Translating Ideals to Behaviors

Photo by Heather Stafford

In Dare to Lead, Brené Brown writes,

“One reason we roll our eyes when people start talking about values is that everyone talks a big values game but very few people actually practice one. It can be infuriating, and it’s not just individuals who fall short of the talk. In our experience, only about 10 percent of organizations have operationalized their values into teachable and observable behaviors that are used to train their employees and hold people accountable.

Ten percent.

If you’re not going to take the time to translate values from ideals to behaviors—if you’re not going to teach people the skills they need to show up in a way that’s aligned with those values and then create a culture in which you hold one another accountable for staying aligned with the values—it’s better not to profess any values at all. They become a joke. A cat poster. Total BS.”

Brene Brown, Dare to Lead

This is my attempt to operationalize the Office of Digital Learning and Inquiry’s goal to advance digital fluency and critical engagement at Middlebury. I’m going to try to walk the walk by looking at a common scenario and dissecting it in relation to a specific tool that has gained in popularity in education circles. As you’ll see, being critical of tools also means making conversations more complicated. It means examining our assumptions and calling out problems even with the shiny-est of new objects. I’ll attempt to identify pros and cons as well as concerns regarding student privacy, agency, and access. It won’t be a short post – but it will be a full one — so let’s get started.

The tool – FlipGrid

The tool I decided to start with is FlipGrid. I chose it because I found out numerous faculty had already started to use the tool in coordination with Canvas. Since that time the Office of Digital Learning has implemented a whitelisting process whereby Canvas integrations are evaluated for privacy and security concerns.

After examining some documentation I found that FlipGrid is intentionally designed to be integrated at a course level.

“***Please note, Flipgrid does not support a system-wide integration or admin-level setup. Instead, teachers must individually do this for each course they want to use Flipgrid with.”

From: FlipGrid Help

A perceived pro for this is that it allows for faculty flexibility, however after digging into the FlipGrid and the power that a grid owner has – you can see that within an academic context it is very easy for this “feature” to result in former students having orphaned video work stored on a server that is impossible to remove. (More on that later.) It also loads the majority of responsibility for privacy concerns on the grid owner.

The Docs 

Let’s start with the documents that teachers need to confirm they have read before creating an account. They consist of:

First – a pro – these docs are all available and fore-fronted for teachers to review. A con – they took me well over an hour to wade through in their entirety. In addition, in the Parental Consent Form there is no opt out option listed. This design highlights the power of defaults. The appearance of only one option is a bit of a power move that does not favor student or parent agency.

“The power of defaults to guide people’s choices has made them an extremely popular way for policymakers and marketers alike to nudge people toward a particular decision. But it has also raised questions about how to ensure that defaults are used ethically and responsibly.” 

Ruth Pogacar and Mary Steffel and Elanor Williams, Fast Company, 4/9/2017

How to fix this → write your own Parental Consent Form and include AND DISCUSS an opt-out option.

Digging Deeper

The United States Department of Education offers some tools to help practitioners and administrators who are tasked with considering student privacy & security. One of the tools is a model terms of service. While the model has not been updated since 2016, I found that it hit on many of the most concerning points related to student privacy. As a test, I ran FlipGrid through a quick assessment that you can view via a Google Sheet. Items in red designate that they fall within the warning category defined by the model.

Extending the Classroom 

In the terms of service in section 2.1 the option to share grids outside of the school population is mentioned, however only later in the section is it stated that:

“If Grid Owners invite unaffiliated guests (e.g., featured speakers) to participate on their Grids, they are solely responsible for (a) obtaining parental consent for sharing Student information with any guests; and (b) obtaining clearance to use the guests’ content. Flipgrid has no responsibility for Grid Owner guest activity.

See Also: FERPA Anyone who enters your class and is not a registered student or faculty member should be aware of their responsibilities as a guest in an academic space. And as the person responsible for upholding FERPA and protecting the classroom space, you must be willing to be fully responsible for their actions. In the Do’s and Don’t’s document provided by FlipGrid this behavior is listed as a don’t:

“Don’t share student information outside the classroom or the school community.”

Do’s and Don’ts from FlipGrid

How to fix this → read up on your FERPA related responsibilities. Have questions? Check in with the Registrar’s office to clarify what is ok and not ok to do.

