Lesson in Explicitness or Lack Thereof

head slapEver developed one of those killer assignments that you know would be dynamite … and then you review the graduate student submissions and wonder – How could they have missed that!?!?

Yep!  It happened to me this week.  It happened ironically during a synthesis assignment on attention, memory and thinking, and it pointed out to me (again) how critical being explicit is in online learning (or any learning).

Let me provide some context.

For the past four weeks, my EDU 6323 class on Technology as a Medium for Learning has been reading the chapters on attention, memory and thinking in Michelle Miller’s Minds Online: Teaching Effectively With Technology.  I had previously blogged about her chapters last year – see my posts on Attention, Memory, and Thinking.  These chapters provided background as we explored digital tools for tagging, aggregating, social networking, and collaborating.

During those same four weeks, the students began using a group page in Diigo, purposefully curating resources around the topics of attention, memory and thinking.  They collectively shared over ninety articles, both from scholarly sources as well as mainstream media.  See below for some examples.

The assignment this week:

Over the past weeks, we have explored a number of Web 2.0 technologies (and we have a few to go).

EDU6323coursemap .

We have also been reading Miller’s book Minds Online. Chapters 4-6 focus on key cognitive attributes of attention, memory and thinking.  Also, we have been collectively gathering web resources on these topics in our Diigo Group page.

During this week, you will submit a 2-5 page double-spaced paper, synthesizing the lessons you take from these chapters and resources, and discussing specific ways some of the technologies we have discussed could be used to improve your teaching and student learning.  You will bring highlights of your thinking into this week’s discussion to share with your classmates.  The focus this week is on “collaboration” – so let’s learn from each other!

I thought it self-evident that the “collectively gathered web resources” in Diigo would inform their papers.  But that was not explicitedly stated in the assignment nor the rubric.

One student did, weaving in to his analysis three different articles that other classmates had saved in Diigo.  Four others used one or two of their own resources that they had added to the Diigo group page, but none from their classmates.  Half of the class had Miller’s book as their only resource, with no mention of the curated resources.

I place the “blame” (if that is the right word) squarely on my shoulders.  I did not make my expectations explicit and I did not provide enough scaffolding.  For the past three weeks, I have reminded students to pay attention to Miller’s chapters, as they would be using them as a lens for their upcoming paper.  In doing so, I focused their attention strictly on the book…and failed to highlight the importance of the other sources they were dutifully collecting.

In general, the papers were fine.  They summarized Miller’s key points and then discussed possible applications to their own teaching situations.  I just assumed that they would connect the dots between (1) the activity of gathering resources on attention, memory, and thinking and (2) the paper they were writing on applying the lessons to their own teaching situation.  That connection was crystal clear to me … but alluded 93% of my class.

My fault!

This is my first time teaching EDU 6323.  Next time, I will spend more time connecting the dots – and making explicit my expectations.

And just to share some of the good work the class did curating resources, here is a sampling:

I would welcome any suggestions you might have on making lessons more explicit.  Maybe I watch too much NCIS – but a head slap is what I feel I need right now!

headslap2

{Graphics: Chris Sabo, Watwood EDU6323 Course Graphic, Patricia Goldbach}

First Week in EDU6323

It has been awhile since I blogged…but as I move into retirement from faculty development and spend more time teaching adjunct, my blog offers a place to reflect on my online teaching.

I am currently teaching a graduate course for Northeastern University – Technology as a Medium for Learning (EDU6323).  I was asked to completely redesign this course to add more learning science to the course flow.  As the course objectives aligned with a course Jeff Nugent developed several years ago, I took the basic flow from Jeff’s course, but added Michelle Miller’s book as the course textbook, so that we would examine the various digital technologies through the cognitive lens of Attention, Memory, Thinking and Multimedia.

