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How is Student-Centered Instruction Different than Traditional Instruction?

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By in Classroom, Content Development, Course Redesign, IMPACT, Professional Development, Uncategorized on .

Student-centered learning looks at where students are when they enter the classroom and attempts to customize teaching to allow students some freedom in choosing how to learn. This kind of teaching allows instructors to free themselves from the traditional lecture and allows them to change the learning space to one that best fits the needs of the student. Students are led to what they need to know instead of listening to someone tell them and they can become actively engaged in their learning.

What has been for some, a liberating style of teaching and learning, frees instructors by allowing them to lead the adventure instead of dispensing it. It is not unusual for instructors to struggle with the transition in the beginning and many feel as if they are giving up some control, which is not inaccurate. However, giving up some control allows students to become actively engaged. Learning can reach new heights without limit. More focus is often put on the quality of students questions instead of the quality of their answers. Higher order thinking skills are engaged since students are able to keep moving towards a goal, work together, ask questions and build on what they know. According to John Dewey in his book entitled How We Think, he notes deep thinking takes time and cannot be expected to happen when prompt answers are required (Dewey,1910). Student-centered learning allows students to make those higher order connections by giving students time to explore and be actively involved in their learning.

This change in the dynamic of the classroom can often intimidate those new to the process, but I liken it to a typical lab experience often seen as a normal part of many lecture courses. That shift instructors feel when they go from lecture-based courses to a lab class is the shift they are referring to in student-centered instruction, switching from dispenser to facilitator and learners going from passive to active learning. Most of the instructor’s work happens before the lab begins with perhaps a pre-lab, setting up the equipment, making sure students stay on task by outlining lab report requirements and having students turn in documentation showing what they have done. This is student-centered learning. The instructor set up the experience and then sits back and let them experience it. There is no lecturing during a lab, yet students learn. Learning through active engagement helps students better relate what they are doing to what they already know resulting in higher levels of retention and comprehension (Angelo & Cross, 1993).

Although not a new concept, some may struggle with the shift to the student-centered approach. Taking this familiar concept and applying it to the lecture part of a course is something many might find foreign. Many others have found it worth their time in making the transformation in everything they teach because many students are more engaged and respond much better to being an active participant in their learning. Other students though who were counting on putting in seat time for another lecture series while chatting on their phone, napping or doing other things have been found to resist the expectation they engage.  Each instructor needs to decide what is best for their learners, but keep in mind there is no one right way to create a student-centered environment. Your subject material, student population, and personal comfort level should all be taken into consideration.

The IMPACT Program at Purdue University provides resources and support for instructors to redesign their course in a student-centered way. The comfort level of the faculty member is of utmost importance and nothing is imposed without the instructor initiating the desire for change.

On April 10th, IMPACT will be hosting Eric Mazur who will be talking about how he transformed his course from lecture to student-centered. Faculty, staff, and students are invited to attend.



Angelo, T. A., & Cross, K. P. (1993). Classroom assessment techniques: A handbook for college teachers.

Dewey, J. (1910). How We Think. New York: D.C. Heath & CO.

Related Links and Articles:






Laptops and Lectures: Mismatch or Opportunity?

By in Classroom on .

Recently, while browsing through my Twitter feed, (@HuckAtPurdue ), I saw an article linked called “Why you should take notes by hand — not on a laptop”. The article was from June 2014, written by Joseph Stromberg.   The article was referencing research published by Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer, entitled “The Pen is Mightier Than the Keyboard – Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note Taking.”

Since I work as an Educational Technologist, and I see lecture halls filled with laptops, this was an alarming finding to read.  However, after reading both the article and the research, I think while I do not disagree with the findings, I do see it as an opportunity to guide more effective use of the technology.

The research summary states: “even when laptops are used solely to take notes, they may still be impairing learning because their use results in shallower processing. In three studies, we found that students who took notes on laptops performed worse on conceptual questions than students who took notes longhand. We show that whereas taking more notes can be beneficial, laptop note takers’ tendency to transcribe lectures verbatim rather than processing information and reframing it in their own words is detrimental to learning.”

The article used that research to state: “When done with pen and paper, that act involves active listening, trying to figure out what information is most important, and putting it down. When done on a laptop, it generally involves robotically taking in spoken words and converting them into typed text.”

I do not dispute either statement, but I do feel that the flaw does not lie in using technology, but in the lack of effective use of technology. Both documents dismiss or ignore the possibility that you could alter the methodology of note-taking with the laptops, and achieve similar results to the hand-written notes. The lack of performance seems more tightly linked to the notes being more verbatim and less constructed by the learner.

We need to use this data to do a better job instructing students on the effective use of the technology. If they are made aware of the impact of verbatim note-taking, they can make a conscious effort to make their notes more meaningful to them.  In fact, they could potentially use the audio recording capabilities of the laptop to handle any need they may feel for verbatim notes, and instead listen more intently and make notes only on important concepts and thoughts they fabricate themselves about the content.

All of this ignores the fact that research has shown that lectures themselves are a less effective method of instruction. But that is a whole topic in itself……

TED Talk Videos and Captioning

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By in Accessibility, Classroom on .

