Teaching and Learning

Cupcakes and Questions: How Do BMCC Students Learn Best?

BMCC students, how do you learn best?

When I am well rested [By] listening with my eyes + watching with my ears
When I ask for HELP!!!
When the professor is inclusive of everyone in class
When I’m alone
When I’m around people
When listening to music I’m in the mood for
Sometimes when I make mistakes or see someone do a mistake
When I believe in myself
By eating cupcakes!

Did someone say cupcakes? This past spring, BMCC wrapped up Open Teaching Week with an interactive tabling event disguised as a cupcake celebration. After learning throughout the week about how BMCC faculty practice open pedagogy and engage with open educational resources (OER), CETLS and BMCC librarians teamed up to ask students in the BMCC community, “how do you learn best?”

We present this question as an act of open and culturally sustaining pedagogy, which is founded on the principle that student voices and experiences are valuable and should shape what happens in the classroom and college campus. For anyone familiar with BMCC and its student body, it is no surprise that students arrive to college with a diverse range of identities, histories, cultures, languages, beliefs, and styles of communication and learning. Advocates of open pedagogy argue that these identities and differences deserve respect, justice, and visibility in and outside of the classroom. It is our primary responsibility, then, to better understand our students, their backgrounds, and their needs as they see and know themselves.

Over the course of two days, librarians and representatives from CETLS set up tables on campus with posters, markers, informational materials about our Zero-Textbook Cost (ZTC) program, and cupcakes. We asked students to complete the sentence “I learn best when…” inside a giant speech bubble.

Over 200 participants — including students, faculty, and staff — shared their thoughts with the BMCC community, and for a time some of their responses were posted on the wall outside the library entrance. Examples of responses include:

student response to I learn best when: Someone teaches me in person. I learn visually. Includes drawing of elephant.

Photo credit: Katy Anastasi

I learn best when. . .

“I see images”
“I have the time to go to tutoring twice a month, and review over the materials twice a week”
“Just be yourself”

After their much-appreciated labor, students were free to enjoy a cupcake. Some even stayed to talk about the exercise and our Zero-Textbook Cost program!

Generally speaking, the responses demonstrate that there are many ways to learn and express one’s self. While some students feel that they learn best when studying alone in quiet, others learn best through group discussions or projects. People cited both visual aids and hands-on approaches (“I learn best when I teach others #ActiveLearner”), and many participants also expressed appreciation for faculty involvement, support, and interest in their subject area.

Student response to I learn best when: When I feel supported, with two hand-drawn hands.

Photo credit: Katy Anastasi

I learn best when…

“when my professors are engaging!”
“when Professor care to me”
“when I INTERACT with my PROFESSOR!”
“when the professor is understanding & ask for students input”

While learning styles and study habits may vary, responses regarding basic needs such as food and sleep remained consistent.


I learn best when…

“I have food in my belly :)”
“I am fully fed”
“I eat a good breakfast in the morning”

I learn best when…

“I get enough sleep!”
“well rested”
“I sleep good – more than 7h”.
“I learn best when I have all the resources needed for learning.”

It is no surprise that learners feel that basic needs such as food, shelter, and sleep must be met in order to learn. As we are aware, issues of food security, homelessness, and poverty are all real concerns for many of our students. As much as we think we understand what our students are going through, however, this event reminds us that students know themselves better than their instructors do. Encouraging students to reflect on and celebrate their own learning styles affirms their validity and their right to belong, which serves our goal of making BMCC and the wider world a more inclusive, equitable, and engaging place for people to learn and pursue their dreams.

In the spirit of open learning, I turn my attention to you, my readers, with questions that will hopefully carry this conversation outside of the blogosphere. What resources do you yourself need in order to learn? What about your students? How are you helping students bridge the gaps between resources needed for learning, and how are structures of power supporting or thwarting you? And finally, importantly, how can we do this together?

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2 Responses to Cupcakes and Questions: How Do BMCC Students Learn Best?

  1. Samvel Jeshmaridian November 6, 2018 at 3:45 pm #

    Informative and truly pedagogical Article.

  2. Chris Vinsonhaler December 7, 2018 at 12:50 pm #

    Thank you for this fine example of INSPIRED LISTENING.

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