Case Studies - The Learning
What is a Learning Environemt?
A learning environment is a place where learners may work together
and support each other as they use a variety of tools and information
resources in their pursuit of learning goals and problem-solving
activities. Based on this definition, all courses are "learning
environments," but not all courses are intentionally designed to
achieve goals for student learning. The
featured in the LT2 Web site are among the growing number
of faculty who are designing their courses to achieve their
goals for student learning. We explain this by walking through the
"learning environment" model presented in the figure below.
First, consider more closely the relationships between typical
problems that the featured bricoleurs experience and their goals for
student learning. This relationship may be presented as follows,
using the Joliet Junior College case study as an example:
Now, it is a big jump to go from a set of abstractly stated goals,
like those above, to the kind of complex, on-the-ground learning
activities that we saw during our case study visits and that the
and their students described. As the Learning Environment model
(above) indicates, the main steps linking faculty goals to effective
Typical of the teaching principles that guide the decisions of the
faculty featured in the LT2 Web site are the following,
which are drawn form the Joliet Junior College case study.
Of note, the teaching principles held by the LT2
are strongly consistent with the "
Seven Principles for Good
Practice in Undergraduate Education"
that Zelda Gamson and Arthur Chickering synthesized from research on
The teaching principles of the
featured in this site also are consistent with the
Synergistic Set of Learning Activities
To implement their teaching principles, the faculty featured in our
case studies have chosen a set of activities that they attempt to
"weave together" so that they work synergistically and achieve their
goals for student learning. We have organized these activities into
the following three categories:
- Computer-dependent activities that faculty believe simply
would not be possible, or at least not feasible, without computers.
- hands-on experiments (real-time hands-on acquisition and
analysis of data, using electronic probes, that provide connections
to real-world events)
- visualization, graphical representation, and simulation
- Computer-improved activities that faculty believe work
incrementally better with technology but can still be implemented
without it. Examples include:
- the use of electronic response systems in large lectures, that
enable individual students to vote on their answer to a
multiple-choice question by pressing a button rather than raising a
- the use of a course website rather than/in addition to paper to
post the syllabus, hand-outs, and so forth.
- Computer-independent activities that can be done without
technology. Examples include:
- group work/guided discussion, and
- formative assessment tasks.
Summarizing, each learning environment created by the
featured in the LT2 case studies consists of an integrated set of
some of which are computer-dependent, and all of which implement the
that the instructors believe will achieve their goals for student learning.
Our picture of the learning environments developed by the JJC
is completed by "
," a term that refers to four types of information that faculty use
to determine how well their learning environment is achieving their
goals: student testimony, instructor testimony, formative assessment,
and summative assessment.
- Student testimony, which provides key insights into how
students experience different activities.
- Instructor testimony, which conveys instructor views about
how, why, and how well different activities implement their teaching
principles and goals.
- Formative assessments, which are activities that
simultaneously: a) provide instructors feedback about how and what
students are learning, and which the instructors immediately use to
adjust and improve their teaching efforts, and b) foster student
learning directly because the students learn from the process of
doing these activities. (Most of the classroom assessment techniques
featured in the FLAG website improve
- Summative assessments, which are formal examinations or
tests, the results of which are used by faculty to demonstrate, in a
way that is definitive and visible to people outside the course, the
degree to which students have accomplished the learning goals for a
1. Arthur W. Chickering and Zelda F. Gamson. 1991. "Seven principles
for good practice in undergraduate education." In Applying the
Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education,
ed. A. W. Chickering and Z. F. Gamson, 63-69. New Directions for
Teaching and Learning, No. 47. Jossey-Bass: San Francisco.