Common Denominators to Learner-Centered Success: Undergraduate STEM, Graduate Teacher Education, and an Educational Technology Doctoral Program

Common Denominators to Learner-Centered Success: Undergraduate STEM, Graduate Teacher Education, and an Educational Technology Doctoral Program

Natalia Coleman (New Jersey City University, USA), Donna M. Farina (New Jersey City University, USA) and Leonid Rabinovich (New Jersey City University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0892-2.ch002
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Abstract

New Jersey City University (NJCU) ranks in the top hundred most diverse institutions of higher education in the country. NJCU's mission is “to provide a diverse population with an excellent university education.” Its undergraduate population is 25% White, 21% Black, 35% Hispanic, and 9% Asian; many NJCU students do not speak English as their first language. This chapter will highlight learner-centered pedagogical practices in three distinct disciplines and at three levels in higher education: undergraduate STEM education (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics); graduate ESL, bilingual, and world language teacher education; and educational technology leadership in a new doctoral program. The pedagogical practices described all share a common goal: to allow multilingual, multicultural, and nontraditional students to fully engage and demonstrate their growing knowledge of content as well as their ability to think critically—to ensure their success in future academic work and careers.
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Introduction

New Jersey City University (NJCU) ranks in the top hundred most diverse institutions of higher education in the country. NJCU's mission is “to provide a diverse population with an excellent university education.” Its undergraduate population is 25% White, 21% Black, 35% Hispanic, and 9% Asian; many of its students do not speak English as their first language. The average NJCU undergraduate student is a female and 24 years old, from a low-income family (23% have mean household incomes of less than $30,000). NJCU's strength as an institution lies in the diversity of its student body: our students have the opportunity to join a learning community with a huge spectrum of talents, skills, cultures, and backgrounds. At the same time, this diversity that makes the learning environment so rich and stimulating also presents challenges. At all levels (undergraduate, graduate, doctoral) the students' degree of preparation for college work, their learning habits and learning styles vary significantly. In addition, many students are returning to education after significant time away. The rapid changes that have taken place in education since the last time these students sat in the classroom (whether in high school, or at the undergraduate or Master's level) may take them by surprise and require adjustments, including new skills acquisition even as they are learning new and difficult content. The professor who wishes to engage successfully with nontraditional students needs to address all of these factors and adjust course preparation and instructional techniques accordingly. It is essential that the modern instructor be willing to evolve away from traditional methods of instruction if she/he is serious about retention, graduation, and about ensuring that all students are prepared for success in the constantly changing work world. Instructors at other institutions with a similar demographic to NJCU, who are striving to reconfigure their own learning environments may benefit from the following examples of practices that have worked for us.

This chapter will highlight learner-centered pedagogical practices in three distinct disciplines and at three levels in higher education: undergraduate STEM education (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics); graduate ESL, bilingual, and world language teacher education; and educational technology leadership in a new doctoral program. The pedagogical practices to be described all share a common goal: to allow multilingual, multicultural, and nontraditional students who may be challenged by traditional university tasks and assignments to fully engage and to demonstrate their growing knowledge of content as well as their ability to think critically. The practices described here allow students to scaffold toward improved abilities for success in future academic work and careers.

Key Terms in this Chapter

LMS: Learning management system, an application for the delivery of online learning instruction. Typical LMS provides document sharing, tracking, reporting and a suite of built-in applications for communication and collaboration such as blogs, wikis and discussion boards.

Virtual Reality: An environment that allows users to interact by simulating physical presence through the use of computer-based applications.

Blended Learning Format: Students meet periodically on campus and complete the rest of their courses together online.

Nontraditional student: A student who does not immediately enroll in college after graduating from high school, and/or who attends college only part time, and/or who is financially independent from her/his parents, and/or who has children or dependents other than a spouse, and/or who is a single parent, and/or who works full time (35 hours or more per week) while attending college, and/or who has a GED rather than a high school diploma ( Horn & Carroll, 1996 , p. 3).

The Cloud: A place on the Internet and not on the hard drive of a computer where one can create and store information, files, etc.

Critical Period Hypothesis: The (controversial) idea that there is a biologically determined, age-based optimal period for language acquisition.

Webinar or Web-Conferencing Session: An interactive online session facilitated through the use of web-conferencing technologies (e.g.: Adobe Connect, Blackboard Collaborate™, WebEx™).

Web 2.0: The second generation of World Wide Web applications that facilitate communication, collaboration and application sharing in real time.

Bilingual Education: A school program in which the languages of instruction are both the students' native language and the dominant language of the country or area. Example: in the United States, the use of Gujarati and English as languages of instruction to assist Gujarati students in mastering content in math, science, and social studies.

Cohort: An established group of learners who work together over the duration of an educational program or a course of study.

Learning Community: A group of people who share common academic interests and who often collaborate in learning.

ESL: English as a Second Language; a program in which students whose native language is not English are taught English. Example: the teaching of English in the United States to students in a single classroom who are speakers of Haitian Creole, Spanish, and other languages.

English-Dominant Speaker: A native speaker of a language other than English who is more proficient in English than in the native language.

Self-Assessment: “A process by which students 1) monitor and evaluate the quality of their thinking and behavior when learning and 2) identify strategies that improve their understanding and skills. That is, self-assessment occurs when students judge their own work to improve performance as they identify discrepancies between current and desired performance” ( McMillan & Hearn, 2008 , p. 40).

World Language Education: The same as foreign language education; a program in which students learn a language not commonly used in the country or area. Example: the teaching of the Russian language in the United States.

Peer Assessment: “Involves students providing feedback to other students on the quality of their work” ( Spiller, 2012 , p. 10) and requires that students have a good understanding of what they need to look for (e.g. from a rubric or other tool) in a peer's work.

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