Thursday, February 7. 2013
Last fall, I heard a story on NPR about Jim Stigler, a professor of psychology at UCLA, who studies teaching and learning around the world. He has been looking at how people in the East and West approach learning.
If it has to come down to a word, the word is struggle.
He found that in Eastern cultures, it is assumed that struggle will be part of the learning process. It is expected that everyone will have to struggle to learn. That is part of the process of learning. And struggling gives you the opportunity to show that you have what it takes.
Of course, you can't paint half the globe as being all the same. There is cultural diversity East and West, but Stigler says that in American culture, struggle, in an intellectual sense, is seen as a weakness. In Eastern culture, it is seen as a way to measure emotional strength.
In Japanese classrooms where he has done his research, teachers intentionally design tasks that are slightly beyond the capabilities of the students they teach. They create experiences that will be a bit out of reach. And when a task is mastered, teachers make a point of letting students know that they succeeded and that their success required hard work and struggle.
Monday, March 19. 2012
Jakob Nielsen wrote on his site that he believes that schools need to "teach deep, strategic computer insights that can't be learned from reading a manual." He gives this example:
I recently saw a textbook used to teach computers in the third grade. One of the chapters ("The Big Calculator") featured detailed instructions on how to format tables of numbers in Excel. All very good, except that the new Excel version features a complete user interface overhaul, in which the traditional command menus are replaced by a ribbon with a results-oriented UI.It is a tall order for educators. How do you make student truly literate in a skill and not just tech-savvy (a term I hate) in using a product? Teaching literacy is teaching deeper concepts that survive longer than specific applications. I hear parents say that their 6 year old can use their smartphone. Tech savvy kid. But with what real understanding?
What I am concerned with are life-long technology skills. That is more than just "computer skills" because our definition of what a computer is and will be is being changed as you read this post. Is my iPhone the only computer I will need one day? If you say that you will cling to your desktop or laptop computer, you have to consider that companies (including Apple) are already considering dropping those products from their product lines.
Nielsen offers these as general skills that he believes should be taught in elementary schools:
Writing for Online Readers
Computerized Presentation Skills
User Testing and other Basic Usability Guidelines
If those sound outrageous for elementary school students, read Nielsen's post for more details. For example, when he says "Workspace Ergonomics" he means that kids need to be aware of the RSIs (repetitive
strain injuries, such as carpal tunnel syndrome and "text-message thumb") that are hurting adults now, and teach young people about proper usage (frequent breaks, monitor placement, lighting etc.) and head off the headaches, backaches and RSI that will come from an entire life of tech use. Those kids will be the user interface designers of the future anyway, so start early!
But seriously, he is also suggesting that living in an interactive environment means that usability heuristics like "recognition vs. recall" or "consistency" will be concepts that an educated person will need.
Finally, Nielsen referenced a book that I checked out. The New Division of Labor: How Computers Are Creating the Next Job Market by Frank Levy and Richard J. Murnane. The book looks at how people at work use tech and also at how researchers in cognitive science, computer science, and economics study how computers are enhancing productivity (as they also eliminate jobs).
The authors see a growing division between those who can and cannot earn a good living in the computerized economy, and see the challenge for educators to teach the new skills that will survive a changing technologized workplace. Three of those skills are ones that no educator should have a problem with including in a curriculum. The three are problem solving, understanding the relation between concepts, and interpersonal communication.
Friday, July 29. 2011
I recently got back into doing some instructional design and teaching that is more closely related to workforce training than to traditional college coursework. Sometimes the line is very clear between the two - credits, degrees, prerequisites on the course side and certificates, promotions, and licensing being on the training side. Many colleges deliberately blur the line. They develop certificate programs with perhaps 15 credits of coursework and then offer students the opportunity to move that into a degree program.
Jane Hart has done three posts recently about training the "smart worker." She talks about these workers needing job aids rather than courses, continuous learning using social media and how these workers need immediate access to solutions.
Is this also useful to more traditional courses?