EDU6323coursemap

To start the course off, the students read Mike Wesch‘s From Knowledgable to Knowledge-able, The Next Generation Digital Learning Environment, and an interview by Mary Grush on moving from course management to course networking, all within the context of learning in a networked environment.  They also viewed the Networked Society video:

The students are tweeting to hashtag #EDU6323 weekly, as well as analyzing the readings and discussing their insights in our Blackboard discussion board.  My students span the country.

6323maptweet

Some are in K-12 as teachers or coaches, some are in community colleges, and some are in higher education administration or educational technology. Yet it was interesting how these readings and video in some ways overwhelmed my students.  While living in it, they had not reflected before on the pace and magnitude of change occurring in learning environments.  Some questioned who was ahead in dealing with this change – higher education or K-12?  There was some discussion on the potential gap that can exist between haves and have-nots, but also a recognition that in some ways, developing countries now have access to learning – leading to the question as to whether it is the middle that is being squeezed.

What is gratifying is that my students appear focused on student learning, not tools and technology.  There was discussion as to whether more or less technology in the classroom was the answer, but they kept coming back to the affordances technology “could” give for learning.  One student summarized:

“E-learning empowers the individual by putting information in the hands of everyone, not just the elite.  It affords everyone, even those in the remotest of regions and in the most un-institutional places, the invaluable advantage of learning, of being both the holder and creator of knowledge.”

Given that I have several students in health care education, there was some push-back on Mike’s article.  These students teach in programs that lead to students taking national certification exams, so “teaching to the test” is a bit of the norm.  We had some good discussion in both Twitter and Blackboard around assessment of learning.  As one student noted:

“With all of the personalization and every aspect being chosen for the learner (ie review questions, etc), how does this bolster dedication, motivation, perseverance, and most of all organizational skills?”

Some questioned whether the concept of “learning management systems” is an outdated concept.  We will dig deeper into this in a few weeks.  There was comfort in the structure that LMS‘s provide, but recognition that they also limited both teaching and learning.  Some noted that this comfort has more to do with teachers than students, and that fear of change may keep teachers from experimenting.

It was nice to see the concept of “free” surface in the first week.  There are many free apps and softwares available for teaching and learning – but there are “costs” associated with the selection of these free apps, particularly when it comes to time for teachers to tinker and play.

Please join us at the Twitter hashtag #EDU6323 in the coming ten weeks as we explore digital technologies for learning.  Next week, my students will be exploring educational blogs and trying to answer the two questions – Should students blog? and Should teachers blog?

How would you answer that question?

 

Direct Instruction and Learning Science

icon-e-learningKristi Bronkey had a nice article in Faculty Focus yesterday entitled “Re-Thinking Direct Instruction in Online Learning.” She noted that while direct instruction had a bad reputation associated with passive learning, it did not have to reflect passivity. She suggested a model framed around the notions of “I Do, We Do, and You Do.”

  • I Do – Direct instruction by faculty using screencasts
  • We Do – Faculty guided student processes with frequent feedback
  • You Do – Students working together in authentic group processes

Kristi noted:

“Direct Instruction should be an ongoing exchange between professor and students. With effort, creativity, and the intentional use of the I Do, We Do, You Do structure, we can present new information in engaging ways, provide guided feedback as students strive to draw meaning from their new learning, and allow students the opportunity to collaborate with colleagues before independently reflecting on their own learning.”

How Learning WorksI was struck by the parallels between Kristi’s article and the research Susan Ambrose and her colleagues published (2010) in How Learning Works: Seven Researched-Based Principles for Smart Teaching.

Kristi noted that for “I Do”, faculty could use short screencasts to help students make connections between the reading assignments and bigger picture aspects of the topic being discussed. She noted that this allowed students to “hear our thought processes.” This aligns nicely with the Knowledge Organization principle:

“How students organize knowledge influences how they learn and apply what they know.”

Students do not have the rich knowledge structure and associated connections of facts that faculty experts draw on when conceptualizing a topic. Articulating these connections can aid student learning.

