The Power of Student Choice

November 30, 2022

As professors, teachers, instructors, facilitators, etc. we often get caught up in this idea that we know what is best for our students. We draw upon our own experiences and perspectives to make curriculum decisions. We choose skills to focus on, content delivery methods, and assessments that align with how we were taught or how we learn best. Many of us don’t consider how these approaches can often lead to a bias we didn’t even realize we had.

With the ever changing landscape of the education field, it is important to consider skills that students must learn that may have not been prevalent 5, 10, 15, even 2 years ago. For example, who ever thought we would need to develop professional communication skills through web conferencing and chat prior to the pandemic?

Student choice within courses can be extremely powerful. Recently, I had the opportunity to teach an online theory of learning course. The course began covering the “normal” theories of learning including cognitivism, behaviorism, constructivism, etc. However, about halfway through the course students had the opportunity to take two weeks to explore topics of their own choice. Students were given guidelines, a framework of expectations, and asked to get approval from the professor before moving forward. Students then created 5 minute presentations to share their findings in a virtual Zoom session. I was absolutely blown away by not only the level of detail that students went into, but the connections that were made between one another’s topics and the course content. The passion of learning was prevalent in every student’s presentation. As an added bonus, they also worked on their professional communication skills in a Zoom meeting.

As professors, we must be willing to give up the control a bit and give it back to the students. It is always a pleasure when I get to learn from my students while seeing their own enjoyment of learning.

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