improve student learning
Online instructors face the challenges of keeping a course up to date, engaging students, and maintaining integrity. Having students generate some of the course content can address all three of these challenges.
A simple teaching technique that helps students learn; now there’s something few teachers would pass up! This particular technique involves a four-question set that gets students actively responding to the material they are studying. They analyze, reflect, relate, and question via these four prompts:
There’s much to be learned from the study of brain function that can have a profound impact on pedagogy. Recent neuroscience findings shed new light on the external and internal factors that affect acquiring, processing, and learning new knowledge. In this online seminar, two leaders in the field of metacognition will review what science now tells us about the learning process and share concrete classroom strategies and methods that are informed by that science.
Online Seminar • Recorded on Tuesday, October 8th, 2013
The title is borrowed from text in an excellent article that challenges our use of the “what works” phrase in relationship to teaching and learning. Biology professor Kimberly Tanner writes, “… trying to determine ‘what works’ is problematic in many ways and belies the fundamental complexities of the teaching and learning process that have been acknowledged by scholars for thousands of years, from Socrates, to Piaget, to more recent authors and researchers.” (p. 329) She proceeds to identify six reasons why the phrase hinders rather than fosters an evidence-based approach to teaching reform (in biology, her field, but these reasons relate to all disciplines). “Language is powerful,” she notes. (p. 329) We use it to frame issues, and when we do, it guides our thinking.
Most faculty are familiar with the strategy: students are allowed to bring into the exam a card or sheet of paper that they’ve prepared beforehand and that contains information they think might help them answer exam questions. I became convinced of the strategy’s value when my husband was an undergraduate. He and his engineering study buddies convened at our place the night before an exam to decide what they should put on the 4 x 6 note card they were allowed to take into a mechanical engineering course. They spent hours in heated discussion. They thought they were just figuring out what went on the card, but in fact they were sorting out, prioritizing, organizing, and integrating the content of the course. Their discussion accomplished that way more effectively than any review session I had conducted. Of course, being engineers, they decided on what they needed and then reduced the size so that when they got it on the card they needed a magnifying glass to read it.
Online homework has great appeal for instructors, especially those teaching large courses. By using online assignments, instructors don’t have to collect, grade, and promptly return large quantities of homework assignments. Online programs provide instructors with feedback on student performance that can be used to modify the presentation of material in class. Online homework is also beneficial to students. They get feedback promptly, even more promptly than that provided by very conscientious instructors. Online homework can also be designed so that it allows students to work on areas that frequently cause trouble and/or on areas where the individual student is having difficulty.
Metacognition can be a word that gets in the way of students’ understanding that this “thinking about thinking” is really about their awareness of themselves as learners. Most students don’t spend much time thinking about learning generally or how they learn specifically. In order to become independent, self-directed learners, they need to be able to “orchestrate” their learning. That’s the metaphor the National Research Council uses to describe planning for learning, monitoring it as it occurs, and then evaluating both what has been learned and how it was learned.
Not so long ago I challenged us to consider how our collections of active learning activities fit together and that has gotten me thinking about the collection of assignments we have students complete in a course. How do they fit together? Why have we chosen that particular group?
I’m still pondering why students don’t make better use of the feedback we provide on papers, projects, presentations, even the whole class feedback we offer after we’ve graded a set of exams. Yes, we do see improvement as we look back across a course, but we also see a lot of the same errors repeated throughout the course.
As educators, we share the challenge of how to teach an overwhelming amount of content in a short period of time to a sometimes motivated but often bored and listless student population. I do believe that most students enter higher education with a true desire to master their subject area. Some are even interested in learning for the sake of learning. But lectures overloaded with PowerPoint slides quickly change the motivation to extrinsic. This is especially true in fields where high-stakes testing determines future career options.