Houston Community College (HCC) has recently adopted a unique and highly effective approach to teaching. The college’s Intensive Learner-Centered Instructional Design Strategy approaches instructors as “facilitators,” and empowers students to take responsibility for their own learning, through active (critical thinking over rote memorization) and collaborative (guided group work) learning activities. Discover key components of HCC’s learner-centered curriculum, developed by a skilled instructional design team.
Based upon current research, learner-centered instruction increases student success and places the responsibility of learning on students, while the instructor assumes the role of facilitator. Houston Community College (HCC) defines learner-centered teaching as instruction that engages students in active and collaborative learning activities. Active learning activities stress depth over breadth, and encourage critical thinking and productive struggle as opposed to passive reception of ideas followed by rote memorization. Collaborative learning activities involve students working together in groups, guided by the instructor, to accomplish specific goals, solve problems, answer questions, gain in-depth understanding, or develop a product; they emphasize cooperation rather than competition.
As documented in the Strategic Plan 2008 - 2011, HCC is committed to providing students with a learner-centered instructional environment. Consequently, HCC has adopted a new Intensive Learner-Centered Instructional Design Strategy intended to be implemented system-wide. This strategy specifically focuses on integrating active and collaborative teaching-learning activities through a well-prepared, focused instructional design team, consisting of a credentialed instructional designer, faculty content experts, other faculty contributors who teach the respective subject-matter, and a peer reviewer. Each team member is trained in learner-centered teaching concepts, using resources such as Maryellen Weimer's book Learner-Centered Teaching: Five Key Changes to Practice. The instructional designer provides primary leadership for course redesign though one-on-one consultation and course development. The strategy was first implemented in summer 2011, with support from HCC's Department of Teaching and Learning Resources. The process involved redesigning a few highly attended courses, as well as existing HCC Model Courses (complete, fully-developed online courses that satisfy the curriculum requirements set forth by the respective discipline) to become Learner-Centered Model Courses.
Once Learner-Centered Model Courses are developed, they become available for use by all HCC faculty teaching that course. This impacts a large numbers of students, as courses are chosen for inclusion based on their popularity. They are developed once, with periodic updates, and result in substantial development cost savings. Although faculty can personalize any LC Model Course, there is no longer a need to develop entirely new versions of that course.
Learner-Centered Model Courses are taught as fully online or hybrid courses that include the following curriculum design components:
Online Course Evaluation Rubric
HCC has adopted a rubric by which effectiveness of the online courses are assessed. A copy of the rubric may be found at http://hccs.edu/tle.
Learner-Centered Model Courses are not generally based upon textbooks. The design team is expected to create their own content for student learning.
Common Organizational Format
Learner-Centered Model Courses are designed to be offered in various formats (16 weeks, 8 weeks, mini-sessions, etc.) using a modular organizational structure (weekly, topical, chapter, etc.). They are designed to accommodate all other delivery formats (DE, hybrid, or web-enhanced courses) using HCC's learning management system.
Course syllabi follow HCC's adopted syllabi format (see sample at http://hccs.edu/tle) including the student learning outcomes adopted by the Discipline Committee, as well as other HCC required elements found in CurricUNET (http://www.curricunet.com/hccs), HCC's curriculum database.
Learner-Centered Model Courses use a calendar to reflect the due dates of assignments and exams.
When appropriate, grading rubrics are designed for assignments included in the learning resources so the student clearly understands the basis for his/her grade.
An early assessment is included as an evaluation of student knowledge and skills based on core competencies as well as the benchmark level of mastery of course content. It is strongly encouraged that this early assessment be given during the first class session.
Final Assessment Feedback
The final course assessment is to be offered prior to the last instructional period in order to allow time for the instructor to offer feedback to students concerning their overall performance, including how to improve in critical areas for sequential courses. This final assessment/feedback will be applied to all courses, regardless of length.
The instructional design team is strongly encouraged to identify and integrate internal and external multimedia resources when appropriate. When using these resources, it is imperative to be aware of ADA compliance, copyright, and fair-use guidelines. Every effort is made to ensure the course is fully ADA compliant.
Teacher's Instructional Handbook
Learner-Centered Model Courses include an instructional handbook to support faculty through the process of implementing the course. Minimum components to be included in each handbook are: course title, course description, student learning outcomes, course objectives, course outline, optional teaching strategies, optional learning activities, optional assessment methods, and references.
Tutoring resources (including online tutoring), library services and other student services, local employers are consulted by the design team to contribute to the course design. Links to these resources are included in the course design in order to ensure they will be part of every course.
Conferencing with Students During and Post-Final
During the semester and after the final, students who earn a "C" or below must be given feedback to help them understand how to improve, in order to master the content of the current course and subsequent courses.
The student conference is to be a "personal" (private), positive one-on-one session to encourage each student and offer clear areas for improvement. It can be done online, over the telephone or in-person. It must be documented, and student privacy must be protected (i.e., this is not for a class forum).
The purpose of the conference is not for students to argue about grades. It is simply a time where helpful discussion and clear assessment of student progress can lead to greater student success.
These courses include a contributor's page, which lists the name of each member of the Instructional Design Team as well as other internal and external content contributors and special guests (such as those on video). This provides an opportunity to recognize the important work of our faculty and support staff, as well as an opportunity to recognize local employers and experts who engage with HCC in course development.
David Diehl has been in higher education for over 10 years as a teacher trainer and development specialist and expert instructional designer. He has served at Houston Community College for nearly 7 years, where he directs system-wide faculty and instructional leaders development programs as well as the implementation of the instructional design strategy. Diehl provided primary leadership for creating HCC's Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence and Chair Excellence Institute, and presently serves as district Director of Teaching and Learning Resources.
Image: HCC faculty development session in progress.