The Scary Language You Need to Pay Attention To

Some quotes from the ToS that raised concerns for me:

“grant us a nonexclusive license to view, download, reproduce, modify, create derivative works of, distribute, and display any information provided by or collected from a Student solely for the purposes discussed in these Terms.

“Flipgrid does not guarantee any confidentiality with respect to your User Content.”

How to fix this → my take → in some ways not fixable — As a user of tech (and a parent), this is where I stopped and ruled this tool out as a viable option. Part of my determination was that video is a potentially more problematic medium than writing because it is usually less planned and more spur of the moment. This means that there is a higher chance that a student could potentially record something that they did not think out fully or that – in retrospect – they regret or feel silly about posting. It’s one thing when that happens within the four actual walls of a classroom. It’s something completely different when it’s one screen capture away from Snapchat infamy.

The only suggestion I have is to make use of this tool optional and focused solely on team building within the group for no stakes community building interactions. Make students aware of how the tool works and the policies governing its use BEFORE they use it.

Student Agency – Deletion & Tracking

In the Privacy Section the major issues returned to the concept of student agency. If we are fully in support of championing student agency over their work and likeness then they should be learning in systems in which they have control over deletion of their content. FlipGrid puts this power firmly in the Grid Owners hands. For example:

“1.2 Depending on the Grid Owner’s privacy settings for the Grid, other Users may view and share Student content.“

In addition, the privacy policy tells us a fair amount of tracking is taking place:

“Info collected from users: device type, the device identifier (UDID), the Open Device Identification Number (ODIN), date/time stamps for each visit, browser type, operating system, Internet Protocol (IP) address, Internet service provider (ISP), referring/exit pages, clickstream data, and domain name are all collected for purposes of administering, tracking usage of, and improving the Service. We may store this information in log files.

“Cookies & Web Beacons: The Service may include web beacons and cookies from third-party service providers.“

“Companies that deliver content, such as videos a Grid Owner links to or embed, place cookies on their own. These companies use the data they process in accordance with their privacy policies, which may enable these companies to collect and combine information about your activities across websites, apps, or online services.”

A positive in this section is that FlipGrid notifies users that they have the ability to block some of these technologies…

“Each User has a variety of tools to control cookies, web beacons, and similar technologies, including browser controls to block and delete cookies and controls from some third-party analytics service providers to opt out of data collection through web beacons and similar technologies.”

However, they also let you know it might mess with your ability to use FlipGrid:

“User browser settings and other choices may impact the functionality of the Service. “

Another negative against student agency becomes apparent when we dig into a student’s ability to delete their own content. (This is the orphaned content I mentioned way back in the introduction.) They can’t. They are reliant on the Grid Owner to do this or must contact FlipGrid directly:

“Users can contact us at support@Flipgrid.com and request that such videos be removed. However, we will only be able to remove the video if (a) the User provided their email address when posting the video and (b) the User sends the email request to us using that same email address. Otherwise, we may not be able to remove a posted video. Deletion of a video removes it from the Grid. “

Unfortunately, once a student graduates or a teacher leaves a school they typically lose access to the email account that would be associated with this video and consequently – would lose all control over removing the video.

How to fix this → Delete your FlipGrids and all associated videos at the end of the semester. Also – be aware that you are being tracked and make sure that students understand this. Let them ask questions and interrogate the classes’ use of the tool. Allow them to opt out if they choose to.

Flipgrid also tells the user that they do not respond to “do not track signals”:

12.2 How We Respond to Do Not Track Signals

“We do not currently respond to “do not track” signals or other mechanisms that might enable consumers to opt out of tracking on our website.”

So What? Who Cares?

Well – actually – I’m kind of hoping YOU do! We are too quickly trading away power over our own data and choices for ease of use and that’s a BIG problem. It becomes an even bigger problem when we act as agents of an educational institution and make decisions for our students without fully examining the future consequences of our decisions. Finally – whenever we choose an option that makes it difficult (or potentially impossible) for students to access and control their data or for future college employees to help do this after we or the students leave, we have taken away our students’ ability to control their digital life and traded understanding and respect for digital fluency in for ease of use. 

Let’s not shy away from these complicated conversations. We all need to be more transparent and honest about how things work and how they can potentially impact everyone. We don’t have to rule out a tool – but we should not require it either. Students deserve options and we shouldn’t hide behind the power of defaults to obscure the fact that they have the right to make those decisions for themselves.