Faculty screencasts can also help guide the students in both procedural knowledge and the knowledge of how to employ them – steps towards mastery. Developing a concise screencast can help faculty push past their own “expert blind spot” by clearly identifying skills needed and steps for applying these skills.  This aligns with another principle noted by Ambrose:

“To develop mastery, students must acquire component skills, practice integrating them, and know when to apply them.”

Facts can be dry…but rarely come across as dry when a passionate expert discusses them. Screencasts can provide avenues in which this passion of the faculty becomes evident, and that links to student motivation for learning. As Ambrose noted:

“Students’ motivation determines, directs, and sustains what they do to learn.”

Two more principles can surface in the We Do area of learning processes. Students come to our courses with a wealth of knowledge already, and helping students surface that prior knowledge influences how they filter and process what they are learning. If they lack sufficient prior knowledge, learning can be negatively impacted. The facilitative nature of We Do can help engage prior knowledge.

“Students’ prior knowledge can help or hinder learning.”

Kristi’s article also discusses the use of frequent feedback. Ambrose noted that learning is best fostered when students engage in practice that is directly linked to learning outcomes, set at an appropriate level of challenge, and is linked to specific and explicit feedback.  As Kristi noted, feedback does not simply have to summative – it can be used formatively during learning processes to guide students to higher levels of achievement.

Goal-directed practice coupled with targeted feedback enhances the quality of students’ learning.”

In the final section of Kristi’s post, she discusses the independent nature of You Do in online learning, but advocates for a mix of group activities and independent metacognitive reflection.  Tackling the potential for isolation addresses another principle noted by Ambrose:

“Students’ current level of development interacts with the social, emotional, and intellectual climate of the course to impact learning.”

The reflection on their own contribution to the progress of learning also aligns with the final principle noted by Ambrose:

“To become self-directed learners, students must learn to monitor and adjust their approaches to learning.”

learning_graphicI like Kristi’s call to action for online professors.  We would not want passivity in our students, and we should not allow our delivery to be passive.  Incorporating the concepts of I Do / We Do / You Do as a mindful approach to course design can not only help keep students engaged, but also better incorporate aspects of learning science that we know from research lead to more effective learning.

{Graphics: EuroMedia, Jossey-Bass, John Hopkins University}

Attention, Cognition, and Online Learning

Twitter-AttentionLast week, I began discussing Michelle Miller’s new book, Minds Online: Teaching Effectively With Technology.  In my post, “Cognitively Optimized Online Course,” I reviewed the first three chapters on online learning, how it works, and the psychology of computing.  In this post, I look at the fourth chapter, on attention.

Sooo … has the cute picture of the little dog grabbed your attention?

And in doing so, have I sidetracked our exploration of attention?

Michelle’s chapter begins with an exploration of the Stroop Effect, and how easy it is to derail attention.

StroopThe link above takes you to a simple task of speaking two sets of words, with the caveat that you speak the color, not the printed word.  It took me about 50% longer to complete Set #2 over Set #1, because my mind kept focusing on the mismatch between the printed word and the color.  Michelle noted that you cannot separate cognition from the mechanisms we use to allocate our cognitive resources…so paying attention to paying attention is important in online course design.

Yet, attention can easily be shifted.  The message ding on our phone pulls us away from the computer screen.  Images in our lessons that do not align with the task impact our attention.

We also have limitations, including inattentional blindness when we focus.  It goes back 8 years ago, but I used the video below as an example of inattentional blindness during a job interview.

As Michelle noted:

“The inattentional blindness effect illustrates a broader truth about human perception and attention, that looking and seeing are two different things – and that we are remarkably prone to missing stimuli when our attention is directed elsewhere.”

… as “The Invisible Gorilla” showed.

While capacity cannot be expanded, it can be altered by practice. Actions that become automatic free up the brain to process other information.  Michelle is quick to note that practice does not mean we can actually multitask…we just think that we can.

