CSUN is still in the planning stages to develop a learning-centered university to improve students’ academic achievement and the social environment within the university, according to Harold Hellenbrand, CSUN provost.
Hellenbrand said one of the key problems at CSUN is its low student retention rate. Freshmen and sophomore students, for various reasons, tend to drop out in high numbers, he said.
“We lose lots of students,” said Hellenbrand.
CSUN is trying to improve the issue by providing better advising and supplemental assistance to students, especially freshmen.
He said there is a lot of evidence supporting one approach to make CSUN learning centered by establishing learning communities where students are organized in groups. He said if students work together in classes, they tend to graduate at higher levels.
According to Hellenbrand, an issue the university needs to address is that students at large universities tend to be overwhelmed because they do not know many people. The Freshman Seminar Program gives students an opportunity to work together, Hellenbrand said.
Cheryl Spector, director of the Freshman Seminar Program, said the program’s classes are designed to help ease students’ transition to a university in terms of academic and life skills.
“(The program) comes up in the context of a learning-centered university because it tries to address the whole student, not just the intellectual part,” said Spector. “The course also acknowledges that learning doesn’t just happen with the mind, but also with the heart.”
Spector said the program helps students direct their energies toward things involving CSUN, to help associate themselves with the university and engage in active learning by working in groups.
“(It is) the importance of establishing (a) community in (the) classroom,” said Spector. “That’s what we’re about here.”
One of the program’s classes requires students to attend at least one event on campus to establish a connection, she said.
“They need to be here mentally, physically and emotionally,” Spector said.
CSUN is working with professors and staff so that students can practice what they learn and make assessments of how well the students are doing as a whole, said Hellenbrand.
Another problem at CSUN is that most professors straight out of graduate school are taught a subject, but not how to teach that subject, Hellenbrand said.
It is difficult to teach to diverse classes, where all students do not understand a subject matter in the same way, since professors and students come from different backgrounds with different experiences, he said.
“(It) requires a more sophisticated set of skills,” said Hellenbrand.
The goal is to better prepare instructors to accommodate students’ individual learning styles.
Cynthia Desrochers, director of the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching, said the main goal of the center is to provide faculty with different instructional ideas that will benefit a students learning experience.
CELT officially opened in 1999 for faculty development on a voluntary basis, meaning faculty are not required to attend.
“We’re thrilled with the participation we get from the CSUN faculty,” said Desrochers.
She said CELT holds periodic meetings to discuss various alternatives to help instructors provide teaching methods that will allow students to engage in more deep thinking.
CELT helps instructors who come out of graduate school understand how to teach the subject matter, she said.
“Now, to make it more learning centered, the (instructors) ask, ‘What do I want students to know, (to) do, and (to) value,'” Desrochers said.