What’s Next?

Do you have a tool that you are interested in using with your class but would like some feedback from DLINQ? Let me know at hstafford@middlebury.edu.

You can also check out these other resources for additional critical examinations of tech tools:

Teaching Resource: The Decoding the Disciplines Paradigm: Seven Steps to Increased Student Learning by David Pace

Picture of stairs through a garden
Photo by Slawek K on Unsplash

I’m not sure where I first heard about this text, but the paradigm’s focus on disciplinary bottlenecks intrigued me and seemed reflective of a great deal of interest at Middlebury in connection to helping students to think like a …. scientist, historian, educator, economist, etc. The decoding paradigm relies on three assumptions:

  1. Learning is focused on disciplinary processes
  2. We must concentrate on what students need to be able to do
  3. Experts are not always able to identify the basic necessary tasks in a disciplinary field because those processes have become automatic to them

The decoding process is broken up into seven steps:

“Identify a bottleneck

Define the mental operations needed to get past the bottleneck

Model these tasks explicitly

Give students practice and feedback

Motivate the students and deal with potential emotional blocks

Assess how well students are mastering the mental operations

Share what you have learned about your students’ learning”

(Pace, D., 2017, p. 6)

A lot of what is covered in this texts reflects what we already know to be effective practices to improve student learning, however I found the chapters on identifying bottlenecks and dealing with students’ emotional blocks to provide some of the most transformative material.

Bottlenecks

Bottlenecks are those process areas where professors can predict that a majority of their students’ will get stuck. Pace makes the argument that:

“The mistakes that students make in our courses become gifts that can serve to increase our understanding of how to better teach our disciplines and even illuminate the deeper nature of those disciplines”

(Pace, D., 2017, p. 26).

A key to identifying bottlenecks is focusing on what students need to be able to do, or the mental operations that a student must perform to complete a task within the discipline. These bottlenecks can be difficult for experts to identify, and Pace suggests decoding interviews to help hone in on the core of the difficulty that students are experiencing. The interview can begin with asking professors how they would get past the bottleneck that stumps their students. The interviewer will focus on breaking down the answer into a specific set of steps by asking follow up questions. 

Pace notes that bottleneck patterns that have emerged in multiple fields include: 

“Procedural problems

Missing steps

Transferring processes

Moving back and forth from models to concrete situations

Integration of details

Issues of scale

Procedures for knowledge generation”

(Pace, D., 2017, p. 24 – 25).

Emotions

This chapter seemed particularly relevant given our current polarized political climate. It offered a great deal of guidance and suggestions to help professors be proactive in their management of student emotions to ensure that students are familiar with a process for objective engagement with content before they engage with information that may evoke an emotional and personal reaction.

“…what students learn in a college classroom may disrupt the once harmonious flow of opinions around the family dinner table. In some cases what they are studying may even be perceived as a betrayal of the family and the culture within which they have been raised”

(Pace, D., 2017, p. 84 – 85)

In addition, students’ preconceived notions of how they believe a college classroom will function, and the ways in which they will need to study to be successful may come in direct conflict with the disciplinary ways of thinking that students need to acquire. Here again, a proactive approach to teaching students methods and practices that will benefit them in your class is a good way to head off or, at least dampen this reaction before it can occur. A great way to do this is by asking students to share with future students what they need to do to be successful in the class and including this content as a part of your syllabus for subsequent cohorts. 
Pace also emphasizes that professors should not dismiss either of these types of misconceptions. Instead, professors should help students to see these prior understandings as building blocks to new levels of learning.

TLDR;

This is a great read for any teacher who is very interested in developing disciplinary ways of thinking in their students. The text provides many examples and practical suggestions that break big ideas down into actionable steps. There is also a web site that compiles and summarizes much of the material into easily accessible chunks. 

Small Teaching Online: Applying Learning Science in Online Classes by Flower Darby with James M. Lang

A picture of a smartphone with the word "Design" on it with a definition.

What it is:

Small Teaching Online is a 225 page book written as a follow up to Small Teaching to address ways in which the small teaching approach can be adapted in the online medium. Both books address small practical changes that you can make to your teaching that will positively impact student learning. Although this resource appears to be directed strictly to an audience of faculty teaching solely online, it offers tips that would be beneficial to any faculty member who finds themselves building some of their course content into an online space.

