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The Democratic Classroom: Sharing Power to Improve Learning and Educate Citizens
Unformatted Document Text:  Democratic Classroom 11 student control over paper topics and similar assignments, so why not also allow them control over topics covered at review sessions or even during the creation of exam questions when appropriate? Another approach is to let students decide what to work on in class in courses where there is not enough time to cover the entire text in a semester. The key component of Weimer’s ideas about how to share power is the careful design of assignments that help students use the power they are given effectively. Course design is therefore very similar to writing a democratic constitution. The most important question in both cases is: Given the characteristics of the particular population of students/citizens in this course/state, how much structure and guidance will they need to successfully wield power? To extend this metaphor further, the assignments in the course are like the institutions included in a constitution since both are meant to be tools in the quest to achieve the overarching goals and the common good of all stakeholders. The learner-centered approach to course design is more democratic than the instructor-centered approach since the imperative is for the instructor to share power with students to the greatest degree possible. When such a democratic pedagogy is used explicitly, it can lead both instructors and students to an altered and expanded view of what higher education is all about. Learner-Centered Teaching as Citizen Education While the Learning Paradigm of higher education is rather new, learner-centered teaching has probably existed in some form as long as there have been theories of education. During the twentieth century, many advocates of participatory democracy have done so through the promotion of a learner-centered approach to education. For example, John Dewey’s (2007) pragmatist view that education should be experiential can certainly be described as learner- centered. Dewey is also well known for his view that democracy is best learned though doing it.

Authors: Price, Christopher.
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Democratic Classroom 11
student control over paper topics and similar assignments, so why not also allow them control
over topics covered at review sessions or even during the creation of exam questions when
appropriate? Another approach is to let students decide what to work on in class in courses where
there is not enough time to cover the entire text in a semester.
The key component of Weimer’s ideas about how to share power is the careful design of
assignments that help students use the power they are given effectively. Course design is
therefore very similar to writing a democratic constitution. The most important question in both
cases is: Given the characteristics of the particular population of students/citizens in this
course/state, how much structure and guidance will they need to successfully wield power? To
extend this metaphor further, the assignments in the course are like the institutions included in a
constitution since both are meant to be tools in the quest to achieve the overarching goals and the
common good of all stakeholders. The learner-centered approach to course design is more
democratic than the instructor-centered approach since the imperative is for the instructor to
share power with students to the greatest degree possible. When such a democratic pedagogy is
used explicitly, it can lead both instructors and students to an altered and expanded view of what
higher education is all about.
Learner-Centered Teaching as Citizen Education
While the Learning Paradigm of higher education is rather new, learner-centered teaching
has probably existed in some form as long as there have been theories of education. During the
twentieth century, many advocates of participatory democracy have done so through the
promotion of a learner-centered approach to education. For example, John Dewey’s (2007)
pragmatist view that education should be experiential can certainly be described as learner-
centered. Dewey is also well known for his view that democracy is best learned though doing it.


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