need to develop courses in ways that provide students with teaching and learning materials, tasks and experiences which:

(1)    are authentic, real-world and relevant;

(2)    are constructive, sequential and interlinked;

(3)    require students to use and engage with progressively higher order cognitive processes;

(4)    are aligned with each other and the desired learning outcomes; and

(5)    provide challenge, interest and motivation to learn.

The effect of applying these principles is to [create a] learning system in ways that require students to adopt a deep learning approach in order to meet the course’s assessment requirements – which, in turn, meets the desired learning outcomes.

They further emphasize that teaching is inherently complex, and that these principles must be adapted to each instructor’s individual teaching approaches, strengths and to the realities that we face in the many varying contexts in higher education.   Fink’s (2003) 5 principles of course design also provide some practical insight, which can be adapted to the many varying context that we may face:

(1)    Challenge higher level of learning, by defining learning objectives at a high cognitive level

(2)    Use active forms of learning

(3)    Give frequent and immediate feedback

(4)    Use structured sequence of teaching and learning activities to scaffold learning

(5)    Use objective and fair system of grading and assessment

Backwards Course Design

There is little doubt that individual instructor’s can have an enormous impact on the quality of students’ learning experience and on the outcomes they achieve, “…high level engagement ought not be left to serendipity, or to individual student brilliance, but should be actively encouraged by the teacher” (Biggs, 1996, p. 353).   The process of constructive alignment begins by defining clearly the course learning objectives, such that both the students and instructor are aware of the essential knowledge and abilities that they should be able to demonstrate at the end of the course.  Once the learning objectives are clearly defined, the feedback and assessment methods which provide an opportunity for the students and instructor to formatively and summatively assess their achievement of these objectives, should be articulated and developed.  Meyers and Nulty (2009) emphasize that assessments tasks should hold together and sequence all other course components. Once the alignment between the learning objectives and assessment strategies has been established, the teaching and learning activities that best support an active and deep approach to learning should be planned.  Knight (2001) describes this stage as drawing together the processes, encounters and engagements that best make for effective learning, given both the context and the subject-matter content.

We have heard much in academe about the importance of an outcomes-based approach to education.  We must continue to add voice by discussing the importance of quality learning environments that emphasize an active, deep and student-centred approach to learning.  Although they provide an effective and efficient means upon which to organize, structure and account for learning, quality higher education goes much beyond outcomes and objectives.  We must consistently strive to communicate the inherent complexities embedded in the many disciplines and contexts within teaching and learning in higher education.  By not taking the ‘constructive’ out of constructive alignment, I think that each of us has the capacity to inspire excellence in student learning.


Biggs, J. 1996.  Enhancing teaching through constructive alignment.  Higher Education 32:347-364.

Blumberg, P. 2009.  Maximizing learning through course alignment and experience with different types of knowledge.  Innovative Higher Education 34:93-103.

Fink, L.D. 2003. Integrated Course Design.  The Idea Centre. Accessed at: http://www.theideacenter.org/sites/default/files/Idea_Paper_42.pdf

Knight, P.T. 2001.  Complexity and curriculum: a process approach to curriculum making.  Teaching and Learning in Higher Education 6: 369-381.

Meyers, N.M. and Nulty, D.D. 2009.  How to use (five) curriculum design principles to align authentic learning environments, assessment, students’ approach to thinking and learning outcomes.  Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education 34: 565-577.

A guide to developing and assessing learning outcomes

I recently co-authored a Guide  to support programs, departments and instructors at the University of Guelph as they continue to develop and assess learning outcomes such that curricula become increasingly coherent, aligned and evidenced.   We highlight the following 5 steps to curriculum development.

1. Plan
Curriculum committees are often overwhelmed by the  inherent complexities associated with assessing and improving the curriculum. Curriculum development must be viewed as a continuous process (Wolf, 2007).
To manage this process, it is invaluable for committees  to establish a manageable framework for continuous  program assessment and development by establishing a  strategic planning process based on the following questions:
1. Why? (What are your specific goals and objectives for curriculum assessment and improvement?)

2. Who? (Who will you involve? Who are the target stakeholders?)

3. When? (What are your timelines?)

4. How? (What assessment method is most appropriate?)

5. What? (What data will you collect to help inform?)

2. Vision
An outcomes-based approach to education is inherently  dependent upon the identification and communication of  clearly defined learning outcomes, which describe the essential and disciplinary knowledge and abilities that students should possess upon completion of the program. The articulation of meaningful and measurable learning outcomes  that are contextualized within the discipline may require substantial consultations with a range of stakeholders (e.g.  alumni, students, faculty, employers) (Green et al. 2009). As  a valuable first step it is often helpful to discuss, communicate,  and review the broader context of the program:
• What is the purpose of program? Why should it be  offered? What is the need?
• What will make this program innovative and distinctive?
What unique areas of focus or strengths does this program offer?
• How will this program contribute to students’ academic and professional development? How will it be of benefit to them?
• How will the program fulfill its vision and goals? What signature pedagogies (i.e. teaching/learning/assessment activities) should the instructors and
students be involved in?

3. Assess
Learning outcomes provide an opportunity for programs to  effectively review and enhance the alignment between the planned, delivered and experienced curriculum (Bath et al., 2004). A comprehensive approach to learning outcomes  assessment ensures that decisions related to change are informed by data collected from multiple sources. Recommended methods include multi-stakeholder questionnaires, focus groups and Strength, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) analysis, curriculum mapping, curriculum embedded assessment, and reviews of both scholarly literature and of analogous programs.

4. Improve and Align
Data collected through learning outcomes assessment can be used not only to account for student learning, but also ought to be used to engage faculty in critical discussions related to curriculum improvement. Data can be
used to help ensure that decisions related to the alignment between the intended learning outcomes and the educational experiences embedded within the curriculum are evidenced-based. It is at this stage that instructors
and curriculum committees improve, validate and align the curriculum by identifying and leveraging the program strengths, and developing recommendations and strategies to deal with the gaps, redundancies and challenges apparent in the curriculum. Committees may wish to explore specifically:

1. the essential educational experiences that allow students to successfully develop and achieve the intended learning outcomes, including assessment and feedback strategies and signature teaching and
learning activities;
2. the progression of student learning throughout the program, including foundational and capstone experiences, and course sequences and scaffolding; and,
3. course weighting and the balance of between core and elective requirements.

5. Monitor and Adapt
An outcomes-based approach to curriculum development requires developing a focus on continuous improvement (Wolf, 2007). In order to monitor and advance our academic programs, it is important to assess continually that the intended student learning outcomes are actually being achieved within the curriculum. An ongoing multistakeholder curriculum plan provides an opportunity for instructors to collaboratively discuss and propose changes to the curriculum based on data from multiple sources. In order for this process to succeed, learning outcomes must be part of a living curriculum – that is they must be clearly
articulated in a way that is contextualized within the discipline, communicated broadly, continually reviewed and monitored, and effectively integrated into decision-making processes. Learning outcomes provide an opportunity for programs, departments and instructors to create a curriculum that is reviewed and enhanced regularly to support alignment between the planned, enacted and experienced curriculum (Bath et al., 2004).


Bath, D. Smith, C., Stein, S. and Swann, R. 2004 Beyond mapping and embedding graduate attributes: bring together quality assurance and action learning to create a validated and living curriculum. Higher Education Research and Development 23(3): 313-328.

Green, W., Hammer, S. and Star, C. 2009. Facing up to the challenge: why is it so hard to develop graduate attributes. Higher Education Research and Development 28: 17-29.

Wolf, P. 2007. A model for facilitating curriculum development in higher education: a faculty-driven, data-informed, and educational developer-supported approach. New Directions for Teaching and Learning 112: 15-20.

A process-based approach to curriculum planning


I recently read Peter Knight’s (2001) presentation of a process-based approach to curriculum planning and development.  A critic of outcomes-based approaches to higher education, he argues that complex learning can “not easily [be] reducible to precise statements” that  “grow like mould and become unwieldy” (p.373); and that these approaches run the risk of reducing creativity, innovation, and flexibility; threaten faculty autonomy; and, represent a ‘reductionists’ approach to learning.  Although I certainly don’t agree with all of Knight’s critiques, and firmly believe that learning outcomes provide an extraordinary framework for structuring and aligning curricula, Knight provides some excellent arguments for focusing intentionally on the quality of learning encounters and environments.  In fact, I think some of Knight’s suggestions help to support a holistic approach to curriculum development, which focuses on outcomes, processes, and the creation of quality learning environments and communities.

Knight states, “…that planning starts by imagining how to draw together the processes, encounters or engagements that make for good learning” (p. 375).  Disciplinary subject matter and context need to be thoughtfully considered, and “…key messages and learning encounters need to be planned to suffuse the programme” (p.376).  We should clearly define and articulate the signature pedagogies and learning environments which inherently support and promote a deep approach to learning within each programme. This approach begins, “…by asking what good learning, teaching and assessment encounters in the subject area are…” (p. 376).  Knight also argues for processes which support student development and progression through the intentional scaffolding of learning experiences.    He clearly articulates the need for the creation of collaborative learning communities, “…it is fair to say that good curriculum would plan for learning to take place through communities of practice in which groupwork and peer evaluation are normal, interpersonal contact is common and networks of engagement are extensive” (p.377).  A further criterion of curriculum coherence is a ‘coherence of feedback’, where formative feedback is provided to students throughout the program, “about their achievements and how to improve upon them” (p. 378).

This article provides a few key recommendations for effective curriculum planning:

1)      It is imperative for each programme to clearly articulate key messages related to how it supports student learning and success.

2)      Courses within a programme should be intentionally planned and aligned to support progression in the complexity of student learning and development.

3)      Students must be provided with continuous opportunities to receive formative feedback on their learning achievements and opportunities for improvement.

4)      Quality educational experiences should emphasize the creation of learning communities and environments which support collaborative peer development.

I could not agree more with these recommendations and personally believe that an outcomes-based approach only helps to provide an effective framework for organizing and structuring this vision for excellence in curriculum planning and design.

Knight, P.T. 2001. Complexity and curriculum: a process approach to curriculum-making. Teaching in Higher Education 6(3):369-381.

An Outcomes-based Approach to Higher Education

An outcomes-based approach to education clearly specifies what students are expected to learn and arranges the curriculum such that these intended outcomes are achieved (Harden, 2007). Learning outcomes provide the base for an effectively aligned and integrated curriculum, where instructional activities and assessment strategies are explicitly linked to course-specific and degree-level learning outcomes, which are tied to institutional and provincially-defined graduate degree level expectations (DLEs).

Learning outcomes provide a powerful framework upon which to structure curricula. According to Harden et al., (1999; 2007a) learning outcomes:

  • help to provide clarity, integration and alignment within and between a sequence of courses;
  • promote a learner-centred approach to curriculum planning;
  • encourage a self-directed and autonomous approach to learning, as students can take responsibility for their studies, and are able to actively gauge their progress;
  • promote a collegial approach to curriculum planning, as instructors collaborate to identify gaps and redundancies,
  • ensure that decisions related to the curriculum and learning environment are streamlined;
  • foster a philosophy of continual monitoring, evaluation and improvement; and,
  • help to ensure accountability and assure quality of our education programs.

An aligned curriculum organizes structures and sequences courses around the intended learning outcomes. In order for this approach to succeed, learning outcomes must must be: 1) clearly articulated in a way that is contextualized within the discipline; 2) communicated broadly; 3) used to inform and influence decisions about the curriculum; and, 3) monitored regularly to ensure that they remain current and accurately reflect the intent of the degree program (Manogue and Brown, 2007; Harden, 2007).

It is hard to argue with an outcomes-based approach to education.  Starting with a clear goal of what one wants to achieve seems extraordinarily logical, even when situated within the inherent complexities of higher education!  What is clear is that an outcomes-based approach requires a clear focus on continuous quality improvement.


Harden, R.M., Crosby, J.R., and Davis, M.H. 1999. AMEE Guide No. 14: Outcome-based education: Part 1 – An introduction to outcome-based education.  Medical Teacher 21(1): 7-15

Harden, R.M., Crosby, J.R., and Davis, M.H. 1999. AMEE Guide No. 14: Outcome-based education: Part 1 – An introduction to outcome-based education.  Medical Teacher 21(1): 7-15

Harden, R.M. 2002. Learning outcomes and instructional objectives: is there a difference? Medical Teacher 24(2):151-155.

Harden, R.M. 2007a.  Outcomes-based education: the future is today.  Medical Teacher 29:625-629.

Harden, R.M. 2007b. Outcome-based education – the ostrich, the peacock and the beaver. Medical Teacher 29: 666-671.

Manogue, M. and Brown, G. 2007.  Managing the curriculum – for a change.  European Journal of Dental Education 11: 75-86.


Three Strategies to Ensure Student Success and Engagement


Research suggests that effective teaching and learning environments: 1) facilitate a deep approach to learning where students are actively involved and seek further meaning and understanding through experience, application, practice and reflection; 2) provide organization and structure through clearly defined goals, learning objectives and standards for performance; 3) provide opportunities for students to receive frequent feedback; 4) provide authentic learning experiences that establish personal and real-world relevance; and, 5) provide opportunities for independence and choice (Entwistle and Tait, 1990; Trigwell and Prosser, 1991; deWinstanley and Bjork, 2002; Lizzio et al., 2002; Newmaster et al., 2006;  Weiman, 2007;  Kember and Hong, 2008; Revell and Wainwright, 2009).

The following 3 strategies translate these fundamental concepts into action:

1) Establish organization and structure

  • Establish and communicate clear learning objectives throughout the course
  • Establish and communicate clear standards for performance (e.g. rubrics and grading guidelines)
  • Give clear and useful explanations
  • Vary and structure learning activities (~20 min.) to focus attention
  • Focus each lesson/session on a few main concepts
  • Repeat and space key information within and between lectures/labs/seminar

2) Keep Learners Intrinsically Motivated

  • Establish personal and real-world relevance
  • Provide opportunities for independence and choice in learning content and process
  • Provide opportunities to receive frequent feedback and to scaffold learning

3) Involve the Learner

  • Provide opportunities for peer interaction and discussion
  • Provide opportunities for independent interpretation, elaboration and meta-cognition
  • Use activities that promote practice and problem-solving to facilitate synthesis, integration and application
  • Ask questions and demonstrate an interest in students’ opinion, and their challenges with the subject matter
  • Promote a sense of reciprocal learning and interaction by demonstrating a sense of enthusiasm, trust, approachability, honesty and humility


deWinstanley, P.A. and Bjork, R.A .2002.Successful lecturing: presenting information in ways that engage effective processing.  New Directions for Teaching and Learning 89:19-32.

Entwistle, N. and Tait, H. 1990.  Approaches to learning, evaluations of teaching, and preferences for contrasting academic environments.  Higher Education 19: 169-194.

Kember, D., Ho, A., and Hong, C. 2008. The importance of establishing relevance in motivating student learning. Active Learning in Higher Education 9(3): 249-263.

Lizzio, A., Wilson, K., and Simons R. 2002.  University students’ perceptions of the learning environment and academic outcomes: implications for theory and practice.  Studies in Higher Education 27(1):27-52.

Newmaster, S., Lacroix, C.A., and Rossenboon, C. 2006. Authentic learning as a mechanism for learner centredness. International Journal of Learning 13 (6): 103-112.

Revell, A. and Wainwright, E. 2009.  What makes lectures ‘unmissable’? Insights into teaching excellence and active learning.  Journal of Geography in Higher Education 33(2): 209-233.

Trigwell, K. And Prosser, M. 1991.  Improving the quality of student learning: the influence of learning context and student approaches to learning on learning outcomes.  Higher Education 22:251-266.

Wieman, C. 2007. Why not try a scientific approach to science education? Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning 39(5): 9-15.

A novel alternative to essay writing in a large introductory course

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/samhames/5250383314/sizes/m/in/photostream/

 “Large class sizes, the increasing diversity of the student corpus, and mounting cost-efficiency imperatives have become commonplace.  In this context, a major challenge for academic faculty is how curriculum, teaching and assessment can be enhanced so that graduates will become more effective communicators and meet the needs of contemporary knowledge economies” (p. 89).

Moni et al. (2007) present an innovative writing and peer review process aimed at first-year students in a human biology course at a research-intensive university, which represents an alternative to more traditional essay-type assignments.  The students were required to write a 700-750 word personal response to one of a selected number of topics from The Science Show, broadcasted by the Australia Broadcasting Commission.  The text was to present a scaffolded- level of cognitive development from providing a context and purpose in the Introduction (remembering, understanding), to a personal analysis of the topic in the body of the report, to a judgement section where the students were required to communicate their personal interest in, and usefulness of the topic both in the context of self and to society.   In addition, they were required to present future research areas based on the discussion presented in the audio file.  The students were asked to peer review a pre-selected portion of exceptional assignments – a clever technique for having students exposed to high-quality work.

This paper presents an interesting assignment for a first-year class.  A detailed marking rubric is outlined.   The students felt that the assignment challenged them to think about current issues and to effectively present scientific evidence in their writing.  An exemplary submission and peer review is provided in the paper.   The process of peer-reviewing exemplary work is intriguing, and may be beneficial in a first-year course where students often struggle finding “the right answer.”


Moni, R.W., Moni, K.B., Lluka, L.J., and Poronnik, P. 2007.  The personal response:  a novel writing assignment to engage first year students in large human biology classes.  Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education 35(2): 89-96.

Is there a relationship between students’ approaches to learning and their perceptions of learning environments?

Hazel et al. 2002 present a compelling exploration of meaningful/deep (in comparison to rote/surface) learning in terms of the relationship between students’ approaches to learning and their perceptions of the learning environment, within the context of biology.  Data was collected from 272 students from similar first year biology subjects at 2 Australian Universities.  The Presage-Process-Product model was used to guide the research: Presage (Student Characteristics, Course Design/Teaching Methods), Process (Students’ Perceptions of Context/Learning Environment, Students’ Approaches to Learning),  Product (Quantity and Quality of Students’ Learning Outcomes).  They used a pre/post test based upon open-ended questions and a concept mapping exercise to assess key concepts in photosynthesis.   Perceptions of the learning environment were evaluated via a questionnaire designed to evaluate deep/surface learning strategies, “good teaching”, clear goals, workload, assessment and independence.   A hierarchical cluster analysis was used to examine the data. Comprehensive details regarding these methods are provided.

This paper is extraordinarily interesting and well-researched. Three clusters of students were identified: an understanding group, a reproduction group, and an incoherent group (which demonstrated the poorest understanding).  The reproduction group perceived the environment as more supportive of a surface-learning approach, and adopted a surface approach to learning.  The understanding group found that the learning environment was more supportive of a deep approach and hence adopted a deep learning approach.  It was noted that less than one third of the students demonstrated the deep/understanding learning pattern.  The results for the incoherent group were mixed, although they perceived that the learning environment was supportive of deep learning, they adopted more of a surface approach to learning and demonstrated significantly less prior-understanding (although all groups demonstrated a relatively low understanding in the pre-tests).  Perhaps most interesting, the reproduction groups’ understanding of photosynthesis decreased in the post-test, while the understanding group demonstrated an enhanced understanding of the topic, and higher achievement scores in comparison to the two other clusters.  The incoherent group demonstrated the lowest level of achievement and understanding.  The key findings suggest that perceptions of the learning environment and students’ approaches to learning can have a significant effect on their level of understanding of course concepts. The key questions that remains is, “…knowing that students do respond so differently to the same context, and that these differences are associated with differences in the quality of their learning, what can be done?  Our approach is to focus on students’ awareness of the requirements of their course when they start, and on differences between staff expectations and students’ conception of learning of their subject and of key concepts in their subjects.”  This study is well-researched and presented and highlights the importance of developing students’ awareness of both the process and content of subject-matter learning.  The pre/post methodology also provides an interesting research model.


Hazel, E., Prosser, M. and Trigwell, K. 2002.  Variation in learning orchestration in university biology courses.  International Journal of Science Education 24(7): 737-751.

Poetry in Motion

I attended an explorative session at the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (2011) Conference in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. The session highlighted a Community-Based Art exibit at the University of Saskatchewan.


Here is my personal poetic journey:




Passion & Compassion,

Sympathy, Inspiration,

Collaboration &


Innovation, Tradition,

Diversity & Culture,


Questioning & Insight.

These are the words which guide my practice.


Short burst of creativity inspired by STLHE2011!