Topics Covered:

Small Teaching Online is broken up into three parts: Designing for Learning, Teaching Humans, and Motivating Online Students (and Instructors). The chapter-by-chapter breakdown is:

  • Part I: Designing for Learning
    •     Surfacing Backward Design
    •     Guiding Learning Through Engagement
    •     Using Media and Technology Tools
  • Part II: Teaching Humans
    •     Building Community
    •     Giving Feedback
    •     Fostering Student Persistence and Success
  • Part III: Motivating Online Students (and Instructors)
    •     Creating Autonomy
    •     Making Connections
    •     Developing as an Online Instructor

My Takeaways:

It has always been my contention that online learning forces a lot of pedagogical considerations that should occur in all learning environments, but become much more apparent when teaching in an online space because you are establishing all new norms. The authors make this point in the introduction when they contrast the experience of entering an in person classroom vs. an online space. In one experience students walk through a door – in another they need to navigate several login protocols and guidelines to gain access to a course space and then 

“Once online students finally get into their class, it is frequently unclear what they should do first.” (p. xvii)

Using the example as a guideline we can see that a course needs to be re-thought when it is taught online. Some of the biggest takeaways I found were:

  • Design and align your course content – Teaching online is a great opportunity to consider what you are teaching, how students will use that knowledge, and how you will know that they are successful. This can start with your assessments & assignments. Look at what you’ve typically required and then break it down from there. What is the purpose of the assignment? What are students demonstrating through that work and what type of thinking have they had to use to generate it? Does it address your course objectives? Is it meaningful to students? If not – how can you re-work that piece?
  • Pay attention to the clues your students are giving you. Recognize that as an expert in your field you may make assumptions that trip up novices a bit. Do you notice that a large portion of your class missed what you thought was a fairly obvious conclusion? You need to figure that out! Sometimes breaking the assignment down into chunks can help to move students through a complex thought process (and provide you with the means to address a mis-conception at the exact point it occurs rather than after a whole thought process has been built on that mistake). Use discussion forums to monitor for confusion. Are you noticing patterns? Jump in and ask questions, provide resources and suggestions when you think they might be helpful in redirection students.
  • Connection matters. It shouldn’t be surprising that I had the same takeaway for Small Teaching. This is the core of education – connection. However, connecting in an online space is unique. What you might be able to do through eye contact or a quick conversation on the way to class, needs to happen in a different way in an online class. Regardless of medium students need to feel seen and heard. They want to know you care. Helping students to build their own personal learning networks is a method where you will not only get to know the students interests, but also help them to develop a network that can further support them in the learning after they have left your classroom. It also establishes the power and value of connection in all areas of our lives.

Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning by James M. Lang

A picture of a desk with books, an apple, pencils and alphabet blocks on it.
Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

What it is:

Small Teaching is a 246 page book written to address small moves that faculty in Higher Education settings can make to address teaching challenges and improve student learning in the process. This book is for you if you are looking for small practical adjustments you can make to your teaching to address learning challenges.

Topics Covered:

Small Teaching is broken up into three major parts to address: knowledge, understanding, and inspiration. The chapter by chapter breakdown is:

  • Part I: Knowledge
    • Retrieving
    • Predicting
    • Interleaving
  • Part II: Understanding
    • Connecting
    • Practicing
    • Self-Explaining
  • Part III: Inspiration
    • Motivating
    • Growing
    • Expanding

My Takeaways:

Practice, practice, practice – make sure your assignments and formative assessments are practice sessions that mimic the way in which you will summatively assess your students. In other words – don’t assign papers all semester and then assess a student’s knowledge based on a multiple choice exam. Give students the opportunity to practice the cognitive activity that you have chosen to summatively assess their knowledge so that the assessment method does not impact your students’ ability to show you what they understand.

Focus on growth – use reflective metacognitive exercises to help students recognize and analyze the ways in which their knowledge and understanding has grown over the course of time. This practice not only positively impacts learning gains – it also reinforces a growth mindset.