Are schools moving from their traditional role of creating, delivering and managing formal learning to another model?
Hart proposes "liberating courses from the LMS and making them available on the intranet where they were more likely to be accessed and used." Will we see courses moving out of the LMS to an intranet or the Internet (as in open courseware)?
But I also mentioned that the materials would need to be provided in a format that was easily searchable so that relevant content was immediately accessible without having to work through the whole course.
She references a piece by Marc Rosenberg that is also concerned with situations when training is not the answer.
“Too often, there’s more talk about performance than action. Too often, we offer training solutions (including eLearning) for problems that we know are not training related. We know better, but for reasons that are often, but not always, out of our control, we revert to what’s comfortable and what’s expected.“
How often in your classroom is a student having a performance problem rather than a learning problem?
Hart offers several suggestions for developing content in those situations.
A well-designed and simple cheat sheet/quickstart/job aid/web page of textual instructions or a short visual video is certainly something we sometimes use in courses and should probably be using more frequently, especially with adult learners and for performance support.
Tuesday, March 1. 2011
One component of the Writing Initiative that I work in at PCCC is to include more critical thinking in the redesigned writing-intensive course sections. So, I read with interest about Professor Richard Arum, New York University, who has done a major longitudinal study of student learning in higher education.
His research follows approximately 2,400 students at 24 diverse U.S. colleges and universities over a two year period to examine how institutional settings, student backgrounds, and individual academic programs influence how much students learn on campus.
His study uses a recently developed, unique learning assessment tool, the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA), which measures the "higher order thinking skills" that colleges and universities aim to teach: problem-solving, critical thinking, analytical reasoning and communication skills. (The CLA is a tool developed by the Council for Aid to Education, a national nonprofit based in New York.)
Are you surprised? Research has shown for a long time that students spend more time on social pursuits than the average 13 hours per week spent studying.
Arum also points out that faculty incentives within higher education (such as promotion & tenure) are generally aligned with research pursuits, rather than the quality of undergraduate instruction. This is less true at community colleges, but there are still many non-teaching requirements and distractions.
According to Arum, this misalignment of goals results in far less attention to teaching and learning than is necessary to cultivate higher order skills in students.
Richard Arum is professor of sociology and education at New York University and the program director for educational research at the Social Science Research Council. He holds a PhD in sociology from the University of California, Berkeley.
He is the author of several books and articles about student achievement, social stratification, and the organization of schooling, including, Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses.
Monday, January 31. 2011
Test-taking enhances learning.
I didn't say it. It comes from a recent Alertbox post from Jakob Nielsen. He is a big name in the web usability world, and not an educator. But I thought his ideas were interesting and I wonder if we might see similarities with our own students - particularly those learning either fully or partially online for courses.
One of his ideas is that people remember much more after reading if they are asked to retrieve information about the text from memory using a test. Nielsen cautions that he has long thought that the Web may be "unsuited for real learning" mostly because of the superficial way that users "surf" (the "scan" of the digital age) information instead of close reading.
His own usability studies on teens leads him to conclude that "When using websites, teenagers have a lower success rate than adults and they're also easily bored. To work for teens, websites must be simple -- but not childish -- and supply plenty of interactive features."
College students don't rate much better because they are "multitaskers who move through websites rapidly, often missing the item they come to find. They're enraptured by social media but reserve it for private conversations and thus visit company sites from search engines."
Again, Nielsen is looking most of the time at non-educational (commercial) uses of the Web.
Most of his post is about "writing-for-the-Web" guidelines, and it would seem that the thrust is at "making it simple." (Examples: "Craft the first 2 words of headlines and other microcontent for the scanning eye; Use numerals instead of words; Use bulleted lists") That's probably not an approach that appeals to educators.
Nielsen recognizes that, and sees the overlap here of educational sites where users need to learn something beyond the highlights, and commercial sites that need to "educate" users. (For example, a pharmaceutical site for patients about a drug.)
