Developing a Pedagogy for Interactive Learning

Developing a Pedagogy for Interactive Learning

John Cowan (Edinburgh Napier University, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-0137-6.ch001
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Recent developments in higher education have seen the demise of much didactic, teacher-directed instruction, which was aimed mainly towards lower-level educational objectives. This traditional educational approach has been largely replaced by methods that feature the teacher as an originator or facilitator of interactive and learner-centred learning—with higher-level aims in mind. The origins of, and need for, these changes are outlined, leading into an account of the emerging pedagogical approach to interactive learning, featuring facilitation, and reflection. Some of the main challenges yet to be confronted effectively in consolidating a sound and comprehensive pedagogical approach to interactive development of higher level educational aims are outlined.
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Changes In Higher Education Practices

Sixty years ago, there were four common modes of teaching and learning in British higher education. There was the lecture, in which a lecturer presented material and students made notes (or were sometimes given handouts). There were practical or tutorial classes, in which students were given problem sheets and were assisted by a tutor as they tried to solve the problems or deal with the practical tasks. There were seminars, in which students presented short papers based on their reading and discussed these with classmates under the supervision of their teacher. And there were (for small numbers) the Oxbridge tutorials or supervisions, in which students met in pairs with a tutor to discuss papers they had written. Other than in the last example, these approaches did not entail constructive and purposeful two-way interaction. Nevertheless the mixture of methods was deemed to cater moderately adequately with educational demands which concentrated on the lower levels of the cognitive taxonomy (Bloom & Krathwohl, 1956)—namely knowing, understanding, and applying (Cowan, 1975).

In contrast, the situation nowadays is rather different. The learning outcomes which are assessed, expected, valued—and taught towards—are generally at a distinctly higher level than hitherto. There is considerable emphasis on the upper categories of the taxonomy (which has been slightly adjusted in recent years, to feature analysis, evaluation and creativity in that order). This emphasis, amongst other factors, has led to a radical change in approaches to learning and teaching in many but not yet all universities. There is now a widespread assumption that the desired student learning should emerge from the application of a pedagogy which develops cognitive and interpersonal capabilities rather than one which concentrates merely on instructing with the aim of enabling learners to acquire knowledge, understanding and the ability to use familiar algorithms. There is more self-directed learning, and more interactive group work (face-to-face or online). Consequently students, in British higher education at least, are timetabled for distinctly fewer class-contact hours per week than were their predecessors a generation earlier. For example, the insistence by the Academic Advisory Committee for Heriot-Watt University in 1964 on a maximum of 24 class-contact hours per week (Cowan, 1975) contrasts with the national average of 15 hours per week in 2008 (Halsey, 2008).

How did these changes come about?

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