One of the best gifts teachers can give students are the experiences that open their eyes to themselves as learners. Most students don’t think much about how they learn. Mine used to struggle to write a paragraph describing the study approaches they planned to use in my communication courses. However, to be fair, I’m not sure I had a lot of insights about my learning when I was a student. Did you?
Researchers Daniel Smith and Thomas Valentine begin by making an important point. At two-year colleges “the classroom serves as the epicenter of involvement.” (p. 134) The same could be said for commuter campuses as well. Students who attend two-year colleges often do so part-time and regularly do so combining school with work, family, and a host of other responsibilities. The same can increasingly be said of many students who commute to campus to take classes. At many institutions students now spend considerably less time on campus, and so if they are to be engaged with academic life, that involvement pretty much begins and ends in the classroom. So, are faculty using instructional techniques that do involve students in the classroom?
I’ve been reading some old issues of The Teaching Professor newsletter and ran across a lovely piece by William Reinsmith on learning moments. He’s writing about those times when students get it, when something turns the lights on and they glow with understanding. It may be a moment when they finally figure out how to do so something—a long elusive skill or a solution to a problem. Other times it’s a moment of insight, often a possibility or explanation that had never crossed their minds, or a set of ideas that come together and create a new perspective on a familiar issue.
We have this tendency in higher education to throw babies out with bath water. It derives from dualistic thinking. Either something is right or wrong, it’s in or out, up or down. As mature thinkers, we disavow these dichotomous perspectives, but then find their simplicity hard to resist. They make complicated things easy.
I love it when something in the blog leads us to new ideas and insights. Neil Haave, who teaches on the Augustana Campus of the University of Alberta, submitted an article on learning philosophies. (You can find the article in the April issue of The Teaching Professor newsletter) His thinking about learning philosophies was stimulated by his experience evaluating e-portfolios, which were being piloted on his campus, and by a couple of posts on this blog (November 13, 2013 and January 22, 2014). He was struck by how few insights the seniors preparing these portfolios had about themselves as learners and came to the conclusion that they should start writing about how they learn long before the end of their academic careers.
One of the strengths of gamification is that it provides visible milestones of the student’s mastery of content in real time (when it is well designed). Too often in an instructional setting, the learner doesn’t know whether or not he or she really understands or can apply the knowledge they are learning. There is often no visible sign of mastery of the content or application of the content.
“Efficient and effective learning starts with a proper mindset,” Stephen Chew writes in his short, readable, and very useful chapter, “Helping Students to Get the Most Out of Studying.” Chew continues, pointing out what most of us know firsthand, students harbor some fairly serious misconceptions that undermine their efforts to learn. He identifies four of them.
My colleague Chuck Walker, a psychology professor at St. Bonaventure University (NY), shared a collection of instructional strategies that illustrate how the principles of positive psychology might be applied in the classroom. (For examples see: http://wellbeingincollege.org/faculty-resources) I especially like this one.
In more than 20 years of teaching, I have learned that too much information frustrates rather than inspires students. Today, however, with a few clicks of the computer mouse, any teacher can retrieve an overabundance of information. What is more, courseware makes distributing this information to students amazingly easy. As a result, teachers risk (unintentionally) giving students much more information than they can reasonably digest, including electronic texts, supplementary texts, and background information. The key to avoiding information overload is remembering course goals.
The body of evidence documenting the effectiveness of cooperative learning is already impressive. The large and regularly cited meta-analysis of Johnson and Johnson published in 1987 reviews 378 studies that explore the use of cooperative learning groups in a wide range of settings. More than half of the studies reviewed favored cooperation in groups compared with only 10 percent favoring individual effort.