Fostering a Learning-Oriented Environment


In my search for material related to the topic “Relevance in teaching and learning”, I found this academic publication. Pages 88-94 | Accepted author version posted online: 29 Mar 2017, Published online: 29 Mar 2017.

In this post, I will reflect on the points I think are relevant. Please visit the website if you want to read more.

Classroom application

  1. Strive for a mastery rather than a performance-oriented classroom. The latter only encourages surface learning or just enough learning. (To be able to pass tests). The theory is that mastery learning reduces cheating by reinforcing students’ motivation to learn and develop metacognitive skills. Mastery skills can be developed by meaningful assessments, providing students choice and control over grading, and nurturing deeper approaches to learning
  2. The importance of making assessments meaningful. What the teacher can do; be clear about the learning to be gained, make sure that the assessments are relevant to students’ interests and lives (including their future professional lives), and provide assessments that represent authentic, real-world task. The last one is probably the most difficult one.
  3. Offer choice to your students when it comes to assessments and grading. This enhances motivation. Let the students choose between individual and team assessment. a choice in what percentage of their grade comes from individual versus group assessments.
  4. The use of peer learning. Research has demonstrated that peer instruction is also likely to reduce cheating, because, in such a classroom, students are more likely to be engaged in deep, rather than surface, learning. When using blogs I always ask the students to read their classmates’ blogs and comment on these. It makes for a transparent classroom where students learn from each other.
  5. Finally regarding assessments, let the students have multiple attempts to approve the grades. This encourages a deeper approach to learning nurtured by allowing multiple attempts at an assessment or scaffolding assessments to lead to a final culminating demonstration of mastery

 I focus on applying empirical research to elucidate the practical methods faculty can use in the classroom to foster learning orientations and improve instruction. I will also introduce a 5th strategy of the teaching and learning approach—leveraging the cheating moment as a teachable moment. This 5th strategy is instrumental for faculty members who hope to create a teaching and learning environment in which cheating is the exception and integrity the norm.

The first goal of the teaching and learning approach to academic integrity is to foster a learning-oriented environment, that is, one that is mastery rather than performance oriented. In performance-oriented environments, the assessments are superficial (i.e., earn points by doing the text problem sets), easy (e.g., earn points by writing summaries of each of the course readings), or contrived (e.g., assessments that do not seem aligned with the learning objectives). Such assessments encourage surface learning or just enough learning to achieve external goals (e.g., test scores, products and grades; Anderman, Griesinger, & Westerfield, 1998Anderman, E. M.Griesinger, T., & Westerfield, G. (1998). Motivation and cheating during early adolescenceJournal of Educational Psychology, 90, 8493.[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]; Meece, Anderman, & Anderman, 2006Meece, J. L.Anderman, E. M., & Anderman, L. H. (2006). Classroom goal structure, student motivation, and academic achievementAnnual Reviews in Psychology, 57, 487503.[Crossref][PubMed][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]; Murdock & Anderman, 2006Murdock T. B., & Anderman, E. M. (2006). Motivational perspectives on student cheating: Toward an integrated model of academic dishonestyEducational Psychologist, 41, 131.[Taylor & Francis Online][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]).

On the other hand, mastery-oriented environments reduce cheating naturally by reinforcing students’ motivations to learn and developing their meta-cognitive skills, that is their self-awareness of the knowledge they have, the knowledge they need, and how they can develop new knowledge (Ambrose, Bridges, Lovett, Dipietro, & Norman, 2010Ambrose, S.Bridges, M. W.Lovett, M. C.DiPietro, M., & Norman, M. K. (2010). How learning works: 7 research-based principles for smart teachingSan Francisco, CAJossey-Bass. [Google Scholar]; Day, Hudson, Dobies, & Waris, 2011Day, N. E.Hudson, D.Dobies, P. R., & Waris, R.(2011). Student or situation? Personality and classroom context as predictors of attitudes about business school cheatingSocial Psychology of Education, 14, 261282.[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]; Lang, 2013Lang, J. M. (2013). Cheating lessonsCambridge, MAHarvard University Press.[Crossref][Google Scholar]; Palazzo, Lee, Warnakulasooriya, & Pritchard, 2010Palazzo, D. J.Lee, Y.Warnakulasooriya, R., & Pritchard, D. E. (2010). Patterns, correlates, and reduction of homework copyingPhysics Review Special Topics–Physics Education Research, 6, 111. [Google Scholar]). Mastery orientations can be developed by using meaningful assessments, providing students choice and control over grading, and nurturing deeper approaches to learning (Ambrose et al., 2010Ambrose, S.Bridges, M. W.Lovett, M. C.DiPietro, M., & Norman, M. K. (2010).