He cites a recent research study by Karpicke and Blunt from Purdue University published in the January Science that measured the amount of information people could remember a week after reading a scientific text. The students who took an "elaborate" test after reading the text remembered 145% more content after a week compared to the untested students who simply read the text.
I found it interesting that people who simply read the text 4 times also remembered more (64%) a week later.
Nielsen is concerned with the implications for web designers and I think this is probably an area that must also concern instructional designers working on web content for courses.
Is quizzing and testing (high and low stakes) the way to get better retention?
Unfortunately, for commercial web designers, they can't usually "require" users to take tests. But teachers often can and do require objective and subjective tests.
Perhaps, Nielsen's final thought is more important to our course design thinking - "get users to exercise their memory after reading your content, and then offer them a chance to revisit the material after they've seen how little they remember."
Friday, July 16. 2010
Last week there was an interesting Op Ed in the NY Times by David Brooks titled "The Medium is the Medium" that seems to give hope for the good old books.
It points to several studies about the presence of books in a student's home and the impact it has on their performance in school. In one study, disadvantaged students were given 12 books to keep and read over the summer break. In that study, they performed better in the fall than students who did not get the books. The study also points out that those students also had less of a "summer slide" - their term for the decline that seems to especially hit lower-income students during the vacation months. Just having those books seemed to have as much positive effect as attending summer school. Brooks also points other research that shows that children who grow up in a home with 500 books stay in school longer and do better.
I am a book fan, but all this seems too easy.
Can just the mere presence of a home library make a difference? (Some of these studies are not looking at whether or not students actually read the books or even the types of books in the home. The new study gave $50 worth of paperbacks from Scholastic, so they were probably "age-appropriate.")
The new study (led by Richard Allington of the University of Tennessee) suggests that it's not just the presence of the books, but there's a change in the self-perception of the students who see themselves as readers.
Teacher/Blogger Brian Bachenheimer posted a good observation about the Brooks OpEd that focused on the idea that is pretty well accepted by many teachers that "literacy" now can take many forms including blogs, social literacy sites, wikis, and podcasts.
Sure, they are not books, but some educators feel they are better than books because they are participatory (read/write) and allow students (via links) to go beyond the document to images (photos, maps, art), audio (speakers, music), and related stories and research.
And anyone with a student at home or in their classroom knows that, for whatever reasons you want to list, the Internet is far more motivating than books.
Would a study that gave disadvantaged kids the Net and a computer over the summer show any improvement or any less summer slide? Would they see themselves differently - not as readers, but as connected?
Brooks' conclusion sound quite old-fashioned:
"But the literary world is still better at helping you become cultivated, mastering significant things of lasting import. To learn these sorts of things, you have to defer to greater minds than your own. You have to take the time to immerse yourself in a great writer’s world. You have to respect the authority of the teacher."Although many teachers would still like to believe those sentiments, the reality of the classroom doesn't really support them.
(There area few hundred comments on the Brooks' piece online.)
Wednesday, June 30. 2010
This a cross-posting from another blog of mine. It seemed to have some crossover to the learning and technology focus of Serendipity35.
This post isn’t about that. Or maybe it is.
Nicholas Carr wrote a piece in the Atlantic Monthly called “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” that caused a lot of discussion, especially with educators and technology types.
Now he has a book out called The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains that looks at some neurological science in an attempt to see the impact of computers and the Net.
I love to read about the brain and this book has stories about experiments that I find interesting (though not always convincing). Can we really see a difference between those neural pathways that form when we are reading books versus those created when we read online? Is Net reading with its surfing and skimming that lead you from a story to an image to a video to something else and distracting you with popups, messages, alerts, and feeds.
I have heard all my life that interruptions and distractions kills my comprehension and retention. My parents told me. My teachers told me. My wife still tells me to put down the iPad while I’m watching TV and flipping through a magazine.
“Deep reading” is the good thing for your brain. Right?
“Habits of mind” is another term that came into my teaching life. If you look at that list, you can see that technology and especially the Net is probably changing some of these habits – or creating new ones.
