Imagine enrolling in a college course. You have no idea what to expect, but think you will likely learn from a prescribed curriculum whereby the instructor lectures on important principles and concepts. You also imagine that assessment of learning will be concentrated on lecture content and assigned book chapters, and evaluated by timed quizzes and exams. Much to your surprise, on the first day of class you are put into a small group where you and three of your peers begin making decisions on the topics of your collaborative blog posts that will soon communicate course content to the public.You and your peers will apply what you are learning in class in your posts, and you will develop important professional skills, including accessing and citing research properly, tailoring communications to specific target audiences, and learning how to communicate content in your field of study in layman’s terms.
A comparison of pedagogical approaches juxtaposes the traditional knowledge-centered curricular model, which includes lecture style teaching and high stakes testing with the learner-centered curriculum where students are encouraged to be creative and self-directed in their learning (Ellis, 2013). I presume that most higher education curricula are a blend of both aforementioned approaches as well as the additional society-centered model, which focuses on group problem solving and activities as a means of improving the local community (Ellis, 2013).
The idea of empowering students with “voice and choice” in their learning is based on the learner-centered curriculum, which stems from the progressive educational philosophy dating back to Dewey, an American educator who is known as the father of progressive education (Encyclopedia.com). The learner-centered curriculum is a constructivist approach to learning, which includes activities that “…require students to engage in investigation and freedom of expression…and give them choices, fostering interest and passion in the subject” (Edupedia.com).
As a doctoral student studying Digital Education Leadership (DEL) the Seattle Pacific University (SPU) School of Education, I am interested in exploring the following question pertaining to “voice and choice” in a learner-centered curriculum:
What are the benefits of offering undergraduate students autonomy in selecting and utilizing digital tools to demonstrate achievement of learning objectives?
This question addresses ISTE Standard 1 Empowered Learner: “Students leverage technology to take an active role in choosing, achieving, and demonstrating competency in their learning goals, informed by the learning sciences” (ISTE).
As I unpack this question, I am interested in exploring research and best practices from the field of education, which address the following inquiries:
- What is the impact of “voice and choice” on student learning experiences and outcomes?
- How does student choice in selecting and utilizing digital tools enhance learning experiences?
- What guidelines are available that address instructional parameters on “voice and choice”?
Voice, Choice and Student Engagement (Robinson; Miller, 2016)
The following guidelines on voice and choice address the degree of choice, assignment parameters, and motivation:
- Guidelines for “voice and choice” should be provided to students for clarity on how they can demonstrate learning.
- Offering voice and choice in a curriculum may result in greater engagement and increased motivation, but when boundaries are too broad, students’ motivation and satisfaction may decrease.
- Too much autonomy can result in “choice overload.”
- Offering 3-5 options from which students can choose can prevent choice overload.
- Allow students to choose their peer groups and the audiences they will present their project to.
- Allowing students to explore their passions increases student agency and increases engagement in the learning process.
Technology-Enhanced Student-Centered Learning (Lan, 2018)
Lan, 2018 provides an introduction to a set of research papers on the role of technology in “cultivating learner creation and learner autonomy ownership.” The following points stood out as important considerations when integrating technology into coursework:
- Autonomous learners show characteristics of intrinsic motivation, risk taking, engagement, and responsibility in the learning process.
- Integrating technology into the classroom environment needs to be thoughtful, intentional, and used with effective, student-centered pedagogy in mind
As I continue to evolve as a professor due to my years of professional experience along with the influences of my doctoral education, it is my desire to continue researching best practices when integrating digital technology into a learner-centered curriculum that allows voice and choice in how students demonstrate their learning. This approach to instruction empowers students to focus on their interests while developing important skills necessary for success as practitioners.
Author unknown. What is student-centered curriculum? Edupedia. https://www.theedadvocate.org/edupedia/content/what-is-student-centered-curriculum/
Author unknown. (2021). Progressive Education. Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences-and-law/education/education-terms-and-concepts/progressive-education
Ellis, R. (2013). Exemplars of curriculum theory. Routledge.
International Society for Technology in Education. ISTE Standards for Coaches. https://www.iste.org/standards/for-coaches
Lan, Yu-Ju. (2018). Technology enhanced learner ownership and learner autonomy through creation. Educational Technology Research and Development, 66, 859-62.
Miller, A. (2016). Voice and choice: It’s more than just what. Edutopia. https://www.edutopia.org/blog/voice-and-choice-more-than-what-andrew-miller
Robinson, C. Digital Promise. Does offering students a choice in assignments lead to greater engagement? https://researchmap.digitalpromise.org/ask_a_researcher/offering-students-choice-assignments-lead-greater-engagement/