Using a TED Talk video in your classroom can engage your students. For that reason, using them is becoming more popular. If you plan to use a TED Talk video in your course, I highly recommend using the original video found on www.ted.com. The videos on ted.com have captions, while copies of the TED Talk found elsewhere are unlikely to have them.

When you choose a video with captions, you provide many benefits for your students, including:

  • Captions are searchable, allowing viewers to search media files for a topic of interest.
  • Captions improve communication for the many videos with poor sound quality.1
  • Captions clarify when the language is heavily accented. 1
  • STEM courses often present lengthy/challenging new terminology that must be learned. Captions show the correct spelling of the new terms. 1
  • Videos with captions improve student comprehension, engagement, and performance. “Augmenting an auditory experience with captions more than doubles retention and comprehension levels.” 2

1. Dietrich, G. & Johnson, J. (2007) DVD Captioning with Adobe Encore at AHEAD 2007 [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from http://www.htctu.fhda.edu/PUBLICATIONS/CONFERENCES/AHEAD/ENCORE07/WEB_DATA/file53.htm

2. Gary Robson, The Closed Captioning Handbook, Focal Press, 2004.

Tools of the Trade: The INNOVATE Teaching with Technology Website

By in Classroom, Getting Started, Musings on Technology, Tools on .

One of the great benefits of the Internet Age has been the development of digital tools that will aid faculty in their ability to improve their teaching and engage students in learning. During a recent consultation, the faculty member with whom I was working was trying to make a decision about which tool to choose to best support student learning. He said, “It is good that we have a lot of tools, but how am I supposed to choose? There is so much I have to think about?…” This faculty member is not alone in his sentiments. Juniu (2005) noted that faculty often feel “overwhelmed by the twofold challenge of keeping abreast of a rapidly changing technological environment…and finding pedagogical strategies that allow for technology to be effectively integrated with their course content.”

In order to address this challenge, Instructional Development Center (ITaP) staff members developed the INNOVATE Teaching with Technology website. This website was designed to inform faculty understanding about tools supporting pedagogical strategies they want to implement in their course.


How Do I…?

One of the biggest questions faculty face when considering how to integrate digital tools into their course is where to start. In the “How Do I” section of the website, you will have the opportunity to review strategies that will enable you and your students to organize, present, assess/evaluate, or collaborate/communicate your work. When you select the “How Do I…?” selection, the following page will appear:


Some of the topics on this page include selecting the appropriate tool for blogging, managing student email, and creating video content. You will note that each of the sections found on the page are framed by a given color. These colors are visuals linking you back to the corresponding strategy found on the main page where you can learn more about the strategy itself.



The Seven Principles of Good Practice in Undergraduate Education

The Seven Principles of Good Practice in Undergraduate Education were used as one of the primary drivers underpinning  in the development of this website. These principles are:

Intended as guidelines for faculty members, students, and administrators with support from state agencies and trustees – to improve teaching and learning. They rest on 50 years of research on the way teachers teach and students learn, how students work and play with one another, and how students and faculty talk to each other. (Chickering & Gamson, 1987)


The Teaching, Learning, and Technology (TLT) group cited how digital technologies can be utilized to support the seven principles. There are number of Purdue tools that may be helpful in supporting these principles as well.

Tools_4  Strategies using Digital Tools 


When you select a given strategy, you will be presented with a page presenting examples of the strategy using Purdue Supported Tools; opportunities to Learn More, including tool synopsis and table highlighting which tools support the 7 Principles of Effective Instruction, information regarding how the strategy is linked to the 7 Principles of Good Practice in Undergraduate Education, and a list of references grounding the pedagogical strategy. Strategies_5ACourse Design

If you are considering designing a new course or redesigning an existing course, the Interactive Course Re/Design (ICD)* model provides:

A sound, pedagogical approach to course design with links and resources that offer guidance on each step in the process… The ICD model is specifically designed to encourage development of active learning and supports the ‘backward design’ pedagogical concept of determining what you want to accomplish before deciding how you want to approach it.

(Source: http://www.itap.purdue.edu/learning/cdm/index.html)



(*This site /model was developed and written by Dr. Pat Reid, Dr. Frank Dooley, Clarence Maybee and Dr. David Nelson with contributions from IMPACT Support Team members)

If you would to schedule a consultation or would like to discuss any of the strategies or technological tools in more detail, please contact itap@purdue.edu.


Chickering, A. W., & Ehrmann, S. C. (1996, October). Implementing the seven principles: Technology as lever. AAHE Bulletin, 3-6. Retrieved from  http://www.tltgroup.org/programs/seven.html

Chickering, A. W., & Gamson, Z. F. (1987). Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education.” AAHE Bulletin, 39(7), 3-7.

Juniu, S. (2005). Digital democracy in higher education: Bridging the digital divide. Innovate Journal of Online Education, 2(1). Retrieved from http://www.oit.sfasu.edu/disted/DigitalDemocracy.pdf

Prepared by: Dr. Constance Harris, Educational Technologist