Connection matters – the way in which you connect and interact with your students will impact their motivation. Sometimes you will not recognize the impact that a few moments of personalized attention will have on a student, but you can bet on the fact that this time is never wasted. In my experience this motivation is dual purpose; it positively impacts both teachers and students.

“Whatever we do, we have to remember that the brains in our classrooms do more than think; they feel, and those feelings can play a valuable role in our efforts to motivate and inspire student learning” (p. 193).

What does instructional design look like? Post #5 – Utilizing Expertise in a Variety of Ways

This is the 5th in a series of blog posts outlining the collaborative process of designing an online course for the first time from scratch. You can read the other posts here.

Photo by Denise Chan on Unsplash

This meeting occurred after the winter break so Anne had added a lot of materials to the course Canvas site which allowed me to review the sequencing and organization and provide feedback. My suggestions included adding sub headings to the modules page to delineate different groupings of activities and readings within each week. In addition, links to readings were embedded directly in the module page in addition to being embedded in a weekly overview page to both provide students with context for the readings and enable them to access them with fewer clicks in return viewings of the material.

Getting familiar with Zoom

The team also discussed scheduling a Zoom testing session to allow Anne to test out different functionalities in Zoom that would be used during the weekly in-person meetings including breakout rooms and screen sharing. The testing session was scheduled with members of the DLINQ team.

Video editing assistance

Lastly, we discussed Anne’s request to have assistance with video editing from a member of the DLINQ team. This request was submitted to the DLINQ leadership team for review and was approved. Heather suggested that the faculty member discuss captioning options with the media specialist to determine the best and most efficient workflow. 

Working with the Library

Lastly, Anne found her collaborative work with the library essential to helping her to put together readings for her students. Staff members were able to help her determine the best way to provide access to materials available in the collection.

HPL II – Chapter 8 – Digital Technology

“…learning technology is most useful when it is designed to meet specific needs and contexts” (p. 164).

I read sentences like this and I sometimes wonder…does that really need to be written? Is this an a-ha moment for anyone? Are we still doing things in classrooms without thinking about why we are doing them?

Unfortunately the answer (as most students would attest) is a loud YES. Informally I’ve spoken to many students of all ages who’ve expressed frustration with an activity that is taking place in their class that they don’t understand the reasoning for. It doesn’t make sense to them why they are doing what they are doing and in too many situations – they don’t feel comfortable asking why.

One of the reasons I really enjoy working at the intersection of education and technology is that technology makes it more difficult to do anything without having a reason for why you are doing it and a methodology for sharing this with students. I think of it as the ‘emperor has no clothes’ moment. These moments happen with traditional teaching methods too, only it’s more challenging for a student to ask “Why are you lecturing this content? How do you expect me to process this material?” because lecturing as a teaching method is normalized within our society. It looks like “good teaching”, it’s familiar, and has been used for decades. However, it’s much easier to question a new methodology because it lacks this normalization – which is actually a really good thing. It forces educators to be more critical of and deliberate with their approaches to learning and teaching because they need to be ready to explain them.

When  students are asked to create a web site to share their papers on – the emperor has no clothes. What’s the purpose of the extra work here? What are you trying to accomplish in this medium – and does it work? If you can’t answer those questions meaningfully – you are missing the why.

Assignment: Create a poster of your research using Illustrator. No additional info given.

Assignment: Create a podcast of your interview. No additional info given.

However, each of these assignment has a potential ‘why’. The key is in the description and assessment of the assignment.

A web site – can be used to strengthen persuasive skills in a multi-modal context. Teach and assess your students on the variety of ways that visual and navigational elements can impact someone’s understanding of a new concept. Added bonus? – Integrating digital and information literacy skills into your curriculum.

A poster – can be used to distill the most salient points of your research into a format that can be consumed by someone with limited knowledge of your academic area. Creators need to consider what is common baseline knowledge in a set population and adjust the description of their work to target that audiences’ pre-existing knowledge.

A podcast – can be used to tell a story using first-hand accounts. Podcasts also lend themselves to helping students examine the power of narrative and specific examples in helping audiences to connect to complex topics. Creators can layer in storytelling and analysis to draw a more nuanced and personal argument.

In each of these examples what is most often missing is a more specific breakdown of what the assignment is trying to accomplish. Often this is hidden under the guise of “engagement”. Using a new mode of communication will allow my students to better engage with the content. While that’s often very true – we still need to explain how and why.