Then again, habits like being open to continuous learning, thinking flexibly, thinking interdependently (learning with others) and applying past knowledge to new situations might be encouraged by Net use.
I wonder what the difference is when you read Carr’s books on a Kindle versus on paper?
Education really loves the ability to concentrate. I think Carr is more concerned with our everyday habits than with the classroom. And we all have seen those statistics about the amount of time we spend in classrooms versus the time we spend online, watching TV, sleeping and at other activities. Classrooms always lose.
Yet, Carr likes technology. He liked those first Apple home computers and social networking, blogging, YouTube and toys that allow you to people to stream music, movies throughout your house and DVRs that let you program your own TV network.
But he does want to warn us of what is being lost.
His argument includes the brain research and Plato and Marshall McLuhan as evidence. The controversial part ids the idea that the Internet literally and physically rewires our brain. That brain becomes more computer-like and is better at consuming data. We’re better at swimming in the shallow water.
A surprisingly large section of the book is devoted to the history of the written word and all that it has done to “mold the human mind.”
The past week I have been doing more “deep reading.” That is “sustained, unbroken attention to a single, static object.” I have been reading (like much of the world) the Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy. (Just finishing The Girl with the Dragon Tattoothis weekend, and yes, I do like it.) You might argue that those books are not “deep” but that’s not the point. The deep comes from the way you read.
And I do tend to read print books differently. I have been sitting outside in my Adirondack chair with a cup of tea and focusing on the book. I even moved the chair off the deck yesterday because I was picking up the sounds of the TV from inside the house.
Carr’s argument is that the Internet works against that kind of focus.
“Dozens of studies by psychologists, neurobiologists, educators and Web designers point to the same conclusion: when we go online, we enter an environment that promotes cursory reading, hurried and distracted thinking, and superficial learning.” Sure, deep reading is possible, but that’s not the kind of reading “the technology encourages and ewards.”
Is the book pulling me away from my laptop, phone, and iPad? Not really. I need them for work and to survive the day it seems. But I am being more mindful of occasions for deeper reading.
I am also thinking about how a deeper “reading” of other things – relationships, for example – might be something I need to consider too.
It’s wisdom over knowledge. It’s using the technology, but more intelligently.
Originally posted on Weekends in Paradelle
Monday, May 24. 2010
My Drew dreaming in the tee-ball outfield.
A friend recommended that I read NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman.
She knows that my own sons are grown now, but she said that I would agree with the basic premise that many of our popular strategies for raising children are bad strategies.
Maybe she was getting me ready for some future grandchildren. And she was probably thinking about the implications for teachers and school programs.
The first "problem" I noted in a browse of the book is about the inverse power of praise. We give too much praise and let effort count more than actual results.
I wrote about that last summer here in a piece called "School As T-Ball." I was thinking that the effort-rewarding philosophy of tee-ball was working its way into schools.
It might seem to be a good philosophy for very young children. We want to foster the idea of trying. We encourage "low stakes testing" where failure is okay. I see a place for tee-ball on a field even in some classrooms. My sons both played tee-ball.
My Justin considers life after tee-ball.
If we are playing in a game where everyone gets up to bat, no one gets out and both teams win, I don't know what the point of playing is after awhile.
And, yes, I know that even older ballplayers will hit off a tee. It can be a good "scaffolding" activity and a way to teach good habits. But that tee is taken away when the game begins.
That's just one part of the book. It also takes on topics like why insufficient sleep adversely affects kids' capacity to learn; why white parents don't talk about race; why kids lie; why evaluation methods for giftedness and the accompanying programs don't work; and why siblings really fight.
Reviewers seem to have been fairly kind to the book. But there were those who disagreed - like the New York Times Book Review that felt that every generation seems to have a "revolutionary" book of parental advice (see Dr. Spock) and that all that's new here is the "packaging."
I am giving it a read and I find myself agreeing more than disagreeing.
But I also know that I am still very likely to cheer on my grandchildren if they play tee-ball, no matter what the book says.
(Page 1 of 5, totaling 39 entries) » next page
Original content in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons License