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Course Readiness Criteria - Example 7

Do the faculty members involved have an understanding of learning theory?

Sound pedagogy is the key to successful redesign projects. When sound pedagogy leads, technology becomes an enabler for good practice rather than the driver. Does the instructor provide a wide range of options for achieving required learning outcomes? Has the instructor systematically thought about and investigated alternative methods for empowering students to learn? Does the instructor seek to use technology to transform the teaching and learning environment rather than merely automating existing instructional practice?

Here are some examples of the ways various institutions responded to this criterion.


Cal Poly Pomona

The redesign effort is informed both by empirical research in the cognitive sciences as well as by a broad interdisciplinary orientation. As such, it is not an insular biology course, but one which speaks to the learning needs of all students, and which assumes a shift in faculty roles toward learner-centered education.

For years the project leader has based his educational technology designs on a recognition of 24 specific problems facing general education (introductory courses) nationwide and on 21 special problems facing interdisciplinary education. Many of these problems speak to or coincide with insights derived from learning theory. These problems are used as performance specifications for courseware redesign, so redesigns are synergies of engineered solutions to these problems. As biologists, the project team follows the most recent developments in cognitive science and understands the implications of those findings for learning theory.

University at Buffalo (SUNY)

Members of the course team have experience with learner-centered concepts independent of IT applications. For example, lectures are punctuated with Class Discussion Questions (CDQs), where students work in small groups on a challenging problem for a few minutes and then report out their progress. In this process, students are placed in the position of assessing their own understanding of the concepts being discussed, also providing instant feedback for the lecturer in terms of what students are and are not learning. Importantly, even this small amount of activity can often be a locus of student learning.

Some of the team are involved in a collaborative research project, "Learning Styles in a Virtual Environment," involving UB, the Hungarian Academy of Science and ExecuTrain. The focus is to identify which of the various measures of learning style provide the best indicator of how successful a particular student will be with various types of computer-mediated learning materials. The goal is to be able to customize learning materials for students with particular learning styles or preferences. As a collaboration between universities and a commercial content provider, this research takes advantage of both intellectual and financial motivations to produce useful results. The results of this research will be available to the course team in their redesign of CSE 101.

The course team proposes to provide multiple means by which students can achieve the learning goals:

  • Web-based interactive activities for individuals;
  • CSCL (computer supported collaborative learning) group activities (both web based and lab based);
  • Mini lectures on CD by the best lecturers (on basic concepts which don’t require frequent updating);
  • Frequent computer based pre-quizzes, diagnostic quizzes and tests;
  • Use of peer learning assistants; and
  • Lectures and printed materials.


University of Central Florida

One assumes that university faculty have an understanding of learning theory. In reality, many are exposed to it during our faculty development course, IDL, for the first time. Through the "live" and on-line portions of the course and the course development work with their instructional designer, faculty become knowledgeable about learning theory and its relationship to course design. Participants in the IDL course learn through presentations by other faculty who are teaching on-line courses. These peer teachers—"Web Vets"—describe their experiences teaching on-line. The faculty, through IDL and other teaching-enhancement workshops, will be equipped to deliver courses based on an understanding of learning theory.

Many Political Science faculty have an understanding of learning theory. Many have presented learning theory papers at national and regional political science and education conferences such as EDUCOM 1998. Departmental faculty are frequently invited to present at the IDL course as examples of how to implement pedagogically- sound Internet assignments. Many faculty are participating in the annual Summer Institute for Faculty Development sponsored by the Faculty Center for Teaching and Learning. Political Science faculty have also given presentations to other UCF faculty about distance learning through the Faculty Center for Teaching and Learning. Two Political Science faculty members have been selected to be the representatives of the UCF College of Arts and Sciences as Faculty Fellows at the Faculty Center for Teaching and Learning in two consecutive years.

University of Southern Maine

Psy 101J introduces learning theory to students and discusses how to improve memory. Thus, the faculty involved in this course have some feel for what works and what does not work in teaching. We are aware that no one single model works best for all students We therefore employ a number of different strategies in helping students master the material an effort that is significantly enhanced by Bravo!. Evidence of this is that more than one instructor is involved in teaching the course. Students who do not do well with one professor are encouraged to try the course again with a different instructor. We provide a number of other options to our students, including distance education, asynchronous education, computer-based courses and the more traditional lecture-based format. We see the additional use of technology as enhancing the diversity that we already offer.

Our proposed course redesign will enable professors to choose from a number of options as they design their courses. More than one activity (learning module) will be available to replace or augment lecture material. Active-learning approaches will be available in addition to the more traditional passive approaches already in use and several types of testing protocols will also be available. Faculty will be encouraged to select what works for them and their students, rather than being forced to use a single model to present the material. Students also will have the opportunity to select what works best for their way of learning.

Incorporating Bravo! into the course curriculum will serve to integrate distance and asynchronous students intro the class. The ability of this product to facilitate contact between classmates, to foster discussion about the textbook and other related materials and provide rapid if not immediate feedback on progress in the course cannot help but enhance the experience of these students. Furthermore, different modalities can be used in this system; video, discussion groups, class generated data, polling and other experiences will enhance the experience of the students.

Because those faculty involved in PSY 101J are teachers, not users of technology, we do not intend to use technology simply for the sake of using it. We are looking for tools that enhance learning. Automation is less important to us than finding the tools we can use to improve the process and product of education for the students. The goal of the proposed project is to improve student access to information, not to make grading easier. Thus, the products we propose to use are designed to enhance the experience of the student, not to make life easier for the instructor.

University of Wisconsin-Madison

The NSF systemic project was funded at UW-Madison because of the faculty's expertise in chemical education. Professor Moore is an expert in chemistry pedagogy, which is one of the reasons he was selected several years ago as editor of the Journal of Chemical Education. The changes in chemistry courses that we propose are based on sound pedagogy and have been developed by involving many persons throughout the chemistry education community who have a broad range of expertise in pedagogy. Professor Moore's course currently involves more than half a dozen different aspects, each designed to contribute to students' understanding of chemistry. In addition to lecture, laboratory, discussion, and the online quizzes mentioned above, these include computer-based tutorials, web-based pre-lab instruction, computerized data collection and analysis, take-home experiments, and computer-mediated assignments that involve data analysis and calculations