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Teaching with Technology Collaboratory

Encouraging Student Responsibility for Learning

Teaching Goal

To develop in students a greater sense of responsibility for their own learning.

Benefits of Addressing - Research and Theoretical Base

When students take greater responsibility for their learning, they...

By implementing these recommendations, you will:

  1. Provide students the means to leverage their strengths and minimize their weaknesses as learners.
  2. Encourage students to take greater ownership of their work, and hence greater responsibility for their learning.

Methods of Addressing

To achieve these goals, you as the instructor should...

1. Incorporate self-directed learning into your instructional approach

Primary Techniques Example
Enable students to participate in the decision-making process of what they are to learn, how they are to learn it, and how their learning will be assessed.
In most cases, students do not have complete autonomy to direct their learning; instead, they are given a thematic framework by the instructor within which their efforts must be couched.

Enabling students to manage their learning objectives for a course, how they will achieve those objectives, and how their learning will be evaluated has been repeatedly shown to motivate students to take more responsibility for their learning (Bolhuis, 1996; Garrison, 1997; Hom & Murphy, 1983; Taylor, 1995).

In addition, students enjoy learning more when given the opportunity to direct their own learning, making it more meaningful in the process (Taylor, 1995; Temple & Rodero, 1995).

Using a learning contract is an especially effective means of getting students to take more responsibility for their learning.

Model learning strategies for your students so that develop the ability to use such strategies when learning independently.

Social Learning Theory (Bandura, 1977) tells us that when an instructor models strategies such as predicting, questioning, clarifying, and summarizing, students subconsciously internalize these behaviors and are more likely to exhibit them in the future.

A great way to model these kinds of behaviors is to use the discussion boards in myWPI. Students are able to read your varied comments several times, and in the context of a conversation.

Incorporate take-home exams into your instructional methods.

Offering take-home exams as an alternative to timed, high stakes exams results in less student anxiety, additional time spent reading and reflecting upon answers, and a more astute application of theoretical knowledge to practical situations posed on the exam (Weber, McBee & Krebs, 1982).

myWPI has built-in testing features that can be easily used to deliver take-home exams. In addition, myWPI's Assignment Manager helps to facilitate the online delivery and organization of assignments.

2. Help students become aware of how they learn most effectively

Primary Techniques Example
Provide students with a means by which to assess their learning styles.

When students know how they learn best, they are more likely to consciously use those skills in and out of class, as well as at their place of employment (Armstrong, 1994; Gardner, 1983; Gardner, 1999; Taylor, 1995).

Howard Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligences is one of the more well-known investigations of learning styles, though it is by no means the only way of defining the different ways in which people learn.

There are also many different types of learning style inventories and assessments available on the Internet - here are several particularly good ones:

3. Provide students with opportunities to critique and re-submit work

Primary Techniques Example
Allow students to critique and re-submit work that is not to an instructor's expectations.
Critiquing can be part of a group activity in which students review each others work (or their own) and share strategies for improving the work.

Allowing students to critique and re-submit work enables them to...

  • learn from and apply instructor and peer feedback (Mourtos, 1997);
  • continue to reflect upon material until they firmly understand it, as opposed to receiving a one-time grade and moving on to new material (Chance, 1997);
  • learn the material more fully, as work that is to be re-submitted is often held to a higher standard than the original work was (Armacost & Pet-Armacost, 2003);
  • leverage their learning styles to best shift the locus of control from the instructor to the student, an important factor in getting students to take more responsibility for their learning (Felder & Brent, 1996).

In addition, a review of the re-submitted work provides the instructor with an understanding of how their feedback is being read by the student.

Microsoft Word also has built-in commenting features and version control protections that could be used for these purposes.

myWPI's Assignment Manager helps to facilitate the online delivery of student assignments.


Armacost, R & Pet-Armacost, J. (2003). Using mastery-based grading to facilitate learning. Proceedings of the ASEE/IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference, USA, 20-25.

Armstrong, T. (1994). Multiple intelligences in the classroom. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development: Alexandria, VA.

Bandura, A. (1977). Social learning theory. New York: General Learning Press.

Blakey, E., & Spence, S. (1990). Developing metacognition. Syracuse, NY: ERIC Clearinghouse on Information Resources. (ERIC Digest Reproduction Service No. ED 327 218)

Bolhuis, S. (1996). Towards active and self-directed learning: Preparing for lifelong learning, with reference to Dutch secondary education. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting for the American Educational Research Association, New York, NY.

Chance, B. (1997). Experiences with authentic assessment techniques in an introductory statistics course. Journal of Statistics Education, 5(3).

Felder, R.M., & Brent, R. (1996). Navigating the bumpy road to student-centered instruction. College Teaching, 44, 43-47.

Gardner, H. (1983). Frames of mind: The theory of multiple intelligences. Basic Books: New York, NY.

Gardner, H. (1999). Intelligence reframed: Multiple intelligences for the 21st century. Basic Books: New York, NY.

Garrison, D.R. (1997). Self-directed learning: Toward a comprehensive model. Adult Education Quarterly, (48)1, 18-33.

Hom, H.L., Jr., & Murphy, M.D. (1983). Low achiever's performance: The positive impact of a self- directed goal. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 11, 275-285.

Mourtos, N. (1997). Portfolio assessment in aerodynamics. Proceedings of the IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference, USA, 91-94.

Taylor, B. (1995). Self-directed learning. Paper presented at the Combined Meeting of the Great Lakes and Southeast International Reading Association, Nashville, TN [ED 395 287].

Temple, C. & Rodero, M.L. (1995). Active learning in a democratic classroom: The "pedagogical invariants" of celestin freinet (reading around the world). Reading Teacher, (49)2, 164-167.

Weber, L.J., McBee, J.K., & Krebs, J.E. Take home tests: An experimental study. Research in Higher Education, (18)4, 473-483.

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Last modified: Mar 27, 2009, 07:40 EDT
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