Posts tagged: Teaching and Learning Strategies

Deconstruct to find the story

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By , December 22, 2009 3:56 pm

A colleague in one of the courses that I support sent this (Clark IE, Romero-Caldero ́ n R, Olson JM, Jaworski L, Lopatto D, et al. (2009) ‘‘Deconstructing’’ Scientific Research: A Practical and Scalable Pedagogical Tool to Provide Evidence-Based Science Instruction. PLoS Biol 7(12): e1000264. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1000264) out to a group of us today. Not being from an Education journal, it doesn’t have the usual references, but it does take an interesting approach to teaching high level concepts to introductory level students:

During the deconstruction phase, the students identify hypotheses from the seminar, explore the experimental approaches used, and actively analyze the data — a collective exercise that deconstructs a complex research seminar into manageable portions. As concepts and techniques are introduced to them, stripped of jargon, the students begin to see the logic of the research. In the process, they follow the story of the seminar and experience discovery moments as the implications of each experiment become clear.

The part that hooked me of course was the “story of the seminar”. The “chunking” is something that should be familiar to most Ed people, but chunk->story angle seems to be novel, at least to me as is the removal of jargon.

Thinking about what some of this high level research might sound like, I can only assume that the biggest wall that the students would come up against is the language that is used and the need to be able to deal with the presentation as a complete package with this incomplete vocabulary. Portioning the wall into more manageable chunks is a technique that may seem logical, but removing the language barrier is something that may not have been so obvious. Science, as with any other discipline is very protective of it’s language and rightfully so, but stripping the jargon is something that lowers the entry barrier quite quickly without overly impacting the proper vocabulary.

JSB – Learning in the Digital Age

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By , September 15, 2009 8:26 am

Teaching the ‘net generation – Brown looks at how pedagogy has moved (or has it?) from knowledge transfer to social models of learning that encourage and indeed rely on the participation and even play on the part of the students and move the instructor from the role of the ultimate authority to one of “content area master”. It is an hour long, but certainly worth the time to at least skim.

Geek Competencies

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By , September 8, 2009 8:59 am

Helen Haste, of the Harvard Graduate School of Education has identified five competencies that we should be teaching our students:

  • Managing Ambiguity. “Managing ambiguity is that tension between rushing to the clear, the concrete, and managing this ambiguous fuzzy area in the middle. And managing ambiguity is something we have to teach. Because we have to counter the story of a single linear solution.”
  • Agency and Responsibility. “We have to be able to take responsibility and know what that means. Being an effective agent means being able to approach one’s environment, social or physical, with a confidence that one actually will be able to deal with it.”
  • Finding and Sustaining Community. “Managing community is partly about that multitasking of connecting and interacting. It’s also, of course, about maintaining community, about maintaining links with people, making sure you do remember your best friend’s birthday, that you don’t forget that your grandmother is by herself this weekend, and of course recognizing also that one is part of a larger community, not just one’s own private little world.”
  • Managing Emotion. “Really it’s about getting away from the idea that emotion and reason are separate… Teaching young people to manage reason and emotion and not to flip to one or the other is an important part of our education process.”
  • Managing Technological Change. “When we have a new tool, we first use it for what we are already doing, just doing it a bit better. But gradually, the new tool changes the way we do things. It changes our social practices.”

The first four points seem to be the same old “good things” said in new ways – story behind the story, confidence, network and keep cool. The last one, while it is also something that has been said many times before, seems to be to suggest something new at the same time. It comes right out and tells us to expect tools to change the way we do things, not only in a profession, but as a society. It might not seem like a big deal, but I think it is.

If you put this together with the idea in Wired this weekend about geeks:

“Geeks get things done. They’re possessed. They can’t help themselves,”

You might have the groundwork for a really big idea – tools will change society, and to do it, you need to “geek out” at something – pursue it until it is finished. If every student is able to change some small part of their own world, it might certainly help make this world a better place.

Fail to Grow

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By , July 7, 2009 7:55 am

I forgot if I caught this off of Twitter or off one of my feeds, but Peter Bregman writing for Harvard Business wrote an interesting article on why you need to fail. Why if you never fail, you can’t ever really grow.

It turns out the answer is deceptively simple. It’s all in your head.

If you believe that your talents are inborn or fixed, then you will try to avoid failure at all costs because failure is proof of your limitation. People with a fixed mindset like to solve the same problems over and over again. It reinforces their sense of competence.

