Facilitating Student Empowerment and Agency Through the “Scaffolded Autonomy” Approach to Curriculum Design

Facilitating Student Empowerment and Agency Through the “Scaffolded Autonomy” Approach to Curriculum Design

Carey E. Andrzejewski, Sara Wolf, Evan T. Straub, Laura Parson
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-8488-9.ch004
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In this chapter, the authors introduce, define, and describe an approach to designing and implementing learning activities. This approach involves learners in the collaborative design of curriculum and assessment and allows them to apply their background knowledge and interests to course content. Through intentional course design and implementation by course instructors and designers, the “Scaffolded Autonomy” model the authors present allows learners to choose when and how they demonstrate content-knowledge construction. In this nontraditional approach, the authors focus on the “what, how, and why” of instructional design in order to provide relevant and meaningful instruction that serves adult learners in a variety of institutional contexts. This chapter includes the theoretical foundations of the scaffolded autonomy approach, a description of the design and implementation of the scaffolded autonomy approach, and examples of how the scaffolded autonomy can be applied in a competency-based classroom.
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Features Of Scaffolded Autonomy

The authors have defined SA as a model for course design that centers learning and assessment: What must students learn, and how will it be clear whether they have learned it? SA requires that instructors think carefully about the student learning outcomes for their course and then think creatively about the myriad ways students might demonstrate their mastery of those objectives. Faculty who design courses using the SA model provide multiple methods and opportunities for students to engage with content, represent their own knowledge, and act on and express their mastery of the course content (Meyer, Rose, & Gordon, 2014). Rather than dictating exactly how and when students are tasked with expressing (Meyer, Rose, & Gordon, 2014) their mastery (i.e., in a traditional course design and syllabus), SA requires that instructors offer students multiple methods to present and represent (Meyer, Rose, & Gordon, 2014) content, which are aligned to student learning outcomes. Students then are tasked with charting their own course within the instructor-provided strategic scaffolds (Hannafin, Land, & Oliver, 1998; see Appendix A). This shift requires a fundamental change in the way student learning is assessed and evaluated.

First, rather than using a weighted grading scheme that bases grades on the percentage of contribution to the final grade, the authors designed SA to depend on a point-based grading system, wherein there is a cut score on every assignment (i.e., to earn credit for a task, students must earn at least the cut score) and a cut score for the total grade (i.e., there is a number of points that must be earned for students to earn each letter grade). It is recommended that there be at least 150% of the total points needed to earn a grade of “A” available (see Appendix A for an illustrated example of this point structure). This ensures that students can recover from a poorly done assignment, which may not count toward their final grade. It also ensures that there are enough options for students to have meaningful choices about their engagement (Meyer, Rose, & Gordon, 2014) with course content. That is, for choice to be meaningful, students must be able to opt out of some assignments and still be successful in the course.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Scaffolded Autonomy: A points-based model for course design which centers learning and assessment by providing multiple opportunities from which students choose when demonstrating their mastery of course objectives.

Extrinsic Motivation: Choosing to engage in an activity because of an external incentive or external outcome.

Competency-Based Education: A model of curriculum design wherein student success is judged solely by their output and all learning activities are focused on developing predetermined competencies.

Self-Regulated Learning: A process wherein learners take control of their own learning by engaging in a cycle of planning, self-monitoring, and reflection.

Pedagogy: Philosophy, method, and practice of teaching in any context, for any content, and with any learners.

Intrinsic Motivation: Choosing to engage in an activity because of curiosity, personal interest, or personal satisfaction.

Democratic Education: An educational ethos focused on creating classrooms that are democratic spaces and preparing students for active participation in democratic processes.

Universal Design for Learning: A research-based educational framework which supports the development of learning environments that are sufficiently flexible to be responsive to students’ individual learning differences.

Scaffolding: Different types of assistance provided to learners which are meant to provide support, extend the capacity of the learner, or allow the learner to accomplish a task not otherwise possible. There are four different types of scaffolds: conceptual, metacognitive, procedural, and strategic.

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