Assessments can be made meaningful by being clear about the learning to be gained, ensuring assessments are relevant to students’ interests and lives (including their future professional lives), and by ensuring assessments represent authentic, real-world tasks (Ambrose et al., 2010Ambrose, S.Bridges, M. W.Lovett, M. C.DiPietro, M., & Norman, M. K. (2010). How learning works: 7 research-based principles for smart teachingSan Francisco, CAJossey-Bass. [Google Scholar]; Kember, Ho, & Hong, 2008Kember, D.Ho, A., & Hong, C. (2008). The importance of establishing relevance in motivating student learningActive Learning in Higher Education, 9, 249263.[Crossref][Google Scholar]). For example, in my class on ethical decision-making, I do not ask students to analyze a case study from a case study book or from someone else’s life. Rather, I have students analyze an ethical dilemma they are currently facing in their own lives.

Choice and control over grading can be particularly powerful; when students can choose the method for earning their grades, the power of the external reward to negatively impact learning motivations is mitigated (Patall, et al., 2008Patall, E. A.Cooper, H., & Robinson, J. C. (2008). The effects of choice on intrinsic motivation and related outcomes: A meta-analysis of research findingsPsychological Bulletin, 134, 270300.[Crossref][PubMed][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]). Pattall et al. (2008Patall, E. A.Cooper, H., & Robinson, J. C. (2008). The effects of choice on intrinsic motivation and related outcomes: A meta-analysis of research findingsPsychological Bulletin, 134, 270300.[Crossref][PubMed][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]) caution, however, that too much choice or the pressure to choose can be a bad thing; educators want students to feel some autonomy in the classroom but not to be overwhelmed. This can look like a menu of assessments from which students can choose, or a choice in what percentage of their grade comes from individual versus group assessments. In my class, students are afforded the latter choice; as a class, they must negotiate and come to a consensus (that is, each individual does not get to choose their own combination). Because they do in this in the very first class, it appears to generate significant good will between instructor and students, as well as enthusiastic commitment to the learning environment.

Finally, deeper approaches to learning can be nurtured by allowing multiple attempts at an assessment or scaffolding assessments to lead to a final culminating demonstration of mastery (Day et al., 2011Day, N. E.Hudson, D.Dobies, P. R., & Waris, R.(2011). Student or situation? Personality and classroom context as predictors of attitudes about business school cheatingSocial Psychology of Education, 14, 261282.[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]; Lang, 2013Lang, J. M. (2013). Cheating lessonsCambridge, MAHarvard University Press.[Crossref][Google Scholar]). Deeper approaches to learning can also be nurtured by active learning pedagogies that provide students with continual opportunities to master skills through repeated attempts in the presence of instructional guides or coaches who encourage critical thinking (Abeysekera & Dawson, 2015Abeysekera, L., & Dawson, P. (2015). Motivation and cognitive load in the flipped classroom: Definition, rationale and a call for researchHigher Education Research & Development, 34, 114.[Taylor & Francis Online][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]; Blasco-Arcas, Buil, Hernandez-Ortega & Sese, 2013Blasco-Arcas, L.Buil, I.Hernandez-Ortega, B., & Sese, F.J. (2013). Using clickers in class. The role of interactivity, active collaborative learning and engagement in learning performanceComputers & Education, 62, 102110.[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]). Compare this to passive learning pedagogies (e.g., lectures) where the instructor delivers knowledge to the students while they passively receive it (King, 1993King, A. (1993). From sage on the stage to guide on the sideCollege Teaching, 41, 3035.[Taylor & Francis Online][Google Scholar]; Prince, 2004Prince, M. (2004). Does active learning work? A review of the researchJournal of Engineering Education, 93, 223231.[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]).

