Monday, December 17, 2012

Review: Developing learner-centered teaching: A practical guide for faculty

Phyllis Blumberg’s (2009) Developing Learner-Centered Teaching: A Practical Guide for Faculty provides a practical, step-by-step guide of how to shift from instructor-centered teaching towards a teaching design more focused on being learner-centered.

Supported with a forward written by scholar Dr. Maryellen Weimer, Blumberg’s book provides what Weimer notes was needed, that is, “a well-documented book that handles the implementation of learner-centered approaches to teaching with integrity, robustness, and careful attention to detail” (Blumberg, 2009, p. xvii).

Blumberg builds on the five dimensions of learner-centered teaching proposed by Weimer (2002): (a) the function of content; (b) the role of the instructor; (c) the responsibility for learning; (d) the purpose and processes of assessment; and (e) the balance of power. Rather than suggesting readers transform all five dimensions at the same time, however, Blumberg suggests an incremental, small-scale approach is more appropriate. Courses can become learner-centered gradually by addressing the dimensions or components within the dimensions over a period of time. Similarly, and as one of the strongest features of this book, Blumberg gradually walks the reader through the transition toward learner-centered approaches by using just those: learner-centered approaches. At the end of each chapter an Application Activity allows the reader to work through some of the steps and plan for making a transformation. Activities for Part One of the book focus on choosing a course to transform and deciding which dimension and components to address. Part Two activities prompt the reader with questions to consider that speak to the dimension addressed in that chapter. The final activities, in Part Three, have the reader consider potential obstacles they may face when trying to make changes to their teaching. 

The book is divided into three main parts, with the first part providing a background of why instructor-centered approaches are not effective, as well as suggestions for why some instructors may resist a shift towards a learner-centered course design (p. 4). Blumberg then shifts towards the pull factors of learner-centered teaching, grounding support for this design in literature that addresses motivational, developmental, and learning theory. Components within each dimension are positioned within rubrics, and discussion of how to interpret the rubrics is provided. These rubrics effectively allow the reader to see how components can shift along 4 levels towards being learner-centered.

Each chapter in Part Two of the book addresses one of the dimensions of learner-centered teaching. Each component within the dimensions are broken down and placed on a dimension-specific rubric, thereby showing how each component can be shifted towards learner-centered approaches. Throughout these chapters, Blumberg uses her own assessment of a general education course as a case study to demonstrate how to analyze a course in terms of learner-centeredness. Furthermore, the Planning for Transformation exercise forms at the end of each chapter, which were completed by the instructor of the case study course, illustrate how the instructor plans to change the selected component(s) of the dimension. Using this case study throughout each of the chapters is another strength of the book, as it allows the reader to practice rating each of the components of a dimension on the rubrics, while also letting them compare their assessments to Blumberg’s. 

Part Three offers a discussion and conclusion section that may ease some of the discomfort readers might feel after grappling with how to transform aspects of their course from instructor-centered to more learner-centered. First, course characteristics and personal/departmental characteristics are discussed in terms of how they may interact with the course’s ability to become learner-centered. Furthermore, and perhaps more importantly for those who are uncomfortable with the learner-centered approach, is Chapter 10: Strategies for Overcoming Obstacles and Resistance (pp. 247-255). Not only does Blumberg offer a list of other resources to consult for more information about learner-centered teaching, but the Application Activity at the end of the chapter asks the reader to predict some of the sources of resistance they may face throughout their plan for course transformation. After predicting sources of resistance, the readers is asked to identify resources he/she can consult and who they can talk to for support, so that they can move forward with the learner-centered design. Consequently, if readers treat certain components of this book as a workbook and complete the activities while reading, Blumberg cleverly leaves them with a set plan for their course transformations and the lasting impression that they can overcome their own hesitation to change, as well as any other obstacles they may face. As a result, this practical and well-written book is recommended for all those who are willing to begin gradually shifting away from instructor-centered teaching towards a more learner-centered approach. This resource will be useful to a broad range of educators including instructors, faculty developers, administrators, and graduate students.

Blumberg, P. (2009). Developing learner-centered teaching: A practical guide for faculty.
San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Weimer, R. (2002). Learner-centered teaching: Five key changes to practice. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 

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