Attention is highly intertwined with visual processing, which is another facet of online course design that matters.  She describes change blindness, in which changes to the screen are not picked up readily.  Most people think they perceive more change than they really do.

 Working memory is an area of significant variation among individuals.  Michelle noted that attention directs what goes in to working memory, so again, understanding attention is important to creating a learning environment.

minds_online2Michelle suggested several strategies regarding attention and online learning.

  • Ask students to respond
    • Chunk material into short segments and have students do something (answer a question, click on a hotspot, etc)
  • Take advantage of automaticity
    • Use auto-grading features of LMS’s to provide practice opportunities and feedback, with incentives for completion
  • Assess Cognitive Load
    • You really can do little to impact the cognitive demands of the topic or the individual, but you can impact cognitive load by design features.  Poor instructions or requiring new features without practice can negatively increase cognitive load.
  • Discourage Divided Attention
    • The web is full of distractions, but simply informing students that they should pay attention actually increases attention.

The chapter on attention suggests that educating students about multitasking, making materials as seamless as possible, minimizing extraneous attention drains, and keeping them engaged through compelling activities – these will help with learning in online classes.

From attention, Michelle moves to memory – my next post.

{Graphic: Social Caffeine }

 

Cognitively Optimized Online Course

active-learning-stratsMonday, I attended a regional conference hosted by the Harvard University Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning on active learning.  It was a good day of conversation with colleagues from some 35 institutions in the area.  I met Jim Lang of Assumption College, and he pointed out that “active learning” is a potential active learning problem for faculty in general.  Totally agree.

During the morning, we worked as small groups to identify both barriers to adoption and solutions:

Some barriers:

  • Faculty personal identity as “one who lectures”
  • Loss of control
  • Fear that experimentation will impact student evaluations
  • Classroom spaces not conducive to active learning
  • Lack of faculty knowledge as to active learning techniques

Some solutions:

  • Creating culture of active learning
  • Sharing of practices … and sharing evidence of efficacy
  • Spotlights on faculty doing it
  • Discipline journals including SoTL in addition to discipline research
  • Convene faculty development around shared problems
    • Start with small teaching activities
  • Understand the difference between “starting” versus “sustaining” active learning

minds_online2Yet, my best take-away from the conference came when Jim mentioned a new book he was reading on the train that morning:  Michelle Miller’s (2014) Minds Online: Teaching Effectively With Technology.  I immediately went online and ordered my own copy, which arrived last night.  The book starts with the cognitive principles that could be applied to improved learning through technology, focusing on attention, memory and thinking.  It then provides practical applications of these principles to provide a “cognitively optimized, fully online course.”  That intrigued me!  Sixty-five pages in, I am excited enough to post this preliminary reaction.

Michelle noted in the preface that this book “…explains how principles of human cognition can inform the effective use of technology in college teaching”, noting:

  • “Technology enables frequent, low-stakes testing, an activity that powerfully promotes memory for material
  • Technology encourages better spacing of study over the time course of the class and helps prevent cramming.
  • Technology facilitates presentation of material in ways that take advantage of learners’ existing knowledge about a topic.
  • Technology facilitates presentation of material via multiple sensory modalities, which, if done in the right ways, can promote comprehension and memory.
  • Technology offers new methods for capturing and holding students’ attention, which is a necessary precursor for memory.
  • Technology supports frequent, varied practice that is a necessary precursor to the development of expertise.
  • Technology offers new avenues to connect students socially and fire them up emotionally.
  • Technology allows us to borrow from the techniques of gaming to promote practice, engagement, and motivation.” (p. xii)

She noted that technology does not promote learning by its mere presence … learning requires focused attention, effortful practice, and motivation (concepts that align with Susan Ambrose’s (2012) How Learning Works).

