Student-centred learning is about helping students to discover their own learning styles, to understand their motivation and to acquire effective study skills that will be valuable throughout their lives. To put this approach into practice, teachers need to help students set achievable goals; encourage students to assess themselves and their peers; help them to work co-operatively in groups and ensure that they know how to exploit all the available resources for learning. The students’ environment, both in the class and outside must be considered in how much a teacher can facilitate vs. direct. There are no “best practices” that apply at all times in all places with all students. Teachers wishing to ensure a student-centred approach must know their students and their backgrounds in order to help them develop appropriately. Clearly there are cultural and personal issues to be addressed, as student-centred learning will be different for each group. 
Student-centered methods have repeatedly been shown to be superior to the traditional teacher-centered approach to instruction, a conclusion that applies whether the assessed outcome is short-term mastery, long-term retention, or depth of understanding of course material, acquisition of critical thinking or creative problem-solving skills, formation of positive attitudes toward the subject being taught, or level of confidence in knowledge or skills .
The actual state of student-centered learning/ training applications, at different higher education institutions (see above, too), represents a base to strengthen some matters associated to the perspective of the considered method – communication, academic staff, online platform, etc., as follows.
An example of a stimulating academic environment in favor of quality assurance and student-centered learning is the Linköping University (LiU), and, in particular, its Institute of Technology (LiTH), from Sweden .
The Linkӧping University, LiU, and, in particular, its Institute of Technology, LiTH, from Sweden , have been chosen in order to illustrate advanced characteristics of an university environment based on a functional quality assurance system.
LiU offers education at Ba, Ma and PhD levels for 25,000 students, having 3,500 employees. The offered study programmes cover the areas of engineering, management, teaching and medicine. An increasing number of courses and master programmes are offered in English throughout all faculties. More than 1,500 foreign students attend classes at the university each year. Over 100 guest researchers a year take advantage of the research environment at LiU.
This case study exemplifies a model of a stimulating academic environment, in favor of quality assurance, by developing working conditions for student-centered learning. The concepts and specific characteristics of quality, creativity, and competency are presented in a synergism approach. The case study illustrates an university environment with quality, creativity and competency as core values.
LiU is dedicated toward developing models for student-centered learning, with approaches such as problem-based learning and project orientation. This, together with an ongoing dialogue with industry and society at large, has been essential for the university’s ability to combine basic and applied research in thematic and innovative contexts.
The direct communication between teachers and students should be based on respect, openness, flexibility and promptitude.
During the teaching / learning activities, it is important to assure a relaxed and friendly atmosphere, and interactivity, involving each student, not just a simple exposure of information. The case studies and simple examples should be treated, making correlations with real life and the other subjects. The student should be encouraged to respond to questions, but also to be confident to ask for more explanations, and to express new views.
During the seminaries, laboratory and project works, the students should be grouped in teams and do practical works. If some fresh students, in their first study year, have not enough prerequisites in a certain subject, then an older student, not teacher, should train these students, being paid by the university.
In the perspective of a better communication between teachers, students and administration of a university, the online environment becomes of significant value, as well. Technology could help students to express easily and to be more responsible, with the help of some specific tools, such as: discussion forums; internal e-mail; chat, including video chat; file transfer.
The teachers should be models for students, regarding their competence, but also as human beings. Even they explain about complex things, they should do that in clear words and good correlations, in order to be understood by the audience. It is also beneficial to have teachers from industrial areas or research, who could present the matters related to their practice, and facilitate visits to companies, if possible.
An online platform should include all the courses, tutorials, applications, homeworks, etc., depending on every student’s curricula, but also information about the subjects, the requirements of the exams, projects etc.
It should have several features: possibility of downloading the courses, and uploading documents; calendar with marked deadlines; timetable of the current semester; possibility of viewing their academic situation; information about the location of faculties and classrooms; news from teachers, etc.
The official website of the university should be very accurate, with the newest possible information for students and for possible interested people, presented in an attractive and user friendly way, in the national and foreign language(s). Here, it is important to find pieces of information about: every faculty and department; subjects; news; contact details of the university staff; accommodation, etc.
Assessments / Assignments / Feedback
In order to observe the evolution of students, the teacher could test continuously their level of understanding and the ways of improving the activity, using the following tools: class assignments; internet assignments; feedback for improving the activity.