This explanation can help on many levels. The authors point out that

“Whether technology is motivating to people is likely to depend on the learner, the task, and the learning context” (p. 173).

The authors also reference 5 stages that creators often move through: 1. Identify or find a place where creation is happening, 2. Lurk or watch what’s going on, 3. Begin to make small contributions to creations, 4. Create their own material, and finally 5. Begin to lead the creation of materials (p. 175). This is important information for teachers to be aware of. It indicates that taking time to familiarize oneself with the process of creation is not a quick or single-step process. For authentic creation to take place, students must be given time to assimilate to creation environments.

No technology has a defined outcome. In fact, “there is considerable evidence that use of a single instructional technology can lead to different outcomes when used by different learners in different contexts” (p. 194). The “why” is so important and it’s more difficult to avoid explaining why you choose to use a certain technology than why you have chosen to lecture today. We should be asking and answering the ‘why question’ for both actions – but for now technology seems to be the home of “why”.

HPL II – Chapter 7 – Implications for Learning in School

In chapter 7 the authors examined how learning in school would be impacted by the points discussed earlier in the book. Some of the most outstanding points are summarized in quotes below that focus on the experience of school for different students.

“School is a cross cultural experience” (p. 136)

“A key dimension of creating equitable classrooms involves building a classroom environment where all students’ ideas are valued” (p. 141)

“Third spaces: social environments that emerge through genuine dialogue between teachers and students” (p. 142)

The concept of “third spaces” particularly stuck with me. In my experience, creating a third space was often the only way I was able to establish trust with my students. Until they felt that I truly cared for them as individuals and was interested in what they had to share, we made little progress. Logically this makes sense to me, particularly for students who may have lost trust in an education system. It’s a signifier of the importance of interpersonal communication and empathy as teacher qualities.

Discipline Specific Learning

This chapter also focused on discipline-specific learning and the differences between “ways of thinking and intellectual challenges” within different areas (p. 143). It seems to me that this is an area that could be explored at great depth and after doing a little research I found an article titled “Decoding the Disciplines: A Model for Helping Students Learn Disciplinary Ways of Thinking” by Joan Middledorf and David Pace in New Directions for Teaching and Learning in 2004. In this article the authors outline seven steps to overcome obstacles to learning that include:

“What is a bottleneck to learning in this class?

How does an expert do these things?

How can these tasks be explicitly modeled?

How will students practice these skills and get feedback?

What will motivate the students?

How well are students mastering these learning tasks?

How can the resulting knowledge about learning be shared?”

“Decoding the Disciplines: A Model for Helping Students Learn Disciplinary Ways of Thinking” by Joan Middledorf and David Pace

If we work to put ourselves into the place of the learners we can see how important these steps are. Middledorf and Pace point this out explicitly:

“We need only imagine ourselves in a learning situation that is unfamiliar to us–a first lesson in knitting, a new computer program, or the grammar of a foreign language–to realize that simply hearing a lecture on a complex process is rarely sufficient to permit us to actually perform the task and to imagine it with dozens of other new procedures”

(Middledorf and Pace, 2004, p. 7).

This chapter emphasizes how much we expect and how much we need of our teachers. We need them to be both experts in their field, and individuals who possess the ability to empathize and connect with students who have experienced life in a complexity of ways that is never reproduced the same.

Putting it into practice – tips for applying this information in the classroom

  1. Consider one way that you can create a third space in your class. Is this something that you already do, and if so – is it effective? Devise a strategy to establish rapport individually with all your students.
  2. Begin to work your way through the seven steps to overcome obstacles to learning. Identify the bottlenecks within one class that you teach. How can/do you address these?
  3. Evaluate and reflect on any strategies that you use or have used in the past to address these issues. What is working well? What needs to be improved? Use these reflections to fine tune your practice in the next semester.

HPL II – Chapter 6 – Motivation to Learn

Motivation changes.

“Motivation is also increasingly viewed as an emergent phenomenon, meaning it can develop over time and change as a result of one’s experiences with learning and other circumstances” (p.111).

