Engineering excellence: Keep students building bridges to success

Two female college students sitting on a bench in a park and studying

I’ve done a lot of reading about neurological research on how we learn, instructional design, pedagogy and andragogy, and related topics. I get to talk with faculty all over the country teaching different disciplines too. As we consider the under-preparedness of many students, the increase in online teaching, the disparity between existing and desired student skillsets, the increasing use of technology, and changes in generations and their approach to education, I’m increasingly more convinced that our models need to change. We can’t just be the “sage on the stage;” we need to become the “guide on the side” or coaches to foster student success.

students studying for successLearning is a journey; it takes hard work, discipline, and practice. It means failing. It means being frustrated. It means we need to collaborate with our students in the learning process. Many of my students are overwhelmed and afraid; I want to help them make their learning safe by turning mistakes into chances for learning. They have to trust that I will work with them to make this happen. Have you read Leadership from the Inside Out by Kevin Cashman? He points out that teams and organizations thrive when we develop both the “we” and “I” in leadership style.

In Brilliance by Design, Vicki Halsey summarizes it neatly in what she calls the 70/30 principle.

  • Learners do 70 percent of the talking and 30 percent of the listening.
  • Teachers dedicate 70 percent of their preparation to how (learning design) and 30 percent to what (content) they will teach.
  • Learners spend 30 percent of their time learning and 70 percent of the time practicing.

I think teaching online for me has been one of the the most significant catalysts in making me really think about quality teaching. I’ve had to rethink how I approach course design, engage students, respond to questions, and even assessment based on what I’ve learned. I don’t think we ever “arrive” at a point where our courses are “perfect.” I think we are always reviewing and revising. I know it’s not a panacea for every student issue and concern, but I do know that some of my students do tell me they are leaving my course more confident not just in content, but also in their ability to succeed. They’ve figured out that I really care about their success and will work with them to strive for excellence.

So we are “engineering excellence;” we’re helping students build the bridges to their futures. Not all of us have the same building materials or expertise. Some work slowly; some work quickly. In the end, however, it’s helping them get to the other side. It’s even more rewarding when they recognize they have built those bridges and others can cross it, too.



About the Author
Diane Hollister

Diane Hollister

Diane Hollister has been teaching college courses since 1992. In June 2015, she resigned from her full-time position at Reading Area Community College in Reading, Pennsylvania, where all the math courses have undergone some level of redesign. She still teaches online there and now is part of Pearson’s Efficacy team, helping instructors to implement programs and strategies that bolster student success.

She is intrigued by neurobiological research and learning theory, and she was quick to adopt adaptive learning as a new tool in her courses. Not only does she strive to help her students succeed, but Diane enjoys the collaboration with her peers. She has taught a variety of courses and loves learning how new technology and resources can help students be more successful.

Read more of her articles about math, ICTCM, and quantitative reasoning.