Student-Centricity No Longer a Choice, But an ObligationMichelle Fach | Director of Open Learning and Educational Support, University of Guelph
Postsecondary institutions have a moral and social responsibility to encourage students to be innovators and leaders of change.
Rapidly changing labor markets require individuals to have the cognitive and practical skills to adapt to their environment. In order to function effectively in a knowledge economy, students must have skills―problem solving, communication, collaboration and critical thinking―that they can use when faced with new challenges and experiences. A rapidly changing world requires individuals to take responsibility for their learning and development rather than rely on the knowledge and skills conveyed to them by others. As such, it is critical in today’s world for institutions to adopt student-centric approaches that allow students the opportunity to develop these skills throughout their academic experience.
Student-centricity is focused on developing the whole student and recognizes that learning is not restricted to the classroom environment but rather encompasses social, cultural and professional aspects of a student’s landscape. Student-centricity builds on the richness of the student’s diverse experiences to create cognitive structures that form the basis of the individual. As active participants in the learning, students assume responsibility for their learning. Teaching and learning strategies provide flexibility and adapt to the unique needs of the student.
In student-centric environments, policies and processes are designed in such a way to promote access rather than create barriers. These environments adapt to changes in student demographics and align the system to foster engagement and remove obstacles.
At the University of Guelph, student-centricity is a fundamental value that is held by staff, faculty and students. Learner-centered education and open learning are two of the University of Guelph’s five strategic directions. Established in 1995, these directions formalized the need for the institution to promote self-reliant learning, the research-teaching link, skill development and experiential learning. Open learning was seen as a way to remove barriers and increase access to the teaching and research expertise of the university.
As a department within the University of Guelph, Open Learning and Educational Support (OpenEd) continues to promote these directions through the design, development and delivery of fully online undergraduate, graduate and professional development courses and programs. Online learning provides flexibility to students so they can engage in learning at a time and place that works best for them. The learning design promotes opportunities for students to interact with the content in a multi-modal approach: student-to-content, student-to-student, and student-to-faculty. Students are active participants in the learning through our model.
OpenEd also partners with organizations, industry and associations to design professional programs that extend the teaching and research expertise of the university. Opening the campus to non-traditional learners ensures that the institution is extending its intellectual reach to support social improvement. Courses and programs are designed to meet the specific needs of the learner, incorporate adult learning principles, and integrate current research and technology. Courses are designed with the student in mind.
We offer English language programs, for example, to provide a pathway for international students looking to pursue undergraduate and graduate studies at the University of Guelph who need to satisfy English language proficiency requirements in order to be admitted. These programs contribute to the internationalization of the campus and provide all students the opportunity to reflect and explore discipline-specific activities through a global lens.
Technology plays a significant role in achieving a student-centric teaching and learning environment at the University of Guelph. Student-centric classroom design focuses on the space in which the learning occurs. Active learning classrooms incorporate innovative technologies and equipment to enhance engagement and to encourage deep learning.
Technologies are carefully selected to ensure they support the learning activities and the achievement of learning outcomes, and must also be easy to use so as to not impede the learning. Technologies are used to assess and track course and programmatic outcomes to inform curricular enhancement processes and to ensure students are aware of their progression. Technology is used to provide students with flexibility and more control of their own learning including when the engage with the course.
As well, technologies are imperative for providing students with enhanced services that promote engagement at a time and place that is convenient for them. OpenEd’s selection of the Destiny One solution, for instance, is a key example of investing in a technology to expand services to students, to enhance the student experience, and to create efficiencies and effective use of expertise within the institution.
Focusing on student-centric approaches is no longer a choice for institutions, but rather an obligation. Given the change in student demographics, and the demands of a globalized world and mobile workforce, student-centric approaches will ensure that OpenEd’s work continues to adapt to the needs of its students.
– – – –
University of Guelph. (1995). Making change: The strategic plan for the University of Guelph. Retrieved from www.uoguelph.ca/info/strategic/pdf/strategicplan.pdf
Author Perspective: Administrator