But if you believe your talent grows with persistence and effort, then you seek failure as an opportunity to improve. People with a growth mindset feel smart when they’re learning, not when they’re flawless.

Here’s the good news: you can change your success by changing your mindset. When Dweck trained children to view themselves as capable of growing their intelligence, they worked harder, more persistently, and with greater success on math problems they had previously abandoned as unsolvable.

I’ve said it many times, that one thing that every student needs to do in Higher Ed and arguably in k-12 as well is to fail and realize that it is not the end of the world and by failing, learning where they might have a potential boundary. Personally, I remember bombing a research project in Grade 4 and my teacher told me that I had to redo it. I did and I knocked it out of the park and continued to get high grades for the rest of my k-12 career. I remember failing my first Calc course in university and though it didn’t have the same magical grade elevating effect that my G4 experience did, it showed me that even in the “everything is really important now” environment of higher ed, you could get a second try and prove to yourself that what didn’t kill you made you stronger. I’m sure everyone reading this will have similar stories in school and elsewhere in their lives, and I would argue that those failures are likely more memorable than all the successes that might have preceded or succeeded them.

The power of the token economy

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By , May 26, 2009 9:48 am

I’m sure you’ve seen one of those posters quoting ” – everything you need to know you likely learned in kindergarden – ”

One of those things is that part of the world works because you have enough coins/stars/stickers. These are part of the token economy that is present in elementary school classrooms. Kids earn coins/credits for doing things for the classroom or for completing personal goals. This seems to fall off through secondary and post secondary education. But then it comes back in adult education with adults working as hard for stickers or coins as they ever did when they were kids, harder now that they have an appreciation for the concept of value. So when I saw this article on the use of tokens to help deal with email, I just had to laugh.

In fact, games can be so addictive that it’s like playing with fire: The trick is not to accidentally overmotivate users.

This spring, Dennis Crowley — a New York software entrepreneur — released “foursquare,” a “location based” social-networking application that tracks any public place you visit (like a bar, restaurant or coffeehouse) and reports it to you friends. Crowley wanted to encourage people to go out a lot, so he added game-like elements: You get “points” for visiting multiple spots in one evening, for example, and badges for roaming far from home. Travel a lot and you’ll be at the top of the weekly leaderboard, with hipster bragging rights. It worked — almost too well. Some people got so obsessed with racking up points that they began checking in dozens of times a day, frantically marking even a brief visit to Starbucks.

“We created a monster here,” Crowley says ruefully, and he’s reprogramming the game incentives to calm people down. Games are powerful; now it’s up to designers to use them for good.

These economies seem to work best when there is a considerable duration for the people involved to collect and then spend the coins. A single university or highschool term doesn’t seem to be enough time to really get people to buy into the system. I’m sure there are many examples where these economies get going and thrive in 12-16 weeks, but they are likely fewer and further between. Some people might argue that grades are the same as credits, but the problem is that the student can’t spend grades, and while there is a leader board, there are no (or few) extra opportunities to catch up if you are behind, nor are there opportunities to manage your risk. I’m sure if an instructor was able to deal with the administrata involved in linking grades to credits and opportunity creation (with bonus marks being a cludge), it could work, but I don’t see that happening any time soon. The easier way to do this might be to stop thinking about courses as descrete units and start really thinking about them as stages in a journey (easier said than done, I know). This might also have the side effect of helping improve knowledge transfer between courses… but that of course is another discussion all together – I’ll just say that if instructors and the system in general doesn’t model the transfer of knowledge between classes/courses… why should students make the effort to do it on their own?

Hurried toward burnout? Encouragement, Self Esteem and Achievement.

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By , May 14, 2009 1:24 pm

Over the last few months, I’ve had several reasons to expand my scope of cursory research to beyond how technology can be brought into the classroom. It is certainly something that is still interesting, but I’m firmly of the mind now that it is not the technology that we need to be concerned with (I’ve been this way for a while), but rather the human elements that will interact with the technologies. With this in mind, there are several elements of the human factor that may or may not ever be influenced by technology – on of these is that cascade of events that starts in the crib and results in a productive citizen. Technology is certainly going to come into play as a range of accessories that will help things along perhaps, but as an entire unit, technology has no real role that I can think of. So why am I talking about it here? Well, I’ve got my reasons, and if you want a hint, take a look the post earlier in the week.