Teamwork is a key point to focus on, because most of the time, after graduation, persons work into groups, with people they do not know. It is important to make them understand that you can obtain better results working with somebody else; the progress is more relevant with more people involved. Of course, teamwork does not exclude individual work.
International multi-cultural diversity gives the opportunity to work and know foreign students and teachers, to improve their level of foreign language(s), and to learn more about other cultures, as well. A good improvement in the universities’ curricula, especially on the level of master programs, would be to introduce much more subjects in foreign language(s).
It is essentially for students to have places, inside the university area, where they could be able to work for their projects, both individual and with their teams. This involves having: open laboratories; wireless internet; small rooms for group meeting with sockets and writing board; large spaces with tables, benches, and sockets.
A good accommodation could be a stimulant for students, as well. If they have their nice place, a quiet and an attractive corridor, they will be definitely tempted to study more. They have all the prerequisites necessaries to do that and they feel comfortable there.
This is about how to take care of students, especially in their first year at the university.
There is a limit of students being accepted to LiU programs, and the students have to work hard to be successful. If a student has a successful first year, then he/she will have much bigger chances to get successful in his/her studies, and to get a Bachelor degree after 3 years or a Master degree after 5 years.
At LiTH, the fresh students, in their first study semester, have a class mate, an older student who helps them to know the university, how to study and other necessary information. The class mate is responsible for about 30 students being in a class, and he/she is paid for his/her work by the university.
The students’ results are checked after the first semester, and after 3 semesters. In case of low, bad result in what the student has done in his/her studies, the student counselors will do study planning to help the students to be more successful.
The student unions receive financial aid from the university, as well, to get involved when the new students arrive to the university in August, for their first year.
Problem Based Learning
The problem-based learning (PBL) is a method that assumes to find ways to motivate and stimulate students to be curious to know more about an issue. It is essential to start with finding things that students will recognize and attract them, being based on the student’s own way of solving problems.
PBL has been introduced in Sweden in 1986 on the Health Sciences in Linkӧping. The reason was to renew the teaching methods of the courses, so that students would then collaborate in groups around different “kind” scenario. This method is used very much at the University’s Hospital and in the psychology program.
The exchange students being at LiU like the open-mind spirit present at the university. The students can knock on the door of the professors and they will speak with the students and answer questions, without any problem. The students don’t have to book an appointment in advance. Of course, if the professor is busy, the student has to come back some other time.
At LiU, all the persons call each other for their first name. It is believed that a person can be rude, even using family name of a person, but polite when using his/her first name. The foreign students studying in Sweden are very happy with this system. On the contrary, for the Swedish students who have been studying in certain foreign countries, the levels in behaving between teachers and students are considered quite unusual.
The administrative staff from LiU is also trying not to complicate things, if they can be solved in an easy way. If some papers are needed, they use as few as possible, this fact meaning a win-win situation for both sides. But of course forms have to be used, to ensure the system.
The relationships between employees are based on respect, trust and involvement from both sides. The people are encouraged to do their best, sometimes with the option of working from home, because this is faster, not being under different interruptions. But the staff are at the university most of the time to be available for the students.
The administrative staff develops their level of competency by participating to conferences in Sweden or abroad due to their tasks, or by doing any other special activity useful for the job, for instance going in France to exercise their French if working with lots of French students.
Equal Opportunities for students and employees
At LiU, the rules, norms and routines assist quality assurance and reflect an attitude characterized by respect for individuals and their varying circumstances.
LiU works with the issues of ‘equal opportunities’, EO, for all people, regardless of gender, ethnicity, religion, background, age, sociability, life situation. LiU contributes to a good attractive study and work environment, development and creativity, quality in education and research, equitable structures and processes. The content of LiU’s study programmes should deal with EO perspectives wherever relevant.
LiU has wide-ranging contacts in various sectors of society that promote EO in the academic world and the community at large. LiU should be highly accessible in terms of activities, information and premises. Admission and recruitment processes are not discriminatory. New students and employees are received in such a way that they all feel welcome.
EO should prevail in terms of employees’ working conditions, salaries, influence, career prospects and scope for combining a professional career with responsibility for the home and family. Equal distribution of the sexes should prevail at various levels and within the different types of posts and professions and in the deciding and advisory sphere. LiU should help students to combine their studies with parental responsibilities.