Michelle’s first chapter deals with whether online learning is here to stay.  She suggests factors such as economics, student demand, calls for measurable evidence of learning, new technologies and a drive to innovate as reasons why technology in higher education is now a given … and that we should invest in using it well.  She then looks at whether learning online works (noting that just by asking the question, we are holding technologically aided teaching to a higher standard than classroom teaching).  She charts out principles for optimal college teaching excerpted from four “best practice frameworks:

These best practices do suggest that online learning works…and some of what makes it work is active learning.

In Chapter 3, she tackles some of the prevailing myths about the psychology of computing:

  • Use of the web “rewires” the brain
  • Students today are “digital natives”
  • Social networking destroys real-life social relationships

RewireYourBrain

While there are grains of truth, she provides some interesting analysis of the realities behind these myths and what that might mean for teaching.

So … I am through the first three chapters and stoked!  I will continue this as I move further through the book, and I will continue to find connections with the active learning session I attended this week.

If you are looking for a good book that applies the learning sciences to online teaching, I would recommend this book.

(…and thanks again to Jim Lang for the suggestion…)

{Graphics: Kenny, Barnes and Noble, Vogler}

 

 

 

Serial Killers

A couple of years ago, Laura McLay had a post in her blog entitled “On Vampires and Stochastic Processes.”  Nice bit of reflection on the statistical possibilities of vampires.  What surprised her was the number of hits her blog had afterwards.  It seems a good provocative title can draw in numbers of readers.

Soooo…be interesting to see if my hits increase (or maybe the NSA / FBI will just pay me a visit…). 🙂

But this post has nothing to do with the latest James Patterson or Jeffrey Deaver novel.  It has everything to do with whether real learning is occurring in my online classes and the online classes of the faculty members with whom I consult, given that I have bought in to and used for years the concept (or “framework”) of Community of Inquiry.

ol_quote

Thanks to some research by our graduate fellow, we all read this week for our continuing conversations around the Community of Inquiry a 2003 article from Pawan and others entitled “Online Learning: Patterns of Engagement and Interaction Among In-Service Teachers”, as well as a 2013 article by Garrison and Akyol entitled “Toward the Development of a Metacognition Construct for Communities of Inquiry”.  Even though one was 10 years old, I had not previously read either, so I found them interesting.  I am continuing to question some of my basic assumptions regarding my own online teaching, which has always relied heavily on shared dialogue, first in discussion boards, and more recently in wiki-based discussions and blog posts and commenting.

Pawan’s article noted that without the explicit guidance and teaching presence of the instructor, students in the asynchronous discussions engaged primarily in “serial monologues” – presentations rather than conversations, with minimal effort to connect what they are saying with others.  Jeff Nugent stated it eloquently when he said that after a decade of asynchronous discussions, the standard in most online classes was “monologues masquerading as dialogues.”  The Pawan article looked at the interactions within the dialogue in three online classes, and found that discussions do not automatically become interactive and collaborative simply by virtue of being in a web-based 24/7 asynchronous medium.  While they found some discussions to stay on task, many were often one-way serial monologues.  Using the Practical Inquiry model, they found that online discussions were primarily focused in the first two phases of Trigger and Exploration, rarely rising to the levels associated with more critical thinking of Integration and Resolution.  In fact, they found no resolution responses in any of the three courses they examined.

Last week, I asked if inquiry equaled learning, and the Practical Inquiry model would seem to suggest that resolution is the ultimate goal of learning.  So, given my reliance on discourse and collaborative learning, would serial monologues and lack of resolution suggest that little learning occurred in my online classes?

I would like to think that I am a better “teacher” than that…

bright2In fact, I do routinely use the recommendations suggested by Pawan et al to structure online discussions and demonstrate overt instructor facilitation.  I have not however routinely required my students to self-code their responses, as Pawan suggested.  Interesting idea.  Yet I fear that my reliance on dialogue has simply facilitated serial monologues in too many of my classes.  Like the dinosaur to the left, I fondly remember some wonderful learning situations, but I also should admit that I have allowed many students to game me and game the system.  They dutifully post the required post, “comment” to the required number of classmates, and move on to the next class without really digging deep into the learning that could occur.

