Shifting the paradigm from effective teaching to significant learning

Rachel Plews, Laura Zizka

13:30 – 17:00 (half-day afternoon workshop)

The overall aim of this workshop is to stimulate discussion around the future of classroom observations for teaching development through the lenses of learning taxonomies and generational differences. The main purpose of classroom observations, traditionally centered around the teacher and what he or she does, is to understand and improve teaching. This approach involves observing elements of what constitutes effective teaching, and, more specifically, if certain elements were present, and to what degree, during the session. The result is often a snapshot of what has occurred and how this evidence corresponds to effective teaching, which aligns with early educational development efforts focused on teaching.

The earlier taxonomies of learning, for example Bloom (1956) and Anderson and Krathwohl (2001), highlight what the student should be able to do at the end of a defined teaching period, categorized by the domains of learning – cognitive, affective, and psychomotor. More recently, alternative taxonomies have focused on a more holistic view of learning, and, in addition to assessment, they are used more extensively in course design. Two examples are Structure of the Observed Learning Outcome (SOLO) Taxonomy which is built upon levels of understanding and the Taxonomy of Significant Learning developed by the perspective of learning as change.

If we wish to look at significant learning experiences, we must consider how our learners are evolving, and consider the potential implications for the ways in which they learn. Students in high school or higher education programs derive from Generation Y, i.e., Millennials, and, more recently, Generation Z. But the teachers predominantly derive from Generation X and, to a lesser extent, Generation Y. Each generation has been labelled with characteristics and traits, yet the literature describing them is full of contradictions. For example, Millennials, known as ‘digital natives’, ‘GenMe’, or ‘netizens’ have been categorized both as more educated than the generations before them and having lower levels of general  knowledge, not knowing substantially more than the previous generations at the same age. They are great working in teams, but need to be recognized for individual contributions in the workplace. Millennials expect instant responses to questions/inquiries, but are quick to change their minds and quicker to lose focus.

While not all students or teachers fall into these generational stereotypes, those who have been teaching for many years have witnessed changes in the mind set and work ethic of the students in their classrooms and trying to bridge these generational gaps in education has proven difficult. Thus, grounded by the theory on learning taxonomies and on the evolving nature of the learner (and of teachers), we propose an alternative to the traditional observation paradigm – from observing the teacher, i.e., what he/she is doing well (teacher-centered), to observing the learning within the classroom setting, i.e., from a learning- centered perspective to understand and improve the overall learning experience.