Students are not merely “consumers” of a product called “education.”
While it may be difficult for students to realize this, given the overwhelming focus on grades and other standardized (and not-so-fair) metrics, I encourage my students to think of themselves as investors rather than customers and focus on learning for skills and understanding. In pursuit of this overarching objective, I embrace the learner-centered approach to teaching (Weimer 2013) and incorporate the following principles:
Principle #1: Gameful Pedagogy
Gameful Pedagogy, developed by the fine folk at the University of Michigan’s Center for Academic Innovation, is a method of course design that emulates the best from my favorite pastime, videogames. By offering students a great deal of flexibility and choice, Gameful nurtures a safe and enriching learning environment through plentiful feedback, freedom to fail, and transparency. Ever since I encountered this approach to learning, I have used it in my course design with great success.
Principle #2: Gradeless Teaching
My love for gradeless teaching builds on my passion for gameful pedagogy and learner-centered teaching. As an ever-growing body of pedagogical research demonstrates, the traditional letter-based and percentage-based grading structures stifle students’ learning (Blum 2020). At this point all my courses have gone gradeless either in part or completely. Based on course feedback, my students consistently appreciate how much they can focus on “what they learned” instead of “what grade they got” (Sackstein 2015).
Principle #3: Learning by Doing
There is ample evidence from pedagogical science that points to the value of experiential learning. Programs such as the STUDIO Undergrad Research Lab at the CU Boulder and the Senior Thesis at Bates College are immensely valuable, both as a learning tool and as a way to open academia to underrepresented communities. Therefore, I actively strive to give my students hands-on opportunities to try what “doing social science” feels like.
Principle #4: Multicultural Education
As both instructor and scholar, I am firmly committed to diversity and inclusivity. This aspect is driven by my own experience with multicultural education. I always show respect and kindness to my students, regardless of what walk of life they come from. I teach my students to value and embrace diversity and engage positively with everyone—even those who do not share the same opinions. I stress to my students that they are part of the broader global community and have responsibility for each other and the Earth’s future. I foster these values by exposing my students to a diverse cadre of authors and case studies.