And if I allow some of my students to “get away” with serial monologues, am I guilty of poor teaching?

Do we need to kill the serial monologues?  Should I become a serial killer?

As I pondered this provocative thought, we continued our conversation today, circling back around to a more holistic view that learning in online classes comes from the whole and not just from a week to week discussion.  Online courses have to have multiple methods for assessing student learning, with dialogue being simply one facet of the course.  The second article by Garrison and Akyol actually had some interesting ideas around student self-assessment of their own knowledge of cognition, monitoring of cognition, and regulation of cognition.  It has me thinking about ways I could have students in online courses do more to assess their own learning, to think more about their thinking.

Now the question becomes, where does resolution occur if not in the dialogue?  Which led Jeff to raise the follow-on question – where is the RESEARCH about where resolution DOES occur in online classes?

That will be our starting point next week.  If anyone has good suggestions on research (inside or outside the CoI body of work) that points to how students resolve inquiry, please share it!

{Graphics: izquotes, Larry Gonick}

 

 

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Why Don’t Students Like School?

willingham2

I just finished reading Dan Willingham’s (2009) book, Why Don’t Students Like School?: A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions About How the Mind Works and What It Means for the Classroom. It is an excellent book full of practical suggestions to improve teaching, both online and in the classroom.

Dan Willingham is currently Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia.  His research focuses on the brain basis of learning and memory and the application of cognitive psychology to education. He writes the “Ask the Cognitive Scientist” column for American Educator magazine.

In this book, Willingham asks the question many of us have asked.  After all, students are born as naturally curious creatures, so why are they turned off by education, even when they are paying to attend?  Why can they remember the most trivial detail from a TV show or the words to a popular song, but not remember the answers on our tests?  Willingham submits nine principles that he states explain this disconnect.  Through these nine principles, he first attempts to explain how the minds of students work and then relate how to use that knowledge to improve teaching.

Principle 1: People are naturally curious, but we are not naturally good thinkers; unless the cognitive conditions are right, we will avoid thinking.

1_BrainRulesWillingham states that our minds are not especially well-suited for thinking; thinking is slow, effortful and uncertain.  So rather than thinking in most situations, we revert to relying on our memories – following courses of action we have taken previously.  Paradoxically though, people tend to find successful thinking pleasurable – we like to solve problems, provided they are not too tough.  John Medina (2008), in his book Brain Rules, stated that we are all powerful and natural explorers, and Willingham would agree.  For problems to be solved, he suggests that the thinker needs adequate information from the environment, sufficient room in working memory, and the required facts and processes stored in long-term memory.  In translating this to our classrooms, he suggests that we stage our instruction so that students have relevant problems to solve, respecting in the process their cognitive limits.  Varying how these problems are presented to students and changing the pace can keep us from losing the attention of our students.

Principle 2: Factual knowledge must precede skill.

Willingham states that there is no doubt that memorizing lists of dry facts is boring, but it is equally true that trying to teach students to analyze or synthesize in the absence of factual knowledge is problematic.  These skills require extensive factual knowledge.  He quoted Einstein, who said “Imagination is more important than knowledge”…and then spends the chapter refuting Einstein.  From his cognitive perspective, knowledge is more important in that it is the prerequisite for imagination.  For Willingham, this implies that in every course reading is fundamental.  We should ensure that a knowledge base is in place before requiring critical thinking.  This does not mean that boring presentations are okay.  One of Medina’s Brain Rules: We don’t pay attention to boring things.  Willingham suggests that one solution is look for some of that knowledge base outside of class – meaningful and pointed assignments using TV and internet videos can provoke learning.

Principle 3: Memory is the residue of thought.