Questionnaire to students
After the result of 2008 survey, LiTH has been focused on some areas, to take specific measures, as follows.
(1) Feedback from teachers regarding student performance
A workshop on the subject of the examination process was provided for teachers at LiTH in 2009 in conjunction with the Center for Teaching and Learning (CUL). The aim was to ensure that the examination process is legally secure, clear in form and a useful tool for assessment and learning, where feedback to the student is a part of the learning.
(2) Relevance of education to future working life
Every program committee will submit, at an agreed time, a “Where the education leads” which will include former students’ accounts of their working lives after graduation and/or the results of alumni surveys. At the program committee level, the course will be analyzed in order to ensure that connections to working life are made clearer. New courses have also been developed where the content is more work oriented.
(3) Study plans and discussions
In order to increase the accessibility of Study Counseling, a general reception has been instituted during application periods and at the start of term. Evaluation shows that the reception has significantly increased the opportunity to give students the answers to questions of a more general nature and in that way to give a better service and provide a place for those students who need a longer discussion with the counselor.
(4) Information or discussion regarding study or work practice abroad
A timetable for the provision of information regarding study abroad has been developed. The work is underway to improve the information on study periods abroad on the LiTH web pages.
Questionnaire to the staff
LiU considers its main asset its employees. A key success factor for the university is that every employee understands LiU as an attractive workplace. In this direction, LiU implements employee surveys every two years, to investigate the working conditions, through a questionnaire survey.
The results are presented in separate reports broken down by each institution and its subdivisions. The inquiry should be seen as a mapping of the working conditions and the integration of systematic work in institutions and units. The need for action and change will continue to be documented in the action plans and follow-up.
The summary from the employee survey in 2008, for example, is showing the followings: employee index rose from 59 in 2004 to 65 in 2008; employees feel involved in the design of their duties and also feel that they have sufficient skills and experience to perform their activities in a satisfactory manner; employees feel proud of continuing to work within LiU and a high proportion can recommend LiU as an employer; 79% say that the next manager is easy to work with; 68% of employees indicate that performance appraisals are meaningful.
Areas dedicated to students
There are a lot of areas, small rooms or similar, where the students can study individually or in groups. In addition, there are rooms where the students can bring their own food, use the microwave ovens and eat.
From the current higher education system analysis and case study on student-centered learning/ teaching, the following conclusions are withdrawn.
- Implementing methods that inoculates sustainable thinking and acting from a young age is a way to increase the chances of achieving sustainable developments.
- In order to realize the understanding, design, production, exploitation and recycling processes and systems satisfying the sustainable development needs, the higher education graduates should have proper attributes: quality, creativity and competency are among these.
- The quality, creativity and competency of the higher education graduates depend on numerous factors – linked to students, graduates themselves, staff, institution, etc., which co-exist and inter-act multi-directionally and reciprocally. Quality is associated to all factors. Creativity should be associated to higher education students and graduates as a permanent state of spirit, attitude and action. Competency should be associated to higher education graduates, as an important operational feature.
- The concepts and specific characteristics of quality, creativity and competency should be approached and developed in a synergism way.
- The system based on teacher-centered learning has the teachers with a full control of the class: they are the ones who transmit information and those who are taking most of the decisions, students having a passive role in learning. As a result, the motivation of students is extrinsic, like grades.
- The student-centered learning has appeared, on the international level, to be a much better approach to students. More and more teachers and universities are starting to implement this method for some noticeable reasons: students are having an active role in learning and they are more responsible, they are having the option of making choices, the teacher being like a guide and a facilitator of learning. This way, the motivation is intrinsic, such as curiosity.
- Student-centered learning is a method that produces a positive impact on the continous development of an academic organization, inclusive to strengthen its organizational culture.
- There are still obstacles in developing this system, related to resources, conservative attitude of academic staff and students, etc. The case study has highlighted that a student-centered learning/ teaching system can bring a continuous progress not only during the university studies, but also to workplaces and society, in general. Therefore, even it is hard to implement a student-centered learning system, involving time and financial efforts, it is important to take into consideration the benefits on long term: students’ increased levels of performance and creativity after the graduation, their increased employability, the possibility to adapt easily in the labour market, etc.
We address our thanks to Professor Dr. Helen Dannetun, Dean of the Institute of Technology, Linköping University, Sweden, for openly sharing information with us.