The education system seems to be committing all manner of fouls on its students. From stripping away creativity to having students preform tasks with little relevance to “their world”, it certainly isn’t easy for students to maintain “buy in” to a system that will help them all succeed. Some parents may be adding insult to injury by “hurrying” their babies along by having them enter the school style world much sooner than others. One of the ways that these fouls play themselves out is through burnout.

Skimming through my feeds this morning, I spotted an article on some work being done out of Finland on burnout and there seems to be a very simple formula. Optimism, encouragement and task focus combine to create students who are less likely to burn out and eventually succeed. This seems to be the case at just about every level of a child’s life. The work that I looked at this morning was done by Katariina Salmela-Aro of the University of Jyväskylä who has three relevant papers – School-Burnout Inventory (SBI) – Reliability and Validity (doi 10.1027/1015-5759.25.1.48 European Journal of Psychological Assessment 2009; Vol.25(1):48–57), Achievement strategies during university studies predict early career burnout and engagement (doi:10.1016/j.jvb.2009.03.009 Journal of Vocational Behavior (2009)) and Adolescents’ future education-related personal goals, concerns, and internal motivation during the ‘‘Towards Working Life’’ group intervention (doi: 10.1080/17405620802591628 Psychology Press (2009)) – on the subject.

While there is little if anything there that one can take away and put a technology spin on, there is one point to consider. Much of what we claim technology is able to do involves creating better connections between people and content. Our collective mission is already one to enable instructors to be able to encourage students along their studies, make tasks that can be focused on and do so in a manner that is as transparent as possible, so what does this add to that? I think it adds a bit of fuel when it comes to why we develop certain systems or adopt policies when it comes to IT. We certainly don’t want the IT to be one of the factors that contribute to the burnout of students, and we would hope that the tools that we create or find to be part of a classroom those that are going to move students along in being able to succeed.

Should we hurry our infants?

By , May 8, 2009 12:07 pm

Much of my interest in games and learning came from my youth playing games as seeing that there were potentially a really effective tool to deliver content. Though at the time I was playing those games, I wasn’t thinking about teaching and learning. I only saw how playing games about an age or time helped me understand that age or time a little bit better and at times it helped out in class as well. So now, with a new driver in my life, I’m looking at games again, but not as anything more complex than the act of doing the game – nee playing.

Coming back from the break that I took when my daughter was born, Ideas had a set of podcasts waiting on babies. This included “The Hurried Infant“. Even before listening to the two episodes, I was thinking about just how I might do best by her in terms of giving her all the tools that I could to succeed at being a complete person. Two elements of being rounded for me included the ability to take intelligent risks and solve problems. These are two principle elements of games, but they are also very important to play. Certainly through history, there have been many brilliant people who have done great things (with or without being recognized) and each of their parents must have done some thing to help them along. Not knowing what that might be, I can only assume that a common thread would be how they played or were allowed to play.

Between what Sir Ken Robinson has done on creativity and numerous resources commenting on the value of play, I think I might be on to something. For all the technology that people might think that I will use with my daughter, I think the most important thing will turn out to be play – with and without technology. I am certainly not buying into the Mozart theory and the idea that enrichment is best idea.

If I can tell stories in addition to reading, pretend and dance as well as watch a screen and build and stack as well as read, I think I’ll be giving my daughter a pretty good start. I certainly hope I don’t raise her to be one of those kids who is afraid to raise their hand because the might not know the right answer.

John Seely Brown on Tinkering

By , March 27, 2009 3:23 pm

Tinkering as a Mode of Knowledge Production in a Digital Age: John Seely Brown from carnegie commons on Vimeo.


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By , March 11, 2009 8:20 pm

I picked this one up off of Twitter (@mcleod) – microlectures via The Chronicle of Higher Education.

One of the things that we have been trying to impress on instructors is that they don’t need to record entire lectures and infact 5-10 minutes is all that is needed. But these 60second bits could be the game changer. Of course, they will take much longer to think and plan out, but that part is all in the traditional element of academia – write and revise. The “new” part of recording and editing is now very much limited, perhaps enough to get more instructors hip to this ‘casting idea.


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By , December 5, 2008 1:11 pm

I haven’t heard it called this, but working toward question generation and self relevance is certainly a great idea.

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