Humans cannot store everything that happens in memory.  So the brain selectively stores memories.  And if one has to think about something carefully, the brain reasons that it might have to think about it again in the future, so it is a memory that should be stored.  Medina stated this in two of his rules – Repeat to Remember and Remember to Repeat.  Willingham provides some interesting research on memory.  The lesson appears to be that material to be learned must spend some time in working memory (they think about it), but equally important, students need to think about the meaning of the material.  It does you little good to use a clever video as an attention getter if at the end of class, the students remember the video but not the material covered.

Principle 4:  We understand new things in the context of things we already know, and most of what we know is concrete.

We want students to be able to apply our lessons in new contexts, but the challenge is that the mind does not like abstractions.  The mind prefers the concrete.  Cognitive research therefore suggests that understanding abstractions is really remembering in disguise.   If students are given lots of examples of a concept, the chances improve that they will then see how to apply a concept to new situations.  Many of us have experienced the students who parrot our words back to us…but appear to not really understand.  They exhibit shallow knowledge of the material.  Students with deep knowledge tend to understand not just the parts but the whole.  Therefore, it helps students to not only provide examples but to also ask them to compare the similarities and differences between examples.  Deep knowledge should be your goal, but Willingham also argues that we should be realistic about just how deep our students can get in our short time with them.  At best, we are launching them on a voyage of discovery.

Principle 5: It is virtually impossible to become proficient at a mental task without extended practice.

In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell (2008) stated that what Tiger Woods, Mozart, and Bill Gates had in common was ten thousand hours of practice.  Willingham agrees that practice is crucial – it helps one gain competence, helps one improve, helps protect against forgetting, and helps in transfer to new situations.

Principle 6:  Cognition early in training is fundamentally different from cognition late in training.

Willingham notes that experts did not start out thinking as experts; they thought as novices.  From his point of view, students are ready to comprehend but not ready to create knowledge.  We should therefore not necessarily place students in positions where they are expected to create new knowledge (unless our reason is to have them take the journey, not create the destination).

Principle 7:  Students are more alike than different in how they think and learn.

There will probably be some push-back on this principle, but Willingham basically states that there really are not different learning styles.  He argues that what we consider as styles are really differences in cognitive abilities.  From his point of view, there is little substantive research that demonstrates the existence of multiple intelligences.  So rather than focusing on differences in students, he suggests focusing on differences in content.  Delivering the same content in multiple ways creates multiple examples and provides change, which adds interest.  Medina might agree with Willingham.  He suggested in Brain Rules that instructors should stimulate more of the senses – and that vision trumps all other senses.

Principle 8:  People do differ in intelligence, but intelligence can be changed through sustained hard work.

Alvin Toffler (1970) in Future Shock noted that the illiterate of the twenty-first century would not be those who could not read and write, but rather those that could not learn, unlearn, and relearn.  Willingham suggests that intelligence is not a fixed trait, but rather a malleable one that can be impacted through hard work.  Labeling students as dumb or slow becomes self-fulfilling.  He suggests rather that we focus on and praise effort and process, not ability.  If we treat failure as a natural part of the learning process and encourage hard work, we create a more positive learning environment.

Principle 9: Teaching, like any complex cognitive skill, must be practiced to be improved.

2_iBrainThe previous eight principles apply equally to use as teachers.  We therefore need to practice, reflect on our processes, and seek feedback to improve.

Willingham concludes by noting that cognitive science can help us improve education, but it is not the whole story.  Classes are not just cognitive spaces but also emotional, social, and even motivational spaces.  Small and Vorgan (2008) in their book iBrain suggested that due to a generation immersed in digital media, a new digital divide is developing where younger students are comfortable online but lack social skills, whereas their older teachers are social but need to hone their technical skills.  Willingham would suggest that understanding cognition can help balance these conflicting concerns in the classroom.

His final thought bears repeating:  “Education makes better minds, and knowledge of the mind can make better education.”

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