Given the potential power of active learning pedagogies to enhance learning and reduce cheating, I elaborate on a few examples. All of these examples can be described as occurring in a flipped classroom in which the activities and assessments normally completed outside of the classroom are completed inside the classroom, with the instructional team serving as guides or coaches (Lage, Platt, & Treglia, 2000Lage, M. J.Platt, G. J., & Treglia, M. (2000). Inverting the classroom: A gateway to creating an inclusive learning environmentJournal of Economic Education, 31, 3043.[Taylor & Francis Online][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]). Problem-based learning is one popular model of flipped classroom pedagogy. Unlike in traditional lecture classrooms, where the teacher is the central figure who deposits knowledge into the students’ heads (otherwise known as Freire’s “banking model” of education), problem-based learning centers on the learners as they solve problems (often in groups) that are scaffolded to, in the end, deliver the same content as that traditionally delivered through lecturing. Problem-based learning can enhance learning and reduce cheating because it aligns learning objectives, activities, and assessments (Biggs, 1999Biggs, J. (1999). What the student does: Teaching for enhanced learningHigher Education Research & Development, 18, 5775.[Taylor & Francis Online][Google Scholar]); increases relevance for the learner (Kember et al., 2008Kember, D.Ho, A., & Hong, C. (2008). The importance of establishing relevance in motivating student learningActive Learning in Higher Education, 9, 249263.[Crossref][Google Scholar]); and facilitates the development of meta-cognition and student learning motivations (Prince, 2004Prince, M. (2004). Does active learning work? A review of the researchJournal of Engineering Education, 93, 223231.[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]).

Research has demonstrated that peer instruction is also likely to reduce cheating, because in such a classroom, students are more likely to be engaged in deep, rather than surface, learning (Crouch & Mazur, 2001Crouch, C. H., & Mazur, E. (2001). Peer instruction: Ten years of experience and resultsAmerican Journal of Physics, 69, 970977[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]; Mazur, 2009Mazur, E. (2009). Farewell, lecture? Science, 323, 5051.[Crossref][PubMed][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]; van Vliet, Winnips & Brouwer, 2015Van Vliet, E. A.Winnips, J. C., & Brouwer, N.(2015). Flipped-class pedagogy enhances student metacognition and collaborative-learning strategies in higher education but effect does not persistCBE-Life Sciences Education, 14, 110.[Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]). Peer instruction facilitates the Socratic teaching method in large classrooms to engage all students, rather than a few select individuals. In peer instruction, questions are asked of all students at once and the students respond all at once (using technology or even colored cards held up by the students).

Finally, the flipped classroom pedagogy known as team-based learning (TBL) strongly supports all of the elements of a mastery-oriented environment. This is the method I have used for the last 3 years of teaching. Essential to TBL is developing sound learning objectives, determining assessments for measuring achievement of the learning objectives, and designing activities to help students develop the requisite skills and knowledge needed to achieve the learning objectives (Sibley & Robinson, 2016Sibley, J., & Robinson, B. (2016). A roadmap to TBL module development. Retrieved fromhttp://learntbl.ca/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Part2_4S_module_creating_reading_v0.7.docx [Google Scholar]). The core activities of TBL are individual and team testing (to ensure sufficient knowledge) and application activities (to practice applying knowledge). Another feature of TBL is allowing students to decide what percentage of their grade comes from individual versus team performance, thereby providing students “choice and control in the process” (Lang, 2013Lang, J. M. (2013). Cheating lessonsCambridge, MAHarvard University Press.[Crossref][Google Scholar], p. 104). The reader will recognize that the design and structures of TBL are those that will enhance intrinsic motivation, develop meta-cognition, and support deep approaches to learning, all of which should reduce cheating. The explicit alignment of learning objectives to assessments and activities enhances students’ learning motivations. The individual and team testing enhance students’ meta-cognition, and the application activities deepen their approach to learning. Overall, TBL, and arguably problem-based learning, encourages a mastery orientation by enhancing students’ “feeling of competence during action” (Abeysekera & Dawson, 2015Abeysekera, L., & Dawson, P. (2015). Motivation and cognitive load in the flipped classroom: Definition, rationale and a call for researchHigher Education Research & Development, 34, 114.[Taylor & Francis Online][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar], p. 4).

Active and engaged learning pedagogies may not only foster learning-oriented environments, but also serve to improve instruction and students’ perceptions of instruction.

2 comments

  1. To whom it may concern,

    I really liked your piece of literature. Your writing captivates the true essence of the teaching and learning approach to academic integrity. Your piece of literature was very well written and educational. I really liked the part when you said: “Choice and control over grading can be particularly powerful; when students can choose the method for earning their grades, the power of the external reward to negatively impact learning motivations is mitigated (Patall, et al., 2008Patall, E. A., Cooper, H., & Robinson, J. C. (2008).” Just this part of your literature was very informative and fun to read. You shouldn’t change anything about this beautifully written piece of literature. Thank you for sharing it with me!

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