Posts Tagged ‘education; students’

The Science of Learning

Tuesday, February 15th, 2011

In a 2008 article in JAMA, Donald Berwick argued for broadening the acceptable categories of evidence in improving health care. Instead of asking, “Where is the randomized trial?” he suggested asking, “What is everyone learning?” When analyzing the best course of treatment, there are many methodologies that can guide clinicians.

The same goes for educators in their approach to teaching. Diana Chapman Walsh, the former president of Wellesley, writes about ongoing projects across the country to study how students learn. Of course, the initiatives in specialized centers may not always trickle down to the faculty who interact with students. So, rather than wait for a systemic shift, teachers can implement what we know about how learners learn.

One of the commenters on Walsh’s article summarizes some key guidelines:

  • Cover fewer concepts in more depth. Think four chapters, not twelve.
  • Study the how and why of tech, not just the what.
  • Focus on course outcomes.
  • Practice, practice. Many exercises.
  • Feedback about every exercise. Fast. Formative feedback. Not just “that’s bad.” Instead: “That’s bad. Here’s why. Fix it, and show me again.”
  • Show students how to learn your subject.
  • Give students measures they can use to assess themselves.
  • Give students access to personal, expert (relative to course level) help.

Choose Your Own Teaching Adventure

Monday, October 11th, 2010

Several on-line resources exist for dealing with tricky teaching situations. I've collected several of them here. Sometimes the tip sheets suffice to guide you through a problem, but other times, they can be too general.

I learned about a new website from Carnegie Mellon's Enhancing Education initiative that brings some specificity to on-line teaching advice. The multi-step Solving a Teaching Problem works like a choose-your-own-adventure book. You start by identifying the category of problem you're facing. Next you identify possible reasons for the problem. Finally, the site provides possible strategies.

For instance, I chose the problem: Students can't apply the material. As a reason, I selected, they are unable to synthesize knowledge. The site offered several solutions that include "provide stepping stones to complexity" and talking to students about the process of learning. It's not a prescriptive site, but one that provides a range of options.

Reluctant Learners

Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

Yesterday, Angela Jackson and Rachel Stark, both internal medicine doctors, facilitated a workshop on how to engage reluctant learners. Thanks to our new podcasting capabilities, you can listen to a condensed version of their session here.

One of their main points was that reluctance is a modifiable state, not a permanent characteristic. To illustrate that, Angela asked us to remember a dull lecture we had to sit through during our training. We might have been reluctant then, but we continued on to academic careers.

Another helpful distinction was tallying the different kinds of reluctance. There's the student who texts, rolls her eyes, or doesn't prepare. At the same time, there are know-it-all students who presume to have complete understanding of the material when they don't. They described the "minimizer," who gives just the briefest answer to a question. For each of these cases, the response might be different.

Whatever the approach, the group agreed that some action is required. Too often, difficult students just get ignored and passed on to the next teacher without any remedy. That does a disservice to the student as well as her classmates, who should receive clear signals about acceptable behavior.