Teaching for Learning: Students Becoming  Learners and Proposing  Solutions to Societal Problems

13 Jan

The Learning Spaces Collaboratory – in its November 2013 publication A Guide Planning for Assessing 21st Century Spaces for 21st Century Learners – asks four important questions:

What do we want our learners to become?
What experiences make that becoming happen?

What spaces enable those experiences?
How do we know about new learners and new learning?

Photos by Paul Baepler and Patrick O'Leary.

Photos by Paul Baepler and Patrick O’Leary.

Basing their findings on work and research at over 20 institutions making use of SCALE-UP (student-centered active learning environment for undergraduate programs) classrooms, the responses include outcomes such as these, which seem to be – okay, should be, even must be – of interest to current teachers:

  • We teach to support learners in becoming creative problem solvers who are additionally
    • “fearless, confident, independent learners who don’t shy away from intellectual challenges,”
    • collaborators who build and value team work, make discerning use of information, and determine context-appropriate use of technology to support team as well as individual learning and work.
  • We create assignments and activities through which students can experience
    • authentic application of disciplinary knowledge, grounded in collaborative work on problems that are doubly significant: to learners and to specific social contexts,
    • assessment of learning that is standards-based, built on critical reading and discussion as well as feedback.
  • We make of our classrooms – in person and online – spaces where students can
    • easily and flexibly work in teams, display work to other learners, interact with instructors, and continue working outside of the classroom setting.
  • We know from research about teaching for learning that such approaches to learning assignments and learning spaces can
    • Improve students’ engagement in the learning process.
    • Help students to outperform final grade expectations, resulting in enhanced learning outcomes.
    • Are most conducive to student achievement when instructors blend lecture with active, student-centered teaching methods.

So, how do we get there – to setting up courses and classrooms and assignments involving students in becoming and being learners?  For one way of addressing this question, we’re turning your attention this week to the recent publication by UMinnesota faculty making use of a SCALE-UP classroom and Teaching for Learning practices to teach an introductory biology course for majors:

The teachers:  Sue Wick, Mark Decker, David Matthes, and Robin Wright from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities’ College of Biological Science.

The article: “Students Propose Genetic Solutions to Societal Problems”

The publication: Science 341.6153 (September 2013): 1467-1468, in the “Essays on Science and Society” series.

The abstract:  In the Foundations of Biology sequence for entering biological sciences majors at the University of Minnesota, inquiry-based learning is woven throughout the classroom and laboratory. During the first semester lecture and discussion, students work in teams on a Genetic Engineering Proposal in which they propose a gene-based solution to a societal problem of their own choosing. Instructors coach the teams throughout the semester on experimental design and resources, as well as on data analysis, presentation strategies, team work, and research ethics. On the basis of outcomes from the nearly 3000 students who have taken the course over the past 6 years, the project has succeeded in engaging students in the intellectual work of biologists and the experience of science as creative inquiry.

The full article can be access for the time being via this URL – http://www.sciencemag.org/content/341/6153/1467.full.  (Note: some readers may need to access the article via their university or public library’s periodical resources for reasons of semi-open access.)

Supplementary materials setting out course assignments and rubrics are available via this URL – http://www.sciencemag.org/content/full/341/6153/1467/suppl/DC1

As  the authors note in early paragraphs of the article, their approach emphasizes:

  • scientific teaching, an evidence-based approach to course design that applies principles of how people learn
  • integrative biology course design
  • higher-order skills in Bloom’s taxonomy of cognition: synthesis, evaluation, and creation
  • student teams choosing their own project topics, which enhances creativity
  • team-based learning that delivers high learning gains and facilitates development of important life skills,
  • team-based class structure to support growth of collaborative skills, seeking/offering/making use of constructive feedback,
  • instructors as research mentors for teams and coaches for individuals, and a classroom in which
  • “we can ask students to accomplish collectively what would be beyond individual capabilities.”

We offer this preview and the links to this article because it provides a short and rich look at teaching for learning and sets out ways one group of teachers collaborated to create a course that invites students into learning for their futures – not only in the topics they select, but also in the disciplinary, personal, interpersonal and collaborative skills they develop, test, and expand throughout the course.

Finally, we’ll be featuring SoTL – scholarship of teaching and learning – publications or workshop materials from UMinnesota faculty for rest of January.  Upcoming posts will address:

  • large-enrollment discipline-based courses enrolling primarily non-major students,
  • incorporating critical thinking activities and assessment,
  • engaging students in seeking as well as offering and using feedback on course work,
  • faculty fellows’ teaching and technology projects, and
  • creating engaging presentations.

One Response to “Teaching for Learning: Students Becoming  Learners and Proposing  Solutions to Societal Problems”


  1. Teaching for Learning: Students Becoming  ... - 16 January 2014

    […] The Learning Spaces Collaboratory – in its November 2013 publication A Guide Planning for Assessing 21st Century Spaces for 21st Century Learners – asks four important questions: What do we want our learners to become?  […]

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