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Researchers say as college demographics change, so must teaching

Students gather before graduation at Santa Monica College on June 11th, 2013.
Mae Ryan/KPCC
File photo: Students gather before graduation at Santa Monica College on June 11, 2013.

Scholars who study teaching in American colleges and universities say that as universities enroll more students who are the first in their families to enroll in college, campuses must change the way they teach.

“We’ve discovered that explaining the how and why of teaching instead of teaching only the what, or the course content” helps students stay in college and graduate, said Mary-Ann Winkelmes, a researcher at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

The latest numbers show that her university’s black, Latino, and Asian enrollment is now 5 percent more than its white enrollment. At the California State University, between 2004 to 2014, the percentage of Mexican American students enrolled systemwide increased by 10 percent.

Ongoing research about metacognition, how students learn how to learn, shows that explaining the how and why gives students an increased awareness of learning.

“While those methods are good for all students, we began to notice they’re especially helpful for students who come from underserved public school systems, students of low socio-economic status coming into college, and students of color,” Winkelmes said.

Her research on metacognition is known as “transparent teaching and learning.”

One way to change the way students learn, she said, is to share the findings about how they learn with college instructors and help them with techniques such as involving students in creating class assignments. That’s happening at California State University, Los Angeles.

“We’ve gotten to about 20 percent of our faculty through some sort of professional development training,” said Beverly Bondad-Brown, a director at the Center for Effective Teaching and Learning at Cal State L.A.

“One thing we’re finding as we do more faculty development is that although faculty have PhD's in their disciplines, they have this expert blind spot” that doesn’t allow them to recognize that undergraduates may not fully understand academic concepts or language, Bondad-Brown said. An example might include the difference between accounting and finance.

Her center is hosting a conference Friday and Saturday for Cal State instructors focusing on innovative ideas and strategies for improving classroom teaching.

Winkelmes is scheduled to deliver the Friday morning keynote speech.