This makes it a challenging concept to pin down to a neat set of bulleted points to follow. However, it does not mean that learner motivation can not be impacted by a teacher’s actions. This chapter connects motivation to several components of a learners’ beliefs and values including

  • A growth vs. fixed mindset
  • Self-efficacy
  • A sense of belonging
  • The value of a task to a learner (based on interest, connection to learner identity)
  • Learner interest (personal or situational)

Intrinsic motivation has a strong impact on learners as well. Autonomy, competence, and psychologoical relatedness all play a role in motivating learners. (p.115). Conversely the impact of external rewards on learning is strongly contested with some believing that “External rewards…may also undermine the learner’s perception of autonomy and control” (p. 115). However, others point out that external rewards like praise can positively impact learning if they focus on interest, encouragement, and guiding learner progress (p. 116). It’s also important that praise focus on effort vs. ability.

Putting it into practice – tips for applying this information in the classroom

  1. Incorporate self-assessments and goal setting into the introduction of the course to enable students to integrate interests and strengths into their plan for the course.
  2. Include community building activities like peer review and pre-assessment into your course structure to reinforce a sense of belonging among the group. Use office hours to get a better read on students’ sense of belonging as the course progresses. Make adjustments as needed based on this feedback.
  3. Ask students to monitor and share their progress towards personal goals and next steps based on this progress throughout the course.
  4. Use the information collected in steps 1 and 3 to help direct feedback to guide learner progress and their effort towards meeting those goals

HPL II – Ch 5 – Knowledge and Reasoning

This is the third in a series of posts examining the new text How People Learn II: Learners, Contexts, and Cultures a companion to How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience and School. In this post I share my reaction to chapter 4: Processes that Support Learning.

Iterative knowledge building, learning and knowledge-related biases, and the value of “desirable difficulties” and elaborative interrogation are only four of the topics covered in this chapter but they are more than enough to focus on for this blog posting.

Learning Iteration and Bias

Meaning making is knowledge building and it’s a task all learners work through based on experiences they’ve had inside and outside of structured educational environments. As noted in chapter 4 memory is a “partial” but not a “perfect” record of what actually happened. In this chapter the authors further explain how

“…memory traces with common elements [that] are simultaneously activated and linked, knowledge is expanded and memories are iteratively reworked” (p. 86).

A web of connections to present and past experiences underscores all of the work that learners are doing to make meaning of new pieces of knowledge.

Picture of author as a child

Me as a novice learner. Strawberry Shortcake was my alter ego.

“…studies underscore the active role of the learner; that is, even young children do not simply accrue knowledge from what they have experienced directly but build knowledge from the many things that they have figured out on their own” (p. 87).

Expertise comes with many benefits and is most often seen as an asset in any environment, but although experts can organize their knowledge more efficiently and effectively, they also often have learning biases which are “implicit and unknown to the individuals that hold them” (p. 91).  A learner’s initial level of knowledge can also impact their interpretation of new knowledge (p. 92). Biases can have both positive and negative consequences. They can:

  • “Undermine the acquisition of new knowledge and skills” (p. 91)
  • “…blind individuals to new evidence” (p. 92)
  • “Promote well-being and health” (p. 92)
  • “Refine perception and serve to blur distinctions within categories that are not meaningful” (p. 92)

Desirable Difficulties & Problem Based Learning

Some of the desirable difficulties or “useful challenges” that are identified in this chapter as the best ways to positively impact learning include:

  1. “Retrieval practice
  2. Spaced practice
  3. Interleaved and varied practice
  4. Summarizing and drawing
  5. Explanations: elaborative interrogation, self explanation and teaching” (p. 98)

Problem based learning can also present useful challenges to learners and the learners point out that this learning technique “…instills in learners flexible knowledge use, effective problem-solving skills, self-directed learning, collaboration and intrinsic motivation” (p. 94).

Putting it into practice

So how do you apply this to the classroom? Here are a few ideas:

  1. Have students start a unit of study with a self reflection of what they already know about the topic. Use this as a starting point for them to examine as they move through the unit of study so they actively identify ideas/concepts that are disputed or different than what is being discussed and studied in class. Encourage them to examine why that is. Where did the original understanding come from? Is there some truth there?
  2. Identify content in your class that students need to know quickly in order to access other knowledge. Definitions and calculations often fit nicely into this category, however you could also use this activity with a topic like connecting the correct genre to a piece of writing to help students become more comfortable with identifying and differentiating between different genres of writing. Using a quiz mechanism return to this practice of retrieving the correct answer/classification throughout the semester using different examples and questions. By spacing out these practices you will further strengthen students’ knowledge and retrieval skills
  3. Design a problem based unit of student that requires students to explain and teach complex topics to support their proposed solution. This activity has the added benefit of providing potential presentation and public speaking practice. Like this — SO AMAZING!!

