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Four Pedagogical Models for Teaching the Whole Person

By Hannah Jackson

In a recent survey by Inside Higher Ed, students declared that their top roadblock to success in higher education is teaching style. Surely, the students who don’t do their work or put off the readings or participate in academic dishonesty more than classroom discussions must not feel teaching style is what stopped them from being successful in their courses? But– let’s play to this idea that students want more out of a class– more authentic learning and more variation in teaching models. Particularly, students who are neurodivergent or live with disabilities are saying they are hindered by incompatible teaching styles.

This doesn’t mean that, as instructors, we must bend to the will of the students, serving up whatever they find most appealing. Who’s to say the students who responded to the survey are not trying to excuse less-than-ideal performance? Yet, there is a passivity with the lecture-only style that doesn’t always get to the foundation of our job as educators. As bell hooks said,

"Knowledge rooted in experience shapes what we value and as a consequence how we know what we know as well as how we use what we know."

As an institution, UD strives to create holistic learning steeped in experiences that shape students into valuable members of their communities.

There is no need to redevelop your entire lecture-based course or change everything about how you teach. Transforming the learning activities with which students engage happens slowly, and is a process of refinement each time your course runs. As long as you don’t let your materials sit stagnant, forgotten about and lonely in an Isidore site, you’re probably on the right track. Each time you wrap up a course, take a moment to reflect on it. Note down where you feel a topic or assignment could have gone better, and get ready to revise it for your next run of the course. Use this course reflection guide from the Center for Online Learning if you’d like a place to start.

The following pedagogical approaches are opportunities to extend your teaching style in ways that require students to be fully present and engaged with the learning material. Some of the approaches will elicit push-back from students– many of these ideas require extensive preparation on your part but then shift to student-focused learning (meaning students’ contributions drive the process and they will need to work… really hard). This article also does not discuss project-based learning, as we did a whole feature on PBL at the University of Dayton earlier this year.

1. Learning by serving others

Service learning is a process of community service and reflection. Students study an issue at hand, research complexities of the problem and possible solutions, study a community partner involved and cultural implications of the work they do, prepare, problem solve, participate in some kind of student-driven service, and reflect on their project at the end of it all. Reflection is a core element in service learning as it provides space for students to consider how their education has impacted their morals, values, and role in society. In fact, Lovat and Clement say that, “Service learning can be seen to accord with neuroscientific notions concerned with sociality as a feature of human development, social intelligence as an artifact of cognition, and the nurturing of empathic character as essential to effective teaching and learning.” View some examples of service learning for different disciplines.


2. Learning on location

More than for just the capstone students, learning on-site is any type of education that takes students outside of the classroom and into their community. This relies heavily on community partnerships, and can be an enriching experience for students as well as the community members involved. While working at a local elementary school, in the hospital, at a small business in Dayton, or alongside an engineer at a large firm, students learn by doing, by problem solving, by observing, and by practicing skills for their future career. Learning on location offers students the chance to discover where their true career goals lie and find purpose in curriculum. While learning on location, students can keep logs or journals, analyze experiences with a summative creative project, or collect artifacts to incorporate into a final presentation. 


3. Learning by immersion

Immersive learning provides students with an environment to use their skills practically without leaving the classroom. Some examples include:

  • Foreign Language, Politics, and Business: Ask students to research and role play through a situation from assigned points of view. Expand this into round tables or simulated conflict-resolution scenarios.
  • Architecture and Art History: Simulate a visit to historical sites and works of art with Google Arts and Culture. 
  • Law: Give students ample oratory practice with a socratic seminar and mock debate.


4. Learning Together

Also called cooperative or collaborative learning, this pedagogy frames the deepest, most meaningful learning as something done in community, rather than in a vacuum, on a mountaintop, or alone in a room with a dimly flickering candle and a cold draft. For all of the ways we recommend implementing this approach, read our deep dive on cooperative learning.

How do instructors meet the needs of students coming from different backgrounds with different interests and learning styles? Projects, immersion, service, and cooperative learning work to keep education alive and fight the stagnancy that a lecture can fall into. Pick some models to try, and then let yourself correct, adjust, and rearrange based on how it goes with your students.

As we prepare students for the world, we must ask ourselves how the curricula of our courses ask students to grow and change as people. Are students stretched, challenged, and moved within a supportive environment? Are they leaving the classroom not only with more knowledge but with more empathy, practical skills, and courage? Each time that you prepare for a course, think about one or two topics on which you usually lecture that could be transformed with student-centered pedagogy.

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