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by Gary Probst, Educational Development

It is popular to say that instructors must be made accountable for their studentsí learning. However, the student controls most of the important factors responsible for academic success. The purpose of this article is to show how students can be made accountable for learning the information in a course.

The most important factor in understanding and learning new information in any course is immediately learning the definition of the new terms when they are introduced in the course. Most students and some instructors are not aware of the large number of new terms introduced in introductory courses; a few examples of the approximate number of new terms introduced in introductory courses are as follows: Basic Mathematics (developmental), 300; Psychology, 600; and Accounting, over 1000. If a student is enrolled in five classes that have an average of twenty new terms introduced in each chapter and the instructors cover one chapter a week, the student has one hundred new terms that must be learned in one week!

Why is learning the new terms introduced in a course important?

The result of not learning the new terms when they are introduced in the textbook or course is failure to learn. This has a negative effect on the student, the student's instructor, and the college.

The Student: Students sometimes blame themselves for not having the ability to learn the information found in their textbooks. This can result in a feeling of helplessness or a feeling they lack the ability to learn. Students who donít blame themselves will often blame their instructor, and will tell anyone who will listen how this instructor caused them to fail the course.

The Instructor: The instructor blames the students for not learning the course information, and, like the student, will tell anyone who will listen how their students do not want to study and learn the information in the course.

The College: Today, there is competition for students. The college encourages instructors to find ways to improve student retention, an important goal at all colleges. A bad reputation can interfere with college or department efforts toward student recruitment and retention. Also, if students fail and drop out, the college loses students who would continue to take additional courses.

How can an instructor encourage students to become accountable for their learning? Any textbook supplies information. Therefore, the role of an instructor is to demonstrate the techniques needed to learn that information. The most important factor in learning new information in any course is developing in the student the habit of learning the definition of the terms used. Instructors need to demonstrate to the student how to acquire, retain and use the new terms introduced in order to solve problems and communicate information to others.

In addition to emphasizing the importance of learning the new terms, instructors should demonstrate how to use a termís definition to recognize examples of the term. They should also demonstrate the impossibility of solving a problem when the terms remain undefined and problem-solving rules are unknown.

Existing tests can easily be made into diagnostic tests by the addition of a separate section of the test that requires knowledge of the definitions and examples of the terms introduced in the course. Students having difficulty with these questions are immediately aware of the reason they are having trouble in the course. Grading the new terms separately allows the student to be held accountable for learning the information, and it then becomes the studentís responsibility to develop the habit of learning the new terms in order to master the course material.

In pursuit of this goal, I suggest another category be added to the faculty intervention roster. It would indicate whether or not the student has learned the terms required to understand the information in the textbook and/or lectures. An instructor cannot be held accountable for a student who does not have the desire and habit of learning the definition of the terms when they are introduced in a course!


The Instructional Area Newsletter, Volume 18, No. 3

Spring 2003