What’s up next?

Next week we’ll take a look at one of my favorite topics – motivation.

Pumpkins and Processes that Support Learning

This is the third in a series of posts examining the new text How People Learn II: Learners, Contexts, and Cultures a companion to How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience and School. In this post I share my reaction to chapter 4: Processes that Support Learning. PS: You’re going to have to read a bit to understand the relevance of pumpkins – but trust me – it’s in here. 🙂

In this chapter the authors explore the ways that learners use different processes to put the pieces of learning together. The authors refer to this as “orchestrating learning” and explain that it is comprised of three core parts: 1. metacognition, 2. executive function and 3. self regulation (p. 70). Some of the findings in this section that were most intriguing to me included:

Development and Decline of Executive Function

“Components of executive function develop and decline in neither linear nor binary (all or nothing) fashion” (p. 72).

Since so much of learning is built on a structure of building skills over time, it was interesting to consider that this is not the timeline on which all components of executive function get stronger or weaker.

Becoming Self-Regulated Learners

“Successful self-regulated learners have developed the skills and habits to be effective learners, exhibiting effective learning strategies, effort, and persistence” (p. 73).

The concept that learners can be taught methods to improve self-regulation is particularly exciting when I think about the world of online education where self-regulation is a critical component. This indicates that scaffolding in skills and habits to help students be successful, can be an effective way to address and correct deficits in this area.

Memory

Picture of a pumpkin

My pumpkin…grown just a few years after I drew my first one.

I learned the most about memory in this chapter. As I read about the way that the brain processes, uses, and recalls memories I couldn’t help but think of some of my earliest memories and consider the reason why those memories are clearer than others. One of these memories is of drawing a pumpkin that was sitting on a big pink circle. I still have that picture. It’s tacked into my baby book and highlighted as my first piece of “art”. After reading through this chapter I wondered whether my memory of drawing the picture is strengthened or completely derived by the baby book entry.

To explain consider that the authors point out that the common conceptual model of memory as a “filing cabinet” is faulty. The authors explain:

“What the storage metaphor does not capture is the fact that learning actually involves skills for reconstructing memories based on past experiences and cues in the present environment” (p. 74).

And

“The representation is not a perfect copy of the world but rather a partial record of the individual’s subjective interpretation and perception” (p.75).

So it is entirely possible that my memory of drawing the picture is recalled from a partial record of the visual imagery in the book and the memories my parents have shared of that time.

Connecting Memory to Learners

I found the following three connections to educational contexts and working with learners’ memory to be most impactful in my work to support learning design:

  • “First undue weight should not be placed on any single assessment of learner’s knowledge and skills.”

  • “Second memories are reconstructed more easily in situations that feel conducive and relevant to the content of the memory” (p. 77)

  • “…help learners recognize and leverage their strengths in other contexts” (p. 77).

For example, many athletes can use their experiences playing sports to consider elements of physics (the movement of a ball) or interpersonal skills (teamwork and leadership).

Putting it into practice

Using the information from this chapter here are four action-oriented steps that you can take to integrate these findings into your curriculum to improve student learning:

  1. Explicitly teach skills and habits to help students become successful self-regulated learners. For example, topics such as time management, discipline specific note-taking methods, and self-checks on understanding would all work towards this goal.
  2. Use multiple assessments to measure student learning and use the information collected by these assessments to develop a more holistic understanding of the students’ strengths and weaknesses.
  3. Make instruction relevant/connected to student experience in order to make it easier for students to process and remember course content. Presenting examples that feel familiar to students can help to achieve this goal.
  4. Early in the semester have students self-assess their learning strengths and weaknesses and identify one step to work on to strengthen a weaker skill. Return to this work throughout the course and ask the students to reflect on their growth in this skill at the conclusion of the semester.

Looking Ahead…

Next up is chapter 5 which focuses on knowledge and reasoning. As a parent – I’m particularly interested in the reasoning portion of this chapter!