Oct 19 2011

Student-Directed Learning

How do we institute and teach a humanities class where student-directed learning is at its heart?
Having just attended the MobilityShifts Conference at the New School in New York City, I’ve come away with a strong sense that student-directed learning is a crucial component of 21st century literacy. Student-directed learning means that students have a say in what’s taught in a class and how the material is taught. Students teach and assess each other. Students publish their work. The class covers material and collaborates on projects that are relevant to their world—the space is in the classroom, within the university, and outside, in the non-academic world.
What does a student-directed class look like? It’s more than just having students choose one of the books they’ll read in a literature class. It’s more than forcing composition students to give a two-minute PowerPoint presentation on the passive voice.
I’d like to discuss how to create a “syllabus” and guidelines for a student-directed course. I am open to discussing any course that might benefit from this method. The three I have in mind are: a composition and rhetoric class for college freshman; literature course for undergrad and grad students; an introduction to digital research tools and project collaboration for students and researchers at any level.

  • How does one prepare for such a class? Does class size matter? How long should a class period be?
  • What digital tools for research and collaboration are the most useful? How can we make sure that the class does not use digital tools just for sake of using them, but that those tools and the platforms actually enhance and serve the project’s overall concept, content, and form?
  • How do we assess individual and group contributions?
  • Who assesses?
  • How do we mold assessment to fit the A, B, C, D, F grading system?

These are just a few questions, I know there are many more that I haven’t even thought of asking.
For more thoughts about this, check out Cathy Davidson’s Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn.

Other proposals for this conference have been made that might dovetail with this one:

“Publishing with Time-Based Media”
“Is a Simple Straightforward Syllabus for Intro to DH Possible…?”
“The Having of Wonderful Ideas”
“Helping Students Negotiate Private and Public Boundaries Online”
“Writing with DH Tools”
“Tools for Scholars for Preparation and Publication of Texts…”

About the author


Elizabeth Cornell is the IT Communications Specialist at Fordham University in New York City. Prior to that, she was a Post-Doctoral Teaching Fellow in English at Fordham. She is also a collaborative editor of Digital Yoknaptawpha (University of Virginia).

Permanent link to this article: http://newengland2011.thatcamp.org/10/19/student-directed-learning/


  1. Vanessa Alander

    Okay, this is fabulous. I love this idea and have so many of the same questions and avenues I wish to explore. Hoping this one makes the cut, so to speak!

  2. Amanda Rust

    I would also be interested in this, particularly your question here: “How can we make sure that the class does not use digital tools just for sake of using them, but that those tools and the platforms actually enhance and serve the project’s overall concept, content, and form?”

    Well put!

  3. Stephanie Cheney

    I too attended the Mobility Shifts conference and am interested in this topic after Michael Wesch’s session: Making Connections: Using New Media to Create Authentic Engaging Collaborative Learning Environments. mobilityshifts.org/workshops/making-connections-using-new-media-to-create-authentic-engaging-/

    The idea of having students work on real projects via research and collaborative models and then share/reflect/gather feedback from/with an audience outside the classroom walls is incredibly compelling and tricky to put into practice. Maybe not so much tricky as involving a huge mind-set shift on the part of a faculty member.

Comments have